(SCIENCE) -- Forget the legendary lost continent of Atlantis. Geologists have reconstructed, time slice by time slice, a nearly quarter-of-a-billion-year-long history of a vanished landmass that now lies submerged, not beneath an ocean somewhere, but largely below southern Europe.
The researchers’ analysis represents “a huge amount of work,” says Laurent Jolivet, a geologist at Sorbonne University in Paris who was not involved in the new study. Although the tectonic history of the landmass has been generally known for a few decades, he says, “[T]he amount of detail in the team’s systematic time-lapse reconstruction is unprecedented.”
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The only visible remnants of the continent—known as Greater Adria—are limestones and other rocks found in the mountain ranges of southern Europe. Scientists believe these rocks started out as marine sediments and were later scraped off the landmass’s surface and lifted up through the collision of tectonic plates. Yet the size, shape, and history of the original landmass—much of which lay beneath shallow tropical seas for millions of years—have been tough to reconstruct.