Earth Ancient History alive and well on the beaches of SEYCHELLES & MAURITIUS

Tropical Paradise

Tropical Paradise

Human history, and the history of planet Earth for that matter, is full of lost artifacts from a bygone era. Long before human beings walked the Earth, the very continents we now call home were moving and shifting, altering their landscapes along the way and in some cases disappearing altogether.

Anyone who has been through a history class in school, or has a particular proclivity for history, has heard of old continents and lost continents on planet Earth. Pangaea is the historical super-continent that dominated the landscape from 300 million years ago (formation) to 200 million years ago (separation). Pangaea was derived from the Ancient Greek terms Pan, meaning “entire,” and Gaia meaning “Earth.” The title was an appropriate one as it described a continent that consisted of all of Earth’s landmasses in one place, with a single ocean surrounding the entire continent.

Lost in the minds of many however is the history of Earth’s lost continents. As Pangaea, the last super-continent in Earth’s history, broke apart the continents we know today began to form. Their formation was not a model of perfection however. Over time some continents and micro-continents disappeared from the surface, never to be seen again. Atlantis might be the most popular of the lost continents, but it is little more than a classical tale with no proof of its existence or even true location.

A recent study by a team of international researchers discovered that the beaches of Seychelles and Mauritius hold the clues to the existence of a true lost continent that existed long before the formation of the last super continent, Pangaea. The results of the study were released on February 24, 2013 and pointed to the existence of soil fragments on Seychelles and Mauritius that predate the formation of the islands.

The super-continent of Rodinia contained most, if not all, of Earth’s landmasses and existed between 1.1 billion years ago and began to break apart 750 million years ago.

The lost continent is referred to as Mauritia and existed well before the last known super continent of Pangaea. Mauritia is believed to have existed between one billion and 850 million years ago. The continent existed at a time when another super-continent dominated the geographical landscape of Earth. Rodinia, along with Pangaea, is known as one of just two true super-continents to have existed in Earth’s past.

The super-continent of Rodinia contained most, if not all, of Earth’s landmasses and existed between 1.1 billion years ago and began to break apart 750 million years ago.

Below is a sample image of what Rodinia would have looked like. In the image, it is possible to see that during the existence of Rodinia the landmasses of modern day Madagascar and the Indian subcontinent were connected as one landmass. Included within this landmass was the micro-continent of Mauritia. A micro-continent is a landmass that is a fragment of another larger continent that has broken off during the process of plate tectonics.

As Rodinia began to break apart, Madagascar and India drifted away from one another and left the micro-continent of Mauritia behind. This micro-continent included the landmasses that would become Seychelles and Mauritius. So why is it that Seychelles and Mauritius are all that is left of a micro-continent that used to span 1500km and connect the two Indian Ocean neighbors? Plate tectonics is the answer. The forces of nature and the oceans exacted a harsh toll on Mauritia as Rodinia began to break apart. The landmass was being torn in multiple directions as the Earth shifted and adjusted. As landmasses moved around the surface of the planet, Mauritia was torn apart and eventually sank below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Mauritia was first theorised about during the early 19th century, but it wasn’t until grains of minerals on the beaches of Mauritius were analyzed that the existence of Mauritia became more factual than theoretical. The island nations of Seychelles and Mauritius contain grains of minerals on their beaches that differ from their general makeup.

The island nations of Seychelles, for example, is made up of granite and is considered a fragmented piece of continental crust standing alone in the Indian Ocean. After the team of researchers studied grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius, they found the mineral zircon. The zircon is believed to have been brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions that predate the 8.9 million year old islands as they stand today.

Scientists studied the zircon and determined that the mineral is between 1.9 billion and 600 million years old, vastly predating the oldest formations found on the islands today. The group of researchers drew the conclusion that these minerals, brought to the surface by volcanic eruption, came from the lost micro-continent of Mauritia. The researchers have concluded that Seychelles and Mauritius are the lone remnants of the micro-continent of Mauritia. As continental drift pulled Mauritia apart, only Seychelles and Mauritius remained above the Indian Ocean as the rest of the scattered pieces of the former continent sank beneath the waves.

Rodinia

Rodinia

Researchers with the international team stated that more research needs to be done to “discover” the lost parts of Mauritia beneath the Indian Ocean. However, it seems undeniable that these two tropical islands in the Indian Ocean are the last remnants of what used to be a larger, connected micro-continent in Earth’s past.

As if there wasn’t enough intrigue and beauty surrounding Seychelles and Mauritius, now residents and tourists alike can walk the beaches of these beautiful island nations and try to imagine a time when they were connected as part of a greater landmass now lost to history and the waves.