When I was only a few months into this investigation, my research assistant sent me a fifteen-page letter explaining why he had decided to resign. At that stage I hadn’t yet begun to put the pieces of the puzzle together and I was working more on hunches than on hard evidence. I was captivated by all the mysteries, anomalies, anachronisms and puzzles, and wanted to learn as much about them as I could. My researcher, meanwhile, had been looking into the long, slow processes by which some known civilizations had come into global history.
It transpired that, in his opinion, certain significant economic, climatic, topographical and geographical preconditions had to be met before a civilization could evolve:
So if you are looking for a hitherto undiscovered civilization of great originators who made it on their own, separate from any of the ones we already know, you are not looking for a needle in a haystack. You are looking for something more like a city in its hinterland. What you are looking for is a vast region which occupied a land area at least a couple of thousand miles across. This is a landmass as big as the Gulf of Mexico, or twice the size of Madagascar. It would have had major mountain ranges, huge river systems and a Mediterranean to sub-tropical climate which was buffered by its latitude from the adverse effects of short-term climatic cooling. It would have needed this relatively undisturbed climate to last for around ten thousand years … Then the population of several hundred thousand sophisticated people, we are to believe, suddenly vanished, together with their homeland, leaving very little physical trace, with only a few surviving individuals who were shrewd enough to see the end coming, wealthy enough and in the right place, with the resources they needed to be able to do something about escaping the cataclysm.
So there I was without a researcher. My proposition was a priori impossible. There could be no lost advanced civilization because a landmass big enough to support such a civilization was too big to lose.
The problem was a serious one and it continued to nag at the back of my mind all the way through my own research and travels. It was, indeed, this exact problem, more than any other, which had scuppered Plato’s Atlantis as a serious proposition for scholars. As one critic of the lost continent theory put it:
There never was an Atlantic landbridge since the arrival of man in the world; there is no sunken landmass in the Atlantic: the Atlantic Ocean must have existed in its present form for at least a million years. In fact it is a geophysical impossibility for an Atlantis of Plato’s dimensions to have existed in the Atlantic …1
The adamant and assertive tone, I had long ago learnt, was entirely justified. Modern oceanographers had thoroughly mapped the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and there was definitely no lost continent lurking there.
But if the evidence that I was gathering did represent the fingerprints of a vanished civilization, a continent had to have got lost somewhere.
So where? For a while I used the obvious working hypothesis that it might be under some other ocean. The Pacific was very big but the Indian Ocean looked more promising because it was located relatively close to the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent, where several of the earliest known historical civilizations had emerged with extreme suddenness at around 3000 BC. I had plans to go chasing rumours of ancient pyramids in the Maldive Islands and along the Somali coast of East Africa to see if I could pick up any clues of a lost paradise of antiquity. I thought I might even work in a trip to the Seychelles.
The problem was the oceanographers again. The floor of the Indian Ocean, too, had been mapped and it didn’t conceal any lost continents. Ditto every other ocean and every other sea. There seemed to be nowhere now under water into which a landmass big enough to have nurtured a high civilization could have vanished.
Yet, as my research continued, the evidence kept mounting that precisely such a civilization had once existed. I began to suspect that it must have been a maritime civilization: a nation of navigators. In support of this hypothesis, among other anomalies, were the remarkable ancient maps of the world, the ‘Pyramid Boats’ of Egypt, the traces of advanced astronomical knowledge in the astonishing calendar system of the Maya, and the legends of seafaring gods like Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha.
