Some original pulp illustrations from At the Mountains of Madness. See more here.
Anyone who has read At the Mountains of Madness (read it here; hear it in audiobook form here) can appreciate the Lovecraftian mystery of the Gamburtsevs, the mountain range that looks like the Alps, 8,500 feet high (2,600 metre tall peaks), but sleeps beneath miles of Antarctic ice. The Gamburtsevs were first discovered in 1958, and last week the journal Nature reported on the tectonic events that formed them. They have been dubbed "the last unexplored mountains on the planet." But due to new radar techniques and geophysical data, some headway is being made toward understanding the subglacial range. They are now believed to be one billion years old, but remain uneroded because of the ice sheet that preserves them. According to one of the co-authors of the article:
“Resolving the contradiction of the Gamburtsev high elevation and youthful Alpine topography but location on the East Antarctic craton by piecing together the billion year history of the region was exciting and challenging,” said Carol Finn, of the U.S. Geological Survey, a co-author on the paper. “We are accustomed to thinking that mountain building relates to a single tectonic event, rather than sequences of events. The lesson we learned about multiple events forming the Gamburtsevs may inform studies of the history of other mountain belts. The youthful look of any mountain range may mask a hidden past.”
Image Source: BBC.
Image Source: DeConto/Pollard via BBC.
Those interested in speculative Ice Age history will find Lovecraftian echoes in Graham Hancock's discussion on Antarctic maps which may have existed before Antarctica was explored. Hancock claims some very intriguing Renaissance maps and globes presented the South Pole landmass in certain ways because the designers were copying copies of copies of earlier maps, whose provenance ran right back through Antiquity to pre-Antiquity. He even goes so far as to hint that these Renaissance maps, with their theoretical Antediluvian origins, show parts of the Antarctic landscape not covered by ice. Hence he surmises that they derive from a time when Antarctica was partly free of ice.
Oronce Finé 1531 World Map, with a very accurate depiction of Antarctica (labeled as Terra Australis in yellow on the right). Image Source: G. Hancock.
Comment on the above map: The ... Antarctic design ... approach[es] the appearance of modern-day Antarctica presented on a standard polar projection. Considering the map's remarkable resemblance to the actual Antarctic continent, one can easily understand Charles Hapgood's reaction of awe and disbelief when he first stumbled upon it, Hapgood being the American academician who reintroduced the map to the world in 1966 with his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. While our current view of history dictates that this cannot be an authentic map of Antarctica, the accuracy in Finé's design strongly suggests otherwise.
Although the original source maps were lost, likely with the burning of the Library at Alexandria or perhaps the Library at Constantinople, Hancock believes that these Renaissance maps vaguely recall the last time Antarctica had a partly ice-free landmass, over eleven thousand years ago. A piece on this topic by Doug Fisher on Hancock's site suggests that there were bits of shoreline that were ice free in the late Ice Age and that that shoreline may have been mapped, and that copies of copies of those maps survived:
This is stretching it, given that Antarctica's ice sheets spread over the continent 34 to 33 million years ago (see above). Hancock's argument about a late Ice Age civilization mapping the Antarctic coast comes straight from a controversial idea developed by the late American college teacher, Charles Hapgood. Wiki:[I]t is clear that Schöner had access to a few such [Classical] maps and was open to the idea that contemporary discoveries may in fact be rediscoveries of lands once known and charted, but long forgotten. ...
And this completes our breakdown of the three-step process responsible for Schöner's incorporation of an ancient map onto his 1515 globe:
- Referencing a collection of ancient unidentifiable maps for a possible previous charting of the recent discovery,
- Reconciling the new discovery to one of these ancient maps, and
- Scaling the ancient design to match the new discovery.
Which brings us back to Schöner’s 1524 rendering of the continent, a depiction that truly resembles the Antarctic continent, and raises the question: Is there any evidence to suggest that Schöner maintained this same methodology in its design and if so is there anything to suggest that he referenced a genuine map of Antarctica?
In short, the geologic timeframes do not add up. Hancock skims over millions, not just thousands, of years to reiterate Hapgood's argument. If there are any grains of truth in that argument, they might have been confirmed in the great libraries of the Ancient World, those repositories of human history that covered thousands of years before the Classical period. Their knowledge is forever lost to us.In 1958, Hapgood published The Earth's Shifting Crust which denied the existence of continental drift and featured a foreword by Albert Einstein. In Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (1966) and The Path of the Pole (1970), Hapgood proposed the hypothesis that the Earth's axis has shifted numerous times during geological history. In Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings he supported the suggestion made by Arlington Mallery that a part of the Piri Reis Map was a depiction of the area of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land. He used this to propose that a 15 degree pole shift occurred around 9,600 BCE (approx. 11,600 years ago) and that a part of the Antarctic was ice-free at that time, and that an ice-age civilization could have mapped the coast. He concludes that "Antarctica was mapped when these parts were free of ice", taking that view that an Antarctic warm period coincided with the last ice age in the Northern hemisphere, and that the Piri Reis and other maps were based on "ancient" maps derived from ice-age originals. Later research concerning the paleoclimatology and ice sheets of Antarctica have completely discredited the interpretations by Hapgood that an Antarctic warm period coincided with the last ice age in the Northern hemisphere and any part of it had been ice-free at and prior to 9,600 BCE (approx. 11,600 years ago).
Hapgood also examined a 1531 map by French mathematician and cartographer Oronce Finé (aka Oronteus Finaeus). In Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, he reproduces letters received from the chief of a U.S. Air Force cartography section stationed at Westover AFB in 1961. At Hapgood's request, they had studied both Piri Reis and Oronce Finé maps during their off-duty hours, concluding that both were compiled from original source maps of Antarctica at a time when it was relatively free of ice, supporting Hapgood's findings. Hapgood concluded that advanced cartographic knowledge appears on the Piri Reis map and the Oronteus Finaeus map, and must be the result of some unknown and advanced ancient civilization that developed astronomy, navigational instruments, plane geometry and trigonometry, long before Greece or any other known civilization.
According to historians Paul Hoye and Paul Lunde, while Hapgood's work garnered some enthusiasm and praise for its thoroughness, his revolutionary hypotheses largely met with skepticism and were ignored by most scholars.
It is not surprising that so many researchers, whether serious or speculative, are trying so hard to solve Antarctica's mysteries. Perhaps because it is the last almost completely unspoiled continent, it may have preserved parts of Earth's history no longer evident in inhabited areas. If there is anything brought home by this amazing new mapping and origin of a whole mountain range sleeping beneath miles of ice, it's that, in many ways, we are constantly grappling with a gigantic void of lost knowledge and ignorance about the our planet's deep past. Imagine how different the world might be now if the Great Libraries of Alexandria and Constantinople had survived to the present day.
Citation: Nature, Volume: 479, Pages: 388–392. Date published: (17 November 2011). DOI: doi:10.1038/nature10566. Received Accepted Published online 1