Petrified Forest (Image: Jill Mackie, Pixabay)

Fingerprints of the Gods Exhibits 4 to 6 – Fossil Forests

This review of Exhibits 4 to 6 of Fingerprints of the Gods (FOG) was originally posted to sci.archaeology and alt.archaeology on April 20, 1996 as “Part 2 – Fingerprints of the Gods – Its 15 Exhibits Reviewed.” I have edited the original post for spelling and conversion to HTML format.

Introduction – The Problem

In Part 1 I wrote: A central thesis of Fingerprints of the Gods (FOG) by Mr. Graham Hancock, its explanation of why artifacts and remains of his hypothetical are lacking is that it occupied Antarctica when it was warm and temperate. Later, FOG claims that this civilization was buried beneath a couple of miles of ice when an abrupt crustal movement moved Antarctica into the Antarctic circle. Talking about this idea as advocated by Rand and Rose Flem-Ath in their book When the Sky Fell, FOG claims:

In brief, what it suggests is a complete slippage of our planet’s thirty-mile-thick lithosphere over its nearly 8000-mile-thick central core, forcing large parts of the western hemisphere southward towards the equator and thence towards the Antarctic Circle. …text omitted…… In the southern hemisphere, Hapgood’s model shows the landmass that we now call Antarctica, much of which was previously at temperate or even warm latitudes, being shifted in its entirety inside the Antarctic Circle. The overall movement is seen as having been in the region of 30 degrees (approximately 2000 miles) and as having been concentrated, in the main, between the years 14,500 BC and 12,500 BC – but with massive aftershocks on a planetary scale continuing at widely-separated intervals down to 9,500 BC. (498)

In Chapter 51, Fingerprints of the Gods (FOG) presents a series of 15 exhibits, which FOG claims, demonstrates that Antarctica was not always located in the Antarctic Circle, had enjoyed temperate climates in past, and was abruptly shifted by Earth crustal displacement into the polar climates from geologically recent temperate climates. These exhibits summarize both the geological evidence and reasoning used by FOG to prove its claims. The validity of these exhibits demonstrate how good, bad, or ugly the ways that geology and other Earth sciences are used by FOG. Thus, in this and other posts, the science behind the Exhibits in FOG are reviewed.

Exhibit 4

This exhibit consists of two claims taken by FOG directly without the addition of any new material from Hapgood (1970) with the proper footnote reference to Hapgood (1970).1. In the first claim, FOG notes that “Soviet scientists” found evidence of tropical flora in Graham Land within Antarctica as young as the early Tertiary Period. The reference provided by Hapgood (1970) for this evidence is Saks et al. (1955). Strangely, the title of Saks et al. (1955) indicates that it is a paper about the geology of the Arctic instead of Antarctica.

Although I could not locate Saks et al. (1955), numerous other studies, i.e. Francis (1987) and Plumstead (1964) found these forests to be temperate, not tropical forests. This is a fact that even the most basic literature review by FOG should have easily caught. These forests have been found to be Late Cretaceous to very early Tertiary (Paleocene) in age and, thus, date to the very beginning of the world-wide climatic cooling that ended up in the glaciation of Antarctica about 10 to 20 million years later (Francis 1987, Plumstead 1964). In fact, Francis (1987), notes that the youngest tree fossils indicate that by the start of the Paleocene the climate was already becoming marginal for the survival of trees in Antarctica. Francis (1987) proposed that the harsh conditions reflects a world-wide climatic cooling that eventually resulted in the glaciation of Antarctica. This contradicts what FOG is trying to imply with this evidence.2. FOG also claims that British geologists found “great fossil forests” in Antarctica containing trees similar to trees “that grew on the Pacific coast of the United States 20 million years ago.” FOG claims these fossils are evidence of episodic warm periods after the earliest known Antarctic glaciation in the Eocene Epoch.

The claim is taken from Hapgood (1970, p. 62) who in term is repeating a claim by Henry (1950, p. 9). The original statement by Henry (1950) is:

On the Palmer Peninsula, the farthest extension of Antarctica toward the temperate zone, British geologists have found fossil imprints of sequoia leaves of a species similar to those which grew on the Pacific Coast of the United States about twenty million years ago.

Henry (1950) fails to give any citation or specific names by which the “British geologist” can be identified. In addition, in a summary of fossil plant finds in Antarctica by Plumstead (1964) neither his discussion nor Figure 1 indicates the existence of such fossils. The only plant fossil location shown by Plumstead (1964) for the Palmer Peninsula consist of Jurassic plant fossils found by a 1901-1903 Swedish Polar expedition. Thus, after having gone through the available literature, various databases, and even inquiring with paleobotanists who have worked in Antarctica, the identity of the “British geologists” mentioned by Henry (1950) remains a mystery and lacking documentation. One of many possible explanations is that some Jurassic plant fossils were mistaken for sequoia leaves. When this mistake and work of the Swedish explorers was realized, the matter was quietly dropped before anything was published, but after these claims were circulated among scientists working in Antarctica including Dr. Henry. Still, a quick check of the original sources should have detected the problems with this claim.

