Frozen Atlantis is an academic storytelling project about human beings and their connection with the world around them. It explores visually powerful ways to engage a wider audience with our research.
The project comprises a variety of outreach initiatives addressing different age groups. Frozen Atlantis produces film episodes, builds state-of-the-art 3D-interfaces such as The Storyverse, or collaborates with schools and theatres. Specialising in media formats other than the academic monograph, we aim at complementing conventional modes of publication.
At the heart of Frozen Atlantis lie encounters with the landscapes of the north and the stories behind them. In four expeditions and across different seasons, we set out into the nature of the north. What connects the places we visit is the life-sustaining balance of water and ice – a balance that is shifting rapidly in the 21st century.
Setting out for landscapes at our doorsteps and encountering those living with them, we have teamed up with strong partners and professionals. These include videographers, mountain leaders, developers, 3D-artists, composers, voice artists, theatre producers, museums, children’s book authors, and designers.
Together we bring you stories connecting the present and the past – stories of meaning which human beings have sought in the world around them.
Bernhard Schirg and Lars Larsson (right) inspecting the Stone in the Green Valley on site.Photograph by Martin Olson.
The Prophecy of the Stone
Five centuries ago, a song was discovered in an old library, among the pages of a manuscript. Its lines mention a ‚Stone in the Green Valley‘ up north, inscribed with an ancient prophecy – about the world coming to an end.
In 1675, Olof Rudbeck sent out an expedition to the northern parts of the Swedish kingdom. It returned with the drawing of a stone on the Norwegian border.
The stone and its carvings appeared in the 1679 volume of his Atlantica, printed next to charts of ancient alphabets.
Centuries later, its inscription still remains a riddle. Rudbeck himself never came to elaborate on what he saw in the drawing from the north.
Left: The 'Stone in the Green Valley' in a historic illustration from Rudbeck, Atlantica, vol. of plates.Right: The original stone (autumn 2020).Click here to read more!
The 'Stone in the Green Valley'-melody, inspired by a 500-year old song. Courtesy of Thomas von Wachenfeldt.
The prophecy associated with the mysterious stone speaks of a time of deep crisis. If you want to change course, so it advises, take your bearings from the oldest writings.
Where does the Prophecy of the Stone guide us in the 21st century?
In spring 2022, our team returned to the site of the mysterious stone. From the snow-covered mountains of the Fjäll, we followed the history of its interpretations to the Royal Library in Stockholm.
Stay tuned for ‚The Prophecy of the Stone‘ – the pilot episode of Frozen Atlantis (release early 2023)!
River of Light
Laforsen Dam – the beginning of the undammed Mellanljusnan section.
In classical mythology, the Elysian Fields were a place of paradisiac promise. Ancient poets like Vergil and Homer described them as the place where the souls of the blessed had their home, dwelling on lush river banks filled with sunshine and music.
In Rudbeck’s interpretation, such a vision was rooted in the landscape along the Ljusnan River (‚ljus‘ is the Swedish word for light, as Rudbeck didn’t fail to point out).
Today, Ljusnan counts among the many rivers whose original landscape and biology have been sacrificed to hydropower.
In summer 2022, the team of Frozen Atlantis embarked on an epic journey down the last stretch of the Ljusnan that remains untamed. Taking Vergil’s description of the journey to the otherworld as a guide, we travelled down Rudbeck’s River of Paradise, guided by the mythical promises of a landscape whose appearance we have changed for good.
Stay tuned for the full video episode of ‚River of Light‘ (release summer 2023)!
All photographs by Darren Hamlin.
A dozen rapids remains in this last free-flowing section of the Ljusnan.
The Throne Deserted
The mountains of Jämtland from Drommen (T) towards three-peaked Helags (H).Detail from a woodcut from Rudbeck's Atlantica (click for more information on reachingforatlantis.de).
In classical mythology, the Muses were the divine forces inspiring music, poetry, and history. Some of the ancient poets praised Mount Helicon as their home – a three-peaked mountain that was the throne of the nine goddesses.
When Rudbeck’s expedition returned from Jämtland in 1675, they brought a panorama of the local mountains. The illustration identifies three prominent peaks among them as Helags (H H H). It is the massif where Sweden’s southernmost glacier lodges.
The woodcut printed in the Atlantica presents Helags in line with the geological features that classical mythology had attributed to Helicon. Rudbeck linked the landscape around this Throne of the Muses to myths that for him spoke of the beginnings of written culture. In his interpretation, the staffs of the first of alphabets – for him the runes – imitated the crystal structures of ice and snow.
