National Geographic News
A submersible takes a rock sample from the seafloor near Brazil.

A manned research submersible takes a rock sample from the seafloor near Brazil.

Video still courtesy CPRM

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

Published May 9, 2013

A lost continent off the coast of Brazil may have been found, scientists announced this week.

Granite boulders dredged from the seafloor off the coast of South America two years ago could be remnants of a long-vanished continent, according to Roberto Ventura Santos, the geology director of Brazil's Geology Service.

"This could be the Brazilian Atlantis," Santos told reporters, adding that he was speaking metaphorically and not claiming to have found the legendary sunken world. "Obviously, we don't expect to find a lost city in the middle of the Atlantic," he said.

Santos and his team speculated that the granite—a relatively low-density rock found in continental crust—belonged to a continent that was submerged when Africa and South America drifted apart and formed the Atlantic Ocean about 100 million years ago.

But Michael Wysession, an Earth and planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that granite can find its way onto the seafloor through other means. "There are pieces of granite in the middle of the seafloor that date to about 800 million years ago when we had a snowball Earth scenario and there were large pieces of rock embedded in ice rafts"—mobile glaciers, essentially—"all over the ocean," explained Wysession, who was not part of the discovery. "As those ice rafts were melting, large blocks of rock dropped down all over the seafloor."

Wysession thinks that because the ocean floor has been extensively mapped with satellites, it is unlikely that evidence for any major lost continent will be found. "There's nothing that big that's hidden down there," he said.

The Atlantis-like lost, hidden, or fantastic world is a common theme in fiction. There are J. R. R. Tolkein's Middle Earth and James Hilton's Shangri-La, not to mention Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. The original lost land, Atlantis, was first mentioned by Plato around 360 B.C. According to Plato, Atlantis sank into the earth and drowned beneath the seas. Real continents rarely disappear in such dramatic fashion. "Continents by definition are made of low-density rock and cannot be subducted deep into the earth," explained Staci Loewy, a geologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nonetheless, there are real "lost lands" like the Brazilian "Atlantis" that have disappeared from view because of rising seas or the geological upheavals of plate tectonics and erosion. "Parts of continents can be worn down by erosion, and fragments can be broken off and isolated as microcontinents when larger continents break apart," Loewy said.

Here are some actual "lost lands" discovered by science.

Pangaea

A supercontinent believed to have formed around 300 million years ago, Pangaea was an enormous landmass that later broke up to eventually form the continents we know today.

Scientists now think several other supercontinents—such as Kenorland, Columbia, and Rodinia—existed before Pangaea, but the shapes of these ancient land masses are unclear.

Rodinia, for example, was a supercontinent thought to have been formed about one billion years ago; it's believed that it subsequently broke apart to form Pangaea.

"Those pieces are now part of the modern continents, but they have been significantly altered by one billion years of plate tectonics and erosion such that reconstructing the supercontinent of Rodinia is very difficult," explained Loewy.

While they appear stationary, Earth's landmasses shift around over geologic time, carried across the planet's surface by the slow, grinding movement of enormous, shell-like plates.

"The surface of the earth is made up of a rigid layer called the lithosphere; the lithosphere is broken into numerous pieces referred to as tectonic plates," Loewy explained.

"These plates move around the surface of the Earth, colliding into each other, creating mountains such as the Himalaya and Andes; pulling apart from each other, creating volcanic ridges in the middle of oceans like the mid-Atlantic Ridge; and sliding past each other, such as in the San Andreas Fault in California."

Mauritia

Scientists earlier this year announced that they had found evidence of a drowned "microcontinent" off the coast of Africa, near the island of Mauritius.

Sand grains from Mauritius's beaches were found to contain fragments of the mineral zircon that were between 660 and 2 billion years old—far older than the island itself.

One theory is that the sand grains are remnants of Mauritia, a lost microcontinent that once existed off the coast of Africa and which was submerged when India broke apart from Madagascar about 85 million years ago.

Microcontinents are shards of land broken off from continents and supercontinents. The distinctions among the three aren't clear-cut, however, and labeling a landmass a continent or microcontinent can be arbitrary since there are no precise size requirements for each term.

New Zealand, for example, is actually part of a large continental structure that includes the Campbell Plateau. "It's not all that different in size from Australia, but because most of it is underwater, we call Australia a continent and New Zealand an island," Wysession said.

