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Evidence supplied by Geology and by the relative distribution of living and extinct Animals and Plants

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p. 1

The Lost Lemuria

Evidence supplied by Geology and by the relative distribution of living and extinct Animals and Plants.

It is generally recognised by science that what is now dry land, on the surface of our globe, was once the ocean floor, and that what is now the ocean floor was once dry land. Geologists have in some cases been able to specify the exact portions of the earth's surface where these subsidences and upheavals have taken place, and although the lost continent of Atlantis has so far received scant recognition from the world of science, the general concensus of opinion has for long pointed to the existence, at some prehistoric time, of a vast southern continent to which the name of Lemuria has been assigned.

"The history of the earth's development shows us that the distribution of land and water on its surface is ever and continually changing. In consequence of geological changes of the earth's crust, elevations and depressions of the ground take place everywhere, sometimes more strongly marked in one place, sometimes in another. Even if they happen so slowly that in the course of centuries the seashore rises or sinks only a few inches, or even only a few lines, still they nevertheless effect great results in the course of long periods of time. And long--immeasurably long--periods of time have not been wanting in the earth's history. During the course of many millions of years, ever since organic life existed on the earth, land and water have perpetually struggled for supremacy. Continents and islands have sunk into the sea, and

p. 2

new ones have arisen out of its bosom. Lakes and seas have been slowly raised and dried up, and new water basins have arisen by the sinking of the ground. Peninsulas have become islands by the narrow neck of land which connected them with the mainland sinking into the water. The islands of an archipelago have become the peaks of a continuous chain of mountains by the whole floor of their sea being considerably raised.

"Thus the Mediterranean at one time was an inland sea, when in the place of the Straits of Gibraltar, an isthmus connected Africa with Spain. England even during the more recent history of the earth, when man already existed, has repeatedly been connected with the European continent and been repeatedly separated from it. Nay, even Europe and North America have been directly connected. The South Sea at one time formed a large Pacific Continent, and the numerous little islands which now lie scattered in it were simply the highest peaks of the mountains covering that continent. The Indian Ocean formed a continent which extended from the Sunda Islands along the southern coast of Asia to the east coast of Africa. This large continent of former times Sclater, an Englishman, has called Lemuria, from the monkey-like animals which inhabited it, and it is at the same time of great importance from being the probable cradle of the human race, which in all likelihood here first developed out of anthropoid apes. 1 The important proof which Alfred Wallace has furnished, by the help of chorological facts, that the present Malayan Archipelago consists in reality of two completely different divisions, is particularly interesting. The western division, the Indo-Malayan Archipelago, comprising the large islands of

p. 3

[paragraph continues] Borneo, Java and Sumatra, was formerly connected by Malacca with the Asiatic continent, and probably also with the Lemurian continent just mentioned. The eastern division on the other hand, the Austro-Malayan Archipelago, comprising Celebes, the Moluccas, New Guinea, Solomon's Islands, etc., was formerly directly connected with Australia. Both divisions were formerly two continents separated by a strait, but they have now for the most part sunk below the level of the sea. Wallace, solely on the ground of his accurate chorological observations, has been able in the most accurate manner to determine the position of this former strait, the south end of which passes between Balij and Lombok.

"Thus, ever since liquid water existed on the earth, the boundaries of water and land have eternally changed, and we may assert that the outlines of continents and islands have never remained for an hour, nay, even for a minute, exactly the same. For the waves eternally and perpetually break on the edge of the coast, and whatever the land in these places loses in extent, it gains in other places by the accumulation of mud, which condenses into solid stone and again rises above the level of the sea as new land. Nothing can be more erroneous than the idea of a firm and unchangeable outline of our continents, such as is impressed upon us in early youth by defective lessons on geography, which are devoid of a geological basis." 1

The name Lemuria, as above stated, was originally adopted by Mr. Sclater in recognition of the fact that it was probably on this continent that animals of the Lemuroid type were developed.

"This," writes A. R. Wallace, "is undoubtedly a legitimate and highly probable supposition, and it is an example of the way in which a study of the geographical distribution of animals may enable us to reconstruct the geography of a bygone age. . . .

p. 4

[paragraph continues] It [this continent] represents what was probably a primary zoological region in some past geological epoch; but what that epoch was and what were the limits of the region in question, we are quite unable to say. If we are to suppose that it comprised the whole area now inhabited by Lemuroid animals, we must make it extend from West Africa to Burmah, South China and Celebes, an area which it possibly did once occupy." 1

