Terra Australis Incognita
by Riaan Booysen
It is argued that Terra Australis Incognita, the ‘imaginary’ southern continent which appears on virtually all early maps of the world, was a real continent which matches Plato’s mythical Atlantis in many respects. Maps showing three different forms of Terra Australis suggest a continent of which the central plain was gradually being flooded before it ultimately disappeared under the water. The submarine topography of New Zealand closely matches one of these maps and ancient legends of South America suggest that disappearance of the continent was caused by the impact of a comet. It is argued that Antarctica must have been ice free up to 12,000 years ago, when the impact of a comet caused a tsunami which nearly caused the extinction of mankind, the tsunami having been recorded in the Bible as the Great Flood.
1. Description of Atlantis, the sunken continent
Plato, in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, relates the legend of a powerful nation that around 9500 BCE inhabited a continent greater in size than ancient Libya and Asia combined. This nation attacked and conquered Europe and Asia, with only the Greeks being able to prevail against them. Sometime after the invasion, however, the Greeks and the Atlanteans were ‘swallowed up’ by the sea in a single grievous day and night.
The continent, which lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules, is described as having had a central, ‘rectangular and oblong’ shaped plain with a 3:2 length-to-width ratio, surrounded by mountains but with an opening to the sea. A mountain that was ‘low on all sides’ ran through the centre of the plain. Atlantis had ten states or provinces, each with its own king and capital city. The fabulous royal city of Atlantis was surrounded by circles of sea over which bridges had been built. The royal city of Atlantis alone had a standing army of what based on calculations must have been close to 1 million soldiers and a fleet of 1200 warships1. The capital cities of the other states had armies of varying sizes, with a total population of between 64 and 100 million people2.
2. What one would be looking for …
As Plato appears to be the only source of information on Atlantis, many scholars doubt the authenticity of his reports, or in other words, Atlantis is nothing more than a myth. If, however, Plato’s account is based on a real continent that once existed, but sank below the ocean in a single day, there simply has to be other evidence suggesting its existence. What we would be looking for is evidence in the form of ancient maps, the first choice, and then also in ancient legends, archaeology and, with any luck, modern geography.
3. Ancient maps showing a vast continent which no longer exists
Many early world maps have one oddity in common, namely a vast southern continent generally called Terra Australis Incognita (The Unknown Land in the South). Following the middle ages there appears to have been a widespread belief that this continent not only existed, but that it used to be home to a people who dominated the world3. This belief gradually diminished and was discarded altogether following James Cook’s second voyage from 1772-1775 CE4.
The idea of a southern continent appears to have been introduced by Aristotle, a student of Plato, no less, in his Meteorology5,
“ But it is the sea which divides as it seems the parts beyond India from those beyond the Pillars of Heracles and prevents the earth from being inhabited all round. Now since there must be a region bearing the same relation to the southern pole as the place we live in bears to our pole, it will clearly correspond in the ordering of its winds as well as in other things.”
One would be tempted to conclude that Aristotle is here implying that Plato’s Atlantis, which lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules and which Aristotle would have been familiar with, was indeed the southern continent! Did Plato have additional information to this effect, not recorded in his dialogues? Later cartographers like Mercator used the argument that the landmasses in the northern hemisphere had to be balanced by similar landmasses in the south6. Mercator admitted having based some aspects of his maps on the work of earlier cartographers and as such it is still conceivable that the southern continent could have been no more than a figment of their imagination. However, a closer look at other shapes of this vast continent suggests that this continent was anything but imaginary.
Although most depictions of Terra Australis show a vast, continuous landmass, two other maps show a ring-shaped continent and a C-shaped continent, respectively. Figure 1 shows the azimuthal map projections by Schöner (his 1533 globe)7, the so-called Vatican Map8 and Schöner’s 1515 gores globe9, here transformed into a continuous map The creator of the Vatican map is unknown and despites its name (Terra Incognita), it contains numerous place-names. This suggests that the southern continent was not as unknown as an entirely fictitious map would demand.