Microcontinents can also merge into larger structures. For example, "the north African edge of the supercontinent Gondwana broke up into slices like the pieces of an apple, and each of those [microcontinents] moved north to form southern Europe," explained Louis Jacobs, a paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Beringia

Though Asia and North America are now separated by a thin strait, it is very shallow—about 150 feet (46 meters) deep—and when sea levels are low, such as during ice ages, the two continents are connected by a land bridge known as Beringia.

According to a controversial theory, humans heading east after leaving Asia some 40,000 years ago found their way blocked by glaciers and were forced to settle in Beringia for thousands of years until conditions thawed enough for them to continue to North America.

Less contentious is the theory "that the Clovis people came over from Siberia to North America about 14,000 years ago," Wysession said.

Scotland's Hidden Landscape

In 2011, geologists studying ocean-mapping data stumbled upon a previously unknown landscape now buried beneath more than a mile of marine sediment off the coast of Scotland.

The hidden landscape, which had an estimated area of about 3,861 square miles (10,000 square kilometers), had furrows cut by rivers and peaks that were once part of mountains.

Scientists think it was briefly elevated above the waves by geological processes about 55 million years ago but became submerged again after about 2.5 million years.

32 comments
Prabu K
Prabu K

Very Interesting post, i love the comments shared by people. I'm from Tamilnadu-India. our literatures were wrote long ago (thousands of years back) .if we see 'Thirukkural', concepts explained in that would be impossible for a person to write in one life. it should be a book complied by various authors, but today we dont have any evidence of who wrote it. 'Tholkappiyam' seems to be the oldest found book written in tamil, but that too have a thousands of words and way people should live. again a person to get knowledge/maturity to write such a book should have few more thousands of years of civilization. in a pre-historic novel 'silapathigaarm' author mentioned 'Kannagi destoryed entire madurai as her husband was sentenced to death by king, which was actually a misjudgement'. Kannagi is a femine lead role and madurai is a place. 

what we say as 2000 years is just 20 generations. my personal opinion is people cannot get civilized to write such huge books (also the matured contents) in 20 generations. these must be created way back, but without evidence, nothing can be proved :(

I would like to know more about Lemuria, please let me know any research paper on that topic.

Perparim Zaimi
Perparim Zaimi

Island of Atlantis or lost continent had existed. Atlantis and Empire of Atlantean had been a physical and historical reality. I respect all efforts of researchers up to now ,but there are physical evidences which confirm that wise Plato was right in his dialogues . If someone is interested to check my Facebook will see that on June 2013 was published my book "Atlantis ,Empire of Atlantean and Albanians " (discovery of sunken island ),which fully confirms the real location of sunken continent Atlantis. The subsidence of Atlantis had happened at least 12.000 years ago. 

Jason Plummer
Jason Plummer

Atlantis was a community based around a political system that is discussed in the Timaeus; the ringed segements of society based on one island. I'm of the opinion that ancient Thera, modern Santorini, was the source of inspiration for the Atlantis that Plato describes. Aspects of Minoan civilisation still remain a mystery to us today. (linear A remains untranslated). But we need only look at the site of Akrotiri on Santorini to realise what a truly inspiring culture existed in this period before the Volcanic eruption lead to the possible Dorian migration onto mainland Greece and the subsequent Dark Age that followed.

Robert Slater
Robert Slater

I think the theory of the earth is actually growing, and that it was much smaller in the past, and the expansion of the earth as it grows, it what causes the so called shifting of the continents, (in other words instead of shifting, they are moving across the crust of the earth as it grows, which in turn would break a super continent apart into smaller continents, and as the earth continues to grow, their would continue to be earthquakes, and weather changes, etc... as is happening, and has always happened ont his planet.

Kurt Stallings
Kurt Stallings

Mu is the legendary lost continent that would have fit the archaeologist’s whimsy a bit more closely but he can’t be faulted for lacking a background in folklore. It’s not his job.

In the interest of rigor in discussing literature and myth, however, we should distinguish between lands intended to be and received as artifacts of fiction – Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a pain-staking construction from myth and archetype, or Carroll’s Wonderland, a social and political satire – and lands whose fascination derives from the fancy that they once existed. At best, those stories are evolved memories of past gradual inundations (e.g., Zealandia or Doggerland) upon which have been grafted morality tales usually about human hubris (e.g., Atlantis).

