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The best-known island to have vanished in the history of the world is named Atlantis, which according to the Greek philosopher Plato sank around 9600 BC in the Atlantic Ocean.1 But for many people in the Pacific, as well as many in Asia and much of the non-Englishspeaking world, the name Atlantis conjures up no such excitement. It has no significance. Notwithstanding this, in terms of inspiring and informing the modern vanished island and hidden continent myth-motif, the story of Atlantis has been remarkably influential. Not only does it directly continue to generate a huge amount of interest, but it has also inspired an entire genre of mythmaking (ranging from vehicles for social comment and satire to literature and entertainment) and has permeated global consciousness in ways that we shall probably never fully appreciate. But, for all the hype, Atlantis never existed. The same is true for most of the continents suggested as having once been emergent in the Pacific. Size: Does It Matter? Many pseudoscience and new-age writers appear uncertain as to the difference between an island and a continent other than the supposedly greater size of the latter. Their accounts oftendescribesomethingthatisphysiographicallymoreinsularthancontinentalincharacter —for instance, having only a few major rivers draining the center radially2—yet the dimensions of which are stretched beyond what is geographically credible. It is likely that many such writers have invoked the existence of former continents (rather than islands) because their greater size might be regarded as adding weight to the descriptions given and arguments outlined. Size does matter. The larger the stage for the human actors , the more believable it is that they actually accomplished all the things that are claimed. Another reason for such writers favoring the existence of former continents rather than islands is that they are targeting continental audiences, who might, they think, regard an Mythical Continents of the Pacific 7 mythical continents of the pacific 109 island as being somehow less compelling as a place of human origin, for instance, than a continent. Obviously, there is less potential for complex social interaction and change within a smaller island than on a larger one or on a continent, but island communities have their own idiosyncrasies that are worthy of study.3 Yet, new-age and pseudoscience writers require larger areas for their invented scenarios. For example, how can one suppose that ancient Egyptian sailors made such a fuss about Nan Madol on Pohnpei Island in Micronesia had it been only the handful of tiny islands that it is today?4 How can the temples (marae) on remote Malden Atoll have been built (as they were) by this island’s former inhabitants rather than being interconnected through a grand system of roads with similar features on other islands nearby5? It is precisely this kind of embellishment that made it necessary for Plato’s island of Atlantis to evolve into a continent, for how else could Atlantean society have developed all its fabulous accoutrements, unless it was exceptionally large? Exploring the Pacific: The Lure of Hidden Continents The first people known to have explored the Pacific Islands entered the region from its western rim around 1330 BC, having honed their long-distance sailing and navigational skills in the voyaging nursery of the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. As discussed in chapter 5, these early people, the Lapita people, sailed against the prevailing wind and thus came to discover the archipelagos to the east: the eastern outer Solomon Islands, Vanuatu , New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. These remarkable voyages of colonization are thought to have been intentional because the Lapita people appear to have carried with them all the things they believed they would need to re-create their homelands in the places they expected to find.6 But what did they expect to find? They and their immediate ancestors had lived in archipelagos where islands were, if not visible from one another, only just beyond the horizon. In the absence of a world map, it was perhaps not unreasonable for Lapita people in the Bismarck Archipelago about 3,400 years ago to believe that they would encounter another island over the eastern horizon, even before they had explored in that direction.7 It is possible that they expected to find a landmass even larger than an island. As explained in chapter 5, we are fairly sure that the Austronesian-language-speaking ancestors of the Lapita people lived along the continental fringes of East Asia. Certain...


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