Hidden Histories

The Lost World of Antarctica

Monday, 8/16/10
Recently, within my other publication here at the Society, History Hits (which may be obtained free by subscription here), I wrote a short article with graphics entitled, "Antarctica: The Lost Continent."  Writings of famed Antarctic explorers such as Charles Wilkes, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, etc., can be found here within the Society's collections, which has prompted me to give some additional background information to the above article for this Blog, plus add a few things not included in those remarks, information largely unknown to the public.

Many years ago, while residing in the West, I came across a work about the 'frozen wilderness' of Antarctica entitled, Antarctica: The Worst Place in the World, (1966), by Allyn Baum. The author gives an account from the journal of Captain Carl Anton Larsen, who in November of 1893, in the ship Jason, made anchor off Seymour Island, located on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

For years now, many fossils of ancient life have been discovered in this remote area, as well as within the 'dry valleys' on the continent itself, from dinosaur remains to ancient botanical specimens, showing how at one time the area was tropical in climate.  Purportedly however, no human remains have ever been discovered. Yet according to Baum, Capt. Larsen specifically makes mention of the discovery of some "fifty balls set on pillars...these (balls of clay) had every appearance of having been made by human hands."

One can imagine if the above is true, it would be one of the most important scientific discoveries, since according to conventional theory, the present ice-sheet blanketing the Antarctic continent has existed for millions of years. Naturally I wanted the source for such a statement, though Baum failed to give one. Writing to the author, he stated he'd lost the reference. Thus, began a search that covered many years, in my attempt to locate the original or primary source for this provocative and mysterious statement.

In university libraries from California, to Utah, to Kentucky and on to Pennsylvania, I examined multiple volumes and numerous publications concerning the Antarctic, but nothing contained any data relative to the aforementioned discovery by Capt. Larsen. Twenty-five years ago however, when I first became employed here at 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,' and 'on a whim,' I checked the card catalog of the Library, and surprisingly found one volume actually on Antarctica, by Philadelphia lawyer and writer, Thomas Willing Balch, entitled simply, Antarctica, published in Philadelphia in 1902, a seminal volume on early Antarctic exploration, which actually included Larsen's discovery in 1893. Quoting from his diary or journal, Larsen remarked how on Saturday, November 18th, at Cape Seymour, they found petrified wood and worms, while,

"At other places we found balls formed of sand and cement which lay upon pillars of the same kind.  We collected in several places some fifty of them; they had the appearance of having been made by the hand of man." 

The above work then in turn, gave as its source, the famed Geographical Journal, No.4, Vol.IV., for October, 1894, a published article entitled, "The Voyage of the "Jason" to the Antarctic Regions," being an 'Abstract of Journal kept by Capt. C. A. Larsen,' on pp's. 333-344, which quotes once again, Larsen on p.333, who states how, "At other places we saw balls of sand and cement resting upon pillars composed of the same constituents. We collected some fifty of them, and they had the appearance of having been made by man's hand." 

Dr. Charles W. Donald, also observed the above "pillars," during his visit to Seymour Island on the ship, the Active, part of the Scottish Dundee Whaling Fishing Company, which was in Antarctic waters at approximately the same time as Capt. Larsen of the Jason, stating his belief that the "balls formed of sand and cement" were actually "columns of basalt which had crumbled into concentric scaled balls."

Regardless, since the late 19th century, Chilean archaeologists have reportedly found 'arrowheads' at Antarctica on King George Island of the South Shetland Islands, believed to have been left there by voyagers from the South American continent. Also, Charles H. Hapgood, the late Harvard cartographer who attempted to show in his famous work, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (1966), that Antarctica was mapped centuries ago by some ancient maritime civilization, as revealed by the famed Piri Reis Map found in Turkey and dated to 1513, as well as certain other maps of Medieval vintage, based perhaps in turn on ancient Greek or Phoenecian works (see for example, "New Analysis Hints Ancient Explorers Mapped Antarctic," New York Times, September 25th, 1984, p.C-2).

The point is that much remains to be discovered on the great South Polar continent, but also in often neglected historical repositories like 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania' in Philadelphia. Thus one simply has to be patient, curious and inquisitive enough, if you are ever going to truly find, the Hidden Histories,' that are 'out there,' or here, simply waiting to be discovered.