A team of geologists from South Africa has discovered an ancient lost continent at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, beneath the island of Mauritius, according to Nature.
Mauritius is an African island nation located in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers off the southeast coast of the African continent. It is known for its charming beaches, lagoons, and reefs.
The continent “Mauritia” is estimated to have broken off from Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that broke into distinct land masses forming what is now referred to as the continents of Africa, Australia, Antarctica, India, and South America some 200 million years ago.
“Our findings confirm the existence of continental crust beneath Mauritius and document, for the first time, the presence of Archaean zircons as xenocrysts in young volcanic rocks from ocean basin settings,” the report reads.
Younger zircons or important gemstones have previously been found in young Icelandic basalts, including Proterozoic zircons that were recovered from Silhouette Island in Seychelles, according to Lewis Ashwal, the lead author of the report.
How It Happened
Ashwal and his team propose that Mauritius and other potential fragments of the Mauritian continent, collectively referred to as Mauritia, are dominantly underlain by Archaean (the early Precambrian time period when researchers say there was no life on earth) continental crust, forming part of the ancient nucleus of Madagascar and India.
The team further reports that the newly discovered continent acted as the buffer zone between the western Indian subcontinent and eastern Madagascar and was fragmented by several tectonic and volcanic events that happened in the region since the early Cretaceous.
They suggest that a shear zone must have occurred between India and Madagascar, moving India northward relative to Madagascar. This movement then led to convergence between northwestern India and Somalia.
Mauritia was subsequently fragmented into a ribbon-like configuration by a series of mid-ocean ridge jumps and was blanketed by subsequent volcanic activities in the region.
Zircon crystals of similar age had previously been discovered on the beaches of Mauritius, but critics argue that they could have been blown on to the island from elsewhere.
However, Ashwal and his team say they thoroughly examined the crystals obtained from volcanic rocks to ensure that the zircon elements found on them had only emerged from volcanic eruptions.
Aside from ensuring the crystals it collected were not contaminated with other rocks, the team used a special laboratory in Germany, which had never processed zircons before, to eliminate any likelihood of adulteration.
“We exclude any possibility of having contaminated sample MAU-8 with foreign zircons during laboratory procedures: during the preceding decade, no samples of Archaean age had been processed,” Ashwal writes.
Watch a video on Mauritia here: