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A Monona man who has spent much of the past 20 years researching scientifically plausible explanations for famous myths thinks he may be close to solving one of life’s great mysteries: the location of Atlantis.

Jerry Wells, 52, a self-funded researcher, is adding his voice to a long line of archeologists and others with theories of what may have happened to the fabled lost island first mentioned by Plato.

Wells, founder and president of Wells Research Laboratory Inc. in Madison, says he pinpointed a site in northwest Africa that has the same geologic and geographic markings as Plato’s descriptions of Atlantis.

“The match is so close that, statistically, this could be the place,” he said.

Wells Research Laboratory, a science and history think tank, recently was granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. The nonprofit status will allow Wells to raise money more easily, he said, which he would use to begin field studies at the site in Algeria.

He acknowledged it will be difficult to convince people of the legitimacy of his effort. He is self-taught and no college degree or university affiliation. Yet longtime friends say he should not be discounted.

“I think it’s his nontraditional approach that allows him to look at things so freely,” said Susan Buzby, a friend for 15 years.

Buzby, an outreach specialist for Project Home, a Madison nonprofit organization, is a member of the board of directors of Wells Research Laboratory and chairwoman of its fundraising effort. Mark von dem Bach, a friend for almost 30 years and board treasurer, said he’s watched Wells build his argument over decades of methodical research.

“Jerry is classically self-educated,” said von dem Bach, a senior systems analyst at Alliant Energy. “He’s read most of the source documents of the Greek and Roman periods and is very interested in the history of our world.”

Wells said he studied biology and psychology in college but did not graduate. In the early 1990s, while working in the pathology department at a private research lab in Madison, he said he was quarantined for several weeks after possibly being exposed to a potentially deadly monkey virus.

During the quarantine, wife Cindie Wells urged him to quit his job and focus on his love of research. She is a project manager with Kraft Foods and supports the couple. Jerry Wells receives no salary through the nonprofit organization, which has no paid employees or physical site.

“He’s extremely passionate about his research and devoted to it,” said Cindie Wells, vice president of the research nonprofit.

According to legend, Atlantis was an island said to have sunk beneath the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps due to a tsunami. Whether or not Atlantis actually existed “has been a great topic of debate for thousands of years,” according to a promo for the documentary “Finding Atlantis,” airing this month on the National Geographic Channel.

Wells said he tapped multiple disciplines — from mythology and geology to Egyptology and physics — to come up with a new explanation. Many Atlantis researchers have focused on a sunken land mass, which sent them searching deep under the sea. Wells thinks Atlantis only appeared to have sunk due to an optical illusion of sorts but was actually uplifted in a catastrophic event.

“Over the millennia, our remote site on the edge of the Algerian Saharan Atlas steppe has been buried under tens of meters of sand and soil, rendering it virtually invisible until the recent development of thematic mapping satellites,” Wells writes on his website, www.wrl-inc.org.

Wells said he has raised no money from outside sources. He figures he’ll need about $250,000 for an initial two-week field survey.

Wells said his effort got a boost in 2008 when he was invited to present his hypothesis at a geology based conference in Athens focused on Atlantis. His paper since was published in the book, “The Atlantis Hypothesis: Searching for a Lost Land.”

Due to the conference appearance, a professor at the University of Patras in Patras, Greece, offered to lend his academic sponsorship to the project, which would be critical in getting permission from Algeria to do a field study, Wells said.

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