Hapgood’s Pole Shift Hypothesis Revisited

In Before Atlantis I apply Charles Hapgood’s hypothesis that Earth’s poles have shifted several times over the past 100,000 years to understand the alignment of numerous ancient sites across the world and to use the hypothetical alignment of the these sites to ancient poles as a new means of dating the sites. This article presents a revised version of Hapgood’s original pole shift hypothesis.

Milankovitch Cycles

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that climate patterns are driven to a large extent by the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth. The amount of radiation depends on a combination of factors including changes in the eccentricity in our orbit around the sun, axial tilt or obliquity, axial and apsidal precession, and orbital inclination. The combination of these effects gives rise to what are called Milankovitch cycles.

Although there is extensive evidence that the variation in solar radiation is an important factor, there are certain problems with Milankovitch’s model related to the timing of the cycles and their correlation with climate events. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the magnitude of climate changes have turned out to be far greater than what is predicted by the model.

Pole Shifts

The idea of pole shifts originates in a talk given in May 1872 by the French ethnographer Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg called “Chronologie historique des Mexicains.” He interpreted passages in the lost Codex Chimalpopoca that beginning about 10,500 BCE, four periods of cataclysms had changed the world, each caused by a temporary shifting of Earth’s axis [1].  In the mid 1900s Hugh Auchincloss Brown [2] and Charles Hapgood [3] proposed that shifts of the geographic pole could explain ice ages, mass extinctions, and other worldwide events. Hapgood proposed that an asymmetrical accumulation of polar ice created a force that caused the crust of the Earth to displace, i.e., slide over, the mantle. Albert Einstein later determined that this force was insufficient, leaving Hapgood’s hypothesis without a physical cause.

In the 1990s, a team led by Joseph Kirschvink found paleomagnetic evidence of a massive 90° pole shift 500 million years ago at around the time of the Cambrian explosion [4].  Although there is some indication that the magnetic pole has deviated significantly from the geographic pole over the past 100,000 years, paleomagnetic evidence of a shift in the geographic pole over this period is inconclusive. Perhaps the best independent evidence supporting Hapgood’s pole shift hypothesis is the alignment of over four dozen sites to four previous locations of the North Pole as described in Before Atlantis.

Adjusted Timeline

Rather than interpreting the ice ages as global climate events, Hapgood believed the spatial patterns of climate change were best explained by changes in the geographic location of the North Pole. By examining patterns of climate change, he estimated that three pole shifts had taken place during the past 100,000 years: 1) from Hudson Bay (60˚N 73˚W) to the current pole, 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, 2) from the Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway (72˚N 10˚E) to Hudson Bay, 50,000 to 55,000 years ago, and 3) from the Yukon (63˚N 135˚W) to between Iceland and Norway 75,000 to 80,000 years ago (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Hapgood’s original timeline relating climate change to pole shifts.

Figure 2 shows an adjusted timeline based on currently accepted periods of glacial and interglacial events in Europe and North America. Before 125,000 years ago, during the Illinoian glaciation, we propose that the North Pole was in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Islands. At the start of the Sangamon interglacial period it shifted to a location in the Norway Sea. During this period the climate in North America became warmer and Europe became colder. Sometime between 75,000 to 125,000 years ago the pole shifted towards Greenland. About 75,000 years ago the pole moved to a location in Hudson Bay at which time the climate in North America became colder. Finally 12,000-17,000 years ago after the pole shifts to its present location, both North America and Europe become warmer.

Figure 2 Revised timeline based on more recent glacial data

Figure 3 shows our refined pole location model and adjusted timeline. In Before Atlantis it is argued that the pole spent more time in the Norway Sea than it did in Greenland based on a greater number of sites discovered to be aligned to the Greenland pole. As this interpretation may not be correct, the order and timing of these two pole shifts remains an open question.

Figure 3 Hapgood’s original poles (H) and refined pole locations based on site alignments and current climate data. Google Earth


[1] Howard F. Cline and John B. Glass, eds., “Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part Two,” Handbook of Middle American Indians, 13.

[2] Hugh Auchincloss Brown, Cataclysms of the Earth, (Twayne Publishers, 1967).

[3] Charles Hutchins Hapgood, Earth's Shifting Crust: A Key to Some Basic Problems of Earth Science, (1958, foreword by Albert Einstein).

[4] Joseph L. Kirschvink, Robert L. Ripperdan, David A. Evans, “Evidence for a Large-Scale Reorganization of Early Cambrian Continental Masses by Inertial Interchange True Polar Wander,” Science, Vol. 277, No. 25, July 1997.

© 2019 Mark J. Carlotto