Charles H. Hapgood was not a geologist; he was a professor of the history of science at Keene College in New Hampshire (Hancock, 1995, p. 9). His research led him to study numerous Renaissance and early-modern maps of the world. He made the startling observation that several of these maps seemed to greater and lesser degrees to depict a southern landmass shaped and sized similarly to Antarctica. Although various explorers visited the islands to the south of South America in the 17th and 18th centuries, Antarctica was not officially discovered until 1820. In addition, these maps seemed to be drawn from source maps dating back at least to the Middle Ages and perhaps even to antiquity (Hancock, 1995, p. 5). Even more startling, it seems, is that according to Hapgood, some of these maps depict not the current, icy outline of Antarctica, but instead its sub-glacial topography. This led Hapgood to hypothesize that the original source maps had been drawn by an advanced civilization thousands of years earlier, when, at the end of the last ice age, Antarctica was not completely glaciated. In fact, Hapgood and Hancock argue, at this time, Antarctica lay not at its current position at the south pole, but instead about 30 degrees further north, in a temperate climate.
It is well-known through continental drift and plate tectonics that the earth’s landmasses are not stationary, but form parts of large, independently moving crustal plates. This motion is, however, very slow by human terms, and the 30 degree shift proposed by Hapgood would take millions, if not hundreds of millions, of years to complete according to plate tectonics. In the 1950s, Hapgood developed a theory called Earth Crust Displacement (ECD) which could account the shift, and yet not contradict the theory of continental drift. The basic notion of ECD is that the earth’s lithosphere, although composed of individual plates, can at times move as a whole over the asthenosphere.
To better visualize the ECD, consider a loose-fitting jig-saw puzzle on a table. Normally, if one tries to move the puzzle by applying uneven pressure to the pieces, the puzzle crumbles and pieces slide over each other. This simulates plate tectonics and continental drift. Consider the results, however, when a more even force is applied to the puzzle. By pushing evenly on the bottom edge, it is possible to slide the whole puzzle across the table without disrupting the pieces. This is the heart of ECD.
Hapgood claimed that towards the end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, the extensive mass of glacial ice covering the northern continents caused the lithosphere to ‘slip’ over the asthenosphere, moving Antarctica, during a period of at most several centuries, from a position in the middle latitudes to its current location, and at the same time rotating the other continents. Antarctica’s movement to the polar region precipitated the development of its ice cap. Similarly, by shifting the northern ice sheets out of the arctic zone, the end of the ice age was facilitated.
Support for this theory was given in a forward by Albert Einstein to one of Hapgood’s books in 1953:
In a polar region there is continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. 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 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… (Hapgood, 1958, p. 1)
The claim is that the great build-up of ice in the northern hemisphere was not situated symmetrically, and that as the earth rotated on its axis, this imbalance caused the lithosphere to ‘slip’ catastrophically, as Hancock states: “much as the skin of an orange, if it were loose, might shift over the inner part of the orange all in one piece.” (Hancock, 1995, p. 10) Naturally, if Antarctica shifted south, and parts of the northern hemisphere moved out of the arctic zone, this implies other areas must have shifted into the arctic area and become colder. Indeed, this is what Hancock claims happened.
For example, Hancock cites “huge numbers of warm-blooded, temperate adapted mammal species were instantly frozen, and then their bodies preserved in the permafrost [...] the bulk of the destruction seems to have taken place during the eleventh millennium BC“ (Hancock, 1995, p. 479). The assumption is, if temperate climate regions were suddenly thrust into polar conditions, large numbers of animals, unable to adapt and/or flee, would perish. Another piece of evidence claims that portions of the Antarctic ice sheet are much younger than previously thought, and that in reality portions of Antarctica remained glacier-free until the end of the last ice age or even later. Hancock writes:
…sedimentary cores collected from the bottom of the Ross Sea by one of the Byrd Antarctic Expeditions provide conclusive evidence that ’great rivers, carrying down fine well grained sediments’ did flow in this part of Antarctica until perhaps as late as 4000 BC (Hancock, 1995, p. 477).
Supposedly, if Antarctica still had flowing rivers, then it could not have been completely covered by ice, and in that case, since we know it is now in a polar location where it is too cold for such rivers, it would make sense if it were previously located outside of a polar climate.
Perhaps an important issue is whether or not ECD conflicts with plate tectonics, a well-accepted theory in geology today. Plate tectonics is a relatively young theory, having only really emerged in the late 1960s. It traces its origins, however, to the concepts of continental drift and sea-floor spreading. According to continental drift, the continents can move freely and change their positions relative to one another, and major early evidence for this was the observation that continents such as South America and Africa seem to fit together like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. Sea-floor spreading further hypothesizes that along a mid-oceanic ridge the sea-floor spreads out, causing the two sides of the ridge to move apart as if on conveyer belts. In the 1960s new evidence and ideas about the earth’s crust developed these hypotheses into the theory of plate tectonics, which states that the lithosphere is composed of a few large and several small plates that move slowly across the asthenosphere, and that intense geologic activity, such as volcanoes and earthquakes, occur at plate boundaries (Plummer and McGeary, 1996, p. 418). Neither continental drift nor plate tectonics, however, disallows the plates from moving in a unified manner at times. Just as in our puzzle analogy earlier, it is possible to move the puzzle in both a uniform and an uneven manner, one causing an even shift, and the other collisions between the pieces.
In his book, Hancock pulls together Hapgood’s theory and more recent evidence to set forth a manner by which Antarctica, now covered by snow and ice, could have in the relatively recent geologic past had a temperate climate and have been home to the lost civilization of Atlantis, now buried below thousands of feet of ice. The theory of ECD shows no inherent contradictions with plate tectonics, the now-accepted explanation of how the earth’s crust moves and changes. In fact, Hancock claims both can be true, and the ECD is a modification to an existing, yet incomplete theory.
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