In the 21st century, many of the stories connecting human beings with these lands are losing ground.
The Fjäll around Helags has traditionally been herding grounds for the Sámi. In their own language, they referred to the massif as Maajåelkie.
For most of the time, the Sámi have lived as an oral culture, passing on their knowledge and stories from generation to generation. Today, they fight to recover their cultural identity from centuries of suppression, claiming agency over the history of their people.
The lands around Maajåelkie are changing. Touristic exploitation and climate change are leaving their marks. Reindeer herders struggle to adapt to shorter winters and different qualities of snow. At the glacier itself, the ice that Rudbeck stylised into a symbol of a culture based on letters is in retreat.
In spring 2023, we will begin our outings into these lands and the stories behind them. Visiting places and meeting people, we trace the fading stories of the Jämtland mountains – narratives that connected human beings to these lands in rapid change.
All photographs by Martin Olson.
For centuries, naval charts of the Atlantic have shown the Maelstrom on the Norwegian coast – a giant vortex raging between the Lofoten Islands.
The Atlantica made the Maelstrom a hub for a host of mythical narratives. In Rudbeck’s interpretation, the vortex featured in the awe-inspiring reports of the Argonauts‘ voyage or accounted for the ‚Navel of the Sea‘ – the site described by Homer where Ulysses’s raft was sucked in on his flight from the sorceress Calypso.
Yet above all, Rudbeck argued, this gloomy site had inspired antiquity’s vision of the Acheron – the gate to the sun-less world that awaits the punished souls.
The legendary vortex at the Lofoten as depicted on Rudbeck's map of Scandinavia.
From the Atlantica's vol. of plates (click to explore the map).
'Lofoten, of Gothic origin: the utmost region of Norway'.
Entry from the unfinished Thesaurus by Olof Rudbeck the Younger, Uppsala University Library, R 8.
When the light of summer is fading and the sea grows rougher, our team will set out to the dismal shores above the Polar Circle. Embracing the autumn waves of the Atlantic, we will cross over the Maelstrom on sea kayaks.
On the other side, on the utmost islands of the Lofoten, lie the caves of those who moved north when the last Ice Age ended. Hunters and gatherers who came to live on these prohibiting latitudes, existing by the grace of warm currents that the Gulf Stream pumps north.
Crossing the Maelstrom, we will pass through a vortex of time. Millennia-old paintings survive in the caves on the other side. They open up glimpses on the otherworld as imagined by those who first came to live up here.
‚The Abyss‘ is a descent to the shadier parts of our subconsciousness. How have human beings imagined what comes beyond? And how do we live in awareness about the end of our existence, of life itself that up here depends on the heart of the Atlantic beating?
Follow us on a journey to the darker horizons of our existence.
At the beginning of this extraordinary story stands a favour.
More than 350 years ago, a professor at Uppsala was working on the edition of a Norse text. One of the colleagues he had at Sweden’s most venerable university – Olof Rudbeck, a renowned professor of anatomy and polymath – called mapmaking among his many skills.
Envisioning a guide for the reader, Olof Verelius asked his friend for a map that localised the names occurring in the saga in Scandinavia. It was a favour that changed the final three decades of Rudbeck’s life.
Working on the map for his friend, so Rudbeck later related, he noticed staggering similarities between place names from Nordic texts and sites occurring in Greek and Roman mythology. At closer scrutiny, such resemblance seemed beyond coincidence. It was an observation that launched him on an enterprise that created a new vision of his home.
In 1679, Olof Rudbeck published the first volume of his Atlantica. In this, he presented Scandinavia as the lands the Greek philosopher Plato had described as Atlantis.
And that was just the tip of an iceberg.
As Rudbeck argued, all the disputed sites, open riddles, and loose ends from the ancient stories resolved in harmony as soon as Sweden was introduced into the equation.
Until 1702, his Atlantica grew into four volumes. They cover thousands of pages and comprise more than 500 woodcuts and engravings. Weaving his narrative, Rudbeck skimmed the stories of the Egyptians, Greek, Norse, or Romans and studied their respective artifacts.
Rudbeck applied the scientific methods of his time in order to unlock the ‚true‘ meaning behind texts and objects. He referenced known antiquities or set out with his students to dig out new ones. He introduced the latest insights from botany or geography. He mapped the nation’s oldest buildings, engaged in speculative linguistics, or sent out expeditions to the mountainous parts of the kingdom.
For Rudbeck, the result from all this was clear. The scenes and stories found in ancient mythology, the itineraries of Ulysses or the Argonauts, the stories of the gods, or the very names of places and heroes – they all pointed to a reality that still existed up north.
