2005: Vostok: The Lake of Shadows

by Scott Corrales

Doubt of the real facts, as I must reveal them, is inevitable; yet if I suppressed what will seem extravagant and incredible there would be nothing left.

~H. P. Lovecraft

The inspiration for this article began in the summer of 1996, when a series of email messages began to appear suggesting the possibility that “someone” or “something” was surreptitiously removing all recent maps of Antarctica. The notion was so outrageous that even die-hard conspiracy theorists found themselves having to clarify the subject—it wasn’t that Big Brother and his henchmen were ripping map pages out of every World Almanac and atlas in the country, it had merely become harder to obtain recent maps on Antarctica. Intrigued by the electronic statements, I placed a call to Penn-Oh-West Maps in Pittsburgh to check on the availability of Antarctic projections. The store owner’s response was startling: “Sorry, sir. All our new maps of South Pole are on back order. Must be some kind of problem with the USGS.”

The United States Geological Service, or USGS, produces the most detailed maps available, such as the 7.5-minute series topographic maps at a 1:20,000 scale. Nor is the USGS planet-bound—their expertise extends to detailed maps of the Moon, Mars, and Venus.

 Antarctica has nearly 90% of the ice and 70% of the freshwater on Earth. The third-largest continent, it is one and a half the size of the US. Nations including the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France and Argentina carry out experiments at bases dotted across the continent.

ALH 84001 was found in Antarctica during the 1984-1985 Antarctic summer. It was found by a team of meteorite hunters from the ANSMET program, which is sponsored by the Polar Programs Office of the U.S. National Science Foundation. ANSMET stands for ANtarctic Search for METeorites, and has been funded since 1977 by the NSF.

It is nearly certain that ALH 84001 is from Mars, even though people have never been to Mars and no rocks have ever been collected on Mars. In fact, there are 11 other meteorites, called the SNCs, that are also almost certain to be from Mars. The strongest evidence for their Martian origin is that they, including ALH 84001, contain traces of gas that is just like the Martian atmosphere. We know the composition of the Martian atmosphere, because the Viking Lander spacecraft analyzed it, on Mars, in 1976. The Martian atmosphere is really different from the Earth’s atmosphere, or Venus’, or any other source of gas that has ever been found.

To get off Mars, ALH84001 must have left its surface going faster than Mars’ escape velocity, about 5 kilometers per second (about 11,000 miles per hour). The only known natural process that can get rocks moving so fast is meteorite impact–volcanoes can not throw rocks fast enough. If a large enough meteorite or asteroid hit Mars, some rocks nearby on Mars’ surface would be blasted up faster than the escape velocity and could leave Mars completely. The best estimates are that an asteroid bigger than about 1/2-2 kilometers could launch rocks like ALH 84001 off Mars and into space.

After it left Mars, ALH 84001 orbited the Sun on its own, like a small asteroid. It started out with an orbit nearly like Mars’. But its orbit changed each time it passed close to Mars or collided with an asteroid. Also, gravity from the planets (especially from enormous Jupiter) slowly nudged ALH 84001 farther and farther from Mars. By chance, the orbit of ALH 84001 changed enough so that it came near the Earth’s orbit. 13,000 years ago, the Earth and ALH 84001 collided.

New Antarctica MysteryResearchers have uncovered a Martian meteorite in Antarctica, one of only about 30 known Mars space rocks on Earth.The specimen was found in December (2003) on an ice field about 466 miles (745 kilometers) from the South Pole, by a research team financed by NASA and supported by the National Science Foundation.Scientists say the mineralogy, texture and oxidized nature of the rock are unmistakably Martian. At this point, there is no suggestion that the meteorite bears evidence of fossilized life.~USA Today for July 22, 2004
“Piece of Mars found in Antarctica”

This leaves unanswered the question of how this rock crossed 52 million miles of space and arrived on Earth. Maybe a UFO landed on Mars, and the rock became lodged in its landing gear. Later, as the saucer was making its final approach into an alien base in Antarctica, the rock came loose and landed in the ice field. In short, the rock came to Earth the same way the dandelion came to North America–by ship.

Reflecting on the situation, I thought that the changes on the seventh continent are so few that they hardly justify the creation of new maps. If someone desperately needed a map of the South Pole, it would suffice to resort to a National Geographic map or to the nearest Rand McNally atlas. But could the polar conspiracy theorists be onto something?
The matter of polar cartography was soon forgotten—at least for me—until in 1999, the media trumpeted news of a truly sensational discovery: a lake whose waters had never seen the light of day, at least not for millions of years, a few miles beneath the polar icecap. The new body of water was christened with the name of the Russian experimental station located immediately above it: Vostok.

A Truly Stygian Lake

The discovery of Lake Vostok was a source of almost immediate interest for the U.S. space program, whose scientists saw in it the chance to conduct a series of experiments foreshadowing future unmanned missions to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, whose icy surface contains lakes and deposits similar to Lake Vostok.
In September 1999, a total of 80 scientists from over a dozen countries met at Cambridge University’s Lucy Cavendish College to establish protocols for researching the alleged life forms teeming in what must surely be the blackest waters in the world. In a series of press releases, the assembled scientists reported that the new lake’s micro organisms would have been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years and therefore represented a possible source of new antibiotics and enzymes.
British microbiologist Cynan Ellis-Evans stressed that the scarcity of food sources, the intense pressure and darkness of the subterranean lake, meant that finding advanced animal life at said depths would be difficult. His comments tabled any hopes of finding Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World under the Antarctic icecap.
However, undeterred by their colleague, the scientists gathered at Cambridge drew up an ambitious research program for Lake Vostok, including the precautions to be taken to avoid sullying the pristine waters of the hidden polar lake. The use of a “cryobot” was suggested: a ten-foot long device resembling a writing implement with a hot tip. The cryobot would descend the four miles separating the polar surface and the lake and, upon reaching Lake Vostok, would launch a sonar and camera-equipped “hydrobot” to explore the liquid environment. During the ’70s, Russian scientists had managed to drill to a depth of 3,600 meters, almost reaching the lake, whose existence was still unsuspected.

