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3 billion-year-old "lost continent" lurking under African island

"On the continents you find rocks that are over four billion years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed", Lewis Ashwal, a professor of geology at Wits University in South Africa, said in a news release.

The paper, with the wordy title - Archaean zircons in Miocene oceanic hotspot rocks establish ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius - states that grains found on the island are aged up to 3 billion years while all the rocks there are no more than 9 million years old.

The piece of crust Ashwal and his collaborators, Michael Wiedenbeck from the German Research Centre for Geosciences and Trond Torsvik from the University of Oslo, found and studied was covered by lava during volcanic eruptions on the island.

This isn't the first time that ancient zircons have been found on the island of Mauritius - back in 2013, a separate team found traces of zircon in beach sand that were also billions of years old.

By studying the minerals on the island Mauritius they found that something was amiss with its age.

The find now paints a picture of an ancient continent being splintered into fragments, some of which ended up being anchored below the current landmass that makes up the island of Mauritius today.

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Unfortunately it seems that this could not be home to the legendary city of Atlantis because it fell into the sea some 84 million years ago.

The age-old crystals are made of zircon, an incredibly resilient mineral capable of surviving geological processes and one that's typically found in continental granites. He said that thei group s studying the break-up process of the continents to trace the geological history of our planet.

An ancient continent that was once sandwiched between India and Madagascar now lies scattered on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

"It's like plasticine: when continents are stretched they become thinner and split apart", says Martin Van Kranendonk at the University of New South Wales in Australia. "Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than nine million years old on the island".

Furthermore, he and his colleagues reported that the findings suggest that the break of up the supercontinent Gondwana (also known as Gondwanaland) was a complex process which left a number of various splintered fragments spread throughout the Indian Ocean.

The new zircon samples were derived from rock, 6-million-year-old trachyte. His study was published in Nature Communications, one of the most revered publications that feature studies of celebrated authors and researchers.

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