These three presentations clearly show a continent with a central plain which has become flooded. There is simply no other interpretation. It is almost impossible that these three correlating shapes could otherwise have been ‘imagined’ independently of the other. Could this continent have been Atlantis? In the first instance, Terra Australis is the only documented record of a vast continent which has disappeared under the ocean (is no longer visible today). Secondly, the shape of the continent matches the broad description given by Plato. We have a vast central plain which is surrounded by what appears to be mountain ranges, with an opening to the sea (Schöner’s 1515 Globe). The shape of the plain is oblong and has a length-to-width ratio of 3:2 as described by Plato (see Figure 2, shape will be slightly different on actual earth). One can also visualize that the ‘circles’ of sea mentioned by Plato most likely refers to the encroaching sea meandering across the plain and systematically encircling all the high lying areas. The flooding of the plain would explain why the Atlanteans had the audacity to attack Europe and Asia – their homeland was steadily being swallowed up by the sea. They simply had to find an alternative place to live.
Figure 2. A 3:2 rectangle superimposed upon the plain of Schöner’s 1515 map of Terra Australis
The next question is whether this continent, or at least parts of it, can be identified on the ocean floor, where the continent supposedly sank to.
4. Terra Australis on the ocean floor
Comparing the last form of Terra Australis (the C-shaped map) to a NASA bathymetry image10 of the South Pole, one is immediately struck by the close correlation between Australia and sub-marine New Zealand and the end points of the C-shaped Terra Australis (Figure 3).
Figure 3. End points of C-shaped Terra Australis compared to Australia and sub-marine New Zealand
Also evident from the NASA bathymetry map is the high-lying sub-marine region, called Regio Patalis on some maps of Terra Australis11, which connects Australia and New Zealand. If the entire region had once been above sea level, it would match the ring-shaped continent shown in Figure 1. On the ocean floor below Australia one can see a mid-ocean ridge, which would match Plato’s mountain which was ‘low on all sides’.
The correlation between the C-shaped map of Terra Australis and actual geography does not end here. A huge lake is shown in the middle of the Australian end of the C-shaped Terra Australis, but no such lake exists in Australia today. In order to establish whether such a lake could have existed had Terra Australis received sufficient rainfall, I digitally filled up the low-lying region on the NASA topography map of Australia12 (overlaid onto a Geoscience Australia bathymetry map13), which as shown in Figure 4 resulted in a huge lake corresponding in size and location of the Terra Australis lake (see my website for details). Even the mountain ranges agree fairly well.
Figure 4. Digitally filled lake which would exist should Australia receive continuous, pouring rain.
This lake overflows in Australia’s Spencer Gulf and the sub-marine canyons on the edge of the continental shelf plunge to the ocean floor 4000 m below sea level. This would imply that before Atlantis ‘sank beneath the ocean’, Australia would have been more than 4000 m higher than it is today. According to oceanographers the sub-marine canyons were formed by turbidity currents14 (Figure 5), but this hypothesis is highly suspect.
Figure 5. Formation of submarine canyons by turbidity currents.
There is no question that turbidity currents do appear in nature, but it is unlikely that these currents would have been able to carve the immense sub-marine canyons on the Australian continental shelf. As an example, a sub-marine canyon runs down New Zealand’s Bounty Trough (Figure 6), and this canyon was supposedly also carved by turbidity currents. The canyon is about 900 km long and ends at a depth of about 7 km. This gives an average slope of only 0.4°, and we are expected to accept that the turbidite deposits kept on rolling and carving into the ocean floor for 900 km, amid ocean cross currents. The turbidity currents will lose speed as the depth increases and the heavier, abrasive particles will be deposited near the continental shelf. Other forms of sedimentary erosion of the canyon must certainly be equally unlikely. The only logical explanation is that this canyon must have been formed by a river cutting through the rock of the Bounty Trough. In other words, it must have been above sea level.
Figure 6. Sub-marine canyon running down New Zealand’s Bounty Trough
That this region was indeed more than 4000 m higher sometime in the recent past, and by implication that maps of this region must have existed, is suggested by the world maps of Ortelius (1564 / 1570)15 and Mercator (1569)16, which both show a curious bulge of the western coast of South America. As shown in Figure 7, there is a matching ‘bulge’ on the ocean floor. What on earth would have possessed Mercator to draw this curious shape, unless he had access to ancient maps depicting the region before it ‘sank’?