Such was the truth hidden in the ancient texts, objects, and the nature of the north – a truth the Greek or Roman authors had failed to see.
Olof Rudbeck was professor of medicine at Uppsala University.
Here we can see him engaging in an activity associated with his position – the practice of dissection, for which he had the anatomical theatre at Uppsala designed and erected.
Instead of revealing the organs or muscles of a body, he applies his scalpel to peel back the layer of false interpretation. Below the map marked as 'Svecia' (Sweden) lies the 'Insula Deorum' (Island of the Gods), from which the pantheon of Greek or Roman mythology draws its first origin.
An old man with a winged hourglass on his head and holding a scythe in his hand. These attributes identify the man as Saturn / Chronos, an allegory of Time.
Standing side by side with Rudbeck, this composition visualises the idea of 'Time revealing the Truth'. This was a common motif in antiquarian publications of the time.
This group of three persons comprises (from left to right) the ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, and the poet Hesiodos crowned with a laurel wreath.
Their writings – especially Plato's dialogues on Atlantis – were the subject of a substantial re-interpretation by Rudbeck.
Both Plato and Hesiodos reach out with their hands towards the globe. They point at the truth that Rudbeck reveals in the north and that they had failed to see.
With a pointer, Chronos indicates the Baltic Sea to the persons surrounding the globe.
Wielding his scalpel, Rudbeck the anatomist reveals the original name / meaning of Scandinavia as 'Island of the Gods' that was hidden under a layer of a more recent tradition.
As he argued in the Atlantica, previous interpreters had falsely focussed on the Mediterranean as the place to localise the stories of the ancients.
Among this group of three located on the right margin the Greeks Orpheus and Plutarch can clearly be identified.
The former ranks as one of the Argonauts and alleged author of an account describing their journey (which Rudbeck traced up the Russian rivers and around the Scandinavian coastline, where Orpheus's finger is pointing).
The latter was a Greek author on whose writings Rudbeck repeatedly draws. He holds a telescope for an unnamed third person, allowing him to inspect the scene unfolding at the centre of the globe.
The laurel wreath suggests a poet (the attributed blindness makes Homer an unlikely candidate).
The bottom of the scene comprises four figures from the classical world. All of them provide important points of reference in Rudbeck's Atlantica (from left to right):
The anatomist Olof Rudbeck dissecting the ‚truth‘ about Sweden’s original history.Detail from the engraving opening the volume of plates accompanying the Atlantica’s first volume (1679). For more information visit Reaching for Atlantis!
What Rudbeck created over three decades was a highly controversial work.
The Atlantica is a monument to the national pride that held sway in Sweden in the second half of the seventeenth century. After the Thirty Years War, established cultural nations still had ridiculed the nation as an uncivilised chunk of ice that had risen to military power.
From 1679 onward, Rudbeck turned the story around. Devising a flattering history, he placed his nation at the beginning of civilisation in Europe. He did so by appropriating cultural heritage around the Mediterranean as well as the Sámi indigenous people in the own kingdom.
In early modern Europe, such narratives were common practices. What distinguishes the Swedish version is the sheer size and determination of the enterprise.
The Atlantica created an all-comprising framework, capable of absorbing and connecting the knowledge of the time with an astonishing twist. At the same time, Rudbeck’s search for the places promised by the ancient texts at his doorstep led to deep dives in early archaeology, runology, geography and surveying, botany, or language studies.
Within the scientific disciplines of its time, the quest of Atlantis was pushing boundaries.
The Atlantica is work that is as fascinating as controversial, created by one of Europe’s last universal geniuses.
Its volumes unfold a vision that connected the creation in profound harmony, inscribing the world with deep if not divine meaning. At the heyday of the Swedish Empire, they turned Rudbeck’s home into the one land that ancient texts had promised under many names.
The nature of Scandinavia was the foundation carrying this vision. With the help of maps and illustrations, Rudbeck argued for the primordial status of the north, pointing to Sweden’s rivers and mountains, the plants growing on their banks and slopes, or the snowflakes covering its ground that all informed our oldest stories.
Tying such aspects of nature together with our oldest myths, he made the world around him an eloquent witness to stories of our earliest origins – a truth that for him firmly rooted in the stable ground of nature herself.
The result was a vision that turned the world into a wunderkammer – a place where even the slightest detail could spark awe and wonder, acting as a node into the wider web of stories Rudbeck wove across his home.
This universe of meaning is where our journey towards The Storyverse begins.
Three centuries after Rudbeck, humankind has entered into an era now called the Anthropocene. Our riotous presence has reached a scale that made our species namesake of a geological period.