Ice-core samples proved the existence of methane—the predominant gas in the atmosphere of distant Europa.
Scientists and laypersons alike were thrilled by the discovery and its space-related implications, but Lake Vostok was never mentioned again outside specialized circles…until now.

 A Continent of Magic and Terror

The Antarctic has always represented a source of inspiration for authors of fiction and adventure novels. One of the most memorable passages of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the moment when his anti-hero, Captain Nemo, unfurls his vast black flag at the South Pole, claiming to be the first to have reached the beckoning goal. But it would be flesh-and-blood characters who would write the real adventure stories of the Antarctic: Shackleton’s heroic attempts to reach the pole in a series of expeditions, none of them successful; the tragic death of Robert Falcon Scott at the pole, following the bitter discovery that Amundsen had beaten him to it by a matter of days, and finally, the efforts made by Vice Admiral Robert Byrd to establish a permanent U.S. presence in Antarctica—the research station known as “Little America.”
But Antarctica always manages to escape the confines of textbooks and appears to be bent on haunting works of fiction. The errant seaman of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner finds himself in an Antarctic realm filled with ghosts, while master horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, author of “At the Mountains of Madness,” describes the polar journey made by a scientific expedition. The trek results in the discovery of an unknown mountain range that conceals the existence of a nameless, ancient city built by the “Old Ones.” This primeval, non-human species met its end at the tentacles of its own creations: the huge and terrifying Shoggoths.
The man who seldom ventured away from his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, delivers a story so convincing that the Antarctic cold chills the reader’s fingertips.
It is precisely in Lovecraft’s works that the purely fantastic becomes uncomfortably mixed with the factual, leading us to confront other polar mysteries of an equally ambiguous nature. Foremost among these is Nazi Germany’s expedition to conquer “Neuschwabenland,” or what had formerly been known as Queen Maud’s Land on most maps. The expedition and its goals have been the crucible for all manner of theories—each more outrageous than the last—regarding intra-terrestrial empires, Nazi flying saucers, and the successful creation of “supermen” in hidden polar bases. Conspiracy theorists seek to bolster their speculation by referring to the sudden display of U.S. military force in the South Pole in the years following World War II, with the supposed aim of combating the forces defending the last Nazi stronghold.
More recently, film spectaculars like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and X-Files: Fight the Future (1998) have employed the white continent as a hideout for extraterrestrial forces, whether arrived by accident or as part of a grim conquest operation, and the efforts made by human protagonists to overcome said unknown quantities.

Possibly inspired by this assortment of sources, belief in Atlantis has also found a new “lost continent” in which to nestle itself. After 17 years of intense research, British authors Rand and Rose Flem-Ath completed a work entitled When the Sky Fell (Toronto: Stoddart, 1995). Their book did not seek to ascertain the location of the allegedly sunken continent, but rather of other lands where the survivors of such a catastrophe would have sought shelter. The Flem-Ath’s studies led them to select two regions in separate continents: the environs of Lake Titicaca in the Bolivian highlands and Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, suggesting that both of these areas were particularly suited for the reintroduction of agricultural techniques in the wake of a planetary disaster.

Was Atlantis in Antarctica?

Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods (New York: Crown, 1995), has joined the Flem-Aths and other authors in supporting controversial scientific theories regarding the displacement of tectonic plates. As regards Antarctica, the theory suggests that the southernmost continent was located north of the present Antarctic Circle and could have been inhabited, featuring “a climate and resources suitable for the development of a civilization.” Could these researchers have solved the riddle of the mother culture we have come to identify with Plato’s Atlantis?

Whether Atlantis was located in Antarctica or not, it is worth bearing in mind the prophecies issued by Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet.” Aside from performing a number of cures while in a trance state, Cayce also gave us a series of readings regarding Atlantis which are studied to this very day. One of them made mention of an enormous crystal allegedly employed by the Atlanteans as a source of energy. Cayce predicted that said object would be rediscovered in the late 20th century, but without specifying its location. If the Sleeping Prophet’s prophecies coincide with the theories put forth by the Flem-Aths and Graham Hancock, could the Lake Vostok anomaly be connected to the lost power source of the ancient Atlanteans?

The Magnetic Anomaly

Early research into Lake Vostok indicated that the body of water had a depth of 2,000 feet—far deeper than any of the Great Lakes and half as deep as Asia’s Lake Baikal (5,000 feet)—a length of 300 miles and a width of 50 miles. Contrary to what was initially believed, the lake received filtered light. Further investigations also detected the existence of geothermal sources which warmed the lake to an astonishing 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with “hot spots” of up to 65 degrees. Given these new discoveries regarding solar radiation and temperature, scientists suggested the possibility that the lake’s encapsulated atmosphere purified itself through a complex interaction with water, and that the chances for vegetable life forms were very good.

Research conducted by Russian scientist Ian Toskovoi—who vanished near the Vostok station in March 2000—on “geothermal upboiling” also hinted at an alternative means of purification and replenishment for the subterranean lake’s atmosphere. Toskovoi’s geothermal upboils were located in the so-called “ice dunes,” which appear to be formed by thousands of bubbles of air measuring between several feet to several hundred feet.

However, the most intriguing news coming out of Antarctica had to do with the extremely powerful “magnetic anomaly” located in the northern end of the lake’s coast: a discovery which would give rise to a number of conjectures and would be compared with the fictional TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1) in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The electronic newspaper Antarctic Sun (www.polar.org), which soon became the main source of information on the Lake Vostok magnetic anomaly, stated that during the initial flight of the SOAR (Support Office for Aero-physical Research), aimed at conducting magnetic resonance imaging over the area, the magnetometer recorded an increase of 1,000 nanoteslas beyond the 60,000 nanoteslas which characterized the Vostok Station. Scientists had expected to find magnetic anomalies in the range of 500 to 600 nanoteslas in areas where volcanic material could be located, but the ranges encountered were simply startling. “This anomaly is so large that it cannot be the product of a daily change in the magnetic field,” stated Michael Studinger, one of the researchers involved in the mapping endeavor.

