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Conrad Killian, the explorer of the Sahara

François-Théodore-Conrad Killian is a geologist and explorer who spent his life exploring the Sahara Desert. He worked in the exploration of the Sahara by predicting the presence of hydrocarbon deposit. Very little known at the media level, its history is worthy of a polar!

Conrad Killian
Conrad Killan

Birth of Conrad Killian

Born on August 23, 1898 in Désaigne in Ardèche, he is the son of Wilfrid Killian, Alsacian, settled in Grenoble after the war of 1870. His father is a pioneer in Alpine geology, as is his ancestor George Cuvier who was a paleontologist.

He attended high school in Grenoble then enrolled in Mathematics to prepare the Naval School at Louis-le-Grand. However, health problems force him to give up school. He returned to Grenoble and began his first research in geology.


His first steps in geology

Following the advice of his father, he took part in an expedition to the Hoggar in 1921 to find the Garamantes  treasure. Due to difficulties of collaborations with the leader of the expedition, it decides to continue its explorations alone. On his return to France, he published his memoir in which he maintained that the Sahara was long ago occupied by a sea. Indeed, he had discovered the presence of microorganisms, the decomposition of which had to produce, In the Saharan subsoil of oil and gas reserves. However, he encounters general incredulity.

His exploration of the Sahara

Conrad Killian

Until 1939, he came in Sahara to provide more evidence to his theory of the presence of the sea in the Sahara. However, it still faces the general opposition. During the Second World War, he was appointed to the geological laboratory of Algiers, allowing him to continue his analyzes. It is in 1943 that it discovers that in one of the territories of France (Air) minerals are exploited by a foreign power, the United Kingdom.
Map of Niger and Aïr


The powers of England and the USA are very interested in his discoveries on possible hydrocarbon site in the Sahara. He will be followed by British and American agents whose two countries were looking for oil in Africa. France, for its part, had renounced it following the San Remo conference in 1920.

He will be the victim of poisoning and his guide will be assassinated

The Polar Begins

Following the Second World War, he tried to interest politicians in hydrocarbon deposits in the Sahara. Only General Leclerc seems to be interested in his file.

As soon as he arrives in Algiers, emissaries of two large oil companies come to his hotel to offer him a mountain of gold and considerable means for immediate exploitation against the delivery of his maps of deposits. He refused, but it was only partly postponed. Indeed, Killian did not know that he no longer tackled governments but petroleum powers and their interests.

Project manager by the National Defense Staff, the explorer must list the riches buried in the sands. In 1943, he discovers a mining operation of wolfram, very rare, used in the manufacture of special steels. Scandalized, he decided to write a report to the Governor General of Algeria. The mine will be closed. A few days later, his guide was tortured and murdered by two bullets in his head. It was sought to make him confess the places where Conrad Killian had lingered during the course of his prospecting work.


The end

Conrad Killian

Humiliated, calling himself hunted down and persecuted by oil companies or foreign powers (a map of oil reserves would have earned his possessor an immense fortune). Conrad Killian is found hanged in the espagnolette of a window of the pension of the family where he lived in Grenoble in mysterious conditions. Indeed, he was found hanging from the espagnolette of his window 1,20m from the ground, knowing that he measured 1.78m, his face was swollen and wrists slashed. The investigation found a suicide although the Secret Intelligence Service is suspected. The British intelligence services could have protected the interests of Shell and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

The discoveries of the Saharan gas and oil deposits from 1954 onwards will confirm that Conrad Killian’s assertions were correct.

Conrad Killian was thus an explorer who discovered that the Sahara was a sea and whose geological researches interested many companies and countries. Unfortunately, France did not consider during her lifetime her work and was never recognized for all her research. It is one of our explorers that he will not be recognized for his considerable work.


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