The other strange aspect of Exhibit 4 is the abrupt transformation from leaves to forest. Henry (1950, p. 9) only talks about the existence of 20 million year old sequoia leaves. However, when Hapgood (1970, p. 62) directly cites page 9 of Henry (1950) for the same information, the 20 million years old leaves became 20 million year old great fossil forests without any citations or reasons justifying this change. In turn, FOG unquestionably repeats the claims of 20 million years old forests which apparently is based on nothing more then a mistake by Hapgood (1970) in which he confuses leaves with forests for some unfathomable reason. Thus, the evidence that FOG cites in Exhibit 4 for episodic warm periods younger than the Eocene Epoch is based on erroneous and undocumented claims about sequoia fossils for which proof is currently lacking. That these claims were repeated by FOG is clear evidence of sloppy research that a simple literature review would have caught.

Exhibit 5

In exhibit 5, FOG again cites Hapgood (1970). This time, it is about a fossil beech forest. It states that in 1990, geologists Barrie McKelvey and David Harwood found a fossil beech forest at an elevation of 1830 m (6000 ft.) above sea level and 400 km [250 miles] from the South Pole in Antarctica. FOG claims that the forest was 2 million years old. Unlike the seemingly mythical sequoia forests of Exhibit 4, the presence of Pliocene beech fossils in Antarctica has been clearly documented in many publications. In fact these fossils are the center of a controversy, i.e. Kennet and Hodell (1995), which FOG completely ignores. Marchant et al. (1996) summarizes the controversy as:

An outstanding problem in Antarctic science is the development of a detailed late Cenozoic climate record. Late Cenozoic Antarctic paleoclimate is based traditionally on interpretations of marine oxygen-isotope curves. Curves that show a stepwise increase in “delta” O-18 values beginning ca. 40 Ma are thought to represent a decline in atmospheric temperature and an increase in ice volume on Antarctica (Shackleton and Kennett, 1975; Savin et al., 1975; Kennett, 1982; Miller et al., 1987; Kennett and Hodell, 1993). However, the discovery of in situ roots, stems, and leaves of fossil Nothofagus (southern beech) wood in glacial deposits (Sirius Group) in the Transantarctic Mountains (Webb and Harwood, 1987, 1991, 1993) suggested that Antarctica was quite warm until late Pliocene time. But the interpretation of these fossiliferous glacial deposits has come under considerable debate; at issue is not the existence of Nothofagus in Sirius Group outcrops, but whether such trees are indeed Pliocene in age as suggested by their association with biostratigraphically dated marine microfossils (Harwood, 1986; Clapperton and Sugden, 1990; Webb and Harwood, 1991; Burckle and Pokras 1991; Sugden, 1992; Denton et al., 1993; Marchant et al., 1993a 1993b, 1993c; Hambrey and Barrett, 1993j.

Note: Nothofagus is a genus of Beech.

Noting all of the references in the above selection that predate the publication of FOG in 1995, it is puzzling how this complicated controversy has been reduced by FOG to simple reference to the initial discovery of the beech trees. Recently, more evidence in the form of unweathered eight to 15 million year old ash beds (Marchant et. al 1996), eight million year old glacial ice (Sugden et al. 1995), and other evidence (van der Wateren and Hindenmarsh 1995) argues for Antarctica being subject to polar climates for the last 15 million years. However, the controversy is still being argued as to whether East Antarctica was relatively deglaciated three to five million years ago or not (Kennett and Hodell, 1995).

Regardless of the results of this controversy, the fossil beech remains found in East Antarctica relate only to a period of time when the world climate was much warmer than today. Being over three million, possibly even over 15 million years old, the beeches have nothing to do with whether Antarctica was ice-free just prior to 14,500 BC.

Exhibit 6

Exhibit 6 makes two claims.

1. FOG claims that wood and other plant fossils show that parts of Antarctica may have been ice free as little as two and a half a million years ago. FOG cites Grotta and Grotta (1992) as the source of this claims. Grotta and Grotta (1992) states:

Until this year, most scientists have accepted as fact that Antarctica has been covered by ice for 40 million to 52 million years and that the present icecap is about 15 million years old. However, a recent discovery of remnants of a beech forest near the head of the Beardmore glacier, approximately 250 miles from the South Pole, provides conclusive proof that Antarctica was both ice-free and much more temperate 2.5 million to 3 million years ago.

This claim clearly refers to the beech fossils of Exhibit 5. As in Exhibit 5, FOG completely ignores the controversy concerning the age of the fossil beech forests. It is strange that FOG ignores numerous technical articles containing detailed data concerning the beech fossils, their dating, and other important details and instead cites a Popular Science article that is concerned with the politics of who owns Antarctica and lacks any of the details and data concerning the beech trees.

2. In Exhibit 6, FOG states:

Further discoveries showed that some places on the continent were ice-free 100,000 years ago.

This statement is based on the last line of the above paragraph by Grotta and Grotta (1992). Grotta and Grotta (1992) continues:

Furthermore, similar fossil finds made elsewhere indicate that western Antarctica was completely ice-free as recently as 100,000 years ago, a mere blink of the eye in geological terms.

