What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

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What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by eldin raigmore »

What if the mythological place names
Aztlan (the urheimat of the Aztecs and their relatives) and
Atlantis (an island* beyond the Pillars of Hercules that some Graeco-Egyptian priest told Plato had sunk beneath the waves in a single day and night of disaster)
were forms of the same name?
*(Atlantis was supposed to be intermediate in size between “Asia” and “Africa”. But back then “Asia” was just Asia Minor or the territory of Troy and its hinterland; and “Africa” was the part of North Africa dominated by Carthage. Or so I’ve heard.)

Could the Aztecs have come to Mexico from Atlantis?
Or maybe Atlantis was another island in their same lake that sank, rather than an eighth continent?

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Pabappa »

/t/ > /tl/ happened inside Nahuatl, so its apparent that its the Aztecs who discovered Atlantis.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by eldin raigmore »

Pabappa wrote:
26 Jun 2020 23:22
/t/ > /tl/ happened inside Nahuatl, so its apparent that its the Aztecs who discovered Atlantis.
Good!
Go on?

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by WeepingElf »

The idea that Aztlán and Atlantis are the same name for the same place has been peddled by hundreds of "I have found Atlantis!" crackpots; in fact, it is a standard staple in this kind of pseudo-science. Now I hardly know anything about Nahuatl, and therefore have no idea of what Aztlán means or what its etymology is; and what regards Atlantis, it is quite clear that it is derived from Atlas, but what the name of that mythological figure actually means is apparently anyone's guess, too.

That said, I think that Plato's Atlantis is a fiction which serves to illustrate a philosophical issue (namely that imperialism is immoral, if I am not mistaken), but Plato may have drawn on various stories of lost islands and civilizations in circulation in his time. One ingredient would have been folk tales about the Minoan eruption; another, the Sea Peoples incursions (Plato mentions Egyptian inscriptions commemorating the events, and just that kind of inscriptions commemorating the Sea Peoples are well-known); but I suspect that pre-Celtic Britain may have played a role, too - the geography (both the location of the island and its structure) seems to fit Britain better than any other place (alas, we have no evidence of an urban civilization there). But Aztlán probably has nothing to do with all that; it is just a coincidental similarity of two names, like the two Iberias, one in Spain and one in Georgia.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by eldin raigmore »

So, how to fit Atlas into the Aztec mythos?

....

I did not know of any other proposals of this (obviously bonkers) idea, but I’m not surprised there were many.
I’m a little surprised there were hundreds!

I knew already Atlantic and Atlantis and Atlas are all related.

Aztlan is the mythological and/or legendary place-of-origin of the racial(?) group of whom the Aztecs considered themselves part.
There’s no way IRL it could be related to Atlantis.

But this bboard has had threads that, for instance, derived existing natlangs from Voynichese, or proposed a sprachbund including the coasts of Australia and of the Black Sea, and so on.

Why not let our imaginations run wild with this alternate — is “history” the right alternate?

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Creyeditor »

So, I will talk about Etymology and historical linguistics. Maybe someone else can do conhistory and congeography. The facts are mostly gathered from Wikipedia and such places, so feel free to improve the story.

<Aztlan> is /ˈast͡ɬaːn/ in Nahuatl and has an uncertain etymology.
<Atlantis> is derived via Ancient Greek <Ἀ-τλαντ-ίς> from PIE *sem-telh₂-(é)-tis meaning something like `being a support'.

We probably want to derive <Aztlan> from some Greek form and not from PIE due to (a) the shorter geographical distance and (b) the shorter time distance. The departure from <Aztlan> probably took place around 1000 AD/CE and Medieval Greek was known in the whole mediterran area. Medieval Greek Atlantis was probably somewhere close to /a.tlanˈdis/.

So, I guess we need some changes to come from /a.tlanˈdis/ to /ˈast͡ɬaːn/.