Also significant was the sheer size of the anomaly: 65 by 46 square miles. According to the mission’s geological team, the anomaly’s size and severity pointed to the fact that geological changes had taken place under the lake, suggesting the possibility that it was a place where “the earth’s crust was thinner.”

Australian geologist Harry Mason summarized the subject thus: “The magnetic anomaly’s sheer size and intensity suggest the presence of a large ultrabase component under this section of Lake Vostok at the surface of the continental crust rock, in other words, on the old surface prior to the ice formation.”

Using much less technical language, others noted that Mason’s explanation matched the hypothesis suggested by Prof. Thomas Gold in Australia’s Nexus magazine. According to Professor Gold, the amount of methane and exotic gases such as xenon and argon could represent a direct threat to global climate, since they would come directly from the Earth’s mantle using the geological features under Lake Vostok as “chimneys.” Aside from the danger this could represent for our planet’s embattled atmosphere, the teams of scientists and technicians in charge of drilling through the methane dome would be in the first line of danger, since such an operation would likely result in a catastrophic explosion.

Two Million Nazis

The lunatic fringe didn’t wait too long before chiming in on the Lake Vostok situation. The most outrageous rumors emanated not from the U.S. but from Australia, where a website (www.rumormill. com/Fortress_Australia) indicated—or ranted, more properly—that the total population of Nazis in Antarctica now exceeded two million and that many of them had undergone plastic surgery in order to move about with greater ease through South America and conduct all manner of business transactions. Conspiracy theorists stoked the fire by saying that the polar Nazis had successfully stolen an intaglio press to forge dollars, in addition to having forged “virtually undetectable” pounds sterling. The monetary needs of the polar Nazi community were further supplemented by “the gold stolen during the war and their ability to transmute base metals into gold.” It was only logical, they argued, that the mystery of Lake Vostok was also directly related to the nefarious activities of the polar Nazis.

The strange writings of the author known only by the surname “Branton” also resurfaced, especially one set of documents alleging that the Nazis had managed to build flying saucers and transfer them to Antarctica in 1944, and that the Nazi bases in the South Pole also included groups of renegade Pleiadans and Men in Black.

A digression becomes necessary at this point: While the odds that Pleiadans and MIB are cooling their heels at an underground Antarctic base are slim to none, there is a factual basis to claims involving Nazi Germany’s interest in the South Pole. In 1938, the hydroplane carrier Schwabenland left the German port of Hamburg for Antarctica, commanded by Albert Richter, a veteran of cold-weather operations. The Richter Expedition’s scientists used their large Dornier airboats to explore the polar wastes, emulating Adm. Richard Byrd’s own efforts a decade earlier. The German scientists discovered ice-free lakes with traces of vegetation and were able to land on them. It is widely believed that the Schwabenland’s subsequent visits to the pole were aimed at scouting out a secret base of operations on the White Continent. A suitable location was found at the Hlig-Hoffman massif, which was hollowed out into a facility known only as “Base 211.”

In 1947, Admiral Byrd would lead a task force of 13 surface ships and 4,000 soldiers to Antarctica as part of Operation Highjump. Although the expedition’s avowed intention was the testing of military hardware under extreme conditions, the suggestion that it was a combat operation aimed at dislodging Nazi troops from their last redoubt has always floated in the air.

At one point the torrent of email messages regarding Lake Vostok suggested the belief that almost everyone was involved in the mystery (First Lady Laura Bush was allegedly in charge of coordinating shipments of “unknown artifacts” headed for the Antarctic) and that the mystery also involved a UFO. Other remarks indicated that four experts in Antarctic mountaineering had been sent to Lake Vostok as part of a “secret mission.”

In early March 2001, a U.S. channeler known as Lady Kadjina replied to a series of questions regarding the mystery of Lake Vostok. Regarding the nature of the magnetic anomaly, she declared that long before the Antarctic became icebound, the continent had been used as a landing site by extraterrestrials. The ever-benevolent aliens built what we would call an observatory, explained the channeler, equipped with a signalling device capable of broadcasting coded messages. More and more such observatories would be discovered in coming months, and Earth governments would try to seize them. Lady Kadjina added that the observatory contained vast crystals which put forth a certain kind of magnetism, which had been employed as a guidance system so that large spaceships could land at that location.

But that wasn’t all: the magnetic anomaly also served as a port of entry to other dimensions. Vice-Admiral Byrd had apparently stumbled into one of them and had radioed back reports of seeing a completely different, verdant landscape under his aircraft.

With proper knowledge of this equipment, a human being would be able to travel in time and access information stored in distant places. But we will be kept from doing so until our governments have put aside the arms race and reach a more peaceful level of co-existence.

The Interrupted Press Conference

“Good morning. Could I speak with Debra Shingteller?”
“Of course, one moment,” replied the switchboard operator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
This was my second attempt at contacting the protagonist of the extremely bizarre press conference allegedly held by NASA regarding its involvement, or rather, the sudden end of its involvement, in the Lake Vostok project. It appeared that the agency’s budgetary cuts had been so severe that not even background music could be heard while I was on hold.
“I’m sorry, sir. She’s not in at the moment.”
“Ah…could you please give me her voicemail?”
“Of course. Hold on, please.”
Although I doubted that the elusive Ms. Shingteller would actually return my message, I thought that it was still worth a try. I was surprised, however, when the voice on the answering machine did not correspond to that of the spokesperson, but to another functionary of the NASA Public Information Office. It would appear that Ms. Shingteller had taken some time off after the conference that would make her a household name in conspiracy circles around the world. My question, in any event, was straightforward: why didn’t the press release regarding the sudden distancing of NASA and JPL with the Lake Vostok project appear among the ones publicly available on the web (www.nasa. gov)?