Atlantis illustrates an instance in which one man’s gifted ability to capture thought from rumors of past disaster melded into moral myth-making has gotten a bit out of hand. No one, for instance, would be anything but surprised to find the skeletons in Plato’s cave. His form is unquestioned in that instance.

Much more accurate comparisons to contemporary “lost land” notions of Atlantis would include Breasil (also, "Bresel"); El Dorado; Lemuria / Rutas; Lyonesse; Mu; Ys; or the lost city of "Z,” the search for which had an impressive track record for tempting English explorers to the death in the jungle in the recent past.

And we will, inevitably, always, have the “Hollow Earth,” with its profound psychological undertones, serving perhaps as the best bridge between “lost lands” and the countries of imagination, fueling everything from the Ahnebnerbe’s fascination with the entrance to Thule to the DEROS stories publishing by Ray Palmer in post-War Los Angeles.

Kurt Stallings
Kurt Stallings

Mu is the legendary lost continent that would have fit the archaeologist’s whimsy a bit more closely but he can’t be faulted for lacking a background in folklore. It’s not his job.

In the interest of rigor in discussing literature and myth, however, we should distinguish between lands intended to be and received as artifacts of fiction – Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a pain-staking construction from myth and archetype, or Carroll’s Wonderland, a social and political satire – and lands whose fascination derives from the fancy that they once existed. At best, those stories are evolved memories of past gradual inundations (e.g., Zealandia or Doggerland) upon which have been grafted morality tales usually about human hubris (e.g., Atlantis).

Atlantis illustrates an instance in which one man’s gifted ability to capture thought from rumors of past disaster melded into moral myth-making has gotten a bit out of hand. No one, for instance, would be anything but surprised to find the skeletons in Plato’s cave. His form is unquestioned in that instance.

Much more accurate comparisons to contemporary “lost land” notions of Atlantis would include Breasil (also, "Bresel"); El Dorado; Lemuria / Rutas; Lyonesse; Mu; Ys; or the lost city of "Z,” the search for which had an impressive track record for tempting English explorers to the death in the jungle in the recent past.

And we will, inevitably, always, have the “Hollow Earth,” with its profound psychological undertones, serving perhaps as the best bridge between “lost lands” and the countries of imagination, fueling everything from the Ahnebnerbe’s fascination with the entrance to Thule to the DEROS stories publishing by Ray Palmer in post-War Los Angeles.

Kurt Stallings
Kurt Stallings

Mu is the legendary lost continent that would have fit the archaeologist’s whimsy a bit more closely but he can’t be faulted for lacking a background in folklore. It’s not his job.

In the interest of rigor in discussing literature and myth, however, we should distinguish between lands intended to be and received as artifacts of fiction – Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a pain-staking construction from myth and archetype, or Carroll’s Wonderland, a social and political satire – and lands whose fascination derives from the fancy that they once existed. At best, those stories are evolved memories of past gradual inundations (e.g., Zealandia or Doggerland) upon which have been grafted morality tales usually about human hubris (e.g., Atlantis).

Atlantis illustrates an instance in which one man’s gifted ability to capture thought from rumors of past disaster melded into moral myth-making has gotten a bit out of hand. No one, for instance, would be anything but surprised to find the skeletons in Plato’s cave. His form is unquestioned in that instance.

Much more accurate comparisons to contemporary “lost land” notions of Atlantis would include Breasil (also, "Bresel"); El Dorado; Lemuria / Rutas; Lyonesse; Mu; Ys; or the lost city of "Z,” the search for which had an impressive track record for tempting English explorers to the death in the jungle in the recent past.

And we will, inevitably, always, have the “Hollow Earth,” with its profound psychological undertones, serving perhaps as the best bridge between “lost lands” and the countries of imagination, fueling everything from the Ahnebnerbe’s fascination with the entrance to Thule to the DEROS stories publishing by Ray Palmer in post-War Los Angeles.