From Antarctica to the North Pole, the consequences of a worldview become apparent that sees the world as a a resource which is ours to take. All around us, the planet reveals its ruinous condition – if we dare to look.
There is a deep grief that we fail to voice. A speechlessness that befalls us in the light of the mythical change which is dawning.
it is late on earth, the poet Gunnar Ekelöf wrote almost a century ago. We know what is happening and what is on the horizon. And it is in such times that stories like that of Atlantis find particular resonance.
A dystopian future has begun to dawn in the Anthropocene. A loss of stability is becoming tangible all around us. The myth of Atlantis feels eerily close where it tells of the rise and fall of a civilisation.
At the same time, the lure of this myth stands for the many stories to which our anxious minds escape in times like these:
Maybe there still is a glimpse of the lost places out there, existing somewhere in a world we are leaving lesser in species, lesser in wonder?
Perhaps there still is a story that lends dignified meaning to our experience of the present, when the world as we knew comes to an end?
Human beings need stories. We long for narratives that order the world and describe our place in it. To a large degree, the stories we tell affect how we treat the world around us. More than ever, we have to be careful to whom we leave it to nourish our need for meaning, connection, and belonging.
The stories we tell in the Anthropocene may decide if we find a way to survive in good neighbourhood with all life on earth. Yet so far, we do not know how to (re)write the story of who we are and who we have been.
Outdoor filming session with Martin Olson (Camera).Photograph by Theo Rosén.
There is something about Rudbeck’s Atlantica that resonates with the ambivalence of our own time. Through the historian’s lens it appears as a product of cultural colonialism and nationalistic historiography. In the eye of the romantic, it is a work abounding with an overwhelming desire to find meaning at our doorstep – and with a boundless creativity to write a story connecting us with the world around us.
Our project believes that in the Anthropocene, we need new stories that integrate our human ambivalence. The creativity and violence that we applied and apply to make old promises hold true. Our need for stories, and the struggle to let go of toxic narratives that have held societies together. The fear of the void that we collectively suppress.
Frozen Atlantis aims at creating such stories by critically engaging with Rudbeck’s Atlantica. We set out to places where our oldest myths once were made to anchor.
Embarking for the Elysium along the Ljusnan (placing the ‚Golden Bough‘). Photograph by Darren Hamlin.
Embarking for these landscapes, we listen how human beings have made them meaningful. We bear witness to the changes we have brought to these places ever since. This way, we embrace the quest to write new stories, connecting us with what we leave behind.
Reaching for Atlantis – Our home base
Our initial plan with the mother project of Frozen Atlantis (see below) was to explore digital ways to tell stories of and from the objects that Olof Rudbeck made carriers of meaning in his Atlantica.
In spring 2022 we launched our main project platform Reaching for Atlantis. The cultural biographies of biographies under the Swedish Empire and beyond.
Our visual database Peek into Atlantis now allows you to explore more than 500 illustrations from the Atlantica which Rudbeck and his followers made puzzle stones in the intellectual building they erected.
In our storytelling section The backstories, we have begun publishing academic essays that allow you delve in-depth into fascinating stories behind select pieces from this pool of illustrations.
Too long, didn't read – Early steps in Storytelling
The story our our project is one of transformation – of following resonance and new ideas that come on the way.
Since an early point, we have begun developing a second platform to complement Reaching for Atlantis.
In 2021, Too long, didn’t read. Stories of Sustenance (TLDR) went online. It is a storytelling platform for stories that resonated with us on our ways – a place honouring the digressions that lead towards something new.
TLDR ventures beyond established narratives of academic writing. Up-close and personal, it grants space to the individual as well as its impressions and feelings. Mixing text and images, it tells stories of wonder and awe, of search and dead-ends, and encounters that transformed us.
Frozen Atlantis pushes the boundaries of academic disciplines and the modes of outreach. As such, we are part of a movement engaging in ‚Undisciplining the Humanities‘.
Such a journey also means setting out to find new homes. In this we are proud to be supported by the Freigeist-profile of the VolkswagenFoundation, the largest private funder of science in Germany (no connection with the car company).
For our project(s) we have won the support and trust of a strong partner. This is crucial to realise a vision that may break new ground in the borderlands of established disciplines.
As a project today affiliated in the field of Public History, we believe that in communicating our research we have to go where the public long has gone. Growing organically, we find our allies on the way. Together, we embark on the adventure of shaping the Humanities for the 21st century.
Photograph by Darren Hamlin, 'River of Light' expedition 2022.