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In Church Remains, German Archaeologists Discover the Truth of ‘Atlantis of the North Sea’

What is historical, however, is the calamity that destroyed the city: “the great drowning of men” — in Dutch, the Grote Mandrenke — a massive storm surge in 1362, which caused flooding around the North Sea and killed as many as 25,000 in what is today the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

“The Grote Mandrenke really had a huge impact, changing the areas that were settled into ones that were no longer inhabitable,” Ickerodt said. “The destruction of dike zones was quite common in the Wadden Sea area, but not in this amount.”

That’s something that hangs in the collective memory, and three centuries later, a Lutheran priest, Anton Heimrich, inscribed the story into his North Frisian Chronicle, the oldest extant record of the legend.

“The Protestant priest uses Rungholt as a motif of transience or impermanence — meaning, ‘Be good. Otherwise, punishment will follow,’” Ickerodt explained. “This is a religious motif that was combined with collective knowledge that there was a village or city or some formation that had been destroyed.”

Another two centuries after Heimrich, the German poet Detlev von Liliencron further immortalized Rungholt’s tale in his ballad “Trutz, Blanke Hans.”

“Today I traveled over Rungholt, the city went under six hundred years ago,” begins the poem. “The waves are still beating wildly and indignantly, as when they destroyed the marshes.”

Liliencron’s telling casts the legend as a warning, less about man’s arrogance and defiance of God but that of nature, comparing Rungholt to Rome and painting Blanke Hans, i.e., the unpredictable nature of the seas, as a monster whose body stretches from “the shores of England” to “the sands of Brazil.”

By Liliencron’s time, Rungholt was seen as something primarily of myth, but changing tides in the Wadden Sea in the 1920s began to reveal evidence that there had been a medieval settlement there, and for more than a century archaeologists have tried to pin down the exact location of the legendary town.

“The search for the church of Rungholt was always a focus and often discussed,” Majchczack said, according to Vice. “A main question was always the character of Rungholt as such—was it a town, even a city or just a regular, but possibly important village in the marshes?”

The descriptions of both Liliencron and Heimrich exaggerate Rungholt far beyond anything the archaeologists have found evidence for, but they illustrate how settlements and natural disasters can remain in the collective consciousness centuries on.

“Rungholt is a prominent example of the effects of massive human intervention in the northern German coastal region that continue to this day,” the archaeologists’ statement said.

In addition to the mound where the church was found, some 54 similar mounds remain yet to be investigated.

This article originally appeared here