Arnold Canup
Arnold Canup

In search of Iva

    If light is a wave, If the human body gives off electromagnetic radiation and the universe is expanding, Yes we can go back in time and be vary accurate due to our verification of mathematics. (Scientific American, Martin Gardner, Capture the monster, Oct 1980)

Henry Carter
Henry Carter

This is hard for me to but into words about some of the theories we have about the Earth. But this one started when the first map of the world was made and they came up with the plates, what was true. But as for them all starting off as one land mass now that I do not see. I have never seen a theory on how these plates first formed or how, if there is one please let me know. But the world as we have now is always changing, as the very life that lives on it. In some of the plate theory it shows how different animals moved from one to the other, why not the early form of humans. You would have to think that if different kinds of animals formed and grew as they did so would the human race, not being stuck in one place. Over time the shorelines have changed to match the flow of the ocean currents, so over the 800 million years yes they are going to look like they match up. Should not the soil and rocks on the east coast of one continent be the same as the west coast of the other. The Earth is like a living being it breaths and as it does one part will lift up were as the other will lower. Yes the plates do move and make mountains and trenches, But with the current theory you would have to think that now they would be much bigger then they are now. 

Henry Carter
Henry Carter

The theory of continental drift is not correct, for if it was to of happened you would think it would still be happening today. In the way are earthquakes should be much stronger then what we have, plus you would think that the ocean floors would not be mostly smooth with only the odd trench and mountain range here and there. Yes the continents do move but not the thousands of miles that it is said they have moved but only hundreds. We have no real way of saying that this is part of that, the coast lines may look like they fit together but can not that be only by chance. If all the continents where at one time one then we would see the same kind of rocks on or close to all the shorelines but in truth they are all different.

or pernik
or pernik

Hello I am the or and I really like to read articles related to Atlantis and have an opinion:When continents: South America and Africa were connected, the city of Atlantis was their connection line and while these continents broke up, the city of Atlantis was no connection to the mainland and is drowned in water.

ruark jan
ruark jan

the bulk of the history of this planet is forever shrouded in the weaves of time. unless a time machine is invented, or there is some record being kept about earth in some extra terrestrial database, we won't ever know what actually happened. there is only so much knowledge that can be extracted through means of geology, and far less that is properly interpreted by man's fledgling science. nevertheless, it's good to maintain a bit of mystery to the world. keeps the imaginations working.

Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams

Atlantis was only a city, not a continent.  There's plenty of precedent for cities sinking beneath the waves (Heracleum for one).   Although only a legend in Plato's time,  there is usually a back story to legends.......

Robert Slater
Robert Slater

@Kurt Stallings In regards to myths, Troy was considered a myth and yet was found, and Agartha of India has recently been found, and there are hundreds if not more places under the ocean, and the mediteranean that have been discovered due to new satellite technology, and even on land such as in Egypt, where they now know that there are numerous places under the sands to be uncovered. So many new and upcoming scientists and archeologists are learning that our history as has been put forth has not been correct, since most of the so called myths were ignored, and yet are now being found. I would suggest more research is needed prior to subjectively deciding that all myths are only myths.

Josh Bigler
Josh Bigler

@Henry Carter "In the way are earthquakes should be much stronger then what we have" the 2004 tsunami was caused by a MASSIVE earthquake. I heard that it was soo powerful that is acualy shifted the earths axis by 4 inchs. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/12/japan.earthquake.tsunami.earth/index.html .
The largest we have seen in recorded human history (if im not mistaken). These earthquakes according to scientists are happening more often and are slowly getting much stronger as the continents drift. Also the fact that parts of earths continents match almost perfectly to others cant be just a coincidence.

Zen Galacticore
Zen Galacticore

@Henry Carter- It is still happening today. The continents move thousands of miles over tens of millions of years. Humans or well, proto-humans, have only been around for about 3 million years.

S. Howarth
S. Howarth

@Henry Carter We're not talking overnight here. Don't expect to see it happening now from your window. This is millions of years of sculpting and can be explained scientifically. You need to do more research before discrediting facts.

Zen Galacticore
Zen Galacticore

@or pernik Plato's "Atlantis" was probably a dim Greek memory of the destruction of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, somewhere around 1,000 years before Plato was born. Because of a major earthquake, the Minoan capital (and other parts of the island) were submerged under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Over time, the story became embellished, and a small but significant part of a small island was lost to the sea, and with the embellishment, the small island became an entire continent.

Zen Galacticore
Zen Galacticore

@ruark jan Science is a self-correcting discipline. While there is only so much knowledge that can be extracted or gleaned at any one time, without geology and the other sciences we wouldn't know hardly anything factual about natural world, its nature and its history.

To paraphrase the late Carl Sagan, "we see farther than our ancestors only because we stand on their shoulders".

