The Atlantis of the Sands: the real myth behind Uncharted 3
- Posted October 26th, 2011 at 15:54 EDT by Robert Zwetsloot
- 6 Comments
Every great archaeological adventure is based around a real legend. The Holy Grail, The Ark of the Covenant, El Dorado, Atlantis, and Shambhala are all recurring locations and treasures for adventurers like Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon, Lara Croft, and of course Nathan Drake. In books, movies, and video games, these famous myths give a great starting off point, allowing for twists on the established preconceptions to make the story more interesting.
Nate’s latest adventure has him seeking out Iram of the Pillars, more poetically known as the Atlantis of the Sands. Although a real legend as well, the myths surrounding Ubar are relatively unknown compared to the destinations of his previous adventures. We know Sully is excited at the prospect of it being a city of immeasurable wealth, however where is this Iram of the Pillars? Why is it called the Atlantis of the Sands?
The short answer is that it is the most exciting location the Uncharted series has been yet.
It starts in the Qur'an, with a cautionary tale regarding an “Iram, with its lofty pillars.” It talks of the people of ‘Ad, who built a city the likes of which had never been seen before. Their prosperity led to arrogance, and they begun to worship idols they had created themselves. Allah brought a prophet among them, Hud, who warned them that they would bring down the wrath of the one true God if they were to continue.
They did not listen.
Allah, angered by this, destroyed the city. The Qur'an is not always consistent regarding how this came to be, mentioning floods, earthquakes, and even volcanic eruptions. However, the most common interpretation is that a mighty sandstorm was summoned that buried the city:
“And as for the 'Ad, they were destroyed by a furious roaring Wind; Which He imposed against them for seven long nights and eight long days so that thou mightest have seen men lying overthrown, as if they were hollow trunks of palm-trees” Chapter 11 of the Qur'an (Surat Al-Haaqqa): 6-7
The people of ‘Ad aren’t just mentioned in the Islamic faith though, the Old Testament also talks of them. The ‘Ad are descended from Shem, the son of Noah, and in the tenth book of Genesis it lists the original rulers of Arabia, saying the ‘Ad settled in the region of Oman.
Of course, the historical accuracy of the Bible and the Qur'an is poor at best. However, the people in Arabia do tell stories of Iram, the finest city in all the land with pillars made from solid gold. They call it Ubar.
In 1930, Englishman Bertram Thomas was making an historic trip through the Rub’ al Khali - a desert in Oman also known as the Empty Quarter. He was the first foreigner to travel all the way across it, but in a southern part of the desert, his guide stopped him.
“Look, there is the road to Ubar!” he exclaimed, pointing down a well trodden and ancient trail “A great city rich in treasure with date gardens and a fort of red-silver. It now lies buried beneath the sands.” According to Thomas, the tracks were “about a hundred yards in cross section,” signifying a mighty highway.
Established history does support its existence. Before the rise of Christianity, frankincense was one of the most sought after commodities in the ancient world, vital in many Jewish and Pagan religious ceremonies. The finest of this incense was found on the Arabian peninsula, where the amount of frankincense produced per year was in the range of several thousand tons at its peak, making the area very wealthy.
Knowing that people would want to steal away not only their source of great income, but a fantastic vantage point on the trade route between East Asia and Africa, the people of Arabia were incredibly secretive. Little was known by foreigners about the workings within their borders in terms of land routes and locations of cities or plantations.
In the third century, geographers in Alexandria made an attempt to map out the Arabian peninsula along with the rest of the world. Using the descriptions obtained from Sea Captains, a somewhat accurate representation of the area was published in Ptolemy’s Geography, the first book that mapped out the world as it was currently known.
Recorded as being in the Rub’ al Khali was the Omanium Emporium. This major market town of Oman was known to sailors, but they had never seen it. Supposedly it was a fabulous city that stretched near to the coastline, according to the wandering tribesman that would tell of it. It’s exact location was unclear due to the nature of lies and misinformation that perpetuated the land.