Figure 7. Mercator’s 1569 World Map with South America’s west coast bulge on the ocean floor
5. How did Atlantis sink?
According to Plato, Atlantis disappeared under the waters of the ocean within a single day. Is it possible for a continent to sink 4 km below sea level in one day? There are probably only two possibilities – either an impact by a huge comet or asteroid, or continental drift resulting in a sudden movement of overlapping continental shelves. Either way, the result would have been a massive tsunami, which no doubt was the Great Flood as recorded in the Bible17 and in numerous similar but entirely independent legends in other cultures18. This flood would have wiped out almost all forms of life on earth, including the Greeks in their low-lying country. According to the Bible, God warned Noah about the impending flood and Noah obediently built an Ark as instructed. Torrential rain that lasted for 40 days brought the flood and only Noah and his family survived. The fact that Noah was ‘warned’ precludes a flood caused by tectonic movement, as there is no way of knowing when such a slip between two continental plates will occur. On the other hand, one can clearly see a comet approaching if it is close enough. It may also have been observed long before and depending on how long the Atlantean civilization had existed, it is possible that they knew that they would one day be struck by a comet.
The tail of a comet always points away from the sun19, and if a comet was approaching the earth 12 000 years ago from the direction of the sun, its tail would have entered the atmosphere of the earth before the final impact. The tail of a comet can be millions of kilometres long, so it is possible that the Atlanteans long observed the meteor shower which occurred when the tail began moving through the atmosphere of the earth. They realized that they had to leave their motherland, hence the numerous ‘Noah and the Ark’ legends. Only in boats and ships would they be safe, as the tsunami would form a giant wave in the middle of the ocean on which their ships could nevertheless survive. Only when the tsunami reached land would it have caused total destruction.
If the earth had been struck by a comet big enough to have nearly extinguished all forms of life on earth, there must certainly be a crater or other evidence of such an impact. Furthermore, with Terra Australis having been identified as Atlantis, one would expect this impact to have occurred either on or near this continent. Figure 8 shows South America as depicted by Mercator and Ortelius, along with a WorldSat bathymetry image of South America20. Immediately obvious is the fact that the narrow strait separating South America and Terra Australis on the maps has been replaced by a huge gap, the Drake Passage. Underneath the waters of the Drake Passage lies the Scotia Plate, a more detailed image of which is shown in Figure 9. The Scotia Plate appears to present the crater formed by a comet striking the earth at a low angle from the west, and the fractured continental blocks on the ocean floor suggest that it had penetrated through the crust of the earth. If this is true, one can understand how the crust of the earth could have been forced down by 4000 m or more. This would explain how an entire continent can ‘sink’ below the waters of the ocean in an instant. The continent of Antarctica, the northern tip of which is just visible in Figures 8 and 9, lies high above sea level, which would contradict that part of Terra Australis forming part of the central plain. It is possible, however, that the impact of the comet raised that part of the continent of Terra Australis to form present-day Antarctica.
Figure 9. Google Earth image of the Scotia Plate
That a comet impact occurred near Southern America is suggest by geographical and archaeological anomalies like millions of fossilized sea shells littered around Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia, 3812 m above sea level21. Although Hancock argues that this area must have been below sea level before the cataclysm which led to the upheaval of the continent, a more likely scenario is that these shells and other evidence of marine life was the result of the massive splash when the comet ploughed into the ocean. It is interesting to note that some Creationists have been arguing that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Great Flood of the Bible. The impact of a comet at the Scotia Plate would have created a tsunami that would probably have been high enough to do just that (see my website for details). It should be noted that the sea passage between South America and Terra Australis appears to have been known to mapmakers long before the discovery of a passage around the southern tip of South America by Magellan in 152022 (for instance on Schöner’s 1515 globe). According to tradition Magellan had only a partial drawing of the channel on his journey, having memorized the other part for fear of the map falling into Spanish hands (see my website for details).
Another strange phenomenon we observe today is the fact that the magnetic North and South Poles are not co-located with the geographic North and South Poles. The magnetic poles are defined by a wandering point where the earth’s geomagnetic field lines are directed vertically upwards23. The earth’s magnetic field lines are presumably formed over millions of years by the rotation of earth and the magnetization of the molten iron alloys in the Earth’s outer core24, but presumably also of the iron alloys in the mantle and crust. One would therefore expect the magnetic and geographic poles to align perfectly. However, the impact of the comet into the crust and upper mantle of the earth, which ‘floats’ on the outer core, could easily have resulted in the crust moving relative to the outer core. The wandering effect of the magnetic North and South Poles may be seen as the steady re-alignment of the earth’s magnetic field with its geometrical axis.
