The continent that “dare not speak its name”


Antarctica (or Atlantis?)

Graham Hancock’s ‘lost civilisation’ needs to be located somewhere that renders it more-or-less invisible to present day archaeologists. Why? Because if it were just about anywhere in the world as we know it, scholars would have debated the age and achievements of this incredibly early civilisation for many years. This is the advantage of ‘losing’ a civilisation: if it cannot be seen, it cannot be debated by orthodox archaeologists. Fortunately for Hancock and his followers, there is a candidate for the location of this civilisation that is not only inaccessible, but also possesses conditions that would have completely obliterated all traces of it: the place is Antarctica. Not only does the former land surface of Antarctica lie buried beneath thousands of metres of glacial ice, but also the movement of that ice over the millennia will have churned up and shattered any trace of what may once have existed on the surface. It is quite evident from the chronology he proposes that Hancock’s ‘lost civilisation’ is meant to be Atlantis, yet he stops short of naming it. In Fingerprints of the Gods, he mentions it only twice, once to dismiss a mid-Atlantic continent as a geophysical impossibility. He’s right, of course, but this doesn’t stop him from talking about an ice-free Antarctic and initially identifying this with the home of the supposedly missing civilisation.

The problem is that it’s equally a geophysical impossibility for Antarctica to have become covered in ice as little as 12,500 years ago (as Hancock requires). It’s so simple to disprove, too: ice is laid down in annual layers that can be counted, just like tree rings. How many layers can be counted? Hundreds of thousands. Nevertheless, he feels free to ignore this – perhaps he believes that there is some other mechanism that produces these ice layers – and seizes on an idea known as ‘earth crustal displacement’ to explain not only how an ice-free Antarctic might have been possible in the geologically recent past but also how the European Ice Age was caused. The hypothesis suggests that the earth’s crust is poorly attached to the planet’s core and that, for reasons that are not fully understood, can suddenly slip, creating new locations for the poles. The weight of polar ice is one of the causes for these shifts. It almost goes without saying that orthodox geology does not accept this idea. Whilst we now know that the tectonic plates making up the earth’s crust do move, they do so independently of each other, very slowly and never in the catastrophic way suggested by the crustal displacement hypothesis.

Hancock has discovered references in the work of Charles Hapgood (1904-1982), who proposed the crustal displacement hypothesis in the 1950s, to a series of maps that appear to depict an ice-free Antarctic. These maps date from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and, if the claim that they accurately depict an Antarctic continent – ice-free or otherwise – is correct, they are remarkable, as Antarctica was not discovered until the 1820s. It is therefore important to examine the claims in detail.

The problem of an ice-free Antarctica

The Piri Re'is map of 1513

The map of Piri Re'is, dating from 1513, which definitely does not show an ice-free Antarctica

There are insurmountable problems with accepting any of the sixteenth- to eighteenth-century maps as evidence that Antarctica was free from ice at a time when humans might have mapped it. The greatest problems relate to relative sea levels and to the current isostatic depression of the landmass. Nevertheless, if it could be shown that the maps do contain genuinely ancient information about the form of the southern continent in the remote(ish) past, this would be a major boost for Hancock’s theories. The maps are reviewed elsewhere on this site: they do not show what Hancock and others claim they show.

However, there is a more important source of information about the age of the ice cap that completely refutes Hancock’s assertion that ‘crustal displacement’ (an hypothesis first propounded by Hapgood) led to the glaciation of Antarctica as recently as 12,500 BP. This is the existence of numerous ice cores from the Antarctic that show the continent to have been covered by a fully developed ice cap between 40,000 to 6,000 BP. Between 21,000 and 16,000 BP there was a maximum development of the ice cap, corresponding to the height of the Devensian glaciation in Britain. Indeed, it is evident that Antarctica was last completely ice-free over 34,000,000 years ago, long before the evolution of the genus Homo, let alone modern humans.

After the mid 1990s, Hancock came to accept that Antarctica was not a likely home for his lost civilisation. Instead, he became interested in the phenomenon of rising sea levels at the end of the Pleistocene, as the polar ice caps shrank, and developed an hypothesis that his lost civilisation had occupied the now drowned continental shelf and that it was a truly worldwide civilisation.