15 Continents that No Longer Exist

Earth only has so much space. Over time, the continents have merged and divided on countless occasions. Accordingly, over the past 4.5 billion years, our globe has changed pretty dramatically—and it will never stop doing so.  

DISCLAIMER: Continents are a tricky thing to define.

“Is Australia a tiny continent or the world’s biggest island? Are North & South America—being connected by Panama—a single continent or two different ones?” Depends on who you ask. In this article, we’ll rely on an often-used (though often-violated) geographical definition: Continents are “large landmasses that are separated from other large landmasses by oceans and too big to be considered islands.”

Also, note that while the continents listed below don’t exist anymore as such (again, in the geographic sense), the chunks of land which combined or separated to form them are definitely still around—they’ve just shifted thanks to plate tectonics.

1. UR

Named after the German word for “original,” Ur may well have been Earth’s very first continent. Formed about 3 billion years BCE, it was likely a bit smaller than present-day Australia. Ur proceeded to spend hundreds of millions of years getting jostled around before eventually becoming part of Pangaea (see number 8). When Pangaea finally split, Ur was broken up and is now divided between India, Madagascar, and Australia.


Most of Canada, Greenland, Western Australia, the Kalahari Desert and the U.S. were included within Kenorland’s gigantic coastlines. After staying intact for 300 million years, it split up approximately 2.4 billion years ago.


Currently a part of Northern Europe, Baltica contained Scandinavia, Poland, and Northern Germany, with some Russian territory thrown in for good measure. Cut off from Earth’s other continents, it would have rested near the South Pole (or maybe the North Pole) around 500 million years ago.


Few regions are less tropical than present-day Siberia, but around a third of this Slavic region floated about as its own, separate continent for several hundred million years—during which time it enjoyed a stint on the equator.


This one really got around. Laurentia was a prehistoric land that once contained most of present-day North America, Greenland, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It managed to assert geographic independence many times over (e.g., after parting ways with Kenorland), but also helped form Columbia, Rodinia, and Pangea, all of which we’ll meet below.


“I [chose the name] ‘Columbia’ because some of the best evidence for its existence is in the Columbian river region of western North America,” says geologist John J.W. Rogers, who announced its discovery back in 2002. Not to be confused with a certain constitutional republic, Columbia’s total landmass was approximately 50 million square kilometers (only slightly smaller than Eurasia). Its birth took place around 1.8 billion years ago.


Rodinia—a name that means “homeland” in Russian—was a “supercontinent” that combined all (or most) of the Earth’s landmasses when it came together 1.2 billion years BCE.


Rifts eventually started tearing Rodinia apart 750 million years ago. However, the blue planet was hardly finished with supercontinents. Pangaea came along 300 million years BCE and its subsequent division laid the groundwork for the modern geographical landscape.


In essence, Pangaea consisted of two large sections: Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south. They began parting ways around 230 million years ago, and though Gondwana remained intact for a while, it, too, split up over the course of the next few geologic periods into Africa, South America, Australia, Madagascar, Antarctica, Arabia, and India.


Baltica, Siberia, Laurentia, and a few other paleo-continents had combined to form Laurasia before a merger with Gondwana created Pangaea. After that supercontinent divided, Laurasia went on to create North America and large chunks of Eurasia (excluding India and Arabia).


For most of its history, South China existed as its own, separate entity adrift in the open ocean. North China, too, was an isolated body for quite some time. The two finally combined somewhere between 215 and 176 million years ago.


A short-lived supercontinent that was located somewhere in the southern hemisphere, Pannotia temporarily united Baltica, Siberia, Laurentia, and Gondwana after Rodinia’s dismemberment. 


Like Ur, traces of Atlantica are now widely-dispersed, having been found in Africa and eastern South America. Also like Ur, this was one of Earth’s earliest continents.


Baltica and Laurentia became linked during the Silurian period (400 million BCE), creating Euramerica—a landmass also known as the “Old Red Sandstone Continent” due to some of the distinctive oxidized rock deposits it left behind. This body later became a central component of Laurasia.


As the age of dinosaurs began climaxing 83 million years ago, a narrow seaway divided North America, whose western half was connected to China and Mongolia. This resulted in a great deal of faunal exchanges and allowed—among other things—Tyrannosaurus rex’s Asian ancestors to reach such places as present-day Alberta, Montana, and South Dakota. 

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”


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