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William B Stoecker


June 14, 2014 | Comment icon 2 comments
Image Credit: Lloyd K. Townsend
The legend of Atlantis dates all the way back to Plato, and, according to Plato, the Greeks learned of Atlantis from the Egyptians. By contrast, the legend of a sunken continent in the Pacific was manufactured in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and parts of it appear to be completely fraudulent. And yet, as we shall see, there really are vast sunken lands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and there is circumstantial evidence that these lands, like the now-submerged lands in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, may have been home to an advanced civilization during the last major ice age.

Before proceeding any further, let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that continents actually sank in either region. Continents are generally made primarily of lighter granitic rock, as well as even less dense sedimentary and metamorphic rock, and “float” on the denser basalt of the lower crust. This generally makes it impossible for them to sink, although there are partial exceptions to this rule. In the extreme southern Indian Ocean there is the Kerguelen Plateau, a mini-continent that gradually sank below sea level some twenty million years ago; the fossil remains of trees have been found there. But the plateau was made of dense basalt, just like the sea floor crust, so it could not “float.” In the Pacific there was the larger continent of Zealandia, slightly larger than India, and made of a very thin layer of granite over a thicker layer of basalt. When the basalt gradually sank some 23 million years ago, it carried the granite with it; all that remains above sea level today are the islands of New Zealand.

Scientists in the nineteenth century, attempting to explain the existence of the primates known as lemurs in Madagascar and in southern India, but not elsewhere, postulated a now-sunken land bridge, which they named “Lemuria,” connecting the two regions. No land bridges of comparable length exist in the world today (Central America is the longest one now, and it is not nearly as long as Lemuria would have been). No submerged mountain chain lies between Madagascar and India. The Lemurian theory has been replaced by plate tectonics; Madagascar and India were once part of southeastern Africa, but the land rifted and they drifted northeast. Lemurs then appeared, and Madagascar rifted apart from India and remained behind while India sailed north, collided with Asia, and raised the Himalayas. At least that’s the theory.

“Madame” Helena Blavatsky, in the nineteenth century, seized on the idea of a land bridge and turned it into an entire continent, inhabited by the “Third Root Race,” the third of seven. Her followers Charles Webster Leadbeater and William Scott-Elliot extended Lemuria across the Indian Ocean and well into the Pacific. Inasmuch as all of this is based on a now-discredited theory to begin with, and there is no evidence for “root races,” and Blavatsky and her followers were a rather unsavory lot (she inspired Hitler, and her later successor, Alice Bailey, was an anti-Semite who admired Hitler and Stalin and worshipped a fallen angel called “Lucifer”) it is probably all nonsense. Nevertheless, the idea inspired Frederick Spencer Oliver in 1894 to claim that surviving Lemurians still dwell in tunnels under Mt. Shasta, an idea popularized by Guy Warren Ballard. Mt. Shasta is a dormant volcano made up of loose, unstable rock, most of it very hot. When I climbed the peak in 1976 I could smell the sulfur from the boiling fumaroles near the summit. All of this is nonsense piled on more nonsense.

Archaeologist Augustus Le Plongeon claimed in the late nineteenth century to have deciphered Mayan writings at Chichen Itza telling of a princess named “Moo” from an Atlantic continent called “Mu.” He had simply renamed Atlantis and added a few embellishments; there is no evidence that he really translated anything. Then James Churchward claimed to have translated “Naacal” tablets in India telling of a lost continent south of Hawaii, destroyed by volcanic eruptions, and he published The Lost Continent of Mu in 1926. He appears to have borrowed the name from Le Plongeon and simply moved the (apparently imaginary) continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is perhaps telling that “Mu” is also the second syllable of “Lemuria.” As for the Naacal tablets, no one else has ever seen them…rather like the original gold tablets supposedly containing The Book of Mormon. Then H. Spencer Lewis, a Rosicrucian, published Lemuria: The Lost Continent of the Pacific in 1931, reverting to the original name and simply moving Lemuria from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. He also claimed that Lemuria somehow touched or drifted against California, and it was he who started the Mt. Shasta story. Actually, there is evidence that various Pacific islands have drifted to California, forming much of the coastal region, but they did so millions of years ago, and none of them was a continent. Lewis’ story has all the earmarks of a complete fantasy.
And yet, during the last ice age, vast areas of the continental shelves and shallow regions near islands all over the world were exposed by sea levels up to 400 feet lower than today because so much water was locked up in the continental ice sheets. A fair amount of land existed in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, especially around the Bahamas and the Gulf Coast from Florida to Mexico, and around Yucatan. Ancient coral limestone was exposed and eroded by water to form caves and cenotes (sinkholes in Yucatan); all of these were rapidly submerged by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age, especially around 11,600 B.P. (Before the Present), which just “happens” to be the time Plato assigned to the sinking of Atlantis. As a scuba diver, I have myself swam under a natural arch 45 feet down off Yucatan, and through a cave 90 feet down off Isla Cozumel. These had to have been formed when the area was above sea level.

