MIAMI -- A group of Florida-based technical divers is poised to try to solve a New Age/ancient mystery near the island of Bimini, Bahamas, 50 miles off the South Florida coast.
Gainesville-based Global Underwater Explorers -- best known for mapping massive underground springs in North Florida -- has been hired by a Virginia Beach-based non-profit group to try to uncover evidence of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.
The Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) is devoted to the teachings of the late Edgar Cayce -- one of America's best-known psychics.
Dubbed the "Sleeping Prophet," Cayce died more than 60 years ago after making predictions both accurate and otherwise about thousands of topics and events.
Cayce weighed in on a variety of subjects -- everything from diagnosing medical problems to detailing the effects of El Nino ocean currents on weather. One of his readings -- rendered while talking in his sleep -- was that "Atlantis will rise near Bimini in 1969."
In 1968, Miamian D.J. Manson Valentine was flying over the Bimini Islands when he spotted a mysterious, U-shaped stone formation in shallow water near north Bimini that has since been dubbed the "Bimini Road." It was first surveyed the following year. For 40 years, A.R.E. members have been trying to prove the "road" might lead to the discovery of Atlantis.
REMNANTS OF CONTINENT
Cayce's readings described Atlantis as an ancient continent harboring an advanced civilization stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Gibraltar that was destroyed by an unknown catastrophe in 10,000 B.C.
According to Cayce, the Bimini Islands are remnants of a mountain range where Atlantis' leaders built a temple with a Hall of Records holding stone tablets that detailed their pre-evolutionary history. Cayce also said 12,000 gold coins were buried in the inlet that runs between the North and South Bimini Islands.
No one has found the gold -- or at least admitted to it. But the A.R.E. is still interested in finding the Hall of Records, which director John Van Auken believes might be found in waters deeper than the Bimini Road -- more like 200-300 feet deep.
Van Auken, 63, a lifelong Cayce devotee, hopes the divers from Global Underwater Explorers can unlock the secrets.
Van Auken said the explorers are expected to conduct as many as four deep-diving missions near Bimini in 2010. Van Auken expects to spend between $20,000 and $50,000, securing a large mothership as the mission base for dives using rebreathers, high-definition video and digital mapping equipment, and possibly a two-person submarine.
"From (Cayce's) psychic, deep attunement to universal consciousness, he said one of the key temples with 32 stone tablets is off the coast of Bimini at the (edge) of the Gulf Stream," Van Auken said.
Van Auken said previous explorations in the area -- some using high-tech methods such as sub-bottom profiling and side-scan sonar -- have shown "unnatural features" that appear to have been constructed by humans. He is not bothered by the taunts of Atlantis naysayers.
"We hope this will prove to be a remnant of Atlantis," he said. "With archaeologists, I don't use the 'A-word.' I use 'pre-Ice Age culture of some sophistication.' If you use the A-word, boy, you're out."
Robert Carmichael, CEO of Brownie's Marine Group, based in Fort Lauderdale, is one of the leaders of the GUE expedition. While Carmichael doesn't exactly buy into the Atlantis theory, he and his colleagues have observed some of the "unnatural features" Van Auken mentioned -- long, curving sandy trails winding through the sides of steep, underwater cliffs 200 to 300 feet deep that look like mountain switchback trails or ski runs."
"It's hard to think that would be naturally occurring," Carmichael said. "We need to go down there and measure the pathways and accurately survey them. There are some areas that look like terraces. There are buttressed caverns on the bottom of the wall. When we do have the opportunity to go back there, we'd like to poke into those caves at 220-300 feet deep to see if there's something in there."
ENORMOUS LAND MASS
Carmichael does not dispute the notion that humans could have occupied Bimini around the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago. During that time period, he said, with water levels 300 feet lower than now, the Bimini Islands would have been one enormous land mass. A person standing on North Bimini back then could look across the Straits of Florida and glimpse Miami.
"That would cause prehistoric man to build a boat or a canoe and see what's over there," he said.
Indeed, native historian Ashley Saunders wrote in his 2006 book, History of Bimini Volume 2, that there is evidence the blocks of stone at the Bimini Road are similar to dry docks or breakwaters found in ancient, drowned Mediterranean port cities. Saunders called for more exploration and research.
Van Auken is happy to oblige.
"We're looking for evidence of human-made features," he said. "It's fine to not believe it. There are some of us that have this gut feeling and enjoy the search."