The communiqué which had vanished from the electronic medium would have read thus: “ANTARCTIC CARTOGRAPHIC MISSION INTERRUPTED DUE TO N.S.A. OVERRIDE,” adding that NASA spokesperson Ms. Shingteller had alluded to “matters of national security” which necessitated the termination of both space exploration agencies’ involvement in the research initiatives at Lake Vostok. After saying these words, the spokeswoman was escorted from the podium while her assistant responded to the inevitable questions from the press core with a rote sentence: “The project has been cancelled due to environmental reasons.”
Shortly after this event, JPL’s Frank D. Carsey tried to put an end to the rumors by saying that the wrong acronym had been employed, and “NSA intervention” should have been “NSF intervention,” given the National Science’s Foundation assumption of the NASA’s drilling operations, arising from the fact that the space agency’s funds had been exhausted.
This did nothing to allay the mystery.

Word spread over the Internet that researchers stationed at Norway’s Amundsen base, 150 miles east of Vostok, had witnessed the arrival of a large quantity of equipment and personnel in the study area. Australian sources remarked that the two women who had taken the challenge of crossing Antarctica by skiing from one end to the other had been forcibly evacuated. Apparently both skiers had been transferred to the Australian polar base and from there to Samoa by an elite U.S. Marines unit, despite the protests of Australian personnel. Another rumor held that Russian scientists had been evicted from the Vostok base by U.S. Navy SEALS (what must Vladimir Putin have thought about all this?) while an exodus of personnel from the U.S. bases was underway: Seven individuals, all of them employed by Raytheon, which provides support services for the American polar bases, were evacuated for medical reasons, while another four departed from the McMurdo base voluntarily.

According to statements made on the Art Bell Show, two of departees from the South Pole were suffering from an ailment about which they refused to comment. Much was made about a comment voiced by the physician in charge at McMurdo to the medical officer who was coming in to replace him: “Fill your pockets with salt” —apparently a phrase commonly employed in the nuclear industry referring to the taking of iodine tablets in order to prevent any harm to the thyroid gland in the event of a nuclear crisis.

Even more startling was a statement posted on the Internet and attributed to Mike Bara, who coordinates the Enterprise Mission’s “South Pole Update.” The statement supposedly suggested that the short supply or complete lack of salt at the South Pole at the end of the Antarctic summer, at a time when sufficient quantities ought to be found after seasonal revictualing, suggested the possibility that the salt was being consumed by workers due to high levels of radioactivity—suggesting the possibility that the source of Lake Vostok’s heat could have been radioactive in nature.


Lest the reader be given the idea that the Antarctic has a monopoly on mystery, a visit to the lands surrounding the Arctic Circle may be in order.
In his book Atlantis Rising (Dell, 1976), renowned paranormal and UFO researcher Brad Steiger mentioned a 1965 paper presented by Canadian geophysicist John M. DeLaurier of the Dominion of Canada Observatory. According to this scientist, there was something strange going on beneath the ground at Ellesmere Island, a barren location mostly covered by glacial icecap and roamed by herds of caribou and musk oxen.
Professor DeLaurier’s paper discussed the existence of a structure so vast that it defied imagination—a quasi-cylindrical loaf of an object measuring 65 miles long by 65 miles thick at a staggering depth of 80 miles. The huge structure had been detected by seismic equipment located at Alert, one of the U.S.-Canadian Distant Early Warning (DEW) stations in the Arctic wilderness. Studies showed that the object, which straddled the earth’s mantle and crust, was the source of some sort of disturbance—similar to the situation encountered at Lake Vostok 30-odd years later—affecting the magnetic field at the Alert facility and “inducing a strong flow of electricity.”

Official sources have not provided much additional information regarding the mysterious Antarctic lake, and the controversy rages on across the Internet, while hundreds of different opinions clash over the nature of the goings-on at this remote location.

At The Mountains Of Madness

The pace of shrinkage of Antarctic glaciers has been accelerating. Especially during the past five years has the shrinkage been rapid.

Antarctica is a continent, an enormous land area covered by ice. As its snowy cover disappears, what might this continent reveal? Easter Island-type statues? Stonehenge-type ruins?

This farthest southern land has long been a blank slate inviting speculation. In Edgar Allan Poe’s strange novel, The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket, the adventurer finds that, beyond a certain latitude, the climate begins to get warmer! This echoes claims in a later book, The Hollow Earth, by Dr. Raymond Bernard. Dumbrova, a Russian explorer, is therein quoted as referring to, “The memorable December 12th discovery of heretofore unknown land beyond the South Pole by Capt. Sir George Hubert Wilkins.” F. Amadeo Giannini confirmed “indeterminable land extent” at the South Pole in his suppressed 1959 book, Worlds Beyond The Poles.

Building upon Poe’s earlier work, H.P. Lovecraft told a fantastic tale in his, At The Mountains Of Madness. An Antarctic expedition finds a cyclopean lost city dating from before pre-Cambrian times. Two explorers investigating weird hieroglyphics in underground caverns encounter blind, 6-foot tall albino penguins. Unearthed is evidence of a long-gone alien civilization, which had retreated to the polar region. Deep underground, a final discovery drives one of the explorers insane and they both narrowly escape with their lives.

But pari passu with such fanciful tales arose other polar prose not definitively fictional. With such accounts, it is uncertain where fact ends and fiction begins. The essential guidebook to various intriguing literature regarding Antarctica is Joscelyn Goodwin’s Arktos: The Polar Myth (1993). Mentioned is a German Antarctic expedition to Queen Maud Land in 1938-1939 which discovered “a group of low-lying hills sprinkled with many lakes and completely free of ice and snow.” A later key incident was the surrender, in 1945, at Mar del Plata, Argentina, of a German submarine, U-530. This surrender is also covered in Reich of the Black Sun by Joseph P. Farrell. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz is reported to have stated, in 1943, that “the German submarine fleet is proud of having built for the Führer, in another part of the world, a Shangri-La on land, an impregnable fortress.” Later, at the Nuremberg trials, Admiral Dönitz boasted of “an invulnerable fortress, a paradise-like oasis in the middle of eternal ice.”

