Lost City of the Arctic

Advanced Ancient Civilization in the Middle of Nowhere

There is no more desolate or inhabitable location on our planet that found above the Arctic Circle. Ferocious temperatures lashed by blasting windstorms make it a most difficult area for life to get a foothold. This ultimately remote and forbidden polar region would be the last place anyone would expect to discover evidence for an ancient civilization. Yet, the distinguished Natural History magazine reported, “We have now found an Arctic metropolis many times larger than anything previously thought possible in this part of the world and inhabited by people whose material culture differed markedly from that of the Eskimos, as we know them.”

With these words, F.G. Rainey announced the discovery of a mystery still to be explained. During summer 1938, he and another, university-trained archaeologist found tell-tale signs of an old settlement faintly outlined on the Alaskan permafrost, about 325 miles north of Nome, 130 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They assumed the site did not differ from other, small, primitive communities occupied by local fishing peoples, the direct ancestors of Alaska’s Eskimos, dating back no further than five centuries ago.

Returning in June 1940 to complete their excavations at Ipiutak—a term for “seal tusk” in the local, Yupik dialect—on the Point Hope peninsula, Rainey and Magnus Marks felt blessed by the unseasonably warm temperatures that allowed for greener grass and moss, against which the outlines of the sub-surface hamlet could be clearly discerned for the first time. But as the scientists followed its outlines, they could clearly distinguish features of an urban center greater than anything associated with ancestral Eskimos. Long boulevards of square foundations spread east and west along the shore of the Chukchi Sea.

“We became aware of the astonishing extent of the ruins,” Rainey told Natural History. He had Marks trace the figures of large, square structures regularly arranged in five main avenues and down shorter cross-blocks, where smaller foundations, suggestive of family domiciles, stood at right angles to the thoroughfares. Their finished survey identified more than 600 buildings, but incomplete test pits indicated at least another 200. The archaeological zone is less than a quarter-mile across and nearly one mile long, with an estimated original population of some 4,000 residents, larger by far than anything known to the Eskimos, who, in any case, never built such structures nor laid out the kind of urban planning apparent at the site. Moreover, in the 23 buildings excavated in 1940, nothing resembling anything similar to local native culture was found.

“One of the most striking features of the Ipiutak material,” Rainey stated, “is the elaborate and sophisticated carving and the beautiful workmanship, which would not be expected in a primitive, proto-Eskimo culture ancestral to the modern.” Another researcher, Rene Noorbergen, writes in his 1979 classic, Secrets of Lost Races, that the prehistoric inhabitants of Ipiutak “had a knowledge of mathematics and astronomy comparable to that of the ancient Maya.”

The absence of any large refuge deposits covering the buildings, which were not superimposed over older structures, showed that the town was simultaneously settled by its inhabitants and did not slowly develop over time. Every indication of the physical evidence demonstrated that Ipiutak was raised all at once and occupied by the same people that built it. As such, they seemed to have arrived en masse on the Chukchi coast already in possession of all their construction technologies and skills, which they applied to building their town the moment they arrived. Excavators of their cemetery found the remains of tall, slender-built individuals with strands of blond hair and Cro-Magnon-like skulls.

Clearly, they were not related to the shorter, squat, black-haired Eskimos. An artistic design preferred by the ancient inhabitants of Ipiutak was the spiral composed of two elements carved in the round. The motif appears nowhere else in the Arctic region, but is found on the other side of the Pacific Ocean among the aboriginal Caucasoid Ainu of Japan, renowned for their amber-colored eyes, and Amur River tribes in northeastern Asia. Thus, it would appear that northern Alaska’s ancient metropolis was imported by the Jomon-jin people, the globetrotting megalith-builders, as they were known in prehistoric Japan.

