A theory put forth by Charles Hapgood and currently defended by the likes of Graham Hancock and others that attempts to explain the coming and recession of the ice ages. The idea is that the Earth's crust rests on a very fluid layer. When the ice on the polar caps reaches a weight large enough, the weight causes the crust to slip around the globe until some kind of equilibrium is had. The North and South Poles remain really cold and the Earth's axis is static; it is only the crust of the Earth that moves around. Hence in the last ice age, when a good chunk of North America was frozen over, this was because it lied farther north. The end of the last ice age came when the crust slipped, causing North America to move farther south, thus giving us the toasty thing we have today. Though it seems rather radical in nature, poleshift was well received when proposed in the fifties (among other people, Albert Einstein was very intrigued). It offered a tidy explanation for questions like why incredibly cold places like Greenland and Antarctica appear to have at one time possessed flora that could have only grown in a temperate climate.

This theory is also used to account for a number of crazier things, including the possibility suggested by Hapgood that Antarctica lied farther north at one point, and thus had a habitable climate; and that a race of advanced and brilliant folk, the Atlanteans, called the place their home before Antarctica experienced the big freeze. This idea was seized upon by Hancock, and he's written a few books about this sort of thing, most notably the bestseller The Fingerprints of the Gods.

Various modern discoveries have not been kind to the theory of poleshift. Recent evidence suggests that the ice sheets from the last ice age receded globally at one time, rather than a continent at a time as they moved around, as poleshift suggests. Furthermore, examinations of Antarctica suggest that it is getting warmer, rather than colder, meaning that it has long been frozen and is warming up as it gets older. Furthermore, most importantly, poleshift is no longer necessary to explain things like Antarctica, Greenland, and other places that are ungodly cold in this day and age having long ago being of temperate climate: a while after Hapgood proposed this theory, scientists have confirmed and accepted plate tectonics.

Sadly, evidence against poleshift has been largely ignored by Hancock and company. They continue to tout it as a theory endorsed by Einstein, and they continue to quote Hapgood's books. They completely ignore the last several decades of geological evidence (there is almost an entire chapter of Hancock's book Fingerprints of the Gods where he quotes bits of Hapgood's books as evidence for his theories about Atlantis without mentioning any further developments of the last twenty years). I doubt Einstein would have so endorsed this theory if he'd had the evidence we have today about plate tectonics and continental drift, and therefore I find it a bit specious to tout this theory in such a matter. Furthermore, I wonder if even Hapgood would support it if he were alive today and knew what we currently know about geology.

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