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I know most of you don't believe in "aliens," but my friend John MacQuoid believes there are underground ancient alien bases in Antarctica.

Yeah, I know this sounds ludicrous, but according to John, an ancient alien species built several bases in the southern hemisphere hundreds of thousands of years ago. These bases now lie there, waiting for someone to discover them.

My question is: who becomes the owner of the ancient alien bases once they're are discovered? Is it the person or country that discovered them, the Antarctic Treaty signatories, or the aliens themselves?

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    Are there any living descendants of the aliens, either on Earth or somewhere else?
    – Someone
    Oct 20, 2022 at 21:04
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    There probably are living descendants of the aliens but they don't inhabit this Earth. Oct 20, 2022 at 21:05
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    Do you talk about the ancient ruins from "At the Mountains of Madness"? You don't want to own those. Or enter them. Or even be near them...
    – Trish
    Oct 20, 2022 at 23:36
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    Since there aren't Antarctic natives, aren't all bases on Antarctica "alien" ?
    – komodosp
    Oct 21, 2022 at 12:31
  • IANAL, but the case of Sea Hunt, Incorporated v. The unidentified shipwrecked vessel or vessels, their apparel, tackle, appurtenances,and cargo, and the corresponding countersuit by the Kingdom of Spain may be relevant here. A long, long time ago (1750 and 1802), Spain lost two ships off the coast of Virginia. Sea Hunt, Inc. found those relics and submitted claims. Courts found that both ships still belong to Spain because Spain is a sovereign entity. Sea Hunt had no claim. Oct 21, 2022 at 13:42

1 Answer 1

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The Antarctic Treaty doesn't establish ownership or sovereignty

Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty makes clear that the Treaty is not a renunciation by any contracting party of any basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. And "[n]o acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica."

So, while the Antarctic Treaty establishes an arrangement for cooperative shared use of the areas, it is not about sovereignty or ownership.

Territorial claims

There are (were) however territorial claims to various areas of Antarctica. These have not been resolved at international law.

Who owns the centre of the earth?

A traditional common-law property rule is that ownership extends to the center of the earth (see generally, John G. Sprankling, "Owning the Center of the Earth"). Sprankling notes that this was never taken literally until after it was introduced by Blackstone and argues that its time is near an end. But in any case, I think the correct starting point is that the owner of the surface owns what's underneath, at least to an extent.

Who owns the alien bases, and what would that mean?

Applying Earth law, ownership of the alien bases would be disputed among those nations who are willing to assert territorial claims to the surface under which the alien bases are found. However, if these bases are cultural heritage property (which their age suggests they might be), the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property could prevent the import, export, or transfer of any of the material from the bases. The "owning" country (if that is ever resolved) might have obligations under international law to preserve the bases. Further, if the dispute over the property results in armed conflict, the competing states could have obligations under the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict to avoid damaging the cultural property.

Is Earth law the applicable law?

If we take this hypothetical at face value, it implies we are not alone and in relationship with other extra-terrestrial culture(s). If members of those cultures were to reach out, that should at least bring us to consider that our law is not supreme. Our law would need to coexist with other law; other law that potentially has very different conceptions of ownership and rights.

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    You might have to consider their laws, and their guns.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 21, 2022 at 8:45
  • "Who owns the centre of the earth" - you don't have to go nearly that far down. Ownership of land on the surface versus underground has been discussed (and legislated) plenty when it comes to mineral rights.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:38
  • @NotThatGuy wait, if the bases are underground in Antarctica and countries own their underground then Canada or Greenland owns them. Why? Antipode. Just don't ask New Zeeland or Spain about this. They hate the idea. Oct 21, 2022 at 19:00

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