It is also interesting to note that the North Magnetic Pole is estimated be located at 82.7°N 114.4°W and the South Magnetic Pole at 64.5°S 137.9°E25. The North Magnetic Pole therefore is about 812 km removed from the geographical North Pole, while the South Magnetic Pole is a massive 2838 km from the geometric South Pole. Assuming that the South Magnetic Pole was located at the geometrical South Pole before the impact, an impact at the Scotia Plate seems to have moved the crust and therefore the magnetic poles in the direction and to the position shown in Figure 10. The entire crust would have rotated in that direction and this is confirmed by the direction of movement of the North Magnetic Pole. The fact that the North Magnetic Pole moved a significantly smaller distance is easily explained since the continental plates in the south would have moved relative to each other more than in the north. For all we know the slow wobbling of the earth around its axis every 26 000 years, a process known as precession26, may also have been caused by this impact. Either way, the ancients remembered that the relative position of the stars had changed after the flood27, which would confirm a change in the orientation of the earth relative to the stars.
Figure 10. Movement of magnetic poles after impact
It should be noted that the movement of the crust and magnetic poles to its present position would not have been instantaneous. Instead, the impact would have caused an initial impetus in that direction and the continental shelves would eventually have come to rest in the present location.
Apart from these geographical anomalies, ancient legends of that region include reports that sky had fallen, the sea was boiling and the sole survivor of the human race, like the biblical Noah, had to hide from the fire in a cave28. The falling sky must certainly be the approaching tail of the comet entering the earth’s atmosphere, and the fire those fires lit by the associated meteorites. That the sea was boiling most likely refers to the impact crater at the bottom of the sea, where lava would have become directly exposed to sea water. Large meteorites falling into the sea would have had a similar but much smaller effect.
6. The main obstacle – ice core dating
Probably the most important objection to my theory that Terra Australis was Atlantis must certainly be the results of ice core dating of specifically the Antarctic ice sheet. Ice core data from Antarctica suggest that the ice sheet may be up to 800,000 years old29. Antarctica would have formed part of Terra Australis and an 800,000 year old ice sheet must contain a huge layer of the debris from the impact of the comet. If it does not, there are only two possible explanations, namely that Antarctica was never inhabited and a comet impact had never occurred, or that the ice core dating method is completely inaccurate and by implication that the ice sheet only developed after the impact. To my knowledge none of the ice core samples taken from Antarctica show any signs of a cataclysmic event around 12,000 years ago, and I do not have the scientific background to challenge any of these results. All I really can do is to present circumstantial evidence that a major natural catastrophe must have occurred around 12,000 years ago and that its extent would have been so enormous that it must be visible in ice core data.
Perhaps the best starting point is the fact that a civilization once existed which possessed certain technologies that were essentially impossible for them to have in terms of what we know today. I discuss these anomalies the ‘Ancient enigmas and anomalies’ section on my website, including the pyramids of Giza, stone cutting and drilling and the Nazca lines and Palpa mountains. A key argument is the issue of the weathering of the Sphinx, which could only have been caused by continual rainfall. The Sahara desert experienced high levels of rainfall 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, and
“a vast lake covered the region, and a whole network of lakes and Neolithic fishermen occupied the Sahara.”30.
These conclusions are based on eroding fragments of lake sediments found in the heart of the Sahara that contain the skeletons of fish and crocodile bones. As shown in Figure 11, this very lake appears to have been mapped by Mercator on his 1569 world map. The lake would have disappeared probably around 3000 BCE at the latest (5,000 years ago), if not millennia earlier. Mercator’s map is astonishingly accurate not only in terms of the location and relative size of the lake, but also the location of the rivers that fed it. All that remains today are dry riverbeds. Where did he get his information from? He most certainly must have had access to ancient maps. Who were these mapmakers? Neolithic humans who had only just mastered stone tools? These mapmakers would have possessed a method to record latitude and longitude, otherwise it would have been near impossible to map an entire continent. This brings us to probably the greatest enigma of all the ancient maps of the world. Although latitude can be calculated roughly from the position of the sun, techniques for measuring longitude were only being investigated from the early 1600s and accomplished in the 1800s31,32. How then was it possible for anyone to map the world without any means of measuring longitude?
