Let's assume a human civilization have been living for centuries, nay millennia, in a very large cave, not too deep under Antarctica - deep enough not to freeze, but shallow enough not to die because of underground heat.

In fact, unlike some other fictional underground civilizations, this one is aware of the surface's existence but all its people know about it is that it is extremely cold, hostile and deserted - well, it's Antarctica. They don't know there exist habitable lands and other humans on the surface elsewhere.

Let's ignore all sustainability questions, i.e. food, power and such.

My question is : How did this civilization possibly get there ?

My first idea was they arrived before Antarctica became the frozen continent we know, but a little bit of research taught me this was long before humans appeared.

My second idea was their ancestors arrived through galleries networks, maybe from South America (closest habitable land). However these tunnels, or at least a big part of them, must be under the ocean, therefore very, very deep (ocean depth + caves depth) and then probably impossible to stay in for long enough to travel for at least 1000km - whatever the mean of transportation used.

I assume they couldn't have arrived simply by boat, because they would immediately have died of cold, if not before, once in Antarctica. Also, the ancestors of this civilization were probably not technologically advanced - unless they were from somewhere like Atlantis, which is not what I want to.

I have been thinking about it and doing research for some time now but can't find any other way these people could have happened to live there. Any ideas?

edit : Another point I forgot to mention is that this civilization stays nowadays yet undiscovered, so they are "hidden" well enough for the explorers not stumbling upon their caves.

English is not my mother language. I apologize for any mistake.

  • $\begingroup$ Do they need to be completely detached from the surface? The easiest way to get there would be to use boats similar to those made by the Inuit to island hop south from Tiere del Fuego following penguins and seals, but a colony of such people would likely continue to rely on the sea as a primary food source and a source of building supplies. It's unlikely that they would spend enough time underground to lose knowledge of the surface. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 28 '16 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch Yes this is the point of my story, the surface must only be a cold and hostile place to them. I want to introduce the reader to this civilization living an a strange world of caves where they have been alone for as long as they can remember, and where the only "elsewhere" they know is this ice land. I shall be revealed only later in the story that this is Earth, nowadays, and the ice land is Antarctica. $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 30 '16 at 8:51

You are right that tunnels under the ocean wouldn't work, they would be flooded quite apart from anything else.

Your most likely case is that they got there by accident and then got lucky. The founder population were on a reasonably large ship/boat or possibly a group of boats that got driven south by a storm and eventually wrecked against the antarctic coast. They were fortunate enough to arrive in summer and survived by hunting sea life and penguins for long enough to find the entrances into the underground caves.

When winter arrived they had managed to stockpile enough food that they withdrew into the caves near the surface and survived underground until summer came again.

Over the next few years or even generations they survived by gathering food during summer and then hiding in the caves over winter, gradually moving deeper and deeper into the caves as they did so until they found the cavern you describe.

For underground survival it's departing from reality a bit but you could have a geothermal hot spot that has melted an underground cavern to survivable temperatures. The roof of the cavern is actually mostly reasonably clear ice forming a natural lens so enough sunlight comes through during summer to support plant growth and as a result they are able to survive underground by farming and stockpiling supplies each year.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a very good solution, thank you. $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 26 '16 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ For what is about underground survival, you have great ideas too - I planned to depart from reality anyway : as we basically know very few - if not anything - about what is happening in Antarctica's underground, I may take the freedom to do so. The only point bothering me in your solution is that their caves must be near the coast and then they should have been discovered by explorers, which I don't want to (my bad, I forgot to clarify that in my question) $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 26 '16 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ They may have been near the coast originally but that's not to say that they aren't covered in snow and ice now. Ice actually can change very rapidly (compared to conventional rocky terrain). $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 26 '16 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Depending on when this happens. The average temperature in Summer for Antartica is still below 0 (Celsius), and there is minimal precipitation - making long term survival difficult to say the least $\endgroup$ – user19252 May 27 '16 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ There are some areas in Antarctica where summer temperature is still warmer than some places (like Siberia) where humans do live. So if these people were lucky enough to accost in one of those areas, the solution seems possible. $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 27 '16 at 8:33

There are a number of failed expeditions to the North Pole in last couple of hundred years. In some cases, all the crew vanished without a trace (presumably dead). Let us imagine for a second that, instead of freezing to death in the arctic wasteland, they managed to find an underground cave system deep enough to keep them warm. As the years go by, they try to make it back, but each attempt fails. As they began to have kids and settle down, they decide that the cave has became their new home and they give up all attempts of leaving.

