James W. Mavor Jr. (1923 - 2006) was an oceanographer and marine engineer who was a proponent of the Minoan hypothesis of Atlantis; he organised two international expeditions to Santorini (Thera) in the 1960s.

James Mavor Photo

James Mavor in 1966 aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research vessel Chain.

An expert in oceanography, Mavor worked for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a researcher in applied physics and marine engineering. He was notably a designer of the deep-ocean submersible Alvin and a captain of the research vessel Chain. In 1969 he published Voyage to Atlantis, an account of his expeditions, with Edward Loring and others, to find Atlantis in the Aegean.

Mavor was member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


  • B.Sc. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • M.Sc. Naval Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


  • Mavor, J. M. (1966). "Preliminary Proposal for Certain Historical, Oceanographic, and Archaeological Investigations of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Lands and People" (unpublished manuscript).
  • Mavor, J. M. (1966). "A Mighty Bronze Age Volcanic Explosion". Oceanus. 12(3): 15-23.
  • Mavor, J. M. (1966). "Volcanoes and History or Atlantis Revisited". Oceanus. 13(1): 14-24.
  • Mavor, J. M. (1969, rev. ed. 1990[1]). Voyage to Atlantis: A Firsthand Account of the Scientific Expedition to Solve the Riddle of the Ages. Souvenir Press.
  • Mavor, J. M. (1969). "Back to Atlantis Again". The New York Review of Books. Dec. 4.
  • Mavor, J. M. (1985). "Atlantis and Catastrophe-Theory". Oceanus. 28(1): 44-51.

Voyage to Atlantis

Mavor published the book Voyage to Atlantis (1969) that recounts his two expeditions to Santorini. In 1965 he learnt of the Minoan hypothesis by Michael Anastasiades, a physicist at the University of Athens. Anastasiades introduced him to the seismologist Angelos G. Galanopoulos who he credited as developing the Minoan theory of Atlantis, originally proposed by Kingdon T. Frost and James Baikie. A year later Mavor published an article ("A Mighty Bronze Age Volcanic Explosion") in Oceanus about Galanopoulos' arguments and his support for them:

"Galanopoulos has assembled knowledge to date and introduced further archaeological evidence as well as new interpretations of several portions of Plato's 10,000 word story. The present author has followed through Galanopoulos' arguments and made a careful study of the comparison between Plato's story and what is now known of the Minoan civilization and its destruction. There can be little doubt that Plato's Atlantis is indeed an historical account of the Minoan people." (Mavor, 1966)

1966 expedition

In 1966 Mavor organised the first international expedition to Santorini (Thera). His main goal like Galanopoulos was to determine the pre-eruption shape of Santorini to see if it closely matched Plato's description of the metropolis of Atlantis. Mavor was accompanied on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research vessel Chain by the geophysicist F. K. Zarudzki, engineer Harold Edgerton, geologist Hartley Hoskins and the Egyptologist Edward Loring; Galanopoulos was also a member of the expedition. In Voyage to Atlantis, Mavor notes that he wanted an archaeologist to join, but Spyridon Marinatos declined since he was lecturing overseas.

Atlantis Found in Aegean Sea Greek Says

"Atlantis Found in Aegean Sea, Greek Says". The Arizona Republic. Sep. 4, 1966.

According to Mavor the first expedition achieved little aside from a seismic profile and the unearthing of some Cycladic culture potsherds (c. 2500 BCE). However, news about Galanopoulos' Atlantis hypothesis misleadingly led to a sensational headline in The New York Times that a remnant of Atlantis (described incorrectly by Galanopoulos as a moat) was discovered in the submerged part of Santorini.[2] Another appeared the same day in The Arizona Republic. In his book Mavor clarified the so-called moat was a "natural configuration in the caldera bottom", nevertheless he still responded with enthusiasm:

"I no longer felt alone in my enormous task of proving Galanopoulos' theory. The world press had become our ally." (Mavor, 1969: 162)

The first expedition was detailed in an article ("The Volcano that Shaped the Western World") in the The Saturday Review (Nov. 5, 1966); Galanoupolos (1966) responded with a letter to the science editor, defending his theory.

1967 expedition

For the second expedition, Mavor secured funds from Marinatos (who had since returned from overseas) who through the Archaeological Society of Athens donated $2000; the classicist Emily Vermeule would assist Mavor and Marinatos in their excavations on Santorini. At some point the 1967 expedition (named "Helleno-American Multidisciplinary Scientific Investigation of Thera and Quest for the Lost Atlantis") was to be cancelled because of unrest by a military coup, but it later went ahead because Marinatos reassured the political situation was stable.