A nation of navigators, then. And a nation of builders, too: Tiahuanaco builders, Teotihuacan builders, pyramid builders, Sphinx builders, builders who could lift and position 200-ton blocks of limestone with apparent ease, builders who could align vast monuments to the cardinal points with uncanny accuracy. Whoever they were, these builders appeared to have left their characteristic fingerprints all over the world in the form of cyclopean polygonal masonry, site layouts involving astronomical alignments, mathematical and geodetic puzzles, and myths about gods in human form. But a civilization advanced enough to build like that – rich enough, sufficiently well organized and mature to have explored and mapped the world from pole to pole, a civilization smart enough to have calculated the dimensions of the earth – simply could not have evolved on an insignificant landmass. Its homeland, as my researcher had rightly pointed out, must have been blessed with major mountain ranges, huge river systems and a congenial climate, and with many other obvious environmental prerequisites for the development of an advanced and prosperous economy: good agricultural lands, mineral resources, forests, and so on.
So where could such a landmass have been located, if not under any of the world’s oceans?
Where could it have been located and when might it have disappeared? And if it had disappeared (and no other explanation would do) then how, why, and under what circumstances?
Seriously, how do you lose a continent?
Commonsense suggested that the answer had to lie in a cataclysm of some kind, a planetary disaster capable of wiping out almost all physical traces of a large civilization. But if so, why were there no records of such a cataclysm? Or perhaps there were.
As my research progressed I studied many of the great myths of flood, fire, earthquakes and ice handed down from generation to generation around the world. We saw in Part IV that it was difficult to resist the conclusion that the myths were describing real geological and climatic events, quite possibly the different local effects of the same events in all cases.
During the short history of mankind’s presence on this planet, I found that there was only one known and documented catastrophe that fitted the bill: the dramatic and deadly meltdown of the last Ice Age between 15000 and 8000 BC. Moreover, as was more obviously the case with architectural relics like Teotihuacan and the Egyptian pyramids, many of the relevant myths appeared to have been designed to serve as vehicles for encrypted scientific information, again an indication of what I was coming to think of as ‘the fingerprints of the gods’.
What I had become sensitized to, although I did not properly realize its implications at the time, was the possibility that a strong connection might exist between the collapsing chaos of the Ice Age and the disappearance of an archaic civilization which had been the stuff of legend for millennia.
It was at this moment exactly that the library angels intervened …
The missing piece of the puzzle
The novelist Arthur Koestler, who had a great interest in synchronicity, coined the term ‘library angel’ to describe the unknown agency responsible for the lucky breaks researchers sometimes get which lead to exactly the right information being placed in their hands at exactly the right moment.2
At exactly the right moment, one of those lucky breaks came my way. The moment was the summer of 1993. I was at a low ebb physically and spiritually after months of hard travel, and the geophysical impossibility of actually losing a continent-sized landmass was beginning to undermine my confidence in the strength of my findings. It was then that I received a letter from the town of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada. The letter referred to my previous book The Sign and the Seal, in which I had made passing mention of the Atlantis theory and of traditions of civilizing heroes who had been ‘saved from water’:
19 July 1993
Dear Mr Hancock,
After 17 years of research into the fate of Atlantis, my wife and I have finished a manuscript entitled When the Sky Fell. Our frustration is that despite positive feedback about the book’s approach from the few publishers who have seen it, the mere mention of Atlantis closes minds.3
In The Sign and the Seal you write of ‘a tradition of secret wisdom started by the survivors of a flood …’ Our work explores sites where some survivors might have relocated. High altitude, fresh-water lakes made ideal post-deluge bases for the survivors of Atlantis. Lake Titicaca and Lake Tana [in Ethiopia, where much of The Sign and the Seal was set] fit the climatic criteria. Their stable environment provided the raw materials for restarting agriculture.
We have taken the liberty of enclosing an outline of When the Sky Fell. If you are interested we will be pleased to send you a copy of the manuscript.