Stress shift to the initial syllable:
/a.tlanˈdis/ > /ˈa.tlandis/
Coda Insertion to make the stressed syllable heavy:
/ˈa.tlandis/ > /ˈah.tlandis/
Vowel Reduction in unstressed final syllables
/ˈah.tlandəs/ > /ˈah.tlandəs/
Fricativization of liquids after plosives
/ˈah.tlandəs/ > /ˈah.tɬandəs/
Place Assimilation of fricatives to following stops
/ˈah.tɬandəs/ > /ˈas.tɬandəs/
Schwa Deletion
/ˈas.tɬandəs/ > /ˈas.tɬands/
Cluster Simplification with compensatory lengthening/s-deletion
/ˈas.tɬands/ > /ˈas.tɬaːnd/
Cluster simplification/Voiced stops delete after nasals
/ˈas.tɬaːnd/ > /ˈas.tɬaːn/

So, if these were the only sound changes applied to Medieval Greek (maybe in a more consistent and general way), the language from which Nahuatl borrowed the word <Aztlan>, let's call it American Greek, may have had the following properties.

Vowels:
/i (y) u/
/e a o/
Schwa was created, but then got deleted.

Consonants:
/m n/
/p t tɬ tʳ k/
/f θ s ɬ r̝ x/
/ʋ ɹ ɰ/
/r l/
Voiced stops only existed after nasals and where deleted there. Voiced fricatives where reinterpreted as glides.
Fricative liquids created maybe by another split.

Syllable structure and stress:
(C)(C)V(C) and primatry stress on the initial syllable

Morphophonology:
Some prefixes might end in a placeless fricative that assimilates in place to a following consonant.
Length alternations caused by s-deletion.


Of course, the borrowing could have been the other way round with Atlas from *sem-telh₂ being a folk etymology.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by sangi39 »

The problem, at least to me, is twofold.

On the one hand, there's the geography of the thing. There's literally zero evidence for a large landmass ever having existed in the Atlantic, and landmasses that large don't just go about disappearing (where huge tracts of land do fall beneath the water, it's usually because sea levels have risen, leaving behind traces of land now underwater, e.g. Doggerland, Zealandia, Beringia, etc.)

On the other hand, the timescales involved as pretty different. Atlantis, in Plato's work, from what I can remember, was above the ocean up until around 10,000BC to 9,000BC or so. The migration from Aztlan, however, is said to have occurred some time around 1,000AD, 10-11,000 years after Atlantis sank.

One option might be to take the Egpytian source as fact, but with the timescale being an exaggeration, and that Atlantis sank around 3,000BC, towards the beginnings of Ancient Egyptian civilisation. That's around the same that Proto-Uto-Aztecan was spoken, so that starts to look a bit better, I suppose, but still not great because Proto-Uto-Aztecan, as far as I can remember, is believed to have originated in the general area of North-Western Mexico and California.

You could throw out the idea that Atlantis has anything to do with the Uto-Aztecans (or the later Aztecs) or the Greeks, and that it was some independent state, which disappeared in Europe, but set up some remnant state in the Americas which eventually came to be known as Aztlan, and that the Atlanteans came to be the Azteca Chicomoztoca.

The question there then becomes "where to place Atlantis?", and I think WeepingElf has summed up why answering that question is pretty difficult (we know that it didn't exist, and assuming it isn't just pure allegorical fiction, the possible sources of inspiration probably weren't capable of crossing the Atlantic to the extent that they could establish a permanent foothold in the Americas).

So then it comes back down to... yeah, it's probably just a coincidence. There probably is a way to make it work, but probably not in a world that's our world. You'd have to make Atlantis real (in that world), which, presumably, would leave behind physical evidence (for example, to take one of WeepingElf's thoughts, an established urban civilisation in in the British Isles, dating to before the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, and similar material finds in the Americas dated to around the same time).
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by WeepingElf »

sangi39 wrote:
28 Jun 2020 16:14
The question there then becomes "where to place Atlantis?", and I think WeepingElf has summed up why answering that question is pretty difficult (we know that it didn't exist, and assuming it isn't just pure allegorical fiction, the possible sources of inspiration probably weren't capable of crossing the Atlantic to the extent that they could establish a permanent foothold in the Americas).