They tell their kids about the magical lands where everything is warm. The kids believe at first but as they grow older they stop, believe that their parents made it up like they made up the Easter Bunny.

Of course, there is one major flaw, that these explorations didn't have woman crew members. But, with a little hand waving over the plot, you could say that some woman snuck aboard, or that some of the crew were woman dressed as men or that the captain insisted on bringing his wife and daughters with him despite the danger.

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    $\begingroup$ This is really interesting. While not the first to settle in the caves, the explorers you talk about could have found this civilization and chosen to stay and live there, bringing with them legends about green lands. $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 26 '16 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ And leaving aside the genetic bottleneck of so few women, so few people in general... $\endgroup$ – Sean Duggan May 26 '16 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ +Sean Duggan Genetic bottleneck would be a problem long term. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure May 26 '16 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ Could you even explain what "warm" meant to such a population? $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai May 26 '16 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Azor-Ahai Sure. Since we are warm-blooded creatures and generate body heat, we have an internal reference for warmth that would always be available. When that reference becomes unavailable, you die from hypothermia. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b May 26 '16 at 23:06

In Russian movie Sannikov Land, there was a tribe, living near the pole, because there was an underground heater, like volcano, or something similar, (I don't remember what exactly). Then heater started to disappear, and luckily some expedition found that tribe. So, may be people moved there when there was something like volcano?

One other idea: What if there was a hot stream, like Gulf Stream, that disappeared because of climate change?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning one of my favorite movies! There was a quite big volcanic isle near the north pole. In it's caldera, there was always very warm like in tropics. $\endgroup$ – vodolaz095 May 29 '16 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is very interesting, I didn't know about this movie and I want to watch it now :D $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 29 '16 at 12:52

Here's another possible way for them to be trapped - indications are that during the last ice age the sea level was down significantly. The people who became American Indians walked along the then coast from what is now Siberia to what the Europeans 15,000 years later called "The New World", i.e., the Americas. There is some speculation that the American Indians spread rapidly throughout the Americas all the way to Tierra Del Fuego, and might have done so before our current warm period began. We can postulate, since volcanoes occasionally produce lava tubes, that the people who became isolated lived in a lava tube on the coast of Antarctica for several generations before the ice melted and the sea level rose, blocking the entrance to the lava tube cave.

Concerning light - bioluminescence doesn't provide much light compared to sunlight. Fire will be difficult, too, so here I'm at a loss. And food? Oh, my.

  • $\begingroup$ Really interesting. So how long would they have been in Antarctica if they still were nowadays ? $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 31 '16 at 8:13

The founders originally came as a scientific expedition. They devised a habitation that could support larger crews, where eventually multiple teams would come by to study the continent. Potentially hundreds or thousands of scientists might be staying at once in a growing colony.

Now for whatever reason, the rest of the world nuked themselves back to the stone age (or completely died off), leaving the current colony stranded with no external supplies. Ideally, they imported the technology necessary to sustain themselves so they could grow food and collect water as necessary. However the elements are harsh and tend to erode the structure above ground. You could have two possibilities from here:

  • The colony discovered a cave system that allowed them to move the colony and working equipment without too much fuss. Over time the original habitat falls into disrepair and they are forced to evacuate into the cave system.
  • The colony already took use of terrain features that allowed them to dig into the continent. While there are above-ground structures, the structure could potentially have several floors leading underground. This would also allow them equipment to dig further if need be, and less extreme needs to move the entire colony.

There is a Pole shift hypothesis

The cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis suggests that there have been geologically rapid shifts in the relative positions of the modern-day geographic locations of the poles and the axis of rotation of the Earth, creating calamities such as floods and tectonic events.

Probably 10k years ago South pole was not in Antarctica, but, for example, in the middle of Pacific ocean, and North Pole was in Tibet or Siberia. And Antarctica has much more warm climate. So, around this time, your people could simply use boats to move to Antarctica.

Probably they found big caves with underground warm gazers with hot water (Antarctica is not seismic dead). And this caves can sustain live and much warmer climate like the Er Wang Dong cave in China. Even if this cave is covered by snow and ice today (but with some passages for ground for exchanging air).

Probably, this civilization live by growing fungus underground, hunting for penguins each summer on the surface and one day, they have found a crashed UFO of advanced civilization, with Artificial Intelligence.