In this time before Islam, the constant changing of power meant that little was recorded or written down. This Jehaliya, an Age of Ignorance, is considered to be worse than the European Dark Ages. Over the years, Arabian scholars and historians have mentioned Iram, Ubar and the ‘Ad:
“[Ubar] is the name of the land which belonged to ‘Ad in the eastern parts of Yemen and which is today an untrodden waste owing to the drying up of the desert. There are to be found in it great buildings which the wind has smothered in sand.” Nashwan bin Said al Himyari
Over the past century, the stories of Ubar and Iram have captured the minds of many. As well as the aforementioned Bertram Thomas, there was his rival St John Philby. Another Englishman, he crossed the Empty Quarter a year after Thomas, and claimed he had found Ubar. He later changed his story. As well as these two, the legendary British Adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been searching for it since he fought in Oman in the late 1960s.
Even T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was obsessed with it. It was Lawrence who coined the term Atlantis of the Sands, due to the tales of it being buried beneath the sand, much like Atlantis is supposedly lost beneath the waves. “There is always substance to these Arab tales” he said regarding the city.
As a seasoned explorer, historian, and adventurer, Nathan Drake has already discovered two lost cities, and while Sir Ranulph Fiennes allegedly discovered a site that somewhat resembles the descriptions of Ubar in 1991, the scientific community is divided on whether or not this is the legendary lost city.
We get the feeling Nate is going to prove this either way once and for all.
The majority of this article was researched via Atlantis of the Sands: The search for the Lost City of Ubar by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and is a fantastic resource if you wish to learn more about the attempts to find Ubar.
- 12:59pm EDT - October 26th, 2011
A perfect read while you wait for the new Uncharted adventure to launch.
- 4:19pm EDT - October 26th, 2011
"he historical accuracy of the Bible and the Qur'an is poor at best" Seriously ?!!!
Are you an idiot or something ? thoose books are the only trusted reference of what happened in the old ages.
- 5:20pm EDT - October 26th, 2011
No one is saying that what is said in the Bible is wrong but when it comes to things like this, history can get a bit fuzzy.
One major point when it comes to something like the Bible; "Textual Criticism". When making copies of these books, scribes would make notes in the margin correcting what was originally written. Unfortunately when a scribe would come to make a copy of that copy, they wouldn't know what to do with that note so there are many versions with lines being added and omitted.
After 2000 years, a lot of things get lost in transcribing and translation.
TL;DR - Translations of the ancient Hebrew Bible started somewhere around 200 BC. That's 2200 years ago.
- Translating anything can cause it to lose their true meaning and the testament, bibles you name it... they've been translated over and over again.
Thus "the historical accuracy of the Bible and the Qur'an is poor at best"
- 5:28pm EDT - October 26th, 2011
The Qur'an hasen't been translated. It's the same since it was first made in the same language ' Arabic'
and there are no different versions of it.
- 8:37am EST - November 9th, 2011
The Holy Quran cannot be read like a history book, but the history in its verses are accurate.
I totally understand what you mean by "the historical accuracy of the Bible and the Qur'an is poor at best". Assuming both accounts are true, they are never "scholarly" detailed since they aren't history books. I read them both.I am not sure of the accuracy of what I am about to mention but I remember reading about finding a trade record in one of the ancient cities in Syria which mentiones trading with a wealthy city in the south known for its pillars. Back then I excluded the Kingdom of Shiba since the time line didn't fit with the date of the record. Also, when reading Arabic poetry before Prophet Mohammed and the Qur'an, I think I came across a proverb that can be translated like "harbinger/messenger of WAd". If Arab knew about Ad before Qur'an that could further confirm the existence of Iram; after all they were a nation that relied on oral tradition and couldn't have heard about Ad from the Bible.Great article!
- 7:46am EST - November 28th, 2012
This will permanently ban this user and delete all associated comments. This action is irreversible, are you SURE you want to do this?!