What is it about pyramids that excites the imagination? Their shape? Their size? Height? Age? The complexities and difficulties in their building? Or the sheer grandeur of them?
And what is it about them that get the cranks and conspiracy theorists so fired up? What is it about these constructions that convince some folks they’re made by – or for – aliens? Or that there’s some bizarre coverup by governments to keep people from knowing the “truth” about them?
This week I noticed some odd search terms showing up in my stats page: “antarctica” and “pyramids” in the same line. Not something I’d expect to see in my posts. What silliness is this, I asked myself. That’s gotta be worth exploring. And whoa! I stumbled into a major conspiracy theory I must have missed!
Antarctica, the fifth largest continent, is 98% covered in ice that averages a mile thick. It’s the coldest place on the planet, with temperatures as low as -89C (-128F). But it wasn’t always so. The continent broke away from the Gondwanaland super-continent starting about 160 million years ago. After that it drifted until it arrived where it is and started gathering ice.
It’s been covered in ice for about 15 million years, although before that it was a fairly temperate region. During the entire, short duration of human existence (historically speaking)*, it has been an inhospitable, ice-covered place. And for most of that, it has also been bereft of human habitation.
Antarctica wasn’t even discovered until the early 19th century,although many speculated that a southern continent had to exist, simply for symmetry’s sake. But the extreme conditions, the treacherous oceans that surround it, the dangers of ice, cold and wind simply made it impossible for humans to get there without a reasonably well-built ocean craft. But we did, even though many died in the process of discovery.
Today, the continent hosts a population that ranges between 1,000 and 5,000, depending on season; mostly scientists. Today, too, you can shell out a healthy piece of cash and take a cruise ship to the Antarctic and spend a day oggling penguins or walk on an ice shelf. But you couldn’t live there easily or for long without significant effort and equipment. The rather limited food sources and complete lack of any vegetation larger than tiny, hardy plants mean you have to ship or fly in most of your food, medicine, clothing, building supplies, fuel and everything else for survival.
You can’t build pyramids there. No one can. There isn’t a lot of ground to build on – although there are small places called the Dry Valleys – and there’s no evidence that anyone dug a quarry in any of them to get the stone necessary to build a pyramid. Besides, the valleys suffer from unfortunate katabatic winds: high speed cold winds that can reach 320 km/hr. Even if you could withstand the winds, dryness and cold, you’d have to dig through a deep layer of gravel to reach bedrock – tough, ancient granite, not the easier-to-cut -and-shape limestone and sandstone used by many cultures for monuments.
Two of the “pyramids” in question are roughly 16km inland. Can you imagine humans four or more thousand years ago shipping millions of tons of stone blocks – each one likely weighing between 500 and 1,000 tons – across hundreds, even thousands of miles of treacherous water, then dragging them across the frigid, dangerous ice for 16 kilometers? And not lose a single one to a crevasse or soft snow?
The third appears to be a snowcone sitting on an ice shelf:
The improbability of it all makes me chuckle. Or it would if it didn’t make me angry about the anti-science and anti-intellectualism this nonsense represents.
And the silliness is spreading – the Net is a beehive for the gullible who want to believe in all sorts of conspiracies, insanities and government coverups. And they’re posting photographs. Of natural landforms, misidentified as artificial structures.
It’s the Face on Mars all over again. And the wingnut sites are all over this the same way they did back then.** One site that promises “truth revealed” claims:
A team of 8 explorers from America and Europe claim to have found evidence of three man made pyramids ‘peaking’ (sic) through the melting ice… The shocking discovery of ancient man-made pyramids under the thick ice and snow of Antarctica would change our perception of human history forever.
But of course there is no “team” nor any pyramids nor any “shocking discovery.” It’s all just another sorry internet hoax. Sorry if I spoiled that for you.
Try to trace back the stories, find the alleged reports in scientific journals, details of the alleged team of scientists and you end up running in circles. Every website repeats the same vague claims; none link to actual science. None actually identifies the team, the researchers, any university or national institute.
If not the origin, then the Voice of Russia site is close to the source. In June it made the remarkable (and risible) claim that:
Three ancient pyramids have been discovered in the Antarctic by a team of American and European scientists. Two of the pyramids were discovered about 16 kilometers inland, while the third one was very close to the coastline. An expedition to the bizarre structures should answer the intriguing question whether they are artificial or natural.
