Gondwanaland – Ancient Supercontinent

Map of Laurasia and GondwanaGondwanaland, or just Gondwana, was a supercontinent which existed from about 550 million years ago to just 180 million years ago. At its largest, the continent was close to 40 million square miles and took up almost a fifth of the Earth’s surface. It was made up of the landmasses which now make up most of Africa, India, South America, Australia, and Antarctica. Today, roughly two thirds of the land on Earth comes from what was Gondwana.

Gondwana was in the Southern hemisphere, stretching all the way from near the Equator to the South Pole. At this time, however, the South Pole was free of ice. The Earth was in a hot period, which meant that sea levels were higher and the land was tropical. Gondwana was home to a wide variety of plants and amphibians.

 

Map of GondwanaAt the time when Gondwanaland was newly formed, multi-cellular life was just beginning. At this point, it wasn’t complex. Organisms such as worms and jellyfish were the most complex animals on the planet. At 300 million years ago, Gondwana merged with Pangaea, and large reptiles lived in the sea and on land. The continent finally broke away from Pangaea and became Gondwana again a few million years later. At this time, the remaining landmass that wasn’t part of Gondwanaland was called Laurasia. At 180 million years ago, it was the Jurassic Period, the time of some of the most well-known dinosaurs like Velociraptor, Bracchiosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The incredible time and progress of evolution that occurred on Gondwanaland is staggering to think about.

 

The theory of a supercontinent was first proposed by an Austrian geologist by the name of Eduard Suess. He discovered similar fern fossils in South America, Africa, and India. Fossils of these same ferns were later discovered in Antarctica, as well. At the time he made this discovery, the middle of the 19th century, nobody knew about tectonic plates or continental drift. His hypothesis to explain the similar fossils was that the sea had at one point receded to such a degree that there was dry land connecting the separate continents, allowing for the exchange of lifeforms. The name Gondwanaland comes from a region of India called “Gondwana” in which he made part of the important discovery.

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