Long lost continent is FOUND off the coast of Australia: Landmass nearly twice the size


In the distant past, rising sea levels have hidden vast portions of our planet’s land that humans once called home. 

Now, scientists have found evidence of a lost continent off Australia’s northern coast that was home to half a million people around 70,000 years ago. 

This landmass, known as the North West Shelf, was around 1.6 times as large as the UK and contained archipelagos, lakes, rivers and a large inland sea.

The archipelagos were so large they could have acted as ‘stepping stones’ for migration from Indonesia into Australia, the experts say. 

Sadly, the North West Shelf was lost around 10,000 years ago when sea levels rose, and is now around 300 feet underwater in the Timor Sea. 

This landmass, known as the North West Shelf, was around 1.6 times as large as the UK and contained archipelagos, lakes, rivers and a large inland sea. The archipelagos were so large they could have acted as 'stepping stones' for migration from Indonesia into Australia

This landmass, known as the North West Shelf, was around 1.6 times as large as the UK and contained archipelagos, lakes, rivers and a large inland sea. The archipelagos were so large they could have acted as ‘stepping stones’ for migration from Indonesia into Australia

The submerged landscape now stretches between the Kimberley region (pictured) and Arnhem region of northern Australia

The submerged landscape now stretches between the Kimberley region (pictured) and Arnhem region of northern Australia

The new study was led by Kasih Norman, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Queensland. 

‘We reveal details of the complex landscape that existed on the North West Shelf of Australia,’ Norman and colleagues say. 

‘It was unlike any landscape found on our continent today.’ 

Around 18,000 years ago, the last ice age came to an end. 

Subsequent warming caused sea levels to rise and drown huge areas of the world’s continents, including a huge landmass that went around Australia. 

This landmass connected the Australian mainland with New Guinea and Tasmania – collectively now known as Sahul – but when the rise in sea levels occurred, parts flooded. 

This process split the supercontinent of Sahul into New Guinea and Australia, and cut Tasmania off from the mainland. 

Sahul’s North West Shelf in particular was a ‘vast, habitable realm’ and a ‘single cultural zone’ with similarities in ground stone-axe technology, styles of rock art and languages, the experts say. 

Sahul was a supercontinent made up of the present-day landmasses of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea

Sahul was a supercontinent made up of the present-day landmasses of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea 

Pictured, a modern-day example of an archipelago on a submerged continental shelf is the Åland Islands near Finland

Pictured, a modern-day example of an archipelago on a submerged continental shelf is the Åland Islands near Finland

What was Sahul? 

Sahul is the name given to the single Pleistocene-era continent which connected Australia with New Guinea and Tasmania.

After the last ice age, temperatures increased and sea levels gradually rose, flooding coastal parts of Sahul. 

Experts have studied North West Shelf, which is part of Sahul and submerged around 300 feet underwater. 

For the study, they analysed bathymetric data – information about the depths and shapes of underwater terrain – in the North West Shelf region. 

They also looked at historic sea level data to help estimate when the region was populated and when it was lost. 

Rapid global sea level rises between 14,500 to 14,100 years ago and 12,000 to 9,000 years ago resulted in the rapid inundation of about half of the North West Shelf with seawater, they reveal.  

Human populations would have witnessed an ‘encroaching coastline’ and retreated further into the Australian mainland. 

This resulted in an increase in populations at the Kimberley and Arnhem regions of northern Australia, evident in distinctive new rock art styles in both regions. 

The team also pointed to stone tools recently found on the sea floor off the coast of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. 

The now-drowned continental shelves of Australia were thought to be little-used by Indigenous people, but the new study suggests this is not the case. 

Pictured, similar styles of rock art in the Kimberley (left) and Arnhem (right) regions of northern Australia. It's possible they were produced by humans driven from North West Shelf as it became submerged

Pictured, similar styles of rock art in the Kimberley (left) and Arnhem (right) regions of northern Australia. It’s possible they were produced by humans driven from North West Shelf as it became submerged 

North West Shelf (indicated here by a dashed black box) was likely a 'single cultural zone' with similarities in ground stone-axe technology and styles of rock art. Pictured, early axe technology found in Australia within and outside of the North West Shelf region

North West Shelf (indicated here by a dashed black box) was likely a ‘single cultural zone’ with similarities in ground stone-axe technology and styles of rock art. Pictured, early axe technology found in Australia within and outside of the North West Shelf region 

If they were anything like North West Shelf, they were ‘rich ecosystems’ with impressive populations similar to today’s towns and cities. 

‘Our ecological modelling reveals the now-drowned North West Shelf could have supported between 50,000 and 500,000 people at various times over the last 65,000 years,’ the team say.

‘The population would have peaked at the height of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, when the entire shelf was dry land.

‘Many large islands off Australia’s coast – islands that once formed part of the continental shelves – show signs of occupation before sea levels rose.’  

The study has been published study in Quaternary Science Reviews

BRITAIN DURING THE LAST ICE AGE

The last Glacial Maximum was around 22,000 years ago when much of Europe was covered in ice.

During the ice age, which ended about 11,500 years ago, ice covered about 30 per cent of the land in the world.

In Britain, glacial ice and waterflows spread as far south as the Bristol Channel.

Average temperatures were 5°C (8°F) colder than they are today, allowing a one-kilometre-thick sheet of ice to cover much of the country.

The temperature remained below 0°C all year round in northern regions, particularly Scotland, allowing the sheet to remain on the land all year.

Ice connected Britain with Scandinavia, allowing a host of large wildlife to roam free between the UK and mainland Europe.

During this period Britain would have seen the likes of woolly mammoths, giant deer and wolves roaming its icy planes.

Large glacial lakes covered Manchester, Doncaster, Newcastle and Peterborough and much of the country was uninhabitable for humans.

Corridors of fast flowing ice, known as ice streams, flowed toward the east over Edinburgh and toward the west of Glasgow.

All of Ireland was covered in ice, which was flowing through the Irish sea where it met Welsh ice and then flowed south toward the Isles of Scilly.

Much of Scotland, Wales, the midlands and northern England was covered in perpetual ice.

Cambridge, which was covered by a huge glacial lake, was the most southern region to be heavily affected by the icy climate.

Over time the ice and its hefty waterflows carved out the land of Britain, forming geological scars that can still be seen today.

These include glacial ridges sculpted by moving ice and winding flows of rock that travelled for miles across the country.



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