As typical with such conspiracy theories, the site doesn’t provide source material, just vague and somewhat hysterical claims that fuel the conspiracist fantasies. It also adds:
The first reports about the pyramids appeared in western mass media last year.
without ever identifying those alleged media sources. Blame the west; that’s what Russian media does best.
Some sites refer to an article allegedly posted on the Scienceray site, but a search of its articles doesn’t turn up anything of that sort. The links posted on some sites (like Allvoices.com) only open error code 404 pages: nothing found. There are no reputable science sites I’ve found with anything credible on this story. But then, no creible science site has anything on Atlantis, UFOs, alien encounters and cryptozoology.
Many sites parrot this bit of fatuous claptrap:
Scholars and Egyptologists have long suspected that the Sphynx is far older than first estimated, possibly over 10,000 years old.
Scientists discovered that evidence of water erosion on the ancient statue, still the world’s largest, tells a story of climate change from rainy hot jungle to desert in a few thousand short years.
If the climate in Egypt changed this quickly, is it not equally possible that the Antarctic climate could have also changed drastically in the same time?
Legends speak of pyramids in the Antarctica, of the lost city of Atlantis being covered not just under water, but encased in ice.
The Sphinx? That’s a pretty crazy non sequitor. As usual, no real scholar or Egyptologist is identified. Real archeologists argue over the dating, yes, but they are all within about 200 years of one another (circa 2500 BCE). A handful of pseudo-archeologists (not actual Egyptologists; most are just wingnuts) have hypothesized some ridiculous notions about Neolithic builders, coincidental star alignments and possible aliens. (Sorry folks, Stargate was scifi, not a documentary…)
Legends? What legends? Whose legends? Easy to make such statements when you don’t bother to identify the source.
Are they like the fake “legends” created by hoaxsters and unscrupulous authors to add credibility to the crystal skulls (themselves just another tawdry series of modern fakes and scams)? When anyone prefaces a sentence with “Legends speak…” run away. It means claptrap is about to follow (and not Cl4P-TP either).
Basically the same advice applies for anything that mentions Atlantis, hollow earth, alien visitations, the Biblical (and mythical) Flood alien bases, UFOs, pyramids or government coverups in the same sentence as Antarctica. But for amusement’s sake, search on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of videos that conflate these terms in a jumbled, paranoid, unscientific and highly looney conspiracy. But that’s hardly news: that’s what all conspiracy theories eventually do.
Such balderdash. And highly profitable balderdash: there are books and book tours to be had feeding the conspiracy theorists and uncritical New Agers. It’s a good living, writing about imaginary creatures and “alien” technologies. You can make claims of research, of science and of ancient legends that your followers will swallow whole without questioning your authority.
Maybe I should give up writing books about municipal issues and plump for cash in the alien-visitation-Atlantis market.
Even the water erosion hypothesis isn’t as crazy as it’s represented above; it only suggests a construction date prior to 3100 BCE. Not 10,000 or more years old! And if such an event existed, the proposed change in Egyptian climate ended between 3,500 and 1,500 BCE – but not all climatologists and archeologists even agree it happened. But if it did, it was a slow process over perhaps thousands of years, not an overnight one.
The icing in the Antarctic began about 33.5 million years ago:
…sub tropical plants covered Antarctica approximately 53 million years ago… the team focussed on a segment of the core that reveals a time in Antarctica’s history 20 million years later. It showed a time when the climate was gradually cooling until large ice sheets appeared on the continent approximately 33.5 million years ago.
We already know the ice has been in some parts of the Antarctic for at least 1.5 million years, long before humans even thought about sailing. The WAIS Divide core samples go back a mere 68,000 years – and show the Antarctic had its own Ice Age that ended about 20,000 years ago.
In other words: it was never a green paradise for some advanced Neolithic (or alien-inspired) culture to sing and dance and hug one another in. Or for aliens to build bases (sorry to do this again, but The Thing was a scifi/horror movie, not a documentary… there really isn’t an alien spaceship under the ice…).***
Then there’s Atlantis. The cranks always have to drag out Atlantis to seed some pseudo-credibility into their latest codswallop. Here’s the truth about Atlantis: it’s fiction. It never existed. Period. End of story. And the same goes for aliens landing and building pyramids (or inspiring the building thereof): fiction.
But wait, there’s more. The tale doesn’t end there. The wonks drag out the big guns and quote from the serious nutbar category:
In ‘The Myth of the Twelve World Pyramids’ author James Donahue explained the legend in March, 2006:
“…The first, he said, is located under the ice in Antarctica. The others are in Tibet, Lumeria (a legendary lost continent in the Pacific region), Atlantis, Mexico, Peru, Europe, Australia, Canada,Middle East, United States and finally Egypt.
