Dec 20, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Life Once on Mars: The Red Planet and, Maybe, a Now-Destroyed Civilization

Yesterday, I wrote an article based on the thoughts of Mac Tonnies and in relation to his research into the "Cryptoterrestrials," creatures that might live under the surface of our planet, but who surface now and again. Mac wasn't just someone who looked into mysteries of the underworld, however: he also had a deep interest in the planet Mars. So, with that said, today I'm going to share with you Mac's views on the controversies surrounding Mars. It comes from a lengthy interview I did with Mac some years ago. It took us some time to get it together, but I think you'll enjoy it - and think about it, too. It was mainly the so-called "Face on Mars" that interested Mac - although not solely. Located on a specific area of Mars called Cydonia Mensae are two huge, battered and bruised structures that, for decades, have intrigued and amazed the public, NASA scientists and engineers, the media, the CIA, and psychics. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The most famous one of the two has become known as the Face on Mars. As for the other, it’s referred to as the D&M Pyramid, for reasons that will very quickly become clear. And, the pair do not stand alone: there are multiple anomalies in that particular location. Collectively, they provoke imagery of a ruined, ancient city, of a once-thriving world, and of a civilization that is now long-extinct and which took its secrets with it when the end came in nightmarish, civilization-trashing fashion. 

(NASA) Mars-Henge?

As for their sizes, the Face is approximately two kilometers in length, while the D&M pyramid is more than one kilometer in height. In other words, we are talking about gigantic structures. That is, unless you believe that seeing something not too dissimilar to a visage on Mars is no different to seeing the face of Elvis in a cup of coffee. Or of Jesus in a bagel. On this very point of how eye-catching images might be interpreted – correctly vs. wildly - there’s no doubt that the controversy provokes massive debate. It shows no signs of going away at any time soon. Or later, even. Without doubt, it is the Face on Mars - more than any other oddity on the planet - that has driven the story that you are now reading and which continues to generate extreme controversy. So, how did we get from there to here, in terms of the development of the overall story?

In the years that have passed since the Face was first seen in the 1970s, matters have escalated to incredible degrees: researchers claim to see a “fort” in the area of Cydonia. Maybe even the remains of ancient roads. Today, the claims, speculations and conclusions have reached absolute fever-pitch level. An intelligently-crafted monolith; strange, crab-like creatures roaming the Martian landscape; an ancient, humanoid-like skull; and even the image of the Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, have all been seen on Mars – or are natural phenomena that has been grossly misinterpreted. Before we address all of these issues – and many more – we need to go back in time to 1976, the year in which the mystery began. To acquaint you with the Face and its attendant controversies I will share with you the work of one of the most respected researchers of the Martian mysteries – something that will give you insight into how the puzzle began and why and how it’s still very much with us. 

As I noted, the Face is actually just one of a handful of unusual fixtures on a certain area of Mars called Cydonia – which is specifically within Cydonia Mensae. A portion of it is on the fringes of the Arabia Terra region and the Acidalia Planitia plain. Highlands and plains abound and dominate the Martian landscape. Something else dominates the landscape, too. That’s right: that enigmatic face-like structure. Or, a perfectly natural, huge mesa, depending on your very own perspective. While numerous researchers have penned papers and books on the matter of the Face on Mars, for me the most significant of all was the late Mac Tonnies. And why, you may ask, was Tonnies work so important and vital to the investigations? And why is it still so important? Simply put: Tonnies was neither a full-on believer nor a skeptic when it came to the massive Cydonia structures. He was someone who was just looking for the answers, regardless of where they might have taken him. Tragically, Tonnies died in 2009, at the age of just thirty-four – from the effects of a heart condition. He left an incredible body of data behind him, however; the vast majority of it presented in the pages of his 2004 book, After the Martian Apocalypse.

(NASA) Not the "Face on Mars": this one is the lesser-known "Crowned Face."

I was lucky enough to interview Tonnies before he passed away, specifically on the salient points of the overall controversy – something that will quickly acquaint you with the much wider and broader story that this article tells. Tonnies shared with me his thoughts and conclusions on the entire controversy surrounding the Face, something that makes it clear that he strongly suspected that at least some of the curious structures on Mars were manmade (or, to be entirely accurate, Martian-made), even if he didn’t buy into everything that caught the attention of the eyes and ears of other researchers of the Face on Mars. Tonnies had so much to say, in what turned out to be such a little amount of time, but he was careful to pinpoint the primary aspects of the debate concerning what was – or what wasn’t – on Mars:  massive structures constructed by intelligent beings from a faraway world. Most important of all, Tonnies’ very own words perfectly set the scene for what is to come in the pages ahead.

In our Q&A, Tonnies began as follows: “I’ve always had an innate interest in the prospect of extraterrestrial life. When I realized that there was an actual scientific inquiry regarding the Face and associated formations, I realized that this was a potential chance to lift SETI [the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] from the theoretical arena; it's within our ability to visit Mars in person. This was incredibly exciting, and it inspired an interest in Mars itself - its geological history, climate, et cetera. I have a BA in Creative Writing. So, of course, there are those who will happily disregard my book because I’m not ‘qualified.’ I suppose my question is ‘Who is qualified to address potential extraterrestrial artifacts?’ Certainly not NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose Mars exploration timetable is entirely geology-driven.”