I turned to the enclosure and there, in the first few paragraphs, found the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle I had been looking for. It meshed perfectly with the ancient global maps I had studied – maps which accurately depicted the subglacial topography of the continent of Antarctica (see Part I). It made perfect sense of all the great worldwide myths of cataclysm and planetary disaster, with their differing climatic effects. It explained the enigma of the huge numbers of apparently ‘flash-frozen’ mammoths in northern Siberia and Alaska, and the 90-foot tall fruit trees locked in the permafrost deep inside the Arctic Circle at a latitude where nothing now grows. It provided a solution to the problem of the extreme suddenness with which the last Ice Age in the northern hemisphere melted down after 15,000 BC. It also solved the mystery of the exceptional worldwide volcanic activity that accompanied the meltdown. It answered the question, ‘How do you lose a continent?’ And it was solidly based in Charles Hapgood’s theory of ‘earth-crust displacement’ – a radical geological hypothesis with which I was already familiar:
Antarctica is our least understood continent [wrote the Flem-Aths in their outline]. Most of us assume that this immense island has been ice-bound for millions of years. But new discoveries prove that parts of Antarctica were free of ice thousands of years ago, recent history by the geological clock. The theory of ‘earth-crust displacement’ explains the mysterious surge and ebb of Antarctica’s vast ice sheet.
What the Canadian researchers were referring to was Hapgood’s suggestion that until the end of the last Ice Age – say the eleventh millennium BC – the landmass of Antarctica had been positioned some 2000 miles further north (at a congenial and temperate latitude) and that it had been moved to its present position inside the Antarctic Circle as a result of a massive displacement of the earth’s crust.4 This displacement, the Flem-Aths continued, had
also left other evidence of its deadly visit in a ring of death around the globe. All the continents that experienced rapid and massive extinctions of animal species (notably the Americas and Siberia) underwent a massive change in their latitudes …
The consequences of a displacement are monumental. The earth’s crust ripples over its interior and the world is shaken by incredible quakes and floods. The sky appears to fall as continents groan and shift position. Deep in the ocean, earthquakes generate massive tidal waves which crash against coastlines, flooding them. Some lands shift to warmer climes, while others, propelled into polar zones, suffer the direst of winters. Melting ice caps raise the ocean’s level higher and higher. All living things must adapt, migrate or die …
If the horror of an earth-crust displacement were to be visited upon today’s interdependent world the progress of thousands of years of civilization would be torn away from our planet like a fine cobweb. Those who live near high mountains might escape the global tidal waves, but they would be forced to leave behind, in the lowlands, the slowly constructed fruits of civilization. Only among the merchant marine and navies of the world might some evidence of civilization remain. The rusting hulls of ships and submarines would eventually perish but the valuable maps that are housed in them would be saved by survivors, perhaps for hundreds, even thousands of years. Until once again mankind could use them to sail the World Ocean in search of lost lands …
As I read these words I remembered Charles Hapgood’s account of how the layer of the earth that geologists call the lithosphere – the thin but rigid outer crust of the planet – could at times be displaced, moving in one piece ‘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.’5
Thus far, I felt I was on familiar ground. But then the Canadian researchers made two vital connections which I had missed.
Section through the earth. The crustal displacement theory envisages the possibility of periodic displacements of the entire crust in one piece. Often less than 30 miles thick, the crust rests on a lubricating layer known as the asthenosphere.
The first of these was the possibility that gravitational influences (as well as the variations in the earth’s orbital geometry discussed in Part V) might, through the mechanism of earth-crust displacement, play a role in the onset and decline of Ice Ages:
When the naturalist and geologist Louis Agassiz presented the idea of ice ages to the scientific community in 1837 he was met with great skepticism. However, as evidence slowly gathered in his favour, the skeptics were forced to accept that the earth had indeed been gripped by deadly winters. But the trigger of these paralysing ice ages remained a puzzle. It was not until 1976 that solid evidence existed to establish the timing of ice ages. The explanation was found in various astronomical features of the earth’s orbit and the tilt of the axis. Astronomical factors have clearly played a role in the timing of glacial epochs. But this is only part of the problem. Of equal importance is the geographyof glaciation. It is here that the theory of earth-crust displacement plays its role in unravelling the mystery.
Albert Einstein investigated the possibility that the weight of the ice-caps, which are not symmetrically distributed about the pole, might cause such a displacement. Einstein wrote: ’The earth’s rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced this way will, when it reaches a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the earth’s body, and this will displace the polar regions towards the equator.