Finally, it is appropriate to in a manner of speaking go back to the beginning, that is, to the ‘creation’. Although the creation legend in the Bible is only one of many similar legends, it provides us with some intriguing details33:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ … And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water. … And God called the expanse ‘sky’. … And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And God called the dry ground ‘land’ and the gathered waters ‘seas.’ … ”
The earth is of course not 6,000 but billions of years old. So what would this creation myth and the many others like it be describing? It is quite obvious that this creation myth describes the emergence of life following a natural disaster which plunged the earth in pitch black darkness and covered land with water. In other words, it describes the aftermath of a massive impact of a cataclysm which flooded the earth and resulted in the atmosphere being filled with dust particles to the extent that the sun was completely blocked out. The stories of the Noah’s who survived the Great Flood then also make sense – it describes the existence of people before the Great Flood, which nearly exterminated the human race. The creation story is what followed after the Great Flood, the re-emergence of life on earth. There was water and darkness everywhere. Eventually the sun broke through and the flood waters returned to the sea or were absorbed in the ground.
If the ice sheet of Antarctica is indeed hundreds of thousands of years old, it must contain a thick layer of evidence of this cataclysm in the layers dating back to about 12,000 years ago.
If the impact was indeed so huge that it forced an entire continent below the sea, one can understand how the atmosphere would have remained dark for possibly many decades. This darkness would have caused the poles to ice up vary rapidly, especially the South Pole, where the boiling sea would have saturated the atmosphere with moisture. Scientists have long been baffled by the sudden extinction of most large animal species in North America, and also South America. These extinctions, also called the Late Pleistocene Extinctions34, occurred around 11,500 years ago and can therefore be linked to the global catastrophe which resulted in the Great Flood. The massive earthquake caused by the impact would literally have pulled the rug from under the feet of these huge mammals, and many would have been too severely injured to survive the fall. In Alaska piles of twisted parts of animals and layers of peat and mosses had been embedded by dark-grey sand35, suggesting that the carcasses had been swept into those areas by the waters of the Flood. The carcasses of these animals were frozen immediately after death, as its perfectly preserved meat would otherwise have decayed. Such a widespread freezing of animal carcasses could only have been caused by a complete black-out of the sun, possibly for many months if not years in the polar regions. The ice core data must certainly bear evidence of this event. If not, one must assume that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland were formed relatively recently, only 12,000 years ago.
- See here for calculations.
- See here for discussion.
- Bishop Joseph Hall, Mundus alter et idem sive Terra Australis antehac semper incognita
- James Cook, 2nd voyage.
- Aristotle, Meteorology II.5.
- Alfred Hiatt, Terra Incognita – Mapping the Antipodes before 1600, University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 2008, p. 228.
- Schöner 1533 map.
- Chet van Duzer, ‘Cartographic Invention: The Southern Continent on Vatican MS Urb. Lat. 274, Folios 73v-74r (c.1530)’, Imago Mundi Vol. 57, Part 2, 2005, pp. 193-222.
- Schoner 1515 map at atlantismaps.com.
- NASA bathymetry map.
- Schöner 1533 map.
- NASA Topography map of Australia.
- Australian Government – Geoscience Australia – Geological Map.
- Turbidity current.
- Ortelius world map.
- Mercator 1569 world map, Bibliothèque nationale de France.
- Genesis 6.
- Flood myths; Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 2001 edition, p. 208.
- Comet tail.
- South America, WorldSat International Inc.,Canada, 2000.
- Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 2001 edition, p. 67.
- Magellan’s Strait.
- Magnetic poles.
- Earth’s outer core.
- South Magnetic Pole.
- Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 2001 edition, p. 208.
- Philip Freud, Mysteries of Creation, Peter Owen Publishers, 2003 edition, pp. 9-13.
- Ice core data.
- John E. Kutzbach, ‘Historical perspectives: climatic changes throughout the millennia’, Global Change and Our Common Future – Papers from a Forum, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1990, pp. 50-61.
- History of Longitude.
- Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 2001 edition, Chapter 3.
- Genesis 1.
- Late Pleistocene Extinctions.
- Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, 2001 edition, pp. 228-231.
Copyright 2012 Riaan Booysen (www.riaanbooysen.com)