As for how NASA learned of the Face on Mars – something that directly led the rest of us to hear of it, and to finally see it, too – Tonnies laid down the facts: “NASA itself discovered the Face, on July 25, 1976, and even showed it at a press conference, after it had been photographed by NASA’s Viking mission probe. Of course, it was written off as a curiosity. Scientific analysis would have to await independent researchers. The first two objects to attract attention were the Face and what has become known as the ‘D&M Pyramid.’ Both of them were unearthed by digital imaging specialists Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar [at the time, engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Center at Greenbelt, Maryland]. Shortly after, Face researcher Richard Hoagland pointed out a collection of features near the Face which he termed the ‘City.’ The ‘Fort,’ too.” On the matter of the Fort, Tonnies sent me the following in our email-based interview: “The Fort looks weathered, defeated. Its eastern side is riddled with small, shallow craters that terminate as abruptly as the holes left from a burst of machine gun-fire. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine that you’re examining the sterile ruins of some unimaginable conflict.” On that point of an “unimaginable conflict,” Tonnies might have been right on target, as we shall later see. The City Pyramid has a “peculiar fives-sided shape,” he said. And, then, there’s the D&M Pyramid. Tonnies put it like this: “The D&M’s surface is not the smooth finish found elsewhere in Cydonia. Rather, its shallow incline is swollen and cracked, as if once molten. Despite this, no signs of volcanism are apparent.” Tonnies also noted: “Interestingly, there seems to be a tunnel-like opening into the D&M. If the D&M is an extraterrestrial structure, then perhaps you’ll find evidence there proving beyond doubt that civilized Martians once existed.”   

(NASA) A crab-like, or spider-like, creature on Mars?

Under what circumstances did the debate concerning Cydonia begin? Tonnies told the story: “When NASA dismissed the Face as a ‘trick of light,’ they cited a second, disconfirming photo allegedly taken at a different sun-angle. This photo never existed. DiPietro and Molenaar had to dig through NASA archives to find a second image of the Face. And, far from disputing the face-like appearance, it strengthened the argument that the Face remained face-like from multiple viewing angles.” Tonnies then turned his attentions even more in the direction of NASA: “The prevailing alternative to NASA’s geological explanation - that the Face and other formations are natural landforms - is that we’re seeing extremely ancient artificial structures built by an unknown civilization. NASA chooses to ignore that there is a controversy, or at least a controversy in the scientific sense. Since making the Face public in the 1970s, NASA has made vague allusions to humans’ ability to ‘see faces’ (e.g. the ‘Man in the Moon’) and has made lofty dismissals, but it has yet to launch any sort of methodical study of the objects under investigation. Collectively, NASA frowns on the whole endeavor. Mainstream SETI [the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] theorists are equally hostile.”

 Tonnies made an important observation: “Basically, the Face - if artificial – doesn’t fall into academically palatable models of how extraterrestrial intelligence will reveal itself, if it is in fact ‘out there.’ Searching for radio signals is all well and good, but scanning the surface of a neighboring planet for signs of prior occupation is met with a very carefully cultivated institutionalized scorn. And, of course, it doesn’t help that some of the proponents of the Face have indulged in more than a little baseless ‘investigation.’” Now, let’s see what Tonnies thought was the “real truth” of the debate: Addressing this issue over the phone, he said to me: “I think some of the objects in the Cydonia region of Mars are probably artificial. And I think the only way this controversy will end is to send a manned mission. The features under investigation are extremely old and warrant on-site archaeological analysis. We’ve learned - painfully - that images from orbiting satellites won’t answer the fundamental questions raised by the Artificiality Hypothesis.” I asked Tonnies: “Do you believe all the perceived anomalous structures are indeed that or do you feel some are of natural origin while some are of unnatural origin?” He got back to me: “I suspect that we’re seeing a fusion of natural geology and mega-scale engineering. For example, the Face is likely a modified natural mesa, not entirely unlike some rock sculptures on Earth but on a vastly larger and more technically challenging scale.”

All of the talk of pyramids - and, later, of opinions that the Face had a Sphinx-like appearance - led me to pose a question to Tonnies that I wasn’t at all sure he would be willing to answer – lest he might be accused of over-exaggerating and sensationalizing the situation. My questions were these: “Is there a relationship between the face and the pyramids on Mars and the similar ones at Giza, Egypt? What does the research community think of this perceived connection?” Tonnies, I was pleased to see, was willing to tackle the questions: “There’s a superficial similarity between some of the alleged pyramids in the vicinity of the Face and the better-known ones here on Earth. This has become the stuff of endless arcane theorizing, and I agree with esoteric researchers that some sort of link between intelligence on Mars and Earth deserves to be taken seriously. But, the formations on Mars are much, much larger than terrestrial architecture. This suggests a significantly different purpose, assuming they’re intelligently designed. Richard Hoagland, to my knowledge, was the first to propose that the features in Cydonia might be ‘arcologies’ - architectural ecologies - built to house a civilization that might have retreated underground for environmental reasons.” This Mars-Egypt issue will surface time and time again as this story progresses, and as we dig further into this particular controversy.