So then it comes back down to... yeah, it's probably just a coincidence. There probably is a way to make it work, but probably not in a world that's our world. You'd have to make Atlantis real (in that world), which, presumably, would leave behind physical evidence (for example, to take one of WeepingElf's thoughts, an established urban civilisation in in the British Isles, dating to before the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, and similar material finds in the Americas dated to around the same time).
The civilization in the British Isles I have in mind here is not that early. It is around 600 BC - a far cry from Plato's dates - and of course my main conculture, the Commonwealth of the Elves, who spoke Old Albic. Of course, that is entirely fictional!
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by jimydog000 »

What's the counterargument that it wasn't the Minoan culture? They even had (the idea of) hieroglyphs that may indicate that there was more going on than just trade routes with Egypt.

Surprised the Eye of the Sahara isn't mentioned yet.

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by svld »

Location wise, if "beyond the Pillars of Hercules" means "right beyond the Pillars of Hercules", then it's Tartessos, which has been trading with Phoenicians since 8th century BC.

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by WeepingElf »

jimydog000 wrote:
29 Jun 2020 02:20
What's the counterargument that it wasn't the Minoan culture? They even had (the idea of) hieroglyphs that may indicate that there was more going on than just trade routes with Egypt.
The geography does not fit! It is not "beyond the Pillars of Hercules" (some authors have tried to move the Pillars elsewhere, claiming a translation error or something like that, but if you look at a map of the Eastern Mediterranean, you will see that there is simply no place anywhere where Athens and Egypt are on one side and Crete on the other), and the description of the island doesn't fit either. For starters, Crete is too small. While Britain is of course "beyond the Pillars of Hercules", and it fits Plato's characterization of the island of Atlantis not perfectly, but reasonably well. For instance, the "canal" that connects the capital of Atlantis with the sea may have been Southampton Water (which also tells us where to look for the capital). Plus, the Irish tradition of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Germanic tradition of Elves may mean that there once was a relatively advanced culture in the British Isles. In fact, I was thinking of these northerly traditions when I started working on my Elves, and the idea that they may have been the Atlanteans or rather a part of the story only came later as an afterthought.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Salmoneus »

WeepingElf wrote:
29 Jun 2020 15:57
jimydog000 wrote:
29 Jun 2020 02:20
What's the counterargument that it wasn't the Minoan culture? They even had (the idea of) hieroglyphs that may indicate that there was more going on than just trade routes with Egypt.
The geography does not fit! It is not "beyond the Pillars of Hercules" (some authors have tried to move the Pillars elsewhere, claiming a translation error or something like that, but if you look at a map of the Eastern Mediterranean, you will see that there is simply no place anywhere where Athens and Egypt are on one side and Crete on the other), and the description of the island doesn't fit either. For starters, Crete is too small.
This seems a poor argument, to me.

We can have three different theories about the text: that it is ancient, transferred exactly to Plato; that its origins are ancient, transferred in the usual way of intermediaries to Plato; or that Plato (or an immediate predecessor) invented it entirely.

If we take the third theory, there's obviously no discussion. If we take the first, then we do indeed need to look closely at the details of the account. But it's incredibly unlikely that this is the case. Even in Plato's own story, Plato doesn't pretend to have direct knowledge - rather, he says that the Egyptians recorded it, and that Solon learnt of it from the Egyptians, and that Solon mentioned it to a mate, and that the story had been passed down through that mate's family for many generations, before finally being passed down to Critias (Plato's character), who happens to talk about it. Indeed, even Critias says that he learned the story when he was 10 years old, from his grandfather, who was 90 years old. Which is not exactly the ideal circumstance for the transmission of geographical details.

So at the very least, we certainly cannot take "I've heard that the Egyptians say that it's beyond the pillars of hercules" to mean "it's on the opposite side of the pillars of hercules from Egypt - because after all, we don't know whether the "beyond" was in the Egyptian, or was added by a Greek explaining it to a Greek.

