50 years ago, an Antarctic fossil pointed to Gondwanaland’s existence

Fossils unearthed since indicate the southern continents were once linked in a giant landmass

A map of Gondwanaland

LANDMASSES, ASSEMBLE  Fifty years ago, the scientific community was on the cusp of accepting that Earth’s southern continents were once smushed together in a giant landmass they called Gondwanaland.

Fama Clamosa/Wikimedia Commmons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Fossil search in Antarctica, Science News, October 11, 1969 —

A search for further fossil evidence that Antarctica was once joined to other continents will be conducted.… A 17-man group will seek fossils of ancient land vertebrates similar to those found on continents now separated from Antarctica by up to 2,000 miles of ocean.


That same year, 1969, scientists found fossil evidence of the supercontinent Gondwana. Reptile bones found in Antarctica included a 200-million-year-old hippolike creature called Lystrosaurus (SN: 12/13/69, p. 549). The animal lived on the continental mash-up of South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica that existed from around 600 million to 180 million years ago.

Another Antarctic expedition, in 1970, found a 200-million-year-old skeleton of a cynodont reptile, which resembled remains found in South America and India (SN: 12/5/70, p. 428). The fossils and other geologic evidence all but confirmed Gondwana’s existence (SN: 1/16/71, p. 49). Scientists later figured out how this continental jigsaw puzzle fit together (SN: 6/11/77, p. 372).

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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