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The Past

200-20 million years ago

When you look at a map of the Earth's surface today you probably see a pattern of oceans and continents which you have, consciously or unconsciously, been imprinting on your brain since early childhood. If you look at Arabia, you see familiar names - the United Arab Emirates occupying the southeastern part of the peninsula adjacent to the Arabian Gulf; Oman to the south of it; Yemen in the southwest corner of the peninsula; Kuwait and Bahrain and Qatar along the Gulf coast; Saudi Arabia occupying the middle. Well, the continents with which we are so familiar today were not always as they look on our maps and globes. Take, for instance, the case of Gondwana.

The mega-continent of Gondwana included those landmasses largely south of the Equator which we today recognise as Antarctica, Australia, peninsula India, South America, Africa and parts of Eurasia below the Alpine-Himalayan mountain chain. It was separated from Laurasia, i.e what we now know as northern Eurasia and North America, by the equatorial ocean known as Tethys. Geological evidence of strata containing the seed fern Glossopteris can be found in the Santa Catharina System in South America, the Karoo System in South Africa and the Gondwana System in central India. It was from this latter system that the Austrian geologist Eduard Suess borrowed the name in the late nineteenth century. It was hypothesised as early as 1912 by the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener that the landmasses of Gondwana and Laurasia had once formed a unit, which he called Pangaea, until continental drift began to pull them apart some 245 million years ago. Conclusive proof of this theory only emerged as a result of oceanographic investigations as recently as the 1960s.

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