A major success of the expedition was the discovery of Akrotiri, an Early-Middle Minoan Bronze Age settlement located on the south-west of Santorini (Thera), about 100 km north of Crete. During its earliest phase, Akrotiri had strong cultural and trade links to the Cycladic culture. The city of Akrotiri was destroyed in the mid-2nd millennium BCE by the Thera eruption; buried in volcanic ash. Mavor interpreted Akrotiri as evidence of Atlantis' metropolis:

"...we had confirmed much of Galanopoulos' theory that Thera was the metropolis of Atlantis, a heavily populated cult center having wealth and culture the equal of Crete." (Mavor, 1969: 256)

It should be noted that some proponents of the Minoan hypothesis argued Atlantis' metropolis was on Crete, not Thera (Frost, 1913). However, for Galanoupolos and Mavor, the metropolis of Atlantis was on a separate island (Thera), to its plain (Messara, Crete). Vermeule and Mavor returned later in 1967 to America and held a press conference ("A Minoan Pompeii and the Lost Atlantis") at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. According to Mavor, "the American press naturally played us up", but Marinatos was mostly ignored; some newspapers did not even mention his name. Marinatos apparently took offence to the latter, as well as the fact headlines were reporting the remains of Atlantis had been found on Thera, while he thought differently Crete was Atlantis (Marinatos, 1950).

Although a proponent of the Minoan hypothesis, Marinatos was sceptical about equating the metropolis of Atlantis with Akrotiri on Thera. Vermeule too was cautious in her article "The Promise of Thera" printed in The Atlantic:

"It may even be true that when Thera sank under the sea with roaring and darkness it helped create one of the world's great myths of nostalgia. Yet in practical terms of excavation Plato has been a nuisance.The promise of Thera is vivid now as it was a hundred years ago. The island may answer questions scholars have asked for years... If they find lava-and-olive wood houses instead of the marble temples of Atlantis, that is the truth, to be protected at any cost. If the work goes forward with proper care, whatever lies sealed under the ash will be reward enough." (Vermeule, 1967)

Later, Marinatos stopped being friendly with Mavor and Vermeule; the Archaeological Society of Athens fully discontinued any work or collaboration with Americans in the excavations and ceased communication with Mavor, not responding to his letters. Marinatos in press interviews complained that the excavations on Santorini were supervised by himself and that Americans had ignored this. In his book Mavor notes that the Archaeological Society of Athens "disdained any exaggerated attempts" to connect the 1967 excavations at Akrotiri to Atlantis and that Marinatos complained Mavor's fixation with Atlantis was sidetracking archaeological research. In 1972, Marinatos wrote an article in National Geographic, that only briefly mentions Atlantis as if he was fed up with it.[3]

Book reviews

In 1973, a review of Voyage to Atlantis by Richard A. MacNeal appeared in the magazine Archaeology published by the Archaeological Institute of America. Mavor is praised for making his book appeal to a wide-audience and for "delightful reading", especially concerning the clash of personalities involved in his international expeditions. Mavor's claim Akrotiri is the archaeological site of Atlantis is though rejected since it relies on the Euhemeristic (i.e. historical) interpretation of myth that many (but not all) archaeologists consider to be false or problematic:

"The basic problem with Mavor's approach could be called the mythic fallacy. He discovered a major archaeological site, which is quite worth excavating on its own account. But why should he assume that the myth of Atlantis will tell him anything about the site, or the site anything about the myth? These are two separate areas of investigation... At this point the believers will conjure up the magic phrase 'oral traditions' and insist that somewhere at the base of Plato's tale there must be a kernel of historic fact, however obscured. But this position really begs the whole question because it assumes a priori that the basis of myth, or this particular myth {of Atlantis}, is history." (MacNeal, 1973)

Similarly a short book review by the classical scholar Robert Buck (Department of Classics at the University of Alberta) in The Classical World (1970) compliments Mavor's enjoyable writing style and personal accounts of his international expeditions, but dismisses his (or rather Galanopoulos') theory of Atlantis as an "act of faith". The classicist Rhys Carpenter himself a proponent of the Minoan hypothesis, criticised Mavor's identification of Akrotiri with Atlantis as misguided and a far too literal reading of Plato.[4] The same year (1969) Voyage of Atlantis was published, Galanopoulos co-authored (with Edward Bacon) Atlantis: The Truth Behind the Legend, while the classical scholar John V. Luce wrote The End of Atlantis. Considerable more attention was paid to Luce's book because of his academic credibility; out of the three, Voyage of Atlantis was usually rated the worst in reviews.[5]

It is known that Galanopoulos (unlike Marinatos) remained good friends with Mavor.[6]


Mavor updated Voyage to Atlantis with an epilogue in 1990. However, he ignores all the studies that critiqued and falsified the Minoan hypothesis over the past two decades and can be described as a dogmatic Atlantis-believer.

Notes and references

  1. In 1990 Voyage to Atlantis was updated with an epilogue covering the last 20 years of Mavor's research.
  2. "Moat Believed to be Part of Atlantis is Found in Aegean Sea". The New York Times. Sep. 4, 1966.
  3. Marinatos, S. (1972). "Thera: Key to the Riddle of Minos". National Geographic. 141(5): 702-726.
  4. Carpenter, R. (1970). "Lost Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend by J. V. Luce; Voyage to Atlantis by James W. Mavor, Jr. Review by: Rhys Carpenter". American Journal of Archaeology. 74(3): 302-303.
  5. See for example Vitaliano (1971) who comments: "Mavor's book, less impressive in format than either of the others, is also less impressive in content" and Moses Finley's remarks in "Back to Atlantis". The New York Review of Books. Dec. 4, 1969, who while criticising all three Atlantis books, only recommends Luce's.
  6. Yet oddly Galanopoulos' book only mentions Mavor on a single page (Galanopoulos & Bacon, 1969: 161).