And then if you look at the account of Atlantis - an island larger than Libya and Asia combined, with a central plain, in which are concentric rivers, and walls of tin and orichalcum (an imaginary metal), and a central mountain carved into a palace - it doesn't exactly scream "realistic geographical survey to the details of which we should pay great attention".

Finally, even in Plato's day, people thought he'd made it up. The man who should have known best, Aristotle, believed that Plato, his teacher, invented Atlantis for use in teaching philosophy (to, amongst others, Aristotle).

Meanwhile, in the same dialogue, Plato can't even accurately portay the clearly-recorded history of his own country (the number of generations between Solon and Critias is clearly wrong). Similarly, Plato says that at the time that Atlantis was an island, the Greek islands were high hills, and Athens was sustained by underground springs. And even places like Spain weren't accurately described even by expert Greek geographers.

So the best case scenario is a chinese whispers chain of hearsay. A much more plausible scenario is that that hearsay was then substantially embellished by Plato. Therefore, even if we take Plato's story seriously, as historically informed, we certainly should not take it literally.



What can we really take from the story, if we're trying to take it as historical? Leaving aside the fantastical elements and suspiciously detailed descriptions probably added for verisimilitude, we can pick out some key claims:
- it happened a long time ago
- a powerful overseas nation subjugated the Greeks (and allegedly much of the Mediterranean), before Athens (yes, Athens was a powerful city 9,000 years ago apparently - another reason not to take the story too literally!) fought them off
- the invaders came from over the sea, from an island
- the island was located beyond the pillars of hercules
- the island was in the atlantic ocean
- the island later sank beneath the sea
- some of the above was known to the Egyptians


Most of this can obviously be ascribed to the Minoans: a long time ago, a powerful overseas nation subjugated the Greeks, before the Greek cities (not Athens, but predecessors) fought them off; they came from an island, and the island later sank beneath the waves (or at least, one of them did, while the main island was hit by a giant tsunami that devastated the empire... so close enough).

The only problem is the location. Why would Plato say it was in the Atlantic?

Well, the general answer is that it probably sounded plausible. Plato puts it in the most convenient place possible: right on the edge of Greek knowledge. Close enough that it would be believable that someone might know about it, but far enough away that you couldn't easily go and check up. Geographically, there are a number of shoals, reefs and sandbanks in and beyond the straits of gibralter, so sailors might well have had the idea that there had been a sunken landmass there once. And culturally, the other place 'beyond the pillars of Hercules', Tartessos, fits in with the myth, as a place of considerable wealth and age, one of the most exotic places the Greeks knew about. In particular, Tartessos' reputation for an immense wealth of metal, and in particular its vast tin industry, fits in well with the idea of an Atlantis ringed with immense walls of metal, and specifically a wall of tin. Tartessos itself cannot have been intended as Atlantis by Plato, because Tartessos was still around at that time (or only lately submerged? Certainly not something from thousands of years before that only one family knew about...), but Plato could have intended a sort of 'continuity theory' - look, it's believable that the Atlanteans lived there, because look at their survivors living on land! If Tartessos is just the survivors, imagine the original empire!

And, of course, Tartessos was closely affiliated with the Phoenicians, who are the other shadow players in the Atlantis narrative. The phoenicians didn't subjugate the Greeks, but they were a powerful maritime enemy who had, like the Atlanteans, conquered Libya and sailed beyond the pillars of hercules. Also, the Greek attitude toward Phoenician politics was suitably confusing: Phoenician constitutional republicanism was an inspiration for the Greek writers, even though in general they were the enemies of the Greeks. This fits in well with Plato's Atlantis - a nation that had once been just and noble and well-governed, but that had degenerated into villainy (i.e. become enemies of the Greeks). So it wouldn't be surprising for Plato - assuming he didn't just invent the whole story completely on the basis of the Phoenicians - may have recognised the Phoenician parallels and placed his Atlantis in a location that would be Phoenician-coded for his listeners.