When Einstein wrote these words  the astronomical causes of ice ages were not fully appreciated. When the shape of the earth’s orbit deviates from a perfect circle by more than one per cent, the gravitational influence of the sun increases, exercising more pull on the planet and its massive ice sheets. Their ponderous weight pushes against the crust and this immense pressure, combined with the greater incline in the earth’s tilt [another changing factor of the orbital geometry] forces the crust to shift …
The connection with the onset and decline of ice ages?
In a displacement, those parts of the earth’s crust which are situated at the North and South Poles (and which are therefore as completely glaciated as Antarctica is today) shift suddenly into warmer latitudes and begin to melt with extraordinary rapidity. Conversely, land that has hitherto been located at warmer latitudes is shifted equally suddenly into the polar zones, suffers a devastating climate change, and begins to vanish under a rapidly expanding ice-cap.
In other words, when huge parts of northern Europe and north America were heavily glaciated in what we think of as the last Ice Age, it was not because of some mysterious slow-acting climatic factor, but rather because those areas of land were then situated much closer to the North Pole than they are today. Similarly, when the Wisconsin and Wurm glaciations described in Part IV began to go into their meltdown at around 15,000 BC the trigger was not global climate change but a shift of the ice-caps into warmer latitudes …
In other words: there is an Ice Age going on right now – inside the Arctic Circle and in Antarctica.
The lost continent
The second connection the Flem-Aths made followed logically from the first: if there was such a recurrent, cyclical geological phenomenon as earth-crust displacement, and if the last displacement had shifted the enormous landmass we call Antarctica out of temperate latitudes and into the Antarctic Circle, it was possible that the substantial remains of a lost civilization of remote antiquity might today be lying under two miles of ice at the South Pole.
It was suddenly clear to me how a continent-sized landmass, which had been the home of a large and prosperous society for thousands of years, could indeed get lost almost without trace. As the Flem-Aths concluded: ‘It is to icy Antarctica that we look to find answers to the very roots of civilization – answers which may yet be preserved in the frozen depths of the forgotten island continent.’
I hauled out my researcher’s resignation letter from the files and started to check off his preconditions for the emergence of an advanced civilization. He wanted ‘major mountain ranges’. He wanted ‘huge river systems’. He wanted ‘a vast region which occupied a land area at least a couple of thousand miles across’. He also wanted a stable, congenial climate for ten thousand years, to allow time for a developed culture to evolve.
Antarctica is by no means a needle in a haystack. It’s a huge landmass, much, much bigger than the Gulf of Mexico, about seven times larger than Madagascar – indeed roughly the size of the continental USA. Moreover, as seismic surveys have demonstrated, there are major mountain ranges in Antarctica. And as several of the ancient maps seem to prove, unknown prehistoric cartographers, who possessed a scientific understanding of latitude and longitude, depicted these mountain ranges before they disappeared beneath the ice-cap that covers them today. These same ancient maps also show ‘huge river systems’ flowing down from the mountains, watering the extensive valleys and plains below and running into the surrounding ocean. And these rivers, as I already knew from the Ross Sea cores,6 had left physical evidence of their presence in the composition of ocean bottom sediments.
Last but not least, I noted that the earth-crust displacement theory did not conflict with the requirement for 10,000 years of stable climate. Prior to the supposed sudden shift of the crust, at around the end of the last Ice Age in the northern hemisphere, the climate of Antarctica would have been stable, perhaps for a great deal longer than 10,000 years. And if the theory was right in suggesting that Antarctica’s latitude in that epoch had been about 2000 miles (30 degrees of arc) further north than it is today, the northernmost parts of it would have been situated in the vicinity of latitude 30° South and would, indeed, have enjoyed a Mediterranean to sub-tropical climate.
Had the earth’s crust really shifted? And could the ruins of a lost civilization really lie beneath the ice of the southern continent?
As we see in the following chapters, it might have … and they could.