In 1946, the U.S. government proceeded with urgency to launch a military expedition to Antarctica: “Operation Highjump”. The operation was commanded by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The expedition “encircled the German claimed territory of Neuschwabenland (New Schwabialand).” Following aerial reconnaissance by Byrd and others, in which four escort craft vanished, the project was abruptly halted. “Byrd was returned to Washington DC, debriefed, and his personal and operational logs remain classified to this day…” (Farrell, op. cit.)

But before the apparent clampdown, odd reports appeared briefly, for example in the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio. Farrell, in his book, reproduces a photostat of the article, dated March 5, 1947, by Lee van Atta, who had accompanied Byrd. A portion of the article is translated as follows:

Byrd announced to me today that it is necessary for the United States to put into effect defensive measures against enemy airmen which come from the polar regions. The Admiral further explained that he did not have the intention to scare anyone but the bitter reality is that in case of a new war the United States would be in a position to be attacked by flyers which could fly with fantastic speed from one pole to another.

Other portions of the El Mercurio article:

  • Admiral Richard E. Byrd warned today that it is necessary for the United States to adopt protective measures against the possibility of an invasion by hostile aircraft originating from the Polar Regions.
  • Byrd: “The fantastic pressure with which the world is now dealing is an object lesson learned during the Antarctic exploration now ending.”
  • The Admiral declared a necessity to remain “in a state of alert and vigilance as the best protection against invasion.”
  • Byrd’s remarks are cryptic: do they warn of the need to defend against future weapons technology or against something already present at the time?

Iconoclastic magazine editor Ray Palmer commented on discoveries made by Byrd, quoting him as having stated, “We have penetrated an unknown and mysterious land which does not appear on today’s maps.” Again, the statement is either relatively mundane, or it is laced with deeper significance.

Return now to the noncommital news that shrinkage of Antarctic glaciers has been accelerating. A blip on the radar screen to many; evidence of environmental problems to some; fraught with potential meaning to a few: Is something cooking there, at the mountains of madness?

Piri Reis Map

pirireisIn 1929, during renovations of the old Imperial Palace in what is now Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), a painted, parchment map, drawn on a gazelle skin.was found, dated in the month of Muharrem, in the Moslem year 919 (A.D. 1513), and signed by an admiral of the Turkish navy, Piri Ibn Haji Memmed, known as Piri Re’is.

Research showed that it was a genuine document drawn in 1513 by Piri Reis in the sixteenth century.

His passion was cartography. His high rank within the Turkish navy allowed him to have a privileged access to the Imperial Library of Constantinople.

Piri Re’is own commentary indicates that some of his source maps were from the time of Alexander the Great (332 B.C.)..

The Controversy

The Piri Reis map shows the western coast of Africa, the eastern coast of South America, and the northern coast of Antarctica. The northern coastline of Antarctica is perfectly detailed. The most puzzling however is not so much how Piri Reis managed to draw such an accurate map of the Antarctic region 300 years before it was discovered, but that the map shows the coastline under the ice. Geological evidence confirms that the latest date Queen Maud Land could have been charted in an ice-free state is 4000 BC.

On 6th July 1960 the U. S. Air Force responded to Prof. Charles H. Hapgood of Keene College, specifically to his request for an evaluation of the ancient Piri Reis Map.

6 July, 1960Subject: Admiral Piri Reis MapTO: Prof. Charles H. HapgoodKeene College

Keene, New Hampshire

Dear Professor Hapgood,

Your request of evaluation of certain unusual features of the Piri Reis map of 1513 by this organization has been reviewed.

The claim that the lower part of the map portrays the Princess Martha Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctic, and the Palmer Peninsular, is reasonable. We find that this is the most logical and in all probability the correct interpretation of the map.

The geographical detail shown in the lower part of the map agrees very remarkably with the results of the seismic profile made across the top of the ice-cap by the Swedish-British Antarctic Expedition of 1949.

This indicates the coastline had been mapped before it was covered by the ice-cap.

The ice-cap in this region is now about a mile thick.

We have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographical knowledge in 1513.

Harold Z. Ohlmeyer Lt. Colonel, USAF Commander

The official science has been saying all along that the ice-cap which covers the Antarctic is millions of years old.

The Piri Reis map shows that the northern part of that continent has been mapped before the ice did cover it. That should make think it has been mapped million years ago, but that’s impossible since mankind did not exist at that time.

Further and more accurate studies have proven that the last period of ice-free condition in the Antarctic ended about 6000 years ago. There are still doubts about the beginning of this ice-free period, which has been put by different researchers everything between year 13000 and 9000 BC.

The question is: Who mapped the Queen Maud Land of Antarctic 6000 years ago? Which unknown civilization had the technology or the need to do that?

To draw his map, Piri Reis used several different sources, collected here and there along his journeys. He himself has written notes on the map that give us a picture of the work he had been doing on the map. He says he had been not responsible for the original surveying and cartography. His role was merely that of a compiler who used a large number of source-maps. He says then that some of the source-maps had been drawn by contemporary sailors, while others were instead charts of great antiquity, dating back up to the 4th century BC or earlier.


In his book, Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock presents strong evidence that Antarctica was charted long ago by unknown people, when temperatures were much warmer.

He cites a number of old maps, such as the one drawn by Oronteus Finaeus in 1531, reproduced here. Experts examined the original and its age was verified. It was made in the 1500s–three centuries before Antarctica was allegedly even sighted, much less documented. The map is startlingly accurate, depicting ice-free mountain ranges, a South Pole that’s just about dead on and the Ross Sea as it would look without the ice shelf.

You can even see Ross Island.

How could someone draw such a map more than 200 years before Capt. James Cook even sailed south of the Antarctic Circle?

Hancock’s answer is that it was actually mapped long ago, perhaps thousands of years earlier, and Finaeus merely copied those ancient sources.

Dr. Charles Hapgood, in his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (Turnstone books, London 1979, preface), said that:

It appears that accurate information has been passed down from people to people. It appears that the charts must have originated with a people unknown and they were passed on, perhaps by the Minoans and the Phoenicians, who were, for a thousand years and more, the greatest sailors of the ancient world. We have evidence that they were collected and studied in the great library of Alexandria (Egypt) and the compilations of them were made by the geographers who worked there.

