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The Lost Continent

We've discovered an ancient continent. What could it be? Atlantis? Avalon? Kunlun Mountain?

It’s not Atlantis, and it’s not quite Themiscyra either. However, we may be much closer to discovering the rest of our world’s geological history than we previously thought.

The University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa has reportedly found a fragment of the ancient super-continent Gondwanaland at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Gondwanaland roughly broke apart 200 million years ago, forming the current continents of India, Australia, Africa, Antarctica, and South America. The portion of the continent found by the University of the Witwatersrand lies under the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius (officially the Republic of Mauritius).

Researchers are calling this continental fragment ‘Mauritia’, and researchers believe that Mauritius’ strong gravitational pull indicates the presence of a mascon – mass concentrations, usually caused by plate tectonics (the constant shifting of the Earth’s crust).

mauritia-on-map
Mauritia’s geographical location // PC: The Sun

The research team found zircons on Mauritius, which are minerals typically in rocks gushed from volcanic eruptions. Mauritius itself is, according to professor Lewis Ashwal, lead author of the published paper in the journal Nature Communications, no more than 8~9 million years old. However, the zircons found on Mauritius were dated to be at least 2~3 billion years old. Therefore, these zircons must have been ejected from undersea volcanic eruptions billions of years ago from Mauritia under the Indian Ocean. Billion-year-old rocks don’t exist in oceans; this further corroborates the theory that ancient volcanoes erupted under present-day Mauritius and left traces of ancient Mauritia on the island’s surface.

zircon
A Zircon crystal (lower right) // PC: The Sun

As this discovery was made very recently and survey operations are still under procedure, there is limited information regarding Mauritia as of February 2017. However, according to Alan Collins from the University of Adelaide in Australia, “more and more remnants of other old continents are being uncovered,” so the chances of discovering additional long-lost continents are not low at all.

While the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland may be lost to time, the fact that we have found traces of its existence millions of years after the continent was swallowed up by the oceans opens countless opportunities for further research regarding Earth’s geographic history. Given further time and persistent research, we can conceivably bring Triassic-era Earth to the 21st century.

– Daniel Park (‘17)

Featured Image: New Scientist

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