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KU researcher: There really is a lost continent

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 20, 2014, at 6:31 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, June 20, 2014, at 9:24 p.m.

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There really is a lost continent.

With ancient lost hearths and tools and foundations of homes, drowned under the sea.

Atlantis, Plato called it. A myth, maybe.

Jerome Dobson calls it Aquaterra.

He says it is for real.

He says we could actually go there. And that it would be fantastic to go there. We’d learn a lot about ourselves.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always puzzled over how fast human history happened,” he said.

Dobson, a geographer and scientist from the University of Kansas, has spent a long time studying maps of coastlines. He says there is a total underwater shelf area the size of North America that used to be dry land.

Much of it, he said, used to provide a nice land platform of marshes and upland and sea coast where humans built homes, raised children and taught them to make sophisticated stone, wood and bone tools. Tens of thousands of years of history, never explored, along the coastlines of Africa, Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean. Like a lost continent.

He’s not holding his breath about going there, though. Hunting for hearths underwater is expensive. “NASA spends billions,” he said. He doesn’t regret that.

He does regret that national budgets for exploring underwater, in contrast, are only in the tens of millions.

Imagine the possibilities of studying a new lost continent, he said:

“The public would clamor for every shred of new insight on who those people were, how they lived and how they might be related to us,” he said, in a prepared statement from KU. “Government programs would sponsor massive expeditions for exploration and scientific investigation. Geographers would rush to describe the land and people, cartographers would map it, and they, together with all earth sciences, would strive to understand every aspect of it.”

He’s written scientific papers about all this, with literary touches, including in April:

“Ancient lost lands – Atlantis, Shangri-La, Mu – rediscovered in all their utopian glory are standard fare of science fiction novels, movies and television,” he wrote. “Society seems to yearn for some lost connection to an unreported past, yet science offers little in that vein regarding aquaterra’s lost land, which is known with certainty to have existed.

“Instead, conscientious amateurs amass enormous troves of evidence, only to analyze them with poor standards of proof. Surely it is time for the scientific community to reclaim this (literal and figurative) territory, for critical analysis of its role in shaping the world we know today.”

Anyway, here’s what happened, he said in an interview this week:

Tens of thousands of years ago, he said, before natural climate change melted them off, the glaciers of the last major ice ages kept a lot of water locked up on land. Which meant sea levels were much lower.

He is researcher who’s read deeply, both the old myths of the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh to the way coastlines have flooded from the incoming seas over time.

After the glaciers melted, Dobson said, the sea levels rose 400 feet. “They’ve actually risen 15 feet since the time of Christ,” he said.

“It’s like a vast millennial tide,” he said in the prepared statement. “As glaciers hold and release waters to the oceans, and it’s the same time frame as the rise of modern humans.”

One interesting thing about people, he said, is that many people ages ago lived where most of people still live now – along the coastlines.

Which means that the hearths and homes of tens of thousands of years ago now lie under salt water.

Which may explain why scientists have long been puzzled about our early history: One day we’re wandering around in Africa, our bodies covered with hair like chimpanzees, and we’re not much smarter than the food we chase.

And then somehow, though there is little in the archaeological record that explains the sequencing of it, we’re mostly hairless humans with much bigger brains, wearing multi-part articles of clothing. We’ve got a preoccupation with our looks; we’re using make-up; and we’re chasing elephants with aerodynamic, compound weapons.

And we’re carving abstract art and religious symbols out of bone, ivory and stone.

What happened?

There are huge gaps in the layers of archaeology.

Dobson is the president of the American Geographical Society, and a Jefferson Science fellow at the U.S. State Department. He thinks we ought to go look for what’s underwater, in part because it’ll give us useful insights into ourselves today.

He thinks much of what happened as we grew our brains and our human culture lies under sea mud now.

Knowledge lost.

He’d love to go there.

He’d bring it back.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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