Image: Atlantis
National Geographic
An artist's conception shows the city of Atlantis as it has been envisioned in legend.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/14/2011 2:05:47 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:05:47

A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago, in mud flats in southern Spain.

"This is the power of tsunamis," head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters.

"It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that's pretty much what we're talking about," said Freund, a professor at the University of Hartford who led an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.

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To solve the age-old mystery, the team analyzed satellite imagery of a suspected submerged city just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multiringed dominion known as Atlantis.

The team of archaeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping and underwater technology to survey the site.

Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of "memorial cities," built in Atlantis' image by its refugees after the city's likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.

Atlantean residents who did not die in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.

The team's conclusions are detailed in "Finding Atlantis," a National Geographic Channel special.

While it is hard to know with certainty that the site in Spain is Atlantis, Freund said the "twist" of finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats.

"We found something that no one else has ever seen before, which gives it a layer of credibility, especially for archaeology, that makes a lot more sense," Freund said.

Image: Atlantis rings
National Geographic
A computer graphic shows the concentric rings that may have existed during Atlantis' ancient heyday. Scientists have seen evidence of such submerged structures beneath the vast marshlands of southern Spain's Dona Ana Park.

Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis 2,600 years ago, describing it as "an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules," as the Straits of Gibraltar were known in antiquity.

Using Plato's detailed account of Atlantis as a map, searches have focused on the Mediterranean and Atlantic as the best possible sites for the city. Researchers have previously proposed that Atlantis was located on the Greek island of Santorini , the Italian island of Sardinia or on Cyprus .

Tsunamis in the region have been documented for centuries, Freund says. One of the largest was a reported 10-story tidal wave that slammed Lisbon in November 1755.

Debate about whether Atlantis truly existed has lasted for thousands of years. Plato's "dialogues" from around 360 B.C. are the only known historical sources of information about the iconic city. Plato said the island he called Atlantis "in a single day and night ... disappeared into the depths of the sea."

Experts plan further excavations at the site where they believe Atlantis is located and at the mysterious "cities" in central Spain 150 miles away to more closely study geological formations and to date artifacts.

This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com. "Finding Atlantis," a documentary about the search for the city's ruins, will air on Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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