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Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific

Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific

Patrick D. Nunn
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific
    Book Description:

    Islands—as well as entire continents—are reputed to have disappeared in many parts of the world. Yet there is little information on this subject concerning its largest ocean, the Pacific. Over the years, geologists have amassed data that point to the undeniable fact of islands having disappeared in the Pacific, a phenomenon that the oral traditions of many groups of Pacific Islanders also highlight. There are even a few instances where fragments of Pacific continents have disappeared, becoming hidden from view rather than being submerged. In this scientifically rigorous yet readily comprehensible account of the fascinating subject of vanished islands and hidden continents in the Pacific, the author ranges far and wide, from explanations of the region’s ancient history to the meanings of island myths. Using both original and up-to-date information, he shows that there is real value in bringing together myths and the geological understanding of land movements. A description of the Pacific Basin and the "ups and downs" of the land within its vast ocean is followed by chapters explaining how—long before humans arrived in this part of the world—islands and continents that no longer exist were once present. A succinct account is given of human settlement of the region and the establishment of cultural contexts for the observation of occasional catastrophic earth-surface changes and their encryption in folklore. The author also addresses the persistent myths of a "sunken continent" in the Pacific, which became widespread after European arrival and were subsequently incorporated into new age and pseudoscience explanations of our planet and its inhabitants. Finally, he presents original data and research on island disappearances witnessed by humans, recorded in oral and written traditions, and judged by geoscience to be authentic. Examples are drawn from throughout the Pacific, showing that not only have islands collapsed, and even vanished, within the past few hundred years, but that they are also liable to do so in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6544-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction: A PERSONAL ODYSSEY
    (pp. 1-6)

    There are few topics that have captured the imaginations of people within the last few centuries more than the idea of vanished islands. For myself—and, I would argue, for most school children with inquiring minds growing up in Europe in the second half of the twentieth century—the questions of whether the fabulous island Atlantis, described in exhaustive detail by the Greek philosopher Plato about 350 bc (Before Christ), ever truly existed and where it might have been located proved compulsive. For me at that time, such questions seemed to go straight to the fundamentals of existence in ways...

  5. 2 The Earth’s Dynamic Third: THE PACIFIC BASIN
    (pp. 7-34)

    Many of our ideas about the history of the planet Earth and the various processes that have shaped it are founded on observations made in northern Europe and eastern North America, places marked mostly by uncommon passivity of earth-shaping phenomena. These regions, for example, lack the climatic extremes of the tropics, they lack the proximity to the largest ocean on earth, and they are associated with an almost complete absence of deep ocean trenches where the earth’s crust is being destroyed, a process associated with often-explosive volcanic eruptions and abrupt land movements. For many people, the Pacific Basin is the...

  6. 3 Islands That Vanished Long Ago
    (pp. 35-61)

    The periodic disappearance of islands and continents is part of the natural evolution of the earth’s surface. It happened before people were present to witness it and, as will be seen later in the book, it happened after they arrived. There is no need to invest the process with undue importance simply because it was witnessed by the first species that would come to recognize it for what it was, then record it and ponder its meaning.

    Questions concerning the presence or absence of large continental landmasses in the ocean basins at particular times in the past are understandably easier...

  7. 4 Ancient Continents Hidden by Time
    (pp. 62-70)

    Many continents have been claimed as having once existed in the Pacific before disappearing subsequently, but hardly any of these claims are true. Accounts of some of the undoubtedly mythical continents claimed to have existed in the Pacific are discussed in chapter 7; in this chapter I discuss two continents that have been suggested to have once existed in the Pacific. One has indeed become hidden; fragments of the other, if it ever really existed, may lie hidden beneath the ocean surface.

    The structure and composition of some of the oldest rocks found along the west coast of South America,...

  8. 5 The Coming of Humans to the Pacific
    (pp. 71-85)

    Our story begins in the distant past, about 40,000 years ago and perceived today only very dimly through the haze of history, when modern humans¹ first encountered the Pacific Ocean. This event took place somewhere in East Asia, possibly Southeast Asia: humans had been living for perhaps the preceding 80,000 years in the wide, fertile valleys of rivers like the Changjiang (Yangtze) and Huanghe (Yellow).² Today we might be tempted to think that these humans were traveling down those valleys to get to their mouth, but they almost certainly had no such notion. On any particular day they sought sustenance...