Finally, there's two more farfetched but still possible ideas. One is that fact that, centuries before Plato, the gulf of laconia was apparently known as the 'pillars of hercules' - beyond these pillars would have been a way of saying that something was south of Greek territory, as these pillars were the southern points of the Greek world at the time. That would fit well with Crete; it's possible then that the outline of "island nation beyond the pillars of hercules" was passed down in oral lore, and Plato knowingly or accidentally re-located it beyond the new pillars of hercules at Gibralter. The other is the question of the origin of the name. "Atlantis" obviously looks like a derivative of Atlas; but if we fancifully imagine that the name is non-Greek in origin, that could be a folk etymology; in which case, it would be natural for a Greek looking to locate a place called 'Atlantis' to place it in a part of the world already associated with the mythological figure of Atlas (i.e. near the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Sea). Notably, there's some confusion around this: Plato uses the story of Atlantis to explain the name of the Atlantic, whereas the real explanation is that the Atlantic was the sea next to the Atlas mountains; the name of the Atlas mountains in English derives from Berber, and while it may be assumed that the Berbers named the place they lived after a mythological figure in Greek stories, it may also be that the Greek association of the mountains with Atlas was itself a folk etymology for a native Berber name of unknown origin.



Regarding the Egyptians, incidentally - the Egyptians have no surviving records of Thera, but the records of the invading 'sea peoples' could potentially have contributed to the idea of a maritime invading power, and if people knew about this story then Plato could have been trying to link the Atlantean invasions to this [or it could just be yet another case of 'if you want to sound knowledgeable about a secret thing, claim to have been told by an Egyptian"...]

While Britain is of course "beyond the Pillars of Hercules", and it fits Plato's characterization of the island of Atlantis not perfectly, but reasonably well. For instance, the "canal" that connects the capital of Atlantis with the sea may have been Southampton Water (which also tells us where to look for the capital).
As I say, I don't think the depiction of Atlantis can be taken seriously. But in any case, I don't think that that description - larger than Libya and Asia combined, a giant central oblong plain, concentric rivers, giant walls, a palace-mountain - necessarily reminds me that much of Britain. Other than yes, there's hills in the north, but I'm not even sure that Plato would have considered the scottish highlands to really be 'mountains'.

What's more, it's in the wrong place. Plato said Atlantis was immediately beyond the pillars of hercules, in the 'mouth' of the straits (and specifically close enough to enable coast-hugging ships to cross to it), and in the Atlantic sea - which to the Greeks meant specifically the coastal sea along the shores of Morocco and Spain, before it widened out into Oceanus, the world-encircling ocean. Britain is a very long way from there, and not in the Atlantic in the Greek sense, so a literal interpretation of the text doesn't allow Britain as a location. In any case, there's no historical or mythological association between Britain and an invasion of Greece.
Plus, the Irish tradition of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Germanic tradition of Elves may mean that there once was a relatively advanced culture in the British Isles. In fact, I was thinking of these northerly traditions when I started working on my Elves, and the idea that they may have been the Atlanteans or rather a part of the story only came later as an afterthought.
If every culture (i.e. almost all cultures) that had stories about another race or another species previously inhabiting their land and surviving in the woods were the site of Atlantis, there would have to have been about ten thousand Atlantises.

[the elves aren't really relevant to Britain, since they appear in Germanic stories far from Britain; indeed, Britain's probably the one part of the Germanic world with the LEAST elf-stuff in its literature...]

