A beach on Mauritius.  Researchers say traces of an ancient mineral found in the beach sand of this island nation may led to the discovery of a long lost micro-continent.  (Photo: Contrarianmind via Wikimedia Commons)

A beach on Mauritius. Researchers say traces of an ancient mineral found on the island could have come from  a long-lost micro-continent. (Photo: Contrarianmind via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists believe they’ve uncovered evidence of a long-lost continent in sand found on an island off the east coast of Africa.

The possible proof was found in traces of an ancient mineral believed to be between 660 million and 1.97 billion years, gathered from the beaches of Mauritius. It could provide evidence of a long lost micro-continent in the Indian Ocean.

The prehistoric mineral, zircon, is usually associated with much older landmasses yet Mauritius, in geological terms, is fairly young.  The island nation was born between eight and 10 million years ago after bursting from the sea floor, volcanic activity propelling it out of the ocean.

So how did the mineral end up on the beaches of Mauritius?  Writing in “Nature Geoscience,” an international research team suggests it came from fragments of a continental landmass that had been long submerged and buried beneath huge masses of lava on the floor of the Indian Ocean, which came to the surface when the island was formed by plume-related lava.

Mauritia, as researchers have dubbed the possible long-lost micro-continent, may have been part of Rodinia (Russian for homeland), a supercontinent that existed between 1.1 billion and 750 million years ago and was located between land that has since become Madagascar and India.

An artist's rendering of the prehistoric continent of Rodinia - in tan surrounding the blue ocean (Image: Kelvin Ma via Wikimedia Commons)

An artist’s rendering of the prehistoric continent of Rodinia – in tan surrounding the blue ocean (Image: Kelvin Ma via Wikimedia Commons)

At one time, Rodinia contained most, if not all, of Earth’s landmass, and began to break apart about 750 million years ago during the Neoproterozoic era.

Researchers theorize Mauritia detached from present-day India and Madagascar when the two landmasses drifted apart about 60 to 83.5  million years ago, sinking to the ocean bottom in much the same way as the doomed legendary lost continent of Atlantis.

However, not all scientists have been won over by the lost continent theory.

Jérôme Dyment, a geologist at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics, told National Geographic he is unconvinced. He believes it’s possible the ancient zircon minerals on Mauritius could have made their way to the island in other ways, such as being a part of ship ballast or modern construction material.