While conspiracy theorists were busy speculating about Atlantis, there was a much, much bigger fish just waiting to be fried. An international team of scientists have just discovered proof of a "lost continent" that left traces on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean before it disappeared.
The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) issued a press release claiming that the sunken continent first formed about 200 million years ago. It was the result of the supercontinent Gondwana being broken apart by tectonic forces.
Lewis Ashwal, the study's lead author, claims that the team's first clue as to the existence of the hidden continent came during a survey of zircon deposits on Mauritius. When they dated the zircon, they found that some of it was far too old to have been originally formed on the island. Mauritrius's native zircon is about nine million years old. The sample they studied was about three billion.
The zircon in question was collected from beneath young lava deposits which preserved it from erosion.
Zircons tend to contain a lot of useful information for geologists. They are very strong and stand up well to erosion and other deleterious weather influences. They also usually contain some amount of lead, uranium and thorium, which make them easy to date accurately.
According to Ashwal, the zircons they found could only have come from a continent. He also asserts that there must be deposits of older "crustal" minerals beneath the island.
Mauritius Zircon - sciencealert.com
Back in 2013, researchers were puzzled when they found traces of zircon in sand taken from Mauritius's beaches. The scientists speculated that the sand may have been contaminated by external sources, or their research methodology may have been flawed. Now, the most plausible explanation is that the zircon was deposited from the unseen continent.
Ashwal's study doesn't have to account for these possibilities, because their sample had remained sealed under lava deposit for about six million years. The new research appears to support the validity of the 2013 study.
Ashwal also speculates that there are probably geological traces of the lost continent to be found in other sites around the Indian Ocean. As Gondwana splintered, it likely deposited pieces of itself across the Indian Ocean basin.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. It's huge news in the geological community.
Next time you bring your metal detector to the beach, the real treasure might not be buried in the sand. It might be the sand itself.