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Wiki Wormhole: Explore lost continents that are mostly made-up

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With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or trying to keep all the Adventure Time princesses straight. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,459,066-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This Week’s Entry: Lost Lands

What It’s About: Twitter follower @comedysavage tipped us off to “sunken kingdoms” as a Wikipedia topic to get sucked into. Unfortunately, there isn’t one comprehensive page, just lots of interesting individual pages on Atlantis, Lyonesse, and the like. However, investigating those led to a broader page for Lost Lands, which encompasses places sunken and otherwise, real and imaginary, that for one reason or another no longer exist.

Strangest Fact: Despite geological evidence to the contrary, belief in a “hollow Earth”—meaning either that our planet is literally hollow, or that there’s a vast lost land underground, usually with its own population—has persisted through the years. The ancient Greeks, Celts, and Tibetans believed that certain caves led to an underground realm. The Angami Naga of India, the Taino (indigenous to the Caribbean), and the Iroquois and other Native American groups all believed their ancestors had come from a land underground. More recently, Edmond Halley posited that the Earth was a hollow shell, with two other hollow shells nested within, covering a central core. In 1818, John Cleves Symmes, Jr. became renowned for claiming the Earth was hollow with openings at both poles and proposed a mission to the North Pole to enter the hole, a full century before anyone had actually reached the pole. Then-President John Quincy Adams approved the expedition, but it was cancelled by his successor, Andrew Jackson. While the Hollow Earth theory was soundly disproved as far back as the late 1700s, its proponents have persisted. One still-in-print book from 1964, The Hollow Earth, even claimed the planet’s interior was home to UFOs.

Biggest Controversy: The Nazis weren’t just interested in new technology. The Thule Society, a Nazi organization interested in the occult, claimed the Aryan race originated in Hyperborea, a mythical island in the Arctic Circle, which the Thules linked to Atlantis.

Thing We Were Happiest To Learn: Like the proverbial stopped clock, the wildest pseudoscience of ancient times turned out to be true. Aristotle first proposed a continent called Terra Australis, encompassing the southermost part of the globe. His reasoning—that there must be land in the Southern Hemisphere to balance out the land in the North—was accepted by the Romans (who depicted Africa continuing to the South Pole), and Renaissance Europeans thought it was possible that the Indian Ocean was entirely surrounded by land. World maps of the 1500s often included a Southern continent that looks like Antarctica and Australia connected by a land bridge. In fact, British explorer Matthew Flinders named Australia after Terra Australias in the early 1800s, believing there was “no probability” of finding any land further south. The still-hypothetical Antarctica continued to appear on maps (often with its size exaggerated), until someone finally set foot there in 1895.

Thing We Were Unhappiest To Learn: One lost continent is so lost we don’t know which ocean it was supposedly in. When Augustus Le Plongeon investigated Mayan ruins in Yucatán, he claimed that writings he found there proved the Mayan civilization was older than that of the Greeks or Egyptians. He also claimed the Mayans spoke of a lost continent called Mu, which he believed was another name for Atlantis. He claimed that ancient Egypt was founded by a Queen Moo, who was a refugee from Mu and not, as her name would suggest, a Mario character. It was eventually revealed that the Mayan writings Le Plongeon discovered actually had nothing to say about lost continents, but that didn’t stop Mu’s legend from persisting. British occultist James Churchward revived the idea of Mu, saying the continent was mentioned in ancient clay tablets in both India and Mexico, and that after Mu’s destruction, its inhabitants went on to found ancient Egypt, Greece, India, Burma, and other civilizations. As late as the 1930s, Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, believed Mu to be a possible homeland for his people.

Also Noteworthy: Some of these lost lands were lost through an honest mistake. Phantom islands are places that appeared on maps, and then were later found not to actually exist. The “Here Be Monsters” era of mapmaking is rife with such islands. Some, like Baja Calfornia, or Banks Island in New Zealand, were later discovered to be peninsulas. It’s possible that two phantom islands in Lake Superior were invented to please a French nobleman. Terra Australias, mentioned above, is also considered a phantom island.

Best Link To Elsewhere On Wikipedia: The legend of the lost continent of Mu, mentioned above, comes from a mistranslation of the Madrid Codex, one of the only surviving pieces of writing from the Mayan civilization. Desperate attempts over the centuries to glean information from a scant bit of source material are most likely the source of both Mu, and the Mayan apocryphal apocalypse.