- HAVANA- Floating aboard the
Spanish trawler she chartered to explore the Cuban coast for shipwrecks,
Paulina Zelitsky pores over yellowed tomes filled with sketches and tales
of lost cities - just like the one she believes she has found deep off
the coast of western Cuba.
- Zelitsky's eyes grow wide as she runs her small hand
over water- stained drawings of Olmec temples in a dog-eared 1928 study
of Mexican archaeology. The Russian Canadian explorer compares the shapes
with green-tinted sonar images captured in March while studying the megalithic
structures she discovered two years ago off Cuba's Guanahabibes Peninsula.
- Amid piles of sonar-enhanced maps is a well-worn copy
of "Comentarios Reales de las Incas," or "Royal Commentaries
of the Incas," a classic of Spanish Renaissance narrative by the son
of an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador. Zelitsky is particularly
fascinated by Garcilaso Inca de la Vega's account of ancient ruins at the
bottom of Lake Titicaca, Peru.
- "You would not think that a reasonable woman of
my age would fall for an idea like this," chuckled Zelitsky, a 57-year-old
offshore engineer who runs the exploration firm Advanced Digital Communications
of British Columbia, Canada.
- Zelitsky passionately believes the megalithic structures
her crew discovered 2,310 feet below the ocean's surface could prove that
a civilization lived thousands of years ago on an island or stretch of
land joining the archipelago of Cuba with Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, about
120 miles away.
- The unusual shapes first appeared on the firm's sophisticated
side-scan sonar equipment in the summer of 2000, during shipwreck surveys
off Cuba's western coast, where hundreds of vessels are believed to have
sunk over the centuries.
- The company is among five foreign firms working with
Fidel Castro's government to explore the island's coast for shipwrecks
of historical and commercial interest. But the mysterious shapes have become
the focus of this crew's exploratory efforts.
- Puzzled by the shapes with clean lines, the team has
repeatedly returned to the site - most recently in March - for more sonar
readings, more videotapes of the megaliths with an unmanned submarine.
The crew left in mid-May for a month.
- Evidence for Zelitzky's hypothesis is far from conclusive,
and has been met with skepticism from scientists from other countries who
nevertheless decline to comment publicly on the project until scientific
findings have been made available. Submerged urban ruins have never been
found at so great a depth.
- Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the ruins of Jamaica's Port
Royal are located at depths ranging from a few inches to 40 feet below
the ocean surface. The once raucous seaside community was controlled by
English buccaneers before it slid under the waves in earthquakes beginning
- Located at just 20 feet are the mysterious megalithic
structures discovered in the 1960s and 1970s in the sound between the Bahamas
islands of North and South Bimini. Scientific expeditions there have produced
inconclusive results about the shapes' origins.
- Back in Cuba, a leading scientist recently admitted there
is no easy explanation for the megalithic shapes found by Zelitsky's crew.
The shapes on the sonar maps look like walls, rectangles, pyramids - rather
like a town viewed from the window of an airplane flying overhead.
- "We are left with the very questions that prompted
this expedition," geologist Manuel A. Iturralde Vincent, research
director of Cuba's National Museum of Natural History wrote March 13. At
the time he was visiting the area aboard the 270-foot long Ulises, the
Spanish trawler Zelitsky outfitted with sophisticated computer and satellite
equipment for her surveys.
- In his written comments, later delivered at a scholarly
conference here, Iturralde concluded it was possible the structures were
once at sea level, as Zelitsky theorizes.
- Because of the large faults and an underwater volcano
nearby, Zelitsky supposes the structures sank because of a dramatic volcanic
or seismological event thousands of years ago.
- Providing some support for that argument, Iturralde confirmed
indications of "significantly strong seismic activity."
- Zelitsky shies from using the term "Atlantis,"
but comparisons are inevitable to the legendary sunken civilization that
Plato described in his "Dialogues" around 360 B.C.
- There have been untold, unsuccessful attempts over the
ages to find that lost kingdom. One common theory is that Atlantis was
located on the Aegean island of Thera, which was destroyed by a volcanic
eruption nearly 3,600 years ago.
- Zelitsky does, however, mention known archaeological
monuments when discussing her find.
- Numerous photographs are scattered throughout a video
show of the megaliths, showing well-known ancient sites: the 1st century
fortress of Masada high above the Dead Sea, Britain's circular monument
of Stonehenge, the Roman fortress of Babylon in Cairo, the walls of Chan
Chan, Peru, whose inhabitants were conquered by the Incas.
- Perhaps, Zelitsky mused, the megaliths off Cuba are remains
of a trading post, or a city built by colonizers from Mesoamerica. Those
civilizations were far more advanced than the hunters and gatherers the
Spaniards found upon arriving here five centuries ago.
- Zelitsky admitted much more investigation is needed to
solve the mystery.
- But that doesn't keep her from believing, or from smiling
slyly as she opens her agenda for 2002 to the first page.
- Written there are the words Italian astronomer Galileo
Galilei uttered under his breath at the height of the Inquisition, right
after abjuring his belief that the Earth revolved around the sun.
- "E pur si muove," it reads - "Nevertheless,
it does move."
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