"We have already had occasion," he elsewhere writes, "to refer to an ancient connection between this sub-region (the Ethiopian) and Madagascar, in order to explain the distribution of the Lemurine type, and some other curious affinities between the two countries. This view is supported by the geology of India, which shows us Ceylon and South India consisting mainly of granite and old-metamorphic rocks, while the greater part of the peninsula is of tertiary formation, with a few isolated patches of secondary rocks. It is evident, therefore, that during much of the tertiary period, 2 Ceylon and South India were bounded on the north by a considerable extent of sea, and probably formed part of an extensive Southern Continent or great island. The very numerous and remarkable cases of affinity with Malaya, require, however, some closer approximation with these islands, which probably occurred at a later period. When, still later, the great plains and tablelands of Hindostan were formed, and a permanent land communication effected with the rich and highly developed Himalo-Chinese fauna, a rapid immigration of new types took place, and many of the less

p. 5

specialised forms of mammalia and birds became extinct. Among reptiles and insects the competition was less severe, or the older forms were too well adapted to local conditions to be expelled; so that it is among these groups alone that we find any considerable number of what are probably the remains of the ancient fauna of a now submerged Southern Continent." 1

After stating that during the whole of the tertiary and perhaps during much of the secondary periods, the great land masses of the earth were probably situated in the Northern Hemisphere, Wallace proceeds, "In the Southern Hemisphere there appear to have been three considerable and very ancient land masses, varying in extent from time to time, but always keeping distinct from each other, and represented more or less completely by Australia, South Africa and South America of our time. Into these flowed successive waves of life as they each in turn became temporarily united with some part of the Northern land." 2

Although, apparently in vindication of some conclusions of his which had been criticised by Dr. Hartlaub, Wallace subsequently denied the necessity of postulating the existence of such a continent, his general recognition of the facts of subsidences and upheavals of great portions of the earth's surface, as well as the inferences which he draws from the acknowledged relations of living and extinct faunas as above stated, remain of course unaltered.

The following extracts from Mr. H. F. Blandford's most interesting paper read before a meeting of the Geological Society deals with the subject in still greater detail 3:--

p. 6

"The affinities between the fossils of both animals and plants of the Beaufort group of Africa and those of the Indian Panchets and Kathmis are such as to suggest the former existence of a land connexion between the two areas. But the resemblance of the African and Indian fossil faunas does not cease with Permian and Triassic times. The plant beds of the Uitenhage group have furnished eleven forms of plants, two of which Mr. Tate has identified with Indian Rájmahál plants. The Indian Jurassic fossils have yet to be described (with a few exceptions), but it has been stated that Dr. Stoliezka was much struck with the affinities of certain of the Cutch fossils to African forms; and Dr. Stoliezka and Mr. Griesbach have shown that of the Cretaceous fossils of the Umtafuni river in Natal, the majority (22 out of 35 described forms) are identical with species from Southern India. Now the plant-bearing series of India and the Karoo and part of the Uitenhage formation of Africa are in all probability of fresh-water origin, both indicating the existence of a large land area around, from the waste of which these deposits are derived. Was this land continuous between the two regions? And is there anything in the present physical geography of the Indian Ocean which would suggest its probable position? Further, what was the connexion between this land and Australia which we must equally assume to have existed in Permian times? And, lastly, are there any peculiarities in the existing fauna and flora of India, Africa and the intervening islands which would lend support to the idea of a former connexion more direct than that which now exists between Africa and South India and the Malay peninsula? The speculation here put forward is no new one. It has long been a subject of thought in the minds of some Indian and European naturalists, among the former of whom I may mention my brother [Mr. Blandford] and Dr. Stoliezka, their speculations being grounded on the relationship and partial

p. 7

density of the faunas and floras of past times, not less than on that existing community of forms which has led Mr. Andrew Murray, Mr. Searles, V. Wood, jun., and Professor Huxley to infer the existence of a Miocene continent occupying a part of the Indian Ocean. Indeed, all that I can pretend to aim at in this paper is to endeavour to give some additional definition and extension to the conception of its geological aspect.

"With regard to the geographical evidence, a glance at the map will show that from the neighbourhood of the West Coast of India to that of the Seychelles, Madagascar, and the Mauritius, extends a line of coral atolls and banks, including Adas bank, the Laccadives, Maldives, the Chagos group and the Sava de Mulha, all indicating the existence of a submerged mountain range or ranges. The Seychelles, too, are mentioned by Mr. Darwin as rising from an extensive and tolerably level bank having a depth of between 30 and 40 fathoms; so that, although now partly encircled by fringing reefs, they may be regarded as a virtual extension of the same submerged axis. Further west the Cosmoledo and Comoro Islands consist of atolls and islands surrounded by barrier reefs; and these bring us pretty close to the present shores of Africa and Madagascar. It seems at least probable that in this chain of atolls, banks, and barrier reefs we have indicated the position of an ancient mountain chain, which possibly formed the back-bone of a tract of later Palæozoic Mesozoic, and early Tertiary land, being related to it much as the Alpine and Himálayan system is to the Europæo-Asiatic continent, and the Rocky Mountains and Andes to the two Americas. As it is desirable to designate this Mesozoic land by a name, I would propose that of Indo-Oceana. [The name given to it by Mr. Sclater, viz., Lemuria, is, however, the one which has been most generally adopted.] Professor Huxley has suggested on palæontological grounds that a land connexion existed in this

