In the trove of recently digitized CIA documents, I found an unusual document. It was a U.S. Commerce Department bulleting from June 1960 containing a digest of Soviet science writing from popular and scholarly journals. Within this digest I found a bizarre claim made in the Soviet newspaper Pravda in which a Soviet researcher asserted that he discovered Lemuria off the coast of India. V. Bogorov, surveying the Indian Ocean for the International Geophysical Year, reported:
In the Western portion of the Indian Ocean we crossed the Equator six times. Here, close to the shores of Africa, is an area of an enormous number of small islands. They are the remnants of the ancient continent of Lemuria, which was lost under the waters of the ocean. In tests of the bottom, conducted at depths of almost five kilometers, sand was found under a two-meter layer of ordinary oceanic silt. Apparently this also is a trace of ancient Lemuria. The isles are surrounded by coral reefs, and atolls often rise several meters above the water. Corals are the principle accumulators of lime. Gigantic colonies of these small organisms have been conducting their constructive work for hundreds of millions of years.
While it is not entirely clear whether he intended this reference to Lemuria to refer to the Theosophical fictitious continent or the obsolete scientific hypothesis that inspired it, either way this is a pretty strange reference. It is, however, of a piece with Soviet opinions on sunken continents from the era.
According to N. Zhirov’s book on Atlantis, Soviet scientists such as D. I. Mushketov, A. N. Mazarovich, M. V. Klenova, and Vladimir Obruchev all expressed their belief that Atlantis was real and that the Azores and/or Canaries were the remnants of the lost continent. They relied on the outdated and faulty geological arguments of Pierre Termier, from 1912 (!), to defend the position, even though Termier’s views were the subject of vigorous criticism in his own day. In 1974, a Russian ship traveled to the Azores, and Vladimir Marakuyev photographed ruins underwater halfway between Portugal and Madeira, on the Atlantic Ampere Seamount, connected in part to this strange belief. The photos were apparent fakes, since said ruins were never seen again, but the story ended up in the New York Times, which reported on May 21, 1979 that Prof. Andrei Aksyonov had declared the photographs to be proof of the lost continent of Atlantis. “It’s possible that it’s part of Atlantis, maybe not the whole thing, but a part,” Aksyonov said, offering also that everyone outside of Russia has laughed at his claims.
Of all the strange things, at the time of his Atlantis claims, Aksyonov was a researcher aboard the Soviet research vessel Vityaz, which seems to be the same Vityaz that V. Bogorov sailed in searching for Atlantis two decades earlier. The Vityaz started life as the Nazi passenger and cargo ship Mars. The voyage the Times recorded turned out to be one of its last, and the ship went on to become a floating museum.
This might all seem like Soviet silliness, but there seems to be method to the madness, an ongoing effort by the Soviet government to promote fringe history and pseudoscience in the West by encouraging beliefs in ancient astronauts, lost continents, UFOs, and other unusual ideas. We can only speculate on the reasons for it, but it seems that undermining public confidence in Western science was part of the Soviet agenda.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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