It managed to understood their language and did all the best to help them, because it followed the 1 rule of robototechnics - "Newer harm a sapient being or leave it in trouble". And AI have translated all data banks with intergalactic wiki to their language and allowed them to use the nanosynthesizers.

And, on the time our humanity encounter this underground civilization, they will conquire us.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think shifting the magnetic pole would affect the climate. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv May 26 '16 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ The linked article is not about magnetic pole shifting. From tfa: "Pole shift hypotheses are not the same as geomagnetic reversal, the periodic reversal of the Earth's magnetic field (effectively switching the north and south magnetic poles)." $\endgroup$ – Lyle May 26 '16 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, beyond a bit of precession though pole shifts are so far as we know complete psuedo science. There's no way they could happen. $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 27 '16 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ Why are aliens required? $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White May 29 '16 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ i have considered near the same setting for my story. my rough calculations and estimations will show that this civilization will still be 18-19th century Inuit and Chukchi level - tribes of ~50 members struggling with each other, bone weapons and leather boats as pinnacle of technology, shamanism as pinnacle of science, population limit of about 20k, lifespan of 30 years, every woman have 7-8 children, while 2-3 of them can reach adolescence and have children too. $\endgroup$ – vodolaz095 May 29 '16 at 10:12

There is already some intriguing cryptohistory regarding Antarctica, which you can use to your advantage.

According to some accounts, the maps that Columbus used to reach America showed a land mass west of the Atlantic ocean. Those maps came from a Turkish cartographer named Piri Reis, and they also showed the coastline of Antarctica.

There are several odd things about this-

  • Piri's maps (which were based on much older sources, thought to be of Chinese origin) were created in 1513. Antarctica wasn't "discovered" until 1818.
  • The actual land coastline is shown, despite the fact that Antarctica has been covered by ~1km sheet of glacial ice for ~10,000 years. We've only recently been able to determine the coastal landline beneath the ice, using satellites.
  • According to some accounts, the coastline in Piri's maps is thought to be far too accurate, and would have required aircraft to survey it.

In your world, the civilization could have lived there pre-Ice Age, and then moved into caves and underground cities as the ice grew.

Incidentally, polar shift could have made the ice accumulation more sudden. It's thought that the Earth's crust is like a moveable skin over the molten interior. A good meteor strike at the right angle, and the entire crust could shift, changing the position of the poles.

Also, some theories identify Antarctica as the most likely location of Atlantis, which according to Plato was a pretty cool place.

Obviously, most of this is probably bunk, but fascinating bunk, for a good story.

More on Piri's maps...




There are other things to consider like overpopulation that will drive them to go to the surface, but the question is why can't they come up to the surface when they are suffering from overpopulation ?

The answer is simple :

  • They are living way underground, that they can't dig up tunnels and they can't escape with conventional means, unless an earthquake happens.

  • They are living by eating each-other : yeah reality sucks but that's the only way to diminish the population and provide food for surviving.

But who put them in this position long time ago (more than 10000 years ago) ?

I think they were living in a village near Antarctica and a huge mountain fell over them burying them underground for good.

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    $\begingroup$ In my mind they live in a gigantic cave network with loads of rooms and galleries linking them. So if the population doesn't fit in the cave anymore, some can settle in another. Also they simply can't go to the surface because it is too cold. Your cannibalism idea is interesting. Although I don't want them to be cannibals, they could have had through their history some dark episodes of "cannibalism crisis" when they lacked food too much. $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 27 '16 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Ctouw They are probably waiting underground for the cold to disappear to invade Earth with their large swarms, and that by the way will happen soon enough thanks to global warming and climate change. $\endgroup$ – Javert May 27 '16 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Jarvert They sure dream about the cold to lower so they can live outside but as they don't know it could be else than cold, they don't believe it will happen - so they are not waiting it but merely dreaming about like we dream of flying. Also this is a pacific and non-agressive civilization contrary to what you seem to think ^^ $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 27 '16 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Ctouw Sorry I imagined them like savages from the stone age, but living an eternity underground in complete darkness isolated from the world in those harsh conditions will have an impact on their personalities and their behavior. $\endgroup$ – Javert May 27 '16 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Jarvert Indeed, however I want to minimize this impact. For example they don't live completely in the dark as they redirect sunlight from the caves entrance through a vast mirror system. But yes it is indeed a very different civilization and this is what my story is about : how different would they be ? $\endgroup$ – Ctouw May 27 '16 at 13:57

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