A paradigm has existed for more than 30 years that the basal thermal regime of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in Victoria Land made a fundamental transition from wet-based to cold-based either at ca. 14 Ma or after ca. 2.5 Ma. The basal thermal regime is important because it determines the potential for unstable behavior in an ice sheet. We have studied the environmental characteristics of subglacially erupted volcanic centers scattered along 800 km of the Ross Sea flank of the Transantarctic Mountains. The volcanoes preserve evidence for the coeval paleo-ice thicknesses and contain features diagnostic of both wet-based and cold-based ice conditions. By dating the sequences we are able to demonstrate that the basal thermal regime varied spatially and with time between ca. 12 Ma and present. It was polythermal overall and probably comprised a coarse temperature patchwork of frozen-bed and thawed-bed ice, similar to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet today. Thus, an important shift is required in the prevailing paradigm describing its temporal evolution.