p. 8

region (or rather between Abyssinia and India) during the Miocene epoch. From what has been said above it will be seen that I infer its existence from a far earlier date. 1 With regard to its depression, the only present evidence relates to its northern extremity, and shows that it was in this region, later than the great trap-flows of the Dakhan. These enormous sheets of volcanic rock are remarkably horizontal to the east of the Gháts and the Sakyádri range, but to the west of this they begin to dip seawards, so that the island of Bombay is composed of the higher parts of the formation. This indicates only that the depression to the westward has taken place in Tertiary times; and to that extent Professor Huxley's inference, that it was after the Miocene period, is quite consistent with the geological evidence."

After proceeding at some length to instance the close relationship of many of the fauna in the lands under consideration (Lion, Hyæna, Jackal, Leopard, Antelope, Gazelle, Sand-grouse, Indian Bustard, many Land Molusca, and notably the Lemur and the Scaly Anteater) the writer proceeds as follows:--

"Palæontology, physical geography and geology, equally with the ascertained distribution of living animals and plants, offer thus their concurrent testimony to the former close connexion of Africa and India, including the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean. This Indo-Oceanic land appears to have existed from at least early Permian times, probably (as Professor Huxley has pointed out) up to the close of the Miocene epoch; 2 and South Africa and Peninsular India are the existing remnants of that ancient land. It may not have been absolutely continuous during the whole of this long period. Indeed, the Cretaceous

p. 9

rocks of Southern India and Southern Africa, and the marine Jurassic beds of the same regions, prove that some portions of it were, for longer or shorter periods, invaded by the sea; but any break of continuity was probably not prolonged; for Mr. Wallace's investigations in the Eastern Archipelago have shown how narrow a sea may offer an insuperable barrier to the migration of land animals. In Palæozoic times this land must have been connected with Australia, and in Tertiary times with Malayana, since the Malayan forms with African alliances are in several cases distinct from those of India. We know as yet too little of the geology of the eastern peninsula to say from what epoch dates its connexion with Indo-Oceanic land. Mr. Theobald has ascertained the existence of Triassic, Cretaceous, and Nummulitic rocks in the Arabian coast range; and Carboniferous limestone is known to occur from Moulmein southward, while the range east of the Irrawadi is formed of younger Tertiary rocks. From this it would appear that a considerable part of the Malay peninsula must have been occupied by the sea during the greater part of the Mesozoic and Eocene periods. Plant-bearing rocks of Rániganj age have been identified as forming the outer spurs of the Sikkim Himálaya; the ancient land must therefore have extended some distance to the north of the present Gangetic delta. Coal both of Cretaceous and Tertiary age occurs in the Khasi hills, and also in Upper Assam, but in both cases associated with marine beds; so that it would appear that in this region the boundaries of land and sea oscillated somewhat during Cretaceous and Eocene times. To the north-west of India the existence of great formations of Cretaceous and Nummulitic age, stretching far through Baluchistán and Persia, and entering into the structure of the north-west Himálaya, prove that in the later Mesozoic and Eocene ages India had no direct communication with western Asia; while the Jurassic rocks of Cutch, the Salt

p. 10

range, and the northern Himálaya, show that in the preceding period the sea covered a large part of the present Indus basin; and the Triassic, Carboniferous, and still more recent marine formations of the Himálaya, indicate that from very early times till the upheaval of that great chain, much of its present site was for ages covered by the sea.

"To sum up the views advanced in this paper.

"1st. The plant-bearing series of India ranges from early Permian to the latest Jurassic times, indicating (except in a few cases and locally) the uninterrupted continuity of land and fresh water conditions. These may have prevailed from much earlier times.

"2nd. In the early Permian, as in the Postpliocene age, a cold climate prevailed down to low latitudes, and I am inclined to believe in both hemispheres simultaneously. With the decrease of cold the flora and reptilian fauna of Permian times were diffused to Africa, India, and possibly Australia; or the flora may have existed in Australia somewhat earlier, and have been diffused thence.

