Tales of lost cities and other worlds are often stories shared at bedtime but it now seems that it’s closer to reality than one may think.

An unearthed 13th-century map could show evidence of a lost kingdom which was believed to have sunk beneath the waves off the coast of Wales.

For almost a thousand years rumours have circulated about an ancient kingdom called Cantre’r Gwaelod that once existed in Wales’ Cardigan Bay – before it sank to become the basis for the legend of “Welsh Atlantis”.

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And a pair of dedicated researchers may have identified it.

Over the years there have been a variety of different stories about Cantre’r Gwaelod, with some saying that a maiden neglected to stop a well from overflowing over the lands and others blaming a drunken gatekeeper who failed to oversee the dykes.

Now thanks to the help of a medieval map, folkloric accounts, field studies, and geological surveys, there is possible geographical evidence for the lost land.

Simon Haslett, honorary professor of physical geography at Swansea University, and David Willis, Jesus Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, presented new evidence that two islands did once exist in the bay.

One island is offshore between Aberystwyth and Aberdyfi and the other further north towards Barmouth, Gwynedd.

Haslett claims the 'Welsh Atlantis' is marked on the Medieval Gough Map which is the oldest surviving complete map of the British Isles, possibly from around 1280, and is kept in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

He told the BBC: “The two islands are clearly marked and may corroborate contemporary accounts of a lost land mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen (1250).”

According to a study published in Atlantic Geoscience, the work demonstrates that “the existence of the ‘lost’ islands is considered plausible and offers a possible insight into the post-glacial coastal evolution of Cardigan Bay.”

Haslett and co-author Willis wrote in the study: “This study investigates historical sources, alongside geological and bathymetric evidence, and proposes a model of post-glacial coastal evolution that provides an explanation for the ‘lost’ islands and a hypothetical framework for future research,.

“Literary evidence and folklore traditions provide support in that Cardigan Bay is associated with the ‘lost’ lowland of Cantre’r Gwaelod.”

Professor Haslett and Willis offered their best guesses as to how the islands might have appeared before vanishing —and how they ended up in local folklore.

Based on Roman cartographer Ptolemy’s coordinates, who lived about 2,000 years ago, Haslett hypothesised that the shoreline was about 13kilometres (eight miles) west of where it is today and that local tales described walking between lands that are now divided by the sea due to the ice age's rising sea levels after the ice age.

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He added that legends like Cantre'r Gwaelod were more likely referring to sea floods and erosion by tsunamis or storms which forced coastal populations to flee.

“In roughly a millennium, from Ptolemy's time to the building of Harlech Castle during the Norman period, the seascape had completely altered,” Haslett said.

Later maps show the islands had disappeared, yet further up the coast at Harlech, the castle which was built to have a strategic advantage on the coastline now found itself more or less landlocked.”

Similar stories of an ‘Atlantis’ may be found throughout Europe, according to Welsh folklore researcher Dr Juliette Wood, and the islands don't necessarily prove the legend; rather, they could be just a coincidence.

Haslett explained that his findings regarding the changing landscape are still ongoing.


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