Piri Reis had probably come into possession of charts once located in the Library of Alexandria, the well-known most important library of the ancient times.

According to Hapgood’s reconstruction, copies of these documents and some of the original source charts were transferred to other centers of learning, and among them to Constantinople. Then in 1204, year of the fourth crusade, when the Venetians entered Constantinople, those maps begun to circulate among the European sailors.

Most of these maps – Hapgood goes on – were of the Mediterranean and the Black sea. But maps of other areas survived. These included maps of the Americas and maps of the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans. It becomes clear that the ancient voyagers travelled from pole to pole. Unbelievable as it may appear, the evidence nevertheless indicates that some ancient people explored Antarctic when its coasts were free of ice. It is clear too, that they had an instrument of navigation for accurately determining the longitudes that was far superior to anything possessed by the peoples of ancient, medieval or modern times until the second half of the 18th century. […]

In 1953, a Turkish naval officer sent the Piri Reis map to the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Bureau. To evaluate it, M.I. Walters, the Chief Engineer of the Bureau, called for help Arlington H. Mallery, an authority on ancient maps, who had previously worked with him.

After a long study, Mallery discovered the projection method used. To check out the accuracy of the map, he made a grid and transferred the Piri Reis map onto a globe: the map was totally accurate. He stated that the only way to draw map of such accuracy was the aerial surveying: but who, 6000 years ago, could have used airplanes to map the earth??

The Hydrographic Office couldn’t believe what they saw: they were even able to correct some errors in the present days maps!!

The precision on determining the longitudinal coordinates, on the other hand, shows that to draw the map it was necessary to use the spheroid trigonometry, a process supposedly not know until the middle of 18th century.

The way the Piri Reis map shows the Queen Maud land, its coastlines, its rivers, mountain ranges, plateaus, deserts, bays, has been confirmed by a British-Swedish expedition to Antarctic ( as said by Olhmeyer in his letter to Hapggod); the researchers, using sonar and seismic soundings, indicated that those bays and rivers etc, were underneath the ice-cap, which was about one mile thick.

Charles Hapggod, in 1953, wrote a book called “Earth’s shifting crust: a key to some basic problems of earth science”, where he made up a theory to explain how Antarctic had been ice-free until year 4000 BC.

The theory summing up is as follows

  • The reason Antarctic was ice-free, and therefore much warmer, it is to be found in the fact that, at one time, its location wasn’t the south pole. It was located approximately 2000 miles further north. Hapgood says this “would have put it outside the Antarctic Circle in a temperate or cold temperate climate.
  • The reason why the continent moved down to its present location has to be found in a mechanism called “earth-crust-displacement”. This mechanism, not to be confused with the plate-tectonics or the continental drift, is one whereby the lithosphere, the whole outer crust of the earth “may be displaced at times, moving over the soft inner body, much as the skin of an orange, if it were loose, might shift over the inner part of the orange all in one piece”.

This theory was sent to Albert Einstein, which answered to Hapgood in very enthusiastic terms. Though geologists did not seem to accept Hapgood’s theory, Einstein seemed to be as much open as Hapgood saying:

In a polar region there is a continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth’s rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces a centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the rest of the earth’s body…

~Einstein’s foreword to “Earth’s shifting crust”

In fact Piri Reis himself admitted he based his map on way older charts; and those older charts had been used as sources by others who have drawn different maps still of great precision.

Impressive is the “Dulcert’s Portolano”, year 1339, where the latitude of Europe and North Africa is perfect, and the longitudinal coordinates of the Mediterranean and of the Black sea are approximated of half degree.

An even more amazing chart is the “Zeno’s chart”, year 1380. It shows a big area in the north, going up till the Greenland; Its precision is flabbergasting. “It’s impossible” says Hapgood “that someone in the fourteenth century could have found the exact latitudes of these places, not to mention the precision of the longitudes…”

Another amazing chart is the one drawn by the Turkish Hadji Ahmed, year 1559, in which he shows a land stripe, about 1600 Km. wide, that joins Alaska and Siberia. Such a natural bridge has been then covered by the water due to the end of the glacial period, which rose up the sea level.

Oronteus Fineus was another one who drew a map of incredible precision. He too represented the Antarctic with no ice-cap, year 1532.

There are maps showing Greenland as two separated islands, as it was confirmed by a polar French expedition which found out that there is an ice cap quite thick joining what it is actually two islands.

When human beings were supposed to live in a primitive manner, someone “put on paper” the whole geography of the earth. And this common knowledge somehow fell into pieces, then gathered here and there by several people, who had lost though the knowledge, and just copied what they could find in libraries, bazaars, markets and about all kind of places.

Hapggod made a disclosure which amazingly lead further on this road: he found out a cartographic document copied by an older source carved on a rock column, China, year 1137. It showed the same high level of technology of the other western charts, the same grid method, the same use of spheroid trigonometry. It has so many common points with the western ones that it makes think more than reasonably, that there had to be a common source: could it be a lost civilization, maybe the same one which has been chased by thousands years so far?


The Piri Re’is map is often exhibited in cases seeking to prove that civilization was once advanced and that, through some unknown event or events, we are only now gaining any understanding of this mysterious cultural decline. The earliest known civilization, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, appear out of nowhere around 4,000 B.C. but have no nautical or maritime cultural heritage. They do, however, speak reverently of ancestral people who were like the “gods” and were known as the nefilim.

Here is a summary of some of the most unusual findings about the map:

  • Scrutiny of the map shows that the makers knew the accurate circumference of the Earth to within 50 miles.
  • The coastline and island that are shown in Antarctica must have been navigated at some period prior to 4,000 B.C. when these areas were free of ice from the last Ice Age.
  • The map is thought to be one of the earliest “world maps” to show the Americas
  • Early scholars suggested that it showed accurate latitudes of the South American and African coastlines – only 21 years after the voyages of Columbus! (And remember, Columbus did NOT discover North America – only the Caribbean!)
  • Writing in Piri Re’is own hand described how he had made the map from a collection of ancient maps, supplemented by charts that were drawn by Columbus himself. This suggests that these ancient maps were available to Columbus and could have been the basis of his expedition.
  • The “center” of the source map projected from coordinates in what is now Alexandria – the center of culture and home of the world’s oldest and largest library until its destruction by Christian invaders.