But all of these put together are dwarfed by the lands exposed off the coasts of India, and the even larger area around the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Indonesia and Malaysia, and between Australia and New Guinea (geologically, along with Tasmania, one continent). The Sunda Shelf, or Sundaland, around Malasia and Indonesia is larger than present day India. In addition, tens of thousands of square miles in what is now the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the Sea of Japan was dry land.

And there is evidence that at least some of the people living in these regions possessed fairly advanced cultures. When Europeans a few centuries ago “discovered” Australia and New Guinea, the natives seemed incredibly primitive. Many of the Australian aborigines were hunter-gatherers with no agriculture, and cannibalism was widespread in New Guinea. But even during the ice age these lands were separated from Sundaland by deep water channels, and could only have been reached by sea. Yet people were in Australia at least as far back as 60,000 B.P. (long before Europe’s Cro-Magnon culture appeared) and there is some evidence of much earlier settlement, with sites tentatively dated as far back as 120-185,000 B.P. These people seem to have had some similarities genetically and culturally to the Dravidians of southern India, and there is at least some evidence for advanced prehistoric civilizations there as well. And the remains of people closely related to Australian Aborigines have been found in the Americas. If these people were able to somehow cross the entire Pacific Ocean, perhaps we need to revise our opinion of them. Australians (and some Dravidians) also used boomerangs, which are sophisticated airfoils. And the natives of New Guinea were farming at least 10,000 years ago. The inhabitants of Thailand had agriculture by 12,000 B.P.

An apparent ancient site is on dry land in what is now Java, on the slopes of Mt. Padang. It has been tentatively dated to 12,000 B.P. and is made of “logs” of columnar basalt forming walls and a roof. Such stones, although already shaped by nature and fairly easy to separate from one another, tend to be very massive; moving them and lifting them into position would not be easy even with present day technology. Similar structures are found in shallow water and low-lying land at the site of Nan Madol on the Pacific island of Ponape. Underwater ruins are also found off the coasts of India, notably in the Bay of Cambay at a depth of some 120 feet; these have been carbon dated to 9,500 B.P. While carbon dating is not always accurate, the very depth of the ruins proves them to be incredibly ancient; they had to have been built when sea levels were lower than today. Stone walls and fired ceramics have been found there, along with seemingly “primitive” stone tools. What appear to be manmade structures are also found under the ocean at Yonaguni, near Okinawa; Robert Schoch, a geologist who is quite open to the possibility of prehistoric civilizations (he dated the Sphinx to over 9,000 B.P.) thinks they may be simply an unusual natural formation, but they look incredibly regular, with straight lines and precise 90 degree angles. There are also persistent rumors of ancient ruins on Maori tribal lands in New Zealand; supposedly the Maori and the New Zealand government are trying to keep them secret or at least prevent excavation and study…but these rumors are as yet unverified.

These and other ruins around the world, including 10,000 year old Jericho and the recently excavated stone sculptures at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, prove that advanced cultures existed far back in prehistory. No metal tools or weapons have been found in the oldest sites, nor any conclusive evidence of writing, but, so far, archaeology has barely scratched the surface of it all. Metals tend to corrode away, except for gold, which is always the first thing people will take with them when evacuating an area, and the first thing looters will take. I would also point out that a civilization could have advanced on an entirely different track than our own. It is possible, for example, to imagine a culture with no metal (and there may be magical reasons for avoiding the use of metal implements) but still having advanced architecture and agriculture. It is also possible for a hunter-gatherer society to build large and complex stone structures (that appears to be the case at Gobekli Tepe) or for an entire civilization to support itself by fishing, with little or no agriculture. We need to open our minds to the possibilities rather than imagining that every civilization must be like our own, perhaps more or less advanced than ours but on the same track.

So Mu/Lemuria may be a case of very bad “art” unknowingly imitating life. Comments (2)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Gold Star 10 years ago
If there is any kernel of truth to the Mu/Lemuria legends, the most likely place of origin would be the Malaysian-Indonesian-Philippine islands where there is some basis for believing in a former area of dry land about 75,000 years ago. Unfortunately, this is an area of numerous volcanic eruptions, some of global significance, which are invoked to explain the extreme weather changes of 536 AD, and of 1816 AD. Perhaps Mu/Lemuria succumbed to a series of gigantic eruptions, possibly triggered by a meteor or comet impact, leaving us more or less with the geography we have now.
Comment icon #2 Posted by hammerclaw 10 years ago
Lemuria /lɨˈmjʊəriə/[1] is the name of a hypothetical "lost land" variously located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The concept's 19th-century origins lie in attempts to account for discontinuities in biogeography; however, the concept of Lemuria has been rendered obsolete by modern theories of plate tectonics. Although sunken continents do exist – like Zealandia in the Pacific as well as Mauritia [2] and the Kerguelen Plateau in the Indian Ocean – there is no known geological formation under the Indian or Pacific Oceans that corresponds to the hypothetical Lemuria.[3] Though Lemuri... [More]

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