The great distances separating use of the spiral symbol common to such diverse peoples suggests to some that they were directly descended from the older civilization of Mu, lost beneath the Pacific Ocean in a terrible natural catastrophe, 12,000 years ago. Even more than the anomalous appearance of a sophisticated society flourishing in an area otherwise entirely known for its small bands of Eskimo hunters trying to scratch out an existence, the profound age of the discovery is especially upsetting to mainstream understanding of prehistory. Warm conditions required for human habitation did not exist at Point Hope for the last 30,000 years, a time when man supposedly created nothing like a city. Archaeologists guess that northern Alaska must have been somehow missed by the glaciers that carved up the rest of North America, resulting in an ice-free, temperate climate. Theirs is speculation only, and actually contrary to what geologists know about the last ice age.

“However,” explorer David Hatcher Childress writes, “it is difficult to see how a large ice cap from an ice age would leave a huge swath of semitropical land extending into the unaccountably ice-free Arctic seas adjacent to the pole. Add to this the large population now said to be exampled on these shores over 10,000 years ago, and we have a historical puzzle that would make any geologist, archaeologist, or historian clench his teeth.”

It seems clear, then, that the mile-long habitation site at Ipiutak had to have been built prior to the last glaciation, thus suggesting a civilized antiquity far beyond our expectations or accepted chronologies. At what remote period, then, could Ipiutak have possibly been built? Rainey found the Point Hope town “buried beneath so much sand from the beach” that it must have flourished many thousands of years ago. Ipiutak could only have been inhabited when warmer conditions permitted its higher culture to survive and prosper there.

Around 14,000 BP, a sudden warm phase interrupted the last glacial epoch for another 3,200 or 2,500 years, before the sudden return of cold temperatures with the Younger Dryas stadial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stadial). Following this “Big Freeze,” 1,300 years later, the Arctic settled own to its present climate, referred to as the Holocene. While the onset of Japan’s Jomon culture closely coincides with the 14,000-year-old warm phase, paleo-climatologists are doubtful that northern Alaska benefited much or was even affected during this period.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, “The last time that scientists can say confidently that the Arctic was free of summertime ice was 125,000 years ago, during the height of the last major interglacial period, known as the Eemian. Temperatures in the Arctic were warmer than now and sea level was also four to six meters (13 to 20 feet) higher than it is today, because the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets had partly melted.”

If Jomon-jin people settling along the Point Hope peninsula between 14,000 to 12,800 years ago appears unlikely, their arrival 125,000 years ago seems utterly impossible. Yet, how are we to account for the Ipiutak ruins “buried beneath so much sand from the beach,” a deposition giving every indication of extreme antiquity? Moreover, the Younger Dryas stadial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Stadial) and Holocene that followed the warm phase brought sea levels down from the archaeological zone on the Chukchi Sea coast by as much as 20 feet. The original dry-land site was once covered by water that later retreated, a process that fits the Eemian Period, not the Younger Dryas.

Current evolutionary theory states that homo sapiens migrating out of Africa 125,000 years ago only got as far as the Near East (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_East). Humans did not reach Alaska until more than one hundred five thousand years later by following herds of bison across the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia and wandered into the American Southwest no earlier than 11,000 BCE.

“Located in the Arctic Circle,” Dr. Gunnar Thompson explains, “this strait was an effective barrier to migration for most of antiquity. However, the barrier is not a permanent geological feature. During cyclical temperature extremes called ‘Ice Ages,’ the sea level drops by hundreds of feet, and the bottom of the Bering Strait lies exposed. At maximum glaciation, the sea level can drop nearly 400 feet… When this happens, retreating seas expose enormous areas of the continental shelf, including a land-bridge of habitable territory between Siberia and Alaska. Geographers call this transcontinental passageway, ‘Beringia’.”

For the sake of comparison, Europe was dominated by Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, and Cro-Magnon, or Modern Man, would not appear for another 10,000 years. Yet, the same time frame was cited during 1969 by Tulsa World (Oklahoma), which reported how “amino-acid dating of a human skull found in California indicates human habitation of North America 50,000 years ago.”

