Around November 18 2019, several tweets compared photographs of Greta Thunberg side by side with a generations-old image of a girl with a strong resemblance to the young modern-day activist, suggesting that she is a “time traveler“:
So, ‘Greta Thunberg’ is in a photo from 120 years ago, and it’s my new favourite conspiracy. Greta’s a time traveller, from the future, and she’s here to save us. pic.twitter.com/5ObTjPFXvk
— Jack – J.S. Strange (@JackSamStrange) November 18, 2019
Greta Thunberg's a time traveller…https://t.co/dKnoY8GgEN
— Tess Summers #FTEU (@tesssummers98) November 18, 2019
A commenter responded:
So that’s why she’s so adamant about climate change awareness. She’s been to the future and knows how f***ed we are.
The historical meme was not the first time people “found” the young activist in years-old material. Thunberg was even the subject of her own “Simpsons predicted it” meme, in which a plotline in the show’s movie purportedly foretold her rise to fame for climate activism.
Typically, sharers commented that Greta Thunberg is a time traveler, and in at least one, a user mused she was “here” in 2019 from “the future to save us.” News outlets were quick to describe the viral photograph as a “conspiracy theory,” but it didn’t seem anyone was genuinely claiming that Thunberg had actually traveled through time in order to avert catastrophes:
The uncanny resemblance has since sparked a Twitter discussion, with many agreeing that the picture shows a Greta lookalike.
One person tweeted: “What it is, right, is that actually she’s a time traveller, and she’s come to warn us about the future. It’s the only explanation.”
While another wrote: “Wow. Uncanny. That’s scary!”
A third wrote: “Pretty amazing doppelgänger.”
Framing the meme as a legitimate “conspiracy theory” seems to be a form of engagement bait and clickbait, riling up commenters to decry anyone taking it seriously — which no one seemed to be doing.
An example of the “conspiracy theory” appeared on one blog:
I 100% Believe This Conspiracy Theory That Greta Thunberg Is A Time-Traveller From 1898
Greta Thunberg is too good for this world, which is exactly why I’ve dived head first into this conspiracy theory that she is, in fact, a time traveller. Because anyone who is doing good things could not possibly be from this trash-human planet right now, am I right?
Someone, according to 7 News, managed to find this Ye Olde photo from the University of Washington archives, and did a double take because hot damn, how much does the kid on the left look exactly like Greta? Extremely so.
Interestingly, one TinEye search returned a single result from March 2018; Thunberg came to prominence in or around August 2018. However, that image was connected to a defunct link, and we were unable to find a better quality version of it:
The 120-year-old image is authentic and undoctored. It was archived by the University of Washington and dated circa 1898:
Three children operating rocker at a gold mine on Dominion Creek, Yukon Territory, ca. 1898.
Photographer Hegg, Eric A., 1867-1948
Caption on image: “”Youths operating gold mines on Dominion. Klondyke, Y.T.”” Klondike Gold Rush
In its original, uncropped form, it looked like this:
After readers found the image, many joked that young climate activist Greta Thunberg was a time traveler from the future trying to save the world from a changing climate. The photograph was a little more than 120 years old, and shows three children, one of whom bore a strong resemblance to Thunberg. We found no indication that anyone genuinely believes the “conspiracy theory,” simply that people noticed a previously circulating image and thought the resemblance was funny.
For its part, the actual image is real.