Plastlantis! A lost civilisation in the Undrowned Isles

Please note that the Plastlantis Exhibition is currently being assembled. Please check back regularly for updates and the inclusion of new objects.


It is not often that a new discovery can truly be said to shake long-held beliefs about human history. However, it is no exaggeration to say that the objects in this exhibition do just that. These items, recently uncovered in archaeological excavations in the northern Undrowned Isles, hint at the existence of a previously unknown civilization – and perhaps also at the truth at the heart of the Plastlantis myth.

The nurdelium boundary layer

Scientists and historians have long studied – and argued about – the nurdelium boundary layer. We are all familiar with the historical theories as to its origin: who amongst us does fondly not recall schooldays spent learning about the key discoveries and debates relating to this mysterious geological phenomenon? In recent decades, although some have clung to theories that claim an earthly origin, in recent decades, the weight of scientific opinion has come down on the side of the so-called plastiroid explanation, which suggests that the globally-observed layer of nurdellium – a material confined exclusively to a narrow epoch between around 5000 and 4500 years ago – was brought to and deposited around the world by an interstellar object.

The Nurdellium Boundary Layer visible in a previously submarine cliff-face, exposed by the decreasing sea levels in the Undrowned Isles.
The “nurdelium layer” visible in a previously submarine cliff-face, exposed by the decreasing sea levels in the Undrowned Isles.

This exhibition does not resolve the mystery of the origins of nurdelium. Its contents are, nevertheless, startling, suggesting a civilization that flourished and faded in what we might now call the Nurdelic Age.

The Undrowned Isles

For centuries, these remote, uninhabited islands remained almost completely unexplored. Sailors shunned them and tales of their malign influence were handed down from mother to son and father to daughter. In the modern era, the old beliefs faded, but the treacherous seas and complex topology of the underwater landscape meant they remained largely inaccessible. However, as more of the planet’s waters are locked into polar and highland ice, falling sea levels have remodelled the islands’ coastlines and, perhaps counterintuitively, created more navigable passages and safer landings.

The first archaeological exploration of the Isles commenced just 2 years ago and within months was producing unexpected finds.

The “nurdelglass” layer

The retreat of the oceans has revealed a previously-drowned landscape, including dramatic features such as the Coloured Cliffs. These spectacular geological features, which have been eroded by the ocean currents during their period of submersion, show the narrow, parti-coloured strata that are characteristic of the nurdellium boundary layer. However what is unique to this region is the occurrence of seams of “nurdelglass” – a vitrified form of nurdelium that scientists believe must have formed during extreme heating events.

While nurdelglass has been identified in many locations, it has until now always been in fragmentary form, often mixed in with other materials such as compacted soils and sands. The Undrowned Isles are the only place in which extensive deposits have been found.

A nurdelglass expanse

Their precise dimensions are as yet undetermined, but the biggest deposit found so far as a surface area of more than 1200 m2.

Evidence of a lost civilization

The nurdelglass deposits are by no means the most surprising of the finds uncovered at the Undrowned Isles site. More astonishing still are the objects that make up the core of this collection.

These intricate, ornate objects were all found within a few metres of each other, preserved in the soft sandstone at the same depth as the nurdellium boundary layer. They are made of nurdelite – a form of nurdelium that has been processed and shaped. They provide definitive evidence that the human society living at the time the nurdelium boundary layer was deposited developed the knowledge and skills required to enable them to work with it in order to create ritual objects of great value. Could this long-ago drowned culture be the origin of the myth of the ancient city of Plastlantis?

Grave goods of a great and powerful leader

While we cannot yet be sure, archaeologists believe it is likely that the collection of objects displayed here were entombed along with the body of a powerful person – a king or religious leader who was buried with precious symbols of wealth and power.

Nurdelite vessels

These four vessels or vessel fragments are the most intact of the several dozen similarly-shaped objects that have been uncovered at the Undrowned Isles site.

  1. This object appears to be a lid, perhaps of a now-vanished funerary urn.
  2. A near-complete sealed container, possibly containing precious oils or perfums to accompany the dead leader in the afterlife.
  3. At first sight, this pair of containers appear to be simple pots or bowls. However, close inspection reveals elaborate decoration in the form of geometric arrangements of circles that have been removed from their bases. These holes render these vessels useless for day-to-day uses such as holding liquids or foods. This further reinforces their interpretation as ritual objects – most likely reflecting the wealth of their owner.

Carved nurdelite ball

Carved woven nurdelite ball

This intriguing object appears to have been woven out of thin nurdelite strands. The geometric pattern, while different to the sequence of circles that decorate the pot bases, is further evidence that the people of the Nurdelic Age placed great importance on number and form.


1. Buckle and 2. Armband
  1. Decorative nurdelite buckle – note the depression where a pin would have closed this ornament, which may have been used as the clasp of a cape.
  2. Inscribed nurdelite armband – although somewhat worn, the characters of a lost alphabet decorate the flattened edge of this item. Its relatively large diameter suggests it may have been worn as an armband by an adult man – perhaps a member of the warrior cast.

Orb and sceptre

These two objects are perhaps the most definitive evidence that the collection as a whole is associated with a person of great power and significance. As with all the other objects displayed here, the orb and sceptre are formed entirely from nurdelite. Note the traces of a design that may once have covered the orb. A cat-like silhouette may be a representation of the spirit animal associated with a particular clan or family. The marks below this shape appear to be some sort of script. The orb and sceptre have been symbols of power for millennia, and the perfect symmetry of both these objects suggests that the person who held them wielded great power indeed.