A group of geoscientists have uncovered an ancient secret. The scientists from German and South African research institutions found evidence of a formerly undiscovered continent beneath the small Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. This lost continent likely vanished into the ocean around 84 million years ago, undiscovered by humans until just recently.

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Three geoscientists realized zircon they found on Mauritius was much too old for the relatively new island which formed in the wake of underwater volcanic eruptions eight to nine million years ago. Volcanic eruptions on the island spewed out the zircon crystals that researchers now think may derive from an ancient continent linking India and Madagascar as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Lewis Ashwal of University of the Witwatersrand, who is the lead author on a paper published online January 31 by Nature, said, “Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than nine million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as three billion years.”

Related: Ancient ocean crust in the Mediterranean Sea may predate supercontinent Pangea

Back in 2013, scientists found ancient zircons billions of years old in Mauritius beach sand, but that find was controversial as other scientists said the materials could have arrived at the beach from somewhere else. The new discovery lends credence to the idea that there once was a continent under Mauritius billions of years ago, as these zircons could not have been transported to the island via wind or waves, according to Ashwal. He said, “The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent.”

Now some people think other pieces of the Gondwana supercontinent may be found in the future, as we explore deeper in the oceans.

Via ScienceAlert and Phys.org

Images via Ludovic Lubeigt on Flickr and Susan Webb/Wits University