Microhistory Interrogates a Mystery: On Some Possible New Relations in the ʽSomerton Manʼ or ʽTamám Shudʼ Case


  • Rowan Holmes University of Technology, Sydney




Microhistorical methods are used to examine evidence surrounding the ‘Somerton Man’ case, in which the body of a unknown man was found on a beach in Adelaide, South Australia, in December 1948. All identifying items had been removed from the man’s body, including the labels on his clothing. The case is connected with a strange code inscribed in the back page of a copy of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám which was found nearby. The man has never been identified or the code solved. The author looks into details of a series of strange deaths which occurred in Sydney, Australia, three years earlier, uncovering new material which suggests for the first time a possible connection between the two series of events. A recent identification of ‘Somerton Man’ as an errant Russian intelligence officer is discussed, together with the case’s possible presence in the context of Cold War atomic espionage. Lacunae prevent firm conclusions being reached.

Author Biography

Rowan Holmes, University of Technology, Sydney

Rowan Holmes is an ageing amateur recluse who hides, as far as possible, in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, Australia. He is currently studying for a doctorate in experimental music and microhistorical studies are presently a side project. His hobby is snoozing on the couch in the company of his Siamese cats.