Nowhere in Grotta and Grotta (1992) are any details concerning what the “similar fossil finds” or any citation or reference documenting these finds given. A detailed search of databases and inquiries with various people has failed to produce any evidence that could support these claims. It appears that this statement is some misinterpretation or error on the part of Grotta and Grotta (1992) in an article concerned not with Antarctic geology, but with Antarctic politics.

In contrast, ice core data clearly dispute this data as the below references demonstrate.A. Lorius, C., and 6 others, 1985, A 150,000-year climatic record from Antarctic ice. Nature v. 316, p. 591-596.B. Paterson, W. S. B., and Hammer, C. U., 1987, Chapter 5; Ice core and other glaciologic data. in Ruddiman, W. F., and others (eds.) North America and Adjacent Oceans During the Last Deglaciation. The Geology of North America, Vol. K-3, Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO.

The ice core data is independently validated by other studies, i.e. Behl (1995) and Behl et al. (1995).


In these Exhibits, FOG again fails to produce any data or information pertinent to claims of Earth crustal displacement or the existence of ice free Antarctica before 14,500 BC. The beech trees exist, but FOG ignores the ongoing and very fascinating controversy and details about them. It also ignores the fact that since they are over three million years old and irrelevant to any ice-free Antarctica claims.

Finally, FOG presents claims about 20 million year old sequoia leaves, fictional sequoia forests, and 100,000 year old fossil finds that are unsubstantiated by any documented or published data and arguments. These are claims that FOG with the least amount of effort could have easily determined to be unsubstantiated and unsuitable for its arguments.

Additional Note on Antarctic Beeches

Since I wrote this post, Francis and Hill (1996) has published an analysis of the fossil “Nothofagus,” Beech, found within the Sirius Group. Contrary to how Mr. Hancock and Dr. Hapgood interpret the presence of fossil beech, the dwarf, prostrate morphology and the tree rings of these fossils show that the birch trees grew very slowly under very harsh conditions. They concluded that when these birch fossils grew, the mean annual temperature of the Transantarctic Mountains was well below freezing, likely about -12 degrees centigrade, a short summer growing season with summer temperature of about 5 degrees centigrade. In addition to being too old to be evidence of a relatively recent, ice-free, Antarctica, the fossil beeches indicate that Antarctica was considerably colder than Mr. Hancock claims that it was been when the beeches grew.

References Cited

Behl, R. L., 1995a, Pacific mud and Greenland ice core show climate links. JOI/USSAC Newsletter, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-4. (JOI/USSAC = Joint Oceanographic Institutions/U.S. Science Support Program Associated with the Ocean Drilling Program)

Behl, R. L., 1995b, Sedimentary facies and sedimentology of the late Quaternary Santa Barbara Basin, Site 893. in L. P. Kennett, J. G. Baldauf, and M. Lyle, (Eds.), Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Project Initial Reports. vol. 146, pp. 295-308.

Francis, J. E., 1987, Palaeoclimatic significance of Cretaceous- early Tertiary fossil forests of the Antarctic Peninsula. In M. R. A. Thompson, J. A. Crame, and J. W. Thomson, eds., Geological Evolution of Antarctica. Cambridge University Press. London, pp. 623-627.

Francis, J. E., and Hill, R. S., 1996, Fossil plants from the Pliocene Sirus Group, Transantarctic Mountains: evidence for climate from growth rings and fossil leaves. Palaios. vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 389-396.

Grotta, D., and Grotta, S., 1992, Antarctica whose continent is it anyway? Popular Science. vol. 240, no. 1, pp. 62-79.

Hapgood, C. H., 1970, The Path of The Pole. Chilton Book Company, New York

Henry, T. R., 1950, The White Continent: the Story of Antarctica. William Sloane Associates, New York.

Kennet, J. P., and Hodell, D. A., 1995, Stability or Instability of Antarctic Ice Sheets During Warm Climates of the Pliocene? GSA Today. vol. 5, no. 1, p. 1, 10-13, and 22.

Marchant, D. R., Denton, G. H., Swisher, C. C., and Potter, N., 1996, Late Cenozoic Antarctic paleoclimate reconstructed from volcanic ashes in the Dry Valleys region of southern Victoria Land. Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 184-194.

Plumstead, E. P., 1964, XI:5. Palaeobotany of Antarctica. In R. J. Adie, ed., Antarctic Geology. John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 637-654.

Saks, V. N., Belov, N. A., and Lapina, N. N., 1955, Our Present Concepts of the Geology of Central Arctic. Translated by E. R. Hope from “Priroda,” Defense Scientific Information Service, Defense Research Board, Ottawa, Canada. Oct. 4, 1955.

[NOTE: Saks et al. (1955) reference is from Hapgood (1970).]

Sugden, D. E., Marchant, D. R., and others, 1996, Preservation of Miocene glacier ice in East Antarctica. Science. vol. 376, no. 6539, pp. 412-414.

van der Wateren, D., and Hindmarsh, R., 1996, Stabilists strike again. Science. vol. 376, no. 6539, pp. 389-391.

….signature of post omitted….

Version 4.0
Revised Dec 18, 2001

Copyright (c) 1996-2002 Paul V. Heinrich All rights reserved.