It does seem clear that the Tuath Dé are a depiction of the neolithic inhabitants of Ireland, yes: they're explicitly said to have retreated into the neolithic tombs and megalithic monuments. [fun fact: it's just been shown that their royalty/priesthood practiced sibling incest... (at least, two of them did!)]. However, the same civilisation covered the whole of Europe, so it doesn't specifically link Britain with Atlantis. And in any case this was still a stone-age culture.
Last edited by Salmoneus on 30 Jun 2020 16:12, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by WeepingElf »

Well, it is merely an idea I exploit in my conculture. I don't really believe in it having been real. Your observations on the Atlantis myth are valid and correct.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Creyeditor »

Salmoneus wrote:
30 Jun 2020 15:02
[...] The other is the question of the origin of the name. "Atlantis" obviously looks like a derivative of Atlas; but if we fancifully imagine that the name is non-Greek in origin, that could be a folk etymology; in which case, it would be natural for a Greek looking to locate a place called 'Atlantis' to place it in a part of the world already associated with the mythological figure of Atlas (i.e. near the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Sea).
In general, I really enjoy your long informative, argumentative posts, but I especially enjoyed this one. Concerning this specific bit, I was thinking that Aztlan to Atlantis is probably easier. Let's just assume that Aztlan was an island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and the lake around it was actually an ocean. The derivation is a lot simpler.

Vowel shortening
/ˈas.tɬaːn/ > /ˈas.tɬan/
Deletion of coda-s
/ˈa.tɬan/
Sonorization of /ɬ/
/ˈa.tlan/
Affixation of /tis/ with stress shift
/a.tlan.ˈtis/
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by eldin raigmore »

“Creyeditor” wrote: I was thinking that Aztlan to Atlantis is probably easier. Let's just assume that Aztlan was an island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and the lake around it was actually an ocean. The derivation is a lot simpler.
I think that (and the posts leading up to it) are promising!

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Salmoneus »

Regarding the actual topic...


As has been pointed out, the problem here is that the two words are thousands of years apart, and that they're both from families with their own historical (so we know, for instance, that Aztlan didn't have the /l/ until recently - certainly long after the time of Atlantis). The Greek word has its own etymology, and I think the Nahuatl does too (the -tlán means 'place', doesn't it?)

So I think the only really viable way to do it would be to have the word be a loanword in at least one, if not both languages, later subject to folk etymology. And frankly, I think it probably has to both, given that neither culture showed any way of getting to the other. And a double-loan makes more sense story-internally anyway, given that Atlantis is presumably an Atlantean word, or derived from one.

Given the t>tl shift is Nahuan, 'Atlantis' would have to be introduced after the formation of proto-Nahuan, so presumably, going by the stories, afte 4th January 1064AD. That's... rather late.

However, you could assume that when the Nahuans migrated to Mexico, they THEN encountered the last survivors of the Atlanteans, who perhaps took over as a ruling class. The Aztec then merged together their origin and that of the Atlanteans.

Or, I suppose, the 'tl' could just be a coincidence, and then the word could be introduced into Uto-Aztecan much earlier. This is a bit uglier, but does allow a good explanation of why the Aztecs, clearly not Atlanteans, would have an Atlantean founder myth: maybe when they talk about escaping from the tyrants in Aztlan, the tyrants were the Atlanteans. Aztlan would then not be Atlantis itself, but a post-Atlantean state in North America, built in the image of Atlantis (the city on an island in a lake doesn't describe the island of Atlantis well, but does describe the central palace of Atlantis, within its three concentric moats; maybe cities-in-lakes is an Atlantic idea that arose in Atlantis, was imitated in refugee Aztlan, and then again in Tenochtitlan itself).

But then again, the problem there is that Uto-Aztecan presumably comes from the northwest - not ideal for contact from the east. Whereas the idea of the Nahuans only encountering the Atlanteans when they reach Mexico is much more geographically plausible.

You could then also tie it in to the undeciphered scripts of the Gulf coast and the significance of that area for development of Mesoamerican civilisation...

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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by Curlyjimsam »

Salmoneus is right that is a place-name suffix: Az-tlan gives us the name of the place (cf. Tenochtitlan and lots of others), and Az-tēcah the name of the people.
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Re: What if Aztlan and Atlantis were cognate names?

Post by eldin raigmore »

Curlyjimsam wrote:
12 Jul 2020 19:22
Salmoneus is right that is a place-name suffix: Az-tlan gives us the name of the place (cf. Tenochtitlan and lots of others), and Az-tēcah the name of the people.
Thanks!

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