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3-billion-year-old crystals hint at lost continent’s fate

Volcanoes, shifting plates caused Mauritia to crumble

11:00am, January 31, 2017
rocky outcrop on Mauritius

LOST WORLD  Tiny crystals found inside rocky outcrops such as this one on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius are shards of a long-lost continent called Mauritia, researchers propose.

Relics of a long-lost continent may lurk beneath the Indian Ocean.

Tiny zircon crystals coughed up by volcanic eruptions on the island of Mauritius are around 2.5 billion to 3 billion years old. That’s billions of years older than the island itself, researchers report January 31 in Nature Communications. The zircons, the researchers propose, are remnants of an ancient continent called Mauritia that formed part of the nexus of Madagascar and India before the two landmasses split apart around 84 million years ago (SN: 1/21/17, p. 18).

Comparing the crystals’ ages with those of nearby landmasses, petrologist Lewis Ashwal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and colleagues retraced Mauritia’s fate. Volcanic eruptions and shifting tectonic plates fragmented

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