Canadians May Have Found Lost City

Theory of sunken town off Cuba to get support from geologist's findings

March 27, 2002
By EGLE PROCUTA-- The Canadian Press

HAVANA (CP) -- Getting to the bottom of the mystery of what could be a lost underwater city near Cuba is far more exciting for a Canadian-led expedition than bringing up emeralds from a galleon on the ocean floor.

This week, their discovery of what appears to be a sunken island with massive temple-like structures will receive an important boost from an expert.

Manuel Iturralde, one of Cuba's top geologists, plans to tell an international conference of geophysicists in Havana on Friday that there is no geological explanation for the megalithic stone formations found in about 700 metres of water some four kilometres off the western tip of Cuba.

Interviewed at his office Tuesday at the National Museum of Natural History in Old Havana, Iturralde said it is still too early to say definitively that the structures are man-made.

But he is eager to gather samples from the site in April and begin solving a mystery has ignited much curiosity and debate, in Cuba and abroad, since it was first announced last December.

Iturralde's conclusion represents a vote in favour of the Canadian-led deep-ocean exploration team that stumbled upon what looked like architecturally arranged stone formations while using sonar scans to comb the ocean floor for sunken galleons in the summer of 2000.

Iturralde was initially skeptical, said Paulina Zelitsky, the exploration team's project director.

Iturralde's doubts were shared by marine archeologists in Europe, who maintained the formations were naturally occurring limestone -- a common underwater geological phenomenon. Other experts have cautioned that there's not enough evidence to suggest there is a sunken city.

"But now the scientific community is catching fire," said Zelitsky, 57, a Soviet-trained offshore engineer who worked in Canada for 30 years.

She is president of Advanced Digital Communications, the company that is joint partners with the Cuban government to salvage archeological treasures from the waters off the Caribbean island.

Her data, collected through sonar scans and videotapes of the site taken from an unmanned vehicle, show symmetrically arranged formations. Their white colour suggests they are made from cut, granite-like stone rather than naturally formed limestone, which is grey or black when oxidized, according to her team.

The megalithic formations -- called Mega for short -- occupy an area of about 20 square kilometres. Zelitsky suggests they might be the remains from a series of rooms connected by large corridors. She wonders whether they were part of a temple-like building used for astronomical purposes about 8,000 years ago.

Iturralde cautioned that more studies are needed to determine whether the formations are indeed the ruins of a sunken city. But after spending a week in mid-March mapping the site from the research ship Ulises, Iturralde said he found physical evidence of "significantly strong seismic activity ... that has not been previously recorded."

This seems to coincide with Zelitsky's theory that an earthquake may have led to the sudden sinking of an island that once lay between the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, at the western tip of Cuba, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Iturralde said it is vital to continue detailed exploration of the site, especially with video images and samples that he was unable to take in mid-March because of equipment difficulties. If the hypothesis of a sunken city proves to be true, he added, it would change the entire understanding of Caribbean history.

Advanced Digital Communications has been struggling to be taken seriously by the scientific community, said Paul Weinzweig, Zelitsky's husband and business partner.

Scientists are hesitant to think seriously about the discovery because it brings up too many questions about Atlantis, the lost underwater civilization that has ignited popular imagination for centuries.

"That's why everybody's scandalized. But there's too much baggage around this and we make no reference to Atlantis," he said in an interview last week from their oceanfront home just outside Havana.

"Cuba is the world's richest underwater cemetery."

The company's primary goal is to bring up treasures from sunken galleons.

But the exploration team, with about 60 Cubans, is finding it difficult to think about anything other than the megalithic structures.

"Right now, we're supposed to be bringing up mounds of emeralds that we've found," said Zelitsky, who several years ago led the team in locating the remains of the U.S. battleship Maine, which was blown up in Havana Bay in 1898.

"But this has taken over our imaginations."

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