  9. 6 Mythical Islands in Pacific Islander Traditions
    (pp. 86-107)

    Many Pacific peoples have a comprehensive body of oral traditions. Of course today, because the traditional way of life is falling apart in many places under relentless pressure from outside forces, oral (and many other) traditions are being forgotten. In such places, the indigenous people sometimes need to thank, however anathemic this might be, some of the earliest Europeans to visit them, who recorded at great length oral traditions of all kinds, particularly belief systems, traditional knowledge, kinship systems and genealogies, and myths. Had these records not been made, many Pacific communities would be much the poorer today for the...

  10. 7 Mythical Continents of the Pacific
    (pp. 108-129)

    The best-known island to have vanished in the history of the world is named Atlantis, which according to the Greek philosopher Plato sank around 9600 bc in the Atlantic Ocean.¹ But for many people in the Pacific, as well as many in Asia and much of the non-English-speaking world, the name Atlantis conjures up no such excitement. It has no significance. Notwithstanding this, in terms of inspiring and informing the modern vanished island and hidden continent myth-motif, the story of Atlantis has been remarkably influential. Not only does it directly continue to generate a huge amount of interest, but it...

    (pp. 130-146)

    It could be argued that humans have a natural tendency to imagine uncharted lands. The reasons for this lie deep within the psyche of individuals of every ethnicity; imagined worlds appear to be a universal archetype.¹ In 1687, in the empty ocean more than 3,000 kilometers west of Chile, Edward Davis imagined that he saw islands within an area 15 kilometers across in the isolated Southeast Pacific [additions in brackets mine].

    about two hours before day we fell in with a small low, sandy island and heard a great roaring noise, like that of the sea beating upon the shore,...

  12. 9 Recently Vanished Islands in the Pacific
    (pp. 147-181)

    The vanished islands described in this chapter are adjudged authentic (see Table 6.1). The test of authentication is largely based on both the details of the oral traditions (particularly whether the same tradition was obtained independently from different groups in the same area) and its credibility given the geological context of the island(s) alleged to have disappeared. Other supporting information, such as mention of the vanished island in written accounts not based on oral tradition and the presence today of some indicator of a sunken island in the place where it is reputed to have disappeared, is clearly helpful in...

  13. 10 Vanished Islands of the Future
    (pp. 182-194)

    Any student of environmental change quickly learns that many popular predictions of the effects of future climate change and sea-level rise in the Pacific (and elsewhere) are highly, and unhelpfully, exaggerated. Such natural changes are also far from unprecedented, although the predicted rates of twenty-first-century change may indeed be so. The specter of future sea-level rise is one that has loomed large over the Pacific countless times before. The principal difference with the situation today is that, for the first time in human history, we can predict with a high degree of certainty that temperature and sea level will rise...

  14. 11 Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents in the World’s Oceans: LAST THOUGHTS
    (pp. 195-200)

    Scientists are trained, at least in their professional lives, to think conservatively, to deduce only the deductible, and to express only that which is expressible given the information available. For such reasons the language of science often appears dry and detached to outsiders, who may therefore not wish to dig deep to find something that is personally relevant or enlightening. In contrast, for many people, the accessible and exciting writing of many pseudoscientists readily provides this, which is why their books sometimes sell in the millions. By selecting only those facts that appear to support their manifestly unsupportable models, by...

  15. Appendix 1 The Story of Teonimenu, Central Solomon Islands, and How It Vanished, from an Unpublished Manuscript by Zacchariah Haununumaesihaa‘a
    (pp. 201-204)
  16. Appendix 2 Extracts from Maretu’s Narrative of Cook Islands History Pertaining to the Vanished Island Tuanaki (from Crocombe 1974).
    (pp. 205-208)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 209-240)
  18. References
    (pp. 241-264)
  19. Index
    (pp. 265-270)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-272)