I believe pyramids, or at least the remnants of what may once have been large pyramid type buildings, have been found…What interested me was a prophetic message in the information about the Antarctic pyramid.
It says this structure is a portal to other planetary systems and its function is to assist in the comings and goings of alien entities who have been part of the history of Planet Earth.
“These entities came to the planet in great spaceships and interacted with those who lived on the planet, in the water, and below the surface,” the messenger says.
The kicker comes with this:
“And when this book is found, the ice shall melt from this place, revealing starships created by this pyramid, left behind as reminders of their work and interaction on your planet.”
That the book is known is a clear indication that if it is ancient, it has indeed been “found.”
Gawds almighty if that doesn’t make scream “ocodswallop” out loud and shake your fist angrily at the mindless internet, then nothing will.
Starships under the ice? Lumeria? Prophetic messages? Aliens? The mind boggles at the sheer stupidity and gullibility of it all. PaleoBabble blog calls it “pyramidiocy.” Nice neologism, by the way. And isn’t that supposed to be Lemuria, not Lumeria? (Dontcha just hate it when the New Agers can’t even get their fictional lost continents straight?)
There are mountains in pyramidal shapes – they’re called “glacial horns” and the Matterhorn is a famous example. But they’re natural, not artificial. You also see “nunataks” in the Antarctic, which Wikipedia reminds us are:
…an exposed, often rocky element of a ridge, mountain, or peak not covered with ice or snow within (or at the edge of) an ice field or glacier. The term is typically used in areas where a permanent ice sheet is present. Nunataks present readily identifiable landmark reference points in glaciers or ice caps and are often named… Nunataks are generally angular and jagged because of freeze-thaw weathering and contrast strongly with the softer contours of the glacially eroded land after a glacier retreats.
That’s the Schatz Ridge of the photo to the left, near the Vinson Massif, in Antarctica. Pyramidal, but not a pyramid, and entirely natural. As are all the other so-called pyramids on the continent. Just products of the effects of wind, ice and snow.
But ask yourself: why pyramids? Why can’t these mysteriously advanced-yet-surprisingly-primitive humans build, say, a Roman forum on the ice? Or a Greek temple? Or another Angkor Wat? Why can’t they build something that looked like a transit station for their alien buddies – an airport with a landing pad?
Why always pyramids? The Egyptians built a lot of other structures. Why not another Temple of Horus instead of yet another Giza knockoff? Because, I suppose, they’re be easily identifiable and thus spoil the conspiracy theory.
It’s fun to read about, and I’ve always entertained by conspiracy theories, but it’s deeply disturbing that so many people believe in such lunacy. Confirmation bias at its worst.
* It’s been less than 100,000 years since Homo Sapiens left Africa. Ten thousand years ago, we were mostly bands of hunter-gatherers, who may not have had what we think of as language today. We certainly didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to build stone pyramids hundreds of metres tall on a hostile continent.
** The Face on Mars was a textbook example of conspiracy theory gone bonkers. It’s also a classic case of pareidolia. It went from a single mid-identified “face” (actually a rock projection we might call a butte or mesa on Earth) to an entire civilization – pyramids on Mars. Links to Atlantis were tossed around. Aliens living under the Martian sands. And no amount of high-res photos from new satellites or scientific data can convince the wingnuts that Mars is dead and the shapes are natural. The conspiracy is still going strong as it spins wildly into fruitcake levels online. Today it’s become the “lion” on Mars. And a hollow Phobos as an abandoned starship. Entertaining, yes, but seriously nuts. And that’s a Martian rock on the left, about as close to a pyramid as you’re ever going to see on the Red Planet.
*** Just to make it even more interesting, if the Antarctic was ice free during human times, it means that a good deal of its coast was under water because all that water trapped in the ice would have raised sea levels considerably (12-20-plus meters). If the planet was warm enough to melt the south pole, it would have melted the Arctic and Greenland ice caps as well. And then the ice magically grew back to more than a mile thick in a few thousand years… and no one noticed. Yes, palm trees once grew in Antarctica – 52 million years ago! That was the early Eocene period. The Earth was about 10C warmer than it is today back then, by the way. And humans – not even a gleam in a proto-primate’s eye back then!
Join our list
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
More from Amazing Places
The Chandra X-Ray Observatory is a NASA telescope that looks at black holes, quasars, supernovas, and the like – all …