The Disappointing Origin of Lemuria
The mythology of Lemuria was created during the Romantic era. Romantics were fascinated with the occult sciences, where mortality and cosmic meanings were explored. At this time, using sunken continents to explain similarities in animals and fauna was widely accepted in western science. In addition, people invented traditions of their own to build a sense of community now lost in the nineteenth century to industrialization. For those who engaged in off-modern topics, the use of scientific explanations gave authority to occult beliefs. Nature was dissected by rational thinking, and consequently, it lost its symbol of divine intervention and creation itself.
The myth of Lemuria is fairly new and was created in the 1860s, unlike the myth of Atlantis that emerged with Plato in Ancient Greece. The theory of the existence of Lemuria was developed when natural scientists sought to explain Darwin’s theory of the evolution of similar species from a common ancestor. In contrast, Atlantis was recounted by Plato and was never intended to explain fauna and animal distribution. Lemuria has not received as much attention in popular culture as Atlantis because – according to occultists – it was destroyed early and the archaeological evidence is sparse.
Naming the missing continent of Lemuria was crucial to the spatial constitution of Lemuria as an object of arcane knowledge.
Hermann Burmeister and Philip Lutley Sclater
Hermann Burmeister (1807-1892), in The Organization of Trilobites (1846), was one of the first to propose a land mass between the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, and North America. One of the most important articles about Lemuria, The Mammals of Madagascar (1864) was written by Philip Lutley Sclater (1829-1913). He argued that the only mammal discovered in Madagascar was the lemur and that at one point in history, Madagascar must have been connected to Africa and India.
Sclater writes, “some land-connection must have existed in former ages between Madagascar and India, whereon the original stock, whence the present Lemuridae of Africa, Madagascar, and India are descended, flourished.” Sclater named this lost continent “Lemuria” after the lemurs and lemuroid-type animals that evolved there. He also argued that lemurs were more similar to monkeys found in North and South America, not the Old World. Sclater’s deductions were based on archaeological evidence of fossil remains of lemurs in India and the living lemurs in Madagascar.
Sclater’s proposed continent was later adopted by a German naturalist, Ernst Haeckel (1876), as a possible source of the human race and the cradle of civilization. Haeckel placed Lemuria outside of geology and biology and within the discipline of history. Setting the first human ancestors on a submerged continent beneath the Indian Ocean lessened the pressure to produce a fossil record.
After Charles Darwin (1859) published his theory of evolution, many looked to Africa as the cradle of civilization, not the Middle East or Asia. By the end of the nineteenth century, occult theorists moved the location of Lemuria from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Haeckel’s use of the name and idea of ”Lemuria,” conjoined with his ideas of the twelve human races, helped popularize Lemuria. According to the Rosicrucians, the island contained lemurs that grew to a height of six feet, stood upright like humans, weighed between 160 and 200 lbs, and ate vegetables.
The Andaman Islands
Richard Owen (1804-1892), in Geology and the Inhabitants of the Ancient World (1854) and Paleontology (1860), proposed the Andaman Islands had modern inhabitants representing the ancestors from Lemuria (1854; 1860). However, he is better known for his work with dinosaurs and was the first to coin the term “dinosaur.”
The Andaman Islands are located in the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar. Owen argued that they were the most primitive form of man, similar to living fossils. Later the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Bourban Islands, the Malay Archipelago, New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand were added to the list of primitive humans. In this way, Lemuria became racialized, with Black people being credited as the first humans; however, they were also considered the most primitive. For occultists, the Lemurians were less than humans but more than apes.
H.F. Blanford (1834-1893) notes in The Plant Bearing Series of India and the Former Existence of an Indo-Oceanic Continent (1875) that there is compelling evidence for the belief in an Indo-Oceanic continent. Among this evidence are the similarities of plants from the Permian (290 million to 245 million years ago) to the late Jurassic times (206 million to 144 million years ago), noting a continuity of land. This land connected India, South Africa, and Australia until the end of the Miocene period (23 million to 5 million years ago). Until the end of the Nummulitic epoch (56 million to 5 million years ago), there was no direct connection between India and Western Asia. As evidence for this continent, Blanford writes (1875), “the Peninsula of India has but little in common, in point of the geological structure, with the ranges that encircle that plain on the north, or, indeed, with any of the neighboring countries beyond, as far as these are known.”
F.W. Hutton (1836-1905) argued in Origin of the Flora and Fauna of New Zealand (1884) that New Zealand, Eastern Australia, and India formed one biological region in the Mesozoic Era (248 million years to 65 million years ago). This would explain the resemblances between animals in these regions, especially ants, lizards, and fauna. Russel Wallace (1823-1913), in The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876), expanded the ideas of Hutton. Wallace debated if Lemuria was a full continent or a mere land bridge and how long it existed.
Alfred L. Wegener
Alfred L. Wegener (1880-1930), in The Origin of Continents and Oceans (1924), argued that Pangaea existed until two hundred million years ago when the land began to fragment during the Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary Periods. Wegener built on Sclater’s ideas and concluded that Madagascar must have been located by India at one time. He called his theory “The Lemurian Compression.” Wegener was the first to introduce the idea of plate tectonics, which revolutionized the fields of geology, geophysics, oceanography, and paleontology. Continents at this time were believed to move, but only up and down. The theory of plate tectonics had not yet been introduced.
Geologist Bailey Willis (1857-1949) in Isthmian Links (1932) proposed Lemuria was not a whole continent but an isthmus. Instead of Lemuria, he called it the “Africa-India Ridge.” This explained the diversity of Madagascar’s exotic mammals and fauna distribution. Willis is better known for his structural and geomorphological analysis of the Appalachian Mountains.