Arctic Fabulous: Speculative Fiction and the Imaginary Arctic
By Siobhan Carroll
21 November 2005

In 1577, a group of English explorers found a dead unicorn on the western shore of what is now called Baffin Island. They were delighted with their find, even though the giant fish stretched on the beach didn’t resemble the traditional unicorn of folklore. The maps that guided their expedition had prepared them for an Arctic world full of magic and monsters; clearly, the fish on the beach fell into the latter category, and since it possessed a horn, what could it be but a unicorn? However, some of the crew members questioned whether the fish-like “Sea Unicorn” possessed the same qualities as the land variety. A quick-witted sailor devised a test to end the debate: he caught a couple of spiders in the ship’s hold and rammed them into the broken tip of the whale’s horn. The spiders died, to the great delight of the explorers. Here, at the very edge of the known world, they had discovered one of the great treasures of the Elizabethan age: a magical horn that could cure all poisons and bring death to venomous creatures.

From a twenty-first century perspective, what is surprising about the accounts of sixteenth century Arctic explorers is not that they believed the Arctic was a magical landscape, but that their beliefs have persisted for so long. Even today, you can find conspiracy theorists who believe that the Arctic harbors alien spacecraft, for example, or that an international military alliance has covered up the existence of a tropical island at the South Pole. For SF writers, the Arctic and its stories have been an ongoing source of inspiration. This essay argues that the imaginary Arctic has served as a repository for fantastic possibilities from ancient to modern times. Ancient Greeks, Gothic novelists, Nazi mystics, and contemporary television shows (as well as many others) all seem to agree that the Arctic is a space where the impossible might come true.

The Arctic’s fantastic reputation began with the ancient Greeks, who noticed that the “Arktos” constellation (now called the “Great Bear”), circled the northern sky without setting. The Greeks considered this a bizarre way for stars to behave, and they thought that the lands beneath the Arktos constellation were probably as strange as the stars that circled above them.

Greeks who collected travelers’ tales about the mysterious northern lands soon determined that the arctic lay above the source of the north wind, and thus enjoyed a pleasant climate. The land was allegedly populated by an equally pleasant race of people, the Hyperboreans. Life in the Arctic was so easy that the Hyperboreans were basically immortal. They spent their lives singing, dancing, and eating. Unfortunately, even paradise has its downside: after about a thousand years of partying, the Hyperboreans had lost all interest in music and food. They strung flowers around their necks and drowned themselves out of sheer boredom.

Greek travelers’ tales weren’t just limited to stories about the mass suicide of mythical civilizations, however. Around 330 BC, an astronomer called Pytheas supposedly sailed north of Britain and discovered a land called Thule, where the sun was visible at midnight on the summer solstice. When he tried to sail north of Thule, he encountered an impassable barrier he called the “sea lung” and was forced to turn back. Pytheas added Thule and its dangerous sea lung—thought by modern scholars to be drifting sea ice—to the maps of the ancient world, where it soon passed into legend. For centuries, “Thule” became the shorthand for the mysterious regions of the North, where peculiar sea lungs and Hyperborean paradises awaited bold explorers.

Medieval English explorers added their own travels, mixed with a healthy dose of garbled Norse mythology, to the mix. In addition to tropical lands of plenty, the Arctic was soon known as the land of pygmies, and had a coastline plagued by giant whirlpools. In 1569, Flemish geographer Gerhard Mercator put medieval polar knowledge to work in a very influential map, which depicted not only the complex coastlines of the Open Polar Sea, but also a strange “black rock” that was Mercator claimed stood at the pole itself. This was the map that guided Elizabethan explorers on their quests into Arctic territories.

By the time England launched its 1577 Arctic expedition, the northlands were widely thought to be habitable territory worthy of annexation. Elizabeth I summoned her court astrologer and learned advisor, John Dee, and told him to come up with an argument for British sovereignty in the Arctic. Dee obliged her with a report that dated England’s Arctic claims back to King Arthur. When he wasn’t pulling swords out of stones and dispatching knights to slay dragons, King Arthur apparently mounted expeditions to the Arctic. Dee claimed that Arthur “even unto the North Pole . . . did extend his Jurisdiction: And sent Colonies thither”.

Sadly, however, the Elizabethan expeditions failed to profit from their adventures. The crops the sailors planted died in the icy blasts of the Arctic winter, and gold mines they established on Baffin Island produced only useless rock. In hindsight, however, Dee’s “Arthurian” Arctic claim would prove important to world history: it fueled further Elizabethan exploration of the north and helped legitimize English settlement in North America.

By the time the next wave of exploration came round, England’s Arthurian claims to the Arctic had fallen by the wayside, but the mystique of the polar regions remained. In 1817 England renewed its Arctic ambitions when whalers’ reports indicated that the icy barrier around the pole was melting. The Admiralty gave Sir John Ross command over the first major English Arctic expedition of the nineteenth century, which set sail from London in April 1818. Although the Ross expedition failed to discover either a Northwest Passage or an Open Polar Sea, discussion surrounding the planning, departure, and subsequent adventures of the expedition reignited English interest in the Arctic.

With public interest in the Polar Regions at a new high, fiction-writers stepped in to speculate on what the explorers would find in the north. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, arguably the most famous Arctic novel of 1818, begins with the departure of an ill-fated polar expedition. “I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation,” Captain Walton declares in the novel’s opening chapter, “I will put some trust in preceding navigators . . . there snow and frost are banished, and sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe”.

While Walton never does reach the Pole, he does get his share of marvels in the forms of amateur polar-travelers Victor Frankenstein (the original mad scientist) and his murderous Creature. At the end of the novel, Frankenstein’s Creature takes off for the North Pole, supposedly to commit suicide, but Shelley deliberately leaves the monster’s final fate unresolved.

