In case any of you guys don’t read io9, there’s been a recent geomalogical hooplah over evidence that there used to be a continent in the Indian ocean, The evidence is super boring, as is usually the case; basically they’ve found rocks on a beach that are way older than the other rocks on the beach, and luxuriate in the name of “Zircon Xenocryst,” which is also the name of the Mary Sue my roommate implanted in her Zardoz fan-fiction(source needed).
What’s more interesting is the ancient Greek notion, first put forward by Aristotle, that, based on God knows what reason, there was probably some land down there to the South that they hadn’t gotten around to discovering/conquering yet. The Latin name given to this was “Terra Australis Incognita,” literally “Land South in Disguise,” which is also an opportunity for a dick joke. From what I can glean, the notion comes from various different roots, many of them along the lines of “Listen, there’s probably something there, right?” Medieval cosmographers used reasoning to do with the planet requiring additional mass to maintain balance, which is such a weird thought that it would take me all day just to parse their preconceived notions. Somehow the idea persisted, in a realm somewhere between scientific speculation and pure Atlantis-style storytelling.
Eventually, a British fellow by the name of Matthew Flinders “discovered” a new Southern continent, you know, the way you do when a place already has people living on it and has probably been visited by Indonesians for millennia. Obviously this was in the wrong place for the mythical Australis of antiquity. Even so, he figured it was probably the biggest, Southiest thing around, and named it Australia after the Latinate phrase. I would have gone with Terra Australis-ish Cognita, but then again I get sadistic pleasure from watching cartographers try and fit letters into tiny places(big ups, Lichtenstein!). Fortunately for his highly tuned sense of embarrassment, Flinders was dead before anybody could point out, y’know, Antarctica.
So Australia it was, and Australia it remained, unchallenged, until the past couple of weeks, when this lost continent was noticed. It’s not a big deal now; the lost continent isn’t going to resurface for millions of years, if ever. Still, when it does, those two continents are going to have a heck of a thumb wrestle for who gets to be inaccurately named for an Aristotelian myth. That’s what I learned today.