Standing in a vast, mosquito-infested swamp in the pounding heat of southern Spain, Paul Bauman did not feel as though he was on the verge of uncovering a legendary world.
"I'm not a myth chaser, I'm not into pyramids or alien landings," said the Calgary based geophysicist. "It crossed my mind more than once, 'What are we doing here on this wild goose chase?'"
But Mr. Bauman, who works at Alberta engineering company WorleyParsons, where he spends most of his time tracking contaminants or searching for water supplies, was part of an international team that now claims to have located the lost world of Atlantis.
On Sunday, the National Geographic Channel aired a documentary called Finding Atlantis, which will be shown in Canada on March 27 on the Discovery Channel.
It chronicles the work of a team led by University of Hartford archaeologist Richard Freund, who believes he has found the mythical advanced society of antiquity in the muddy sediment of a Spanish marsh.
The lost city of Atlantis, according to the writing of Plato, was located on an island just past the Pillars of Hercules, known today as the Strait of Gibraltar, and was wiped out when an earthquake triggered a powerful wall of water that submerged it forever.
"It just so happens that just past the Straits of Gibraltar, there is a 250-square-kilometre marsh that was inundated by a tsunami in antiquity," said Dr. Freund on Monday. "In light of what we've seen in Japan, you really can understand how the power of a tsunami could wipe a place off the face of the Earth."
In September, 2009, Dr. Freund and his team arrived in the Marisma de Hinojos marsh in southern Spain, part of the Coto Doñana National Park, to investigate aerial photographs that showed a geographic anomaly beneath the marsh.
The mud flats are dry for just two months a year and closed to the public, but the satellite imagery had revealed a circular area in the center of the marsh, and German archeologist Werner Wickboldt has hypothesized that other visible structures resemble those Plato describes in his writings on Atlantis.
Instead of digging, Mr. Bauman and his team of geophysicists employed electrical resistivity tomography, a kind of MRI for the earth, to peer beneath the ground.
Mr. Bauman specializes in near-surface imaging, which has recently been employed in "non-invasive archeology" around the world.
The images he produced revealed a series of three concentric belts of structures built on an artificial island, mirroring Plato's descriptions
Core samples taken 13.5 metres beneath the marsh surface recovered wood fragments that were carbon dated as approximately 4,000 years old. The team also found debris off the coast, supporting the theory that a tsunami had flooded the region before it pulled some material back out to sea.
The Atlantis theory is also supported by a series of "memorial villages" that have been found about 240 kilometres inland from the site, which Dr. Freund believes were built by the city's survivors.
"When people ask me what happened to Atlantis, it's not only what happened to the buildings. It's also what happened to the people," he said. "My theory is that these refugees left, and built these memorial villages with a ring of water around each one."
Dr. Freund is unsure whether the Spanish government plans to fully excavate the site, and said the matter is complicated by its designation as an ecological park.
But he believes there is a desire for definitive answers, and that the idea of an advanced society buried by the sea has special resonance, especially today.
"You never get tired of talking about Atlantis," he said. "I really feel it's connected to one of the more primal motivations people have, of returning to some perfect place like Shangri La or Eden. It's like if we could go back and figure out where the mistakes were made."
For his part, Mr. Bauman said he has become mostly convinced that he was part of the team that found Atlantis.
"I don't know what would be definitive, probably finding a statue of Poseidon," he said. "But it very well could be Atlantis. It's the most likely of all the candidate sites."