While Frankenstein is often credited with being the first science fiction novel, few modern readers realize that its SF elements go far beyond Frankenstein’s corpse-raising experiments. At the time Shelley was writing, English explorers had not yet mounted a modern expedition to the pole, nor had they used dog sleds or the other methods of travel she describes. For all Shelley and her contemporaries knew, the pole could very well be the tropical paradise Walton envisions. But in describing the outer Polar Regions as a desolation of ice best crossed by dog sled, Shelley predicted the future of Arctic exploration with surprising accuracy.

With Britain back in the Arctic game, it didn’t take long before America also began to mount expeditions to the polar territories, and American SF authors followed suit. Twenty years after the publication of Frankenstein, a travel narrative appeared claiming to recount the Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a stowaway whose macabre misadventures had landed him on a tropical island in the Open Polar Sea of Antarctica. Chased by cannibals and tormented by the weird cries of strange penguins, Pym made his way to the South Pole, where he was promptly sucked down a giant polar hole into. . . .

But here, to everyone’s disappointment, the narrative broke off.

Notwithstanding the question of how a manuscript last seen accompanying its author to the center of the earth ended up in the hands of American publishers, some readers considered Pym’s description of the Antarctic plausible enough to warrant a revision of world maps. Unfortunately, Pym’s narrative was actually a work of fiction, invented by an imaginative author by the name of Edgar Allen Poe.

Although Pym is not one of Poe’s most famous works, it proved popular enough to survive and inspire other SF authors. H.P. Lovecraft wrote At the Mountains of Madness as a loose sequel to Pym, and his invention of Antarctic “shoggoths” went a long way towards explaining why poor Arthur Gordon Pym was so terrified of penguins.

At the time that Lovecraft was writing, the poles had finally been reached and documented, and no tropical islands, gigantic holes, or mysterious “black rock” had been found. But the Polar Regions’ magical reputation proved extraordinarily resilient, and it took on new life with the rise of Nazism.

In 1912, a group of German mystics founded the Thule Society. Inspired, perhaps, by Friedrich Nietzsche’s identification of northern supermen with the legendary Hyperboreans of the arctic, the Thule Society traced their order back to the ancient island of Thule. Like Atlantis, this advanced civilization had supposedly perished when the island sank into the ocean, leaving their Aryan descendents stranded on a southern continent populated by Jews and other racially-inferior creatures. Luckily, some of Thule’s secrets were accessible to members of the Thule Society, and they hoped to use their knowledge to re-establish Aryan supremacy over the globe. The Thule Society became a reliable source of the radical recruits who would help Adolf Hitler form the National Socialist Party, and its terminology continues to surface in modern white-supremacist magazines like Thule.

Nazism’s connection to the mystical Arctic spaces was revised following the Second World War, when Flying Saucers editor Ray Palmer wrote an article linking the Arctic to the relatively new phenomenon of UFO sightings. Strange as it may seem to those of us raised with the concept of little green men, early discussion of UFOs often assumed that flying saucers and their ilk were the experimental war planes of undefeated Nazis, hiding in some as-yet undetected portion of the globe. The Arctic quickly became a prime candidate in this mythos: after all, if you were Adolf Hitler, where would you hide? South America? Or the traditional dwelling place of racially-superior mystics?

Clearly (according to Palmer), the Nazi UFOs were based somewhere in the Arctic. In fact, they were probably hidden inside the giant polar hole described by people like Edgar Allen Poe. This conspiracy theory received a boost with the publication of a “secret log” supposedly kept by Admiral Byrd during his transarctic flight on February 2, 1947. According to the secret log (generally believed to be a hoax), Byrd was forced to land in the tropical Arctic by Nazi flying saucers, and then interrogated by Aryan space aliens, who persuaded him to enter into a conspiracy to protect their secret Arctic paradise. Different versions of this story exist, some of which also include a secret American military operation aimed at wiping out an Antarctic Nazi colony, but in all of them we can see the vestiges of earlier polar legends.

Although most speculative fiction writers have preferred alien UFOs to the Nazi variety, Polar Regions have continued to crop up in stories of government conspiracies and hidden spacecraft. In John Carpenter’s The Thing, for example, Antarctic researchers stumble across a UFO frozen in pack ice, and learn too late one of the most important rules of arctic survival: never defrost a UFO you find hidden in pack ice. In The X-Files movie, intrepid FBI agents Mulder and Scully make a similar discovery when they come across a UFO buried in Antarctica, although, being the stars of an ongoing TV series, they manage to survive quite a bit longer than the researchers in The Thing.

The tropical aspects of Arctic legends appear far less often in modern speculative fiction. However, Lost, the new, genre-bending TV series that made a splashy debut last season, could possibly be a throwback to the age-old stories of the Hyperborean Arctic. Lost follows the survivors of a plane crash that has left them stranded on a mysterious tropical island patrolled by polar bears and invisible monsters. An old distress signal speaks of a “black rock,” and concrete bunkers hidden in the jungle provide evidence of a possible government conspiracy. Meanwhile, the survivors fear to put a raft to sea in southern winds, for fear of drifting to Antarctica. After reviewing the little information the survivors have gathered about the island, conspiracy theorists and Elizabeathan explorers would probably conclude that they were already in Antarctica, and would be better off staying put.

Regardless of whether or not Lost turns out to have anything to do with the Arctic, it seems likely that the Polar Regions will continue to play a role in speculative fiction. Although much of the Arctic’s romance is now overshadowed by the even more remote (and therefore even more mysterious) regions of space, the Arctic provides not only an earth-based location for speculative plotting, but a well-established tradition for authors to draw upon.

Bibliography / Further reading

McGhee, Robert. The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2004.

Poe, Edgar Allen. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Ed. Richard Kopley. New York: Penguin: 1999.

Pratt, David. Exploring Theosophy.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc, 1992.

Spufford, Francis. I May be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1997.

Vaughan, Richard. The Arctic: A History. Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1994.


Siobhan Carroll is a doctoral student at Indiana University. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in magazines like On Spec, Room of One’s Own, and Son and Foe.