In Cuban Depths, Atlantis or Anomaly?
Images of Massive Stones 2,000 Feet Below Surface Fuel
By Kevin Sullivan
Thursday; Page A25
HAVANA -- The images appear
slowly on the video screen, like
ghosts from the ocean floor. The
videotape, made by an unmanned
submarine, shows massive stones in
oddly symmetrical square and
pyramid shapes in the deep-sea
Sonar images taken from a research ship 2,000 feet above are even more
puzzling. They show that the smooth, white stones are laid out in a geometric
pattern. The images look like fragments of a city, in a place where nothing
man-made should exist, spanning nearly eight square miles of a deep-ocean
plain off Cuba's western tip.
"What we have here is a mystery," said Paul Weinzweig, of Advanced Digital
Communications (ADC), a Canadian company that is mapping the ocean
bottom of Cuba's territorial waters under contract with the government of
President Fidel Castro.
"Nature couldn't have built anything so symmetrical," Weinzweig said, running
his finger over sonar printouts aboard his ship, tied up at a wharf in Havana
harbor. "This isn't natural, but we don't know what it is."
The company's main mission is to hunt for shipwrecks filled with gold and
jewels, and to locate potentially lucrative oil and natural gas reserves in deep
water that Cuba does not have the means to explore.
Treasure hunting has become a growth industry in recent years as technology
has improved, allowing more precise exploration and easier recovery from
deeper ocean sites. Advanced Digital operates from the Ulises, a 260-foot
trawler that was converted to a research vessel for Castro's government by
the late French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
Since they began exploration three years ago with sophisticated side-scan
sonar and computerized global-positioning equipment, Weinzweig said they
have mapped several large oil and gas deposits and about 20 shipwrecks
sitting beneath ancient shipping lanes where hundreds of old wrecks are
believed to be resting. The most historically important so far has been the
USS Maine, which exploded and sank in Havana harbor in 1898, an event
that ignited the Spanish-American War.
In 1912, the ship was raised from the harbor floor by the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers and towed out into deeper water four miles from the Cuban
shore, where it was scuttled. Strong currents carried the Maine away from the
site, and its precise location remained unknown until Ulises's sonar spotted it
two years ago.
Then, by sheer serendipity, on a summer day in 2000, as the Ulises was
towing its sonar back and forth across the ocean like someone mowing a
lawn, the unexpected rock formations appeared on the sonar readouts. That
startled Weinzweig and his partner and wife, Paulina Zelitsky, a Russian-born
engineer who has designed submarine bases for the Soviet military.
"We have looked at enormous amounts of ocean bottom, and we have never
seen anything like this," Weinzweig said.
The discovery immediately sparked speculation about Atlantis, the fabled
city first described by Plato in 360 B.C.. Weinzweig and Zelitsky were careful
not to use the A word and said that much more study was needed before
such a conclusion could be reached.
But that has not stopped a boomlet of speculation, most of it on the Internet.
Atlantis-hunters have long argued their competing theories that the lost city
was off Cuba, off the Greek island of Crete, off Gibraltar or elsewhere.
Several Web sites have touted the ADC images as a possible first sighting.
Among those who suspect the site may be Atlantis is George Erikson, a
California anthropologist who co-authored a book in which he predicted that
the lost city would be found offshore in the tropical Americas.
"I have always disagreed with all the archaeologists who dismiss myth,"
Erikson, who said he had been shunned by many scientists since publishing his
book about Atlantis. He said the story has too many historical roots to be
dismissed as sheer fantasy and that if the Cuban site proves to be Atlantis, he
hopes "to be the first to say, 'I told you so.' "
Manuel Iturralde, one of Cuba's leading geologists, said it was too soon
know what the images prove. He has examined the evidence and concluded
that, "It's strange, it's weird; we've never seen something like this before, and
we don't have an explanation for it."
Iturralde said volcanic rocks recovered at the site strongly suggest that
undersea plain was once above water, despite its extreme depth. He said the
existence of those rocks was difficult to explain, especially because there are
no volcanoes in Cuba.
He also said that if the symmetrical stones are determined to be the ruins
buildings, it could have taken 50,000 years or more for tectonic shifting to
carry them so deep into the ocean. The ancient Great Pyramid of Giza in
Egypt is only about 5,000 years old, which means the Cuba site "wouldn't fit
with what we know about human architectural evolution," he said.
"It's an amazing question that we would like to solve," he said.
But Iturralde stressed that the evidence is inconclusive. He said that
first-hand exploration in a mini-submarine had been conducted, which would
provide a much more comprehensive assessment. He said a remote-operated
video camera provides only a limited perspective, like someone looking at a
close-up image of an elephant's toe and trying to describe the whole animal.
The National Geographic Society has expressed interest and is considering
expedition in manned submarines next summer, according to Sylvia Earl, a
famed American oceanographer and explorer-in-residence at the society.
"It's intriguing," Earl said in an interview from her Oakland, Calif.,
home. "It is
so compelling that I think we need to go check it out."
Earl said a planned expedition this past summer was canceled because of
funding problems. But she said National Geographic hopes to explore the site
next summer as part of its Sustainable Seas research program.
Earl has visited Cuba and described the preliminary evidence as "fantastic"
and "extraordinary." But she stressed that as a "skeptical scientist," she would
assume that the unusual stones were formed naturally until scientific evidence
"There is so much speculation about ancient civilizations," she said. "I'm
tune with the reality and the science, not the myths or stories or fantasies."
As they search for answers, Weinzweig and Zelitsky have suddenly become
involved in a new mystery -- the discovery of a potential blockbuster
shipwreck. They said that on Aug. 15, their remotely operated vehicle came
across what appears to be a 500-year-old Spanish galleon that they had been
They declined to name the ship, fearful of other treasure hunters, but
it carried a priceless cargo of emeralds, diamonds and ancient artifacts. By
contract, they said they can keep 40 percent of the value of whatever they
recover. They said the value of findings at the newly discovered wreck could
far exceed the nearly $4 million that their private backers have so far invested
in their operations.
Weinzweig said a closer examination is needed to prove the ship's identity.
said that in treasure hunting, as in the search for Atlantis, there is no substitute
"One thing is legend," he said, sitting on Ulises's bridge. "Another is
evidence you find on the ocean floor."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company