"3rd. India, South Africa and Australia were connected by an Indo-Oceanic Continent in the Permian epoch; and the two former countries remained connected (with at the utmost only short interruptions) up to the end of the Miocene period. During the latter part of the time this land was also connected with Malayana.

"4th. In common with some previous writers, I consider that the position of this land was defined by the range of coral reefs and banks that now exist between the Arabian sea and East Africa.

"5th. Up to the end of the Nummulitic epoch no direct connexion (except possibly for short periods) existed between India and Western Asia."

p. 11

In the discussion which followed the reading of the paper, Professor Ramsay "agreed with the author in the belief in the junction of Africa with India and Australia in geological times."

Mr. Woodward "was pleased to find that the author had added further evidence, derived from the fossil flora of the mesozoic series of India, in corroboration of the views of Huxley, Sclater and others as to the former existence of an old submerged continent ('Lemuria') which Darwin's researches on coral reefs had long since foreshadowed."

"Of the five now existing continents," writes Ernst Haeckel, in his great work "The History of Creation," 1 "neither Australia, nor America, nor Europe can have been this primæval home [of man], or the so-called 'Paradise,' the 'cradle of the human race.' Most circumstances indicate Southern Asia as the locality in question. Besides Southern Asia, the only other of the now existing continents which might be viewed in this light is Africa. But there are a number of circumstances (especially chorological facts) which suggest that the primeval home of man was a continent now sunk below the surface of the Indian Ocean, which extended along the south of Asia, as it is at present (and probably in direct connection with it), towards the east, as far as Further India and the Sunda Islands; towards the west, as far as Madagascar and the south-eastern shores of Africa. We have already mentioned that many facts in animal and vegetable geography render the former existence of such a South Indian continent very probable. Sclater has given this continent the name of Lemuria, from the semi-apes which were characteristic of it. By assuming this Lemuria to have been man's primæval home, we greatly facilitate the explanation of the geographical distribution of the human species by migration."

In a subsequent work, "The Pedigree of Man," Haeckel asserts

p. 12

the existence of Lemuria at some early epoch of the earth's history as an acknowledged fact.

The following quotation from Dr. Hartlaub's writings may bring to a close this portion of the evidence in favour of the existence of the lost Lemuria 1:--

"Five and thirty years ago, Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire remarked that, if one had to classify the Island of Madagascar exclusively on zoological considerations, and without reference to its geographical situation, it could be shown to be neither Asiatic nor African, but quite different from either, and almost a fourth continent. And this fourth continent could be further proved to be, as regards its fauna, much more different from Africa, which lies so near to it, than from India which is so far away. With these words the correctness and pregnancy of which later investigations tend to bring into their full light, the French naturalist first stated the interesting problem for the solution of which an hypothesis based on scientific knowledge has recently been propounded, for this fourth continent of Isidore Geoffroy is Sclater's 'Lemuria'--that sunken land which, containing parts of Africa, must have extended far eastwards over Southern India and Ceylon, and the highest points of which we recognise in the volcanic peaks of Bourbon and Mauritius, and in the central range of Madagascar itself-the last resorts of the almost extinct Lemurine race which formerly peopled it."


Footnotes

2:1 Haeckel is correct enough in his surmise that Lemuria was the cradle of the human race as it now exists, but it was not out of Anthropoid apes that mankind developed. A reference will be made later on to the position in nature which the Anthropoid apes really occupy.

3:1 Ernst Haeckel's "Hist. of Creation," 2nd ed., 1876, Vol. I., pp. 360-62.

4:1 Alfred Russell Wallace's "The Geographical Distribution of Animals--with a study of the relations of living and extinct Faunas as elucidating the past changes of the Earth's Surface." London: Macmillan & Co., 1876. Vol. I., pp. 76-7.

4:2 Ceylon and South India, it is true, have been bounded on the north by a considerable extent of sea, but that was at a much earlier date than the Tertiary period.

5:1 Wallace's "Geographical Distribution, etc." Vol. I, pp. 328-9.

5:2 Wallace's "Geographical Distribution, etc.," Vol. ii., p. 155.

5:3 H. F. Blandford "On the age and correlations of the Plant-bearing series of India and the former existence of an Indo-Oceanic Continent," see Quarterly journal of the Geological Society, Vol. xxxi., 1875, pp. 534-540.

8:1 A reference to the maps will show that Mr. Blandford's estimate of date is the more correct of the two.

8:2 Parts of the continent of course endured, but the dismemberment of Lemuria is said to have taken place before the beginning of the Eocene Age.

11:1 Vol. ii., pp. 325-6.



  

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