(NASA) Some have said that the shadowy portion in the middle of this photo looks like the Sphinx at Egypt.

And with a pyramid behind.

I had another question for Tonnies: “If these things are artificial, who built them: Martians, someone visiting Mars, ancient Earth civilizations now forgotten or lost to history?” Tonnies said to me: “It’s just possible that the complex in Cydonia - and potential edifices elsewhere on Mars - were constructed by indigenous Martians. Mars was once extremely Earth-like. We know it had liquid water. It’s perfectly conceivable that a civilization arose on Mars and managed to build structures within our ability to investigate. Or, the anomalies might be evidence of interstellar visitation - perhaps the remains of a colony of some sort. But why a humanoid face? “That’s the disquieting aspect of the whole inquiry; it suggests that the human race has something to do with Mars, that our history is woefully incomplete, that our understanding of biology and evolution might be in store for a violent upheaval. In retrospect, I regret not spending more time in the book addressing the possibility that the Face was built by a vanished terrestrial civilization that had achieved spaceflight. That was a tough notion to swallow, even as speculation, as it raises as many questions as it answers.” If the Cydonia “items” were constructed and not wholly natural formations, then when might all of this have gone down? Tonnies’ answer was a swift and short one: “We need to bring archaeological tools to bear on this enigma. When that is done, we can begin reconstructing Martian history. Until we visit in person, all we can do is take better pictures and continue to speculate.”

As for how an allegedly once-thriving world was turned into a largely dead one, Tonnies had his thoughts: “Astronomer Tom Van Flandern has proposed that Mars was once the moon of a tenth planet that literally exploded in the distant past. If so, then the explosion would have had severe effects on Mars, probably rendering it uninhabitable. That’s one rather apocalyptic scenario. Another is that Mars’ atmosphere was destroyed by the impact that produced the immense Hellas Basin [a 7,152-meter-deep basin located in Mars’ southern hemisphere]. Both ideas are fairly heretical by current standards; mainstream planetary science is much more comfortable with Mars dying a slow, prolonged death. Pyrotechnic collisions simply aren’t intellectually fashionable - despite evidence that such things are much more commonplace than we’d prefer.” With the questions concerning Mars now answered, I turned my attentions to Tonnies himself. Such as: what was it that prompted him to write After the Martian Apocalypse? Tonnies’ reply: “Anger. I was, frankly, fed up with bringing the subject of the Face on Mars up in online discussion and finding myself transformed into a straw man for self-professed experts. It was ludicrous. The book is a thought experiment, a mosaic of questions. We don’t have all of the answers, but the answers are within our reach. Frustratingly, this has become very much an ‘us vs. them’ issue, and I blame both sides. The debunkers have ignored solid research that would undermine their assessment, and believers are typically quite pompous that NASA et al are simply wrong or, worse, actively covering up.”

So, did Tonnies think that NASA was engaged in a cover-up to hide the truth, regardless of what it might be? Yes, he did; but most certainly not to the extent that certain conspiracy theorists have suggested in more recent years, as you will later learn. Tonnies spelled it out for me: “When NASA / JPL released the first Mars Global Surveyor image of the Face in 1998, they chose to subject the image to a high-pass filter that made the Face look hopelessly vague. This was almost certainly done as a deliberate attempt to nullify public interest in a feature that the space agency is determined to ignore. So yes, there is a cover-up of sorts. But it’s in plain view for anyone who cares to look into the matter objectively. I could speculate endlessly on the forms a more nefarious cover-up might take, but the fact remains that the Surveyor continues to return high-resolution images. Speculation and even some healthy paranoia are useful tools. But we need to stay within the bounds of verifiable fact lest we become the very conspiracy-mongering caricatures painted by the mainstream media.” 

The Q&A came to its end: “What do you hope your book, After the Martian Apocalypse, will achieve?” Tonnies reply came as follows: “Our attitudes toward the form extraterrestrial intelligence will take are painfully narrow. This is exciting intellectual territory, and too many of us have allowed ourselves to be told what to expect by an academically palatable elite. I find this massively frustrating. I hope After the Martian Apocalypse will loosen the conceptual restraints that have blinkered radio-based SETI by showing that the Face on Mars is more than collective delusion or wishful thinking. This is a perfectly valid scientific inquiry and demands to be treated as such.” As we will now see, and as further Martian enigmas are constantly being found, years after Tonnies’ book was published the whole controversy still firmly remains as “a perfectly valid scientific inquiry.” There’s another aspect to all of this, too: namely, that as the “Face-based” research began to expand - almost exponentially, it seemed, at times - evidence began to surface suggesting that the mysteries of Mars did not actually begin in the 1970s, at all. Incredibly, they went back centuries. The Face on Mars, that you are now acquainted with, is just a part of the story.    

Note from Nick Redfern: All of the photos used in this article came from NASA.

As NASA is an arm of the U.S. Government, it means that the photos are in the public domain.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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