Kristopher Fjeldos
Kristopher Fjeldos

Light has memory. All we need to do is create an instrument that could extract the invisible noise that light changes when light comes in contact with new spectrum. Light gives of noise frequencies and that is how we see. If we could see light from long ago? Where could we find it? It's in the light noise not the light itself. That is how we will go to the past, light noise capture.

Lucy Bonnington
Lucy Bonnington

@ruark jan 

I love your phrase, "the weaves of time."

I do think, however, that geology and man's fledgling science do a pretty good job, all in all. 

And finally, mystery and keeping the imaginations working is what compels scientists to keep going. 

Greetings from Texas.


Zen Galacticore
Zen Galacticore

@Bruce Williams Like the earthquake catastrophe that destroyed the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete and its capital city, just south of the Greek peninsula. This is most likely Plato's "Atlantis".

Erica Emry
Erica Emry

@Josh Bigler @Henry Carter To Henry Carter:  In the geological community, we now refer to the idea first proposed as "continental drift" as plate tectonics.  Continental drift was proposed in the early 1900s by Alfred Wegener based on the landmasses of Africa and South America, not only that they look like they were once connected, but also that they have similar fossils (millions of years old) on both continents - species that have long since become extinct (that powerpoint presentation from Peter Bonkemeyer has many good maps/illustrations of this).  

One of the major criticisms of Wegener's theory (by the scientists at the time) was that the mechanisms he proposed to explain the breaking apart and moving continents were not convincing enough.  But only about 50 years later, the use of geophysical mapping of the ocean floors revealed that the seafloor was spreading apart - the cooled volcanic rocks at the mid-ocean ridge moves outward from the ridge as new rock forms there.  So the rocks that are farther from the ridge are older than the rocks near the center.  This was sort of the smoking-gun mechanism that Wegener needed in his Continental Drift theory (unfortunately he did not live to see it).  There are still some unanswered questions about the smaller details of this process - but this theory of plate tectonics (which replaces the earlier continental drift theory) is quite robust (contrary to the Neal Adams video posted above.... this isn't a conspiracy that all scientists are taking part of!!!!).  Not in question.  I recommend checking out some more about the history of continental drift & plate tectonics, because it is quite fascinating!  

To Josh Bigler:  Just a small point, it seemed as if you were saying that earthquakes are getting larger by citing the recent Sumatra (2004) and Tohoku (2011) earthquakes - and I'm not sure of what your time-scale for that statement is.  But I want to clarify that we have had great magnitude (9+) earthquakes for a long time - just so there is no doomsday-like panic about giant earthquakes - like a certain made-for-TV movie ...10.5  ;-).  The largest recorded earthquake was in 1960 in Chile, and the 2nd largest recorded earthquake was in 1964 in Alaska.  We have *certainly* had great magnitude earthquakes before this, there is evidence for a similarly great earthquake beneath the Pacific Northwest ~1700 A.D. (only recorded through oral traditions of the native people and in tsunami-created sediment deposits).  The seismological community is quite young, in fact.  We've only have had consistent world-wide coverage of seismometers since about the 1950s.  We had VERY FEW seismometers around the world before about 1900.  So all of our understanding of the earthquakes that happened before 1900 is very imperfect, and based on some randomly placed seismometers, written historical records of strong shaking or tsunamis (Japan or Europe), stories of strong shaking or great flooding (Pacific Northwest is one example), and sedimentary deposits that are created by either tsunamis or by strong shaking (this is a field called paleoseismology).  If you're interested in some non-technical writing about seismology, I like a lot of the books written by Susan Hough at the USGS (or you can always hit up the numerous wikipedia pages about the subject!)

Susan Mc
Susan Mc

@Zen Galacticore @Bruce Williams Another theory that was popular in geography class is that Plato was referring to the island of Thera (now called Santorini).  In the Bronze Age, a volcanic eruption created the cool caldera. Because Plato called it a continent and also an island, Thera is a favorite of archaelogists for

Robert Slater
Robert Slater

@Susan Mc @Zen Galacticore @Bruce Williams If Plato was referreing to the island of Thera  he would not have stated that Atlantis was outside of the pillars of hercules which most everyone knows was not around Italy, but was and is the straits of Gibralter. Therefore Atlantis was in the Atlantic Ocean, not int he mediterranean! I believe the theory of the earth actually growing, in stead of just shifting, would account for great landmasses disappearing under the oceans, and there are numerous cities being found off of the coasts around the world that are underwater, which would mean that they were around prior to the icea age melting!

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