Nothing in the world, aside from perhaps Wakanda, represents our society's idea of a utopian paradise more than Atlantis. To most people, the Lost City of Atlantis is mere fantasy—a fictional civilization founded by half-men, half-God creatures equipped with more advanced technology than humans on Earth could dream of. Since the idea of it was mentioned by Plato some 2,000 years ago, many people have tried to make an educated guess on where it could be. And to a team of very dedicated "mythical archeologists" in Indonesia, the promised, lost continent rests deep in the Java Sea.
You could laugh at them, but Turangga Seta, as the group is called, is very serious about their "findings." The group has even claimed that it’s found the lost city’s exact location: 200 miles from Java’s southern coast. Its study is far from scientific—members of the group said that to arrive at this conclusion, they had cracked a number of codes clues left behind by ancient Javanese civilizations. These included the Queen of the Southern Sea myth, geological abnormalities, traditional concepts, batik patterns, shapes of traditional swords, and more. The group has shared a series of YouTube videos on their research, dedicating one video for each clue. There are 76 videos so far, all of them poorly edited.
One of the founders of this group is Timmy Hartadi—an Indonesian Indiana Jones, if you will. I met up with Timmy in his home in Yogyakarta, Central Java. Neat rows of traditional swords, statues, and various shadow puppets decorated his living room. The first thing I noticed as I entered his house was a painting of Java's notorious fortune teller A painting of the notorious fortune teller Raden Ngabehi Ranggawarsita.
Turangga Seta sternly rejects all scientific discourse, and relies much more on the supernatural. Timmy told me that his group exists for the people who are unsatisfied with the bland, and incomplete, version of history taught in Indonesian schools. He believes that there are more to discover and appreciate in Indonesia's oral history tradition, passed on by our ancestors. This is why Timmy, like other members of the group, sits down and has conversations with his ancestors on a daily basis. OK, but how exactly does one consult with spirits of the dead?
“Well, just like this," Timmy told me. "We just have a normal conversation. Then after that we just deliver messages from our ancestors."
A typical Turangga Seta meeting, Timmy said, involves a ritual where members burn incense to "invite" their ancestors over. Then it's basically a Q&A session, where they ask the spirits how life was like in Java a thousand years ago.
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"Some of them wear traditional Javanese attire, or regular clothing,” Timmy told me with a straight face. "They’re funny. They give us riddles to solve.”
It's these conversations that allegedly led the group to determine that there's a pyramid inside Mount Lalakon in Bandung in 2011, for example. Their project garnered media attention back then, because it was done at the same time when scientists from the prestigious Indonesian with Scientific Institute and the Bandung Technology Institute were doing a research on the mountain.
Predictably, Turangga Seta was met with backlash from the scientific community that lasted months. It reported its findings to the government, which rejected them immediately. The Indonesian Scientific Institute even released a statement saying their study Lalakon had was not affiliated at all with Turangga Seta's quest to find a hidden pyramid. The National Archaeological Board and the Indonesian Geological Association denounced its claims as pseudoscience.
Timmy is used to all the harsh criticisms from academics and historians.
“People nowadays would call it nonsensical magic, but for us it’s advanced technology," Timmy said. Despite being dismissed by several legitimate organizations, Timmy still believes in the existence of a pyramid inside Lalakon. He told me that the only reason that we haven't seen it is because the government banned him and the group to dig deeper into the mountain.
“The pyramid in Lalakon is about 300 meters tall," he said. "Even the Giza pyramids are only 139 meters tall. And Lalakon is just one of many sites in Indonesia. Using simple logic, you can find several of them. Just admit it."
As crazy as he sounds, Timmy is far from the only person who truly believes in this stuff. There are dozens of people throughout Indonesia from different backgrounds who play active roles in Turangga Seta. Some go on expeditions to ancient sites and search for relics and artifacts, primarily on the island of Java. Timmy said that Turangga Seta has managed to find hundreds of historical artifacts, but it doesn't reveal all of them to the public.
With their daring approach, you would think that academically-trained archaeologists must resent Turangga Seta and its claims. Turns out, they don’t.
Daud Aris Tanudirjo, a senior archaeologist at Gadjah Mada University, told VICE that amateur groups like Turangga Seta exist all over the world. “There are various genres of archaeology," he said. "Some accept unconventional methods and perspectives, but these usually fall under the pseudo-archaeology category."
After all, we shouldn't downplay the role of local myths in an archeological research, Tanudirjo told me. In a way, it's what Timmy has been saying all these years. "When you’re teaching history, you shouldn’t only discuss about events and figures. History is supposed to help us think more critically," Tanuridjo said.
Indeed, I could see where Timmy was going when he complained to me about how the Indonesian history students learn in school relies heavily on archives and documentations from the Dutch colonial era, and the works of foreign researches. Against these "authoritative" voices, local wisdom is often dismissed as mere myths, he said.
“The ancestors want younger generation to always remember sangkan paran ing dumadi (Javanese traditional teaching about how humans look at life), and where they came from. Don’t you ever go against our own ancestors and history.”
As long as they still receive guidance from ancestors, Timmy said Turangga Seta Community will always carry out expeditions to find other temples, pyramids, and traces of Atlantis in the country, he said. And wether or not you believe him, I think you can't disagree with everything he's said.
This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.