Doubling this profound antiquity to parallel the founding fathers of Alaska’s Ipiutak is surprisingly supported by a variety of contemporaneous finds. At the northern end of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Ontario, the National Museum of Canada’s T.E. Lee labored at an archaeological precinct known as Sheguiandah, on Manitoulin, the world’s largest freshwater island. Between 1951 and 1955, he dug up finely made stone tools and worked fragments of quartzite at strata consistent with 100,000 BP.

Forty years after Lee’s discovery, chipped, quartzite cobbles were found at another Canadian dig near Calgary. “It is undeniable that these cobbles look artificially worked,” observed the American physicist and great compiler of anomalous scientific information, William R. Corliss (1926–2011). “In fact, they closely resemble the human-made ‘choppers’ from Early Paleolithic sites in Asia and Europe. The Alberta ‘tools’ could be over 100,000 years old, completely upsetting the accepted timetable for human activity in North America.”

At California’s Mission Ridge site, in the San Diego River Valley, its principal investigator, B. Reeves from the University of Calgary, has retrieved dozens of scrapers, choppers, and worked flakes his stratigraphic analysis dated to 120,000 years BP, making them more closely contemporaneous with Ipiutak’s proposed time scale.

The cause for this apparent proliferation of Stone Age discoveries in North America may have been the onset of the Abbassia Pluvial. This was an extended wet and rainy period that lasted until circa 90,000 years ago. The North African Desert bloomed with abundant vegetation fed by lakes, swamps, and river systems, nourishing wildlife now associated with grasslands and woodlands south of the Sahara. These lush conditions also triggered a surge in human cultural development that shifted Lower Paleolithic society (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lower_Paleolithic) into a more sophisticated Middle Paleolithic era (http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Middle_Paleolithic), as reflected in surviving examples of more advanced stone-tool workmanship. Paleo-anthropologists believe that the first emigration of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa and into the outside world was sparked by the Abbassia Pluvial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapiens), although they deny any human migrations entered America during this period.

How, then, can we explain the origins and antiquity of Ipiutak? Answers may lie in the Old Norse myth of human beginnings, when Abdumla, a cosmic cow, licked away the ice of a glacier to form the first man and woman. The Greeks, too, had a myth of Hyperboria, a place north of Oceanus, near the North Pole, strangely known for its perpetual springtime. The Hyperborean maidens were a select group of priestesses, who traveled from their polar homeland to sacred Delos, at the precise center of the Aegean Sea—hence, the island’s title as “Navel of the World”—where they came to perform mystical rites honoring the birth of Apollo, the sun-god. Their tombs are still pointed out among the classical ruins by tour guides at Delos.

This is not to suggest that the permafrost remains at Ipiutak are those of ancient Hyperboria. They do, however, indicate that a civilization unlike anything produced by the Eskimo did indeed thrive in the Arctic tens of thousands of years ago. And it may have been a commercial center, given some of the ritual objects excavated. Among the outstanding examples are repeated instances of the iconic spiral, generally interpreted in Western European Neolithic cultures, such as Ireland’s New Grange, to signify the soul’s journey through time—from birth to death and rebirth, just as the infant leaves its mother’s womb in a spiral motion.

Another material symbol found at Ipiutak was a human skull with ivory nose plugs and an ivory cover over the mouth. The orbital cavities were inserted with ivory carvings resembling eyes inlaid with polished stone pupils, lending the skull a lifelike appearance. The modified skull underscores its companion spiral carvings as a symbol of rebirth. Installing open eyes, signifying life, into a death’s head (its breath stopped at nostrils and mouth), implies concepts of an afterlife not native to the Arctic.

We may infer from these and similar artifacts that the ancient residents of Ipiutak were practitioners of a mystery cult, whose rituals emphasized the eternal conquest by the soul over recurring episodes of death. As more excavations succeed in making new discoveries at the lost city of the Arctic, a ceremonial center as spiritually resonant as it is profoundly ancient may arise to challenge conventional understanding of our civilized origins.

By Frank Joseph