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Long-Lost 40 Million-Year-Old Continent Home to “Exotic” Fauna Rediscovered

An international team of paleontologists has 'rediscovered' a forgotten continent believed to have disappeared 40 to 34 million years ago.


Balkanatolia – a continent between Europe and Asia that disappeared 40 million years ago

In the new work, scientists describe the so-called low-lying continent, which existed about 40 million years ago. There is an assumption that this continent was home to exotic fauna and at one time served as a gateway for the migration of animals from Asia to the southern regions of Europe.

Now, this forgotten and long-lost continent, according to researchers, is sandwiched between Europe, Africa, and Asia. The discoverers called it “Balkanatolia”. They also describe this area as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, formed when sea levels dropped significantly.


In their study, paleontologists relied on known data. So, it is believed that about 34 million years ago, a huge number of local mammals suddenly disappeared in Europe and were replaced by Asian mammals.

Recently, however, fossilized remains of animals were discovered in the Balkans, which did not disprove the theory of the great extinction but changed its timeline. These finds indicated the existence of a “special bioregion” in antiquity, which probably allowed Asian mammals to colonize southeastern Europe. This happened, according to new estimates, about 5-10 million years before the great extinction.

Where the continent was and what is left of Balkantolia's territory in modern days. Credit: Alexis Licht, Grégoire Métais/CNRS
Where the continent was and what is left of Balkantolia’s territory in modern days. Credit: Alexis Licht, Grégoire Métais/CNRS

The researchers conducted a real paleogeological investigation. The team of scientists was led by Alexis Licht of the French National Center for Scientific Research. The team re-examined all locations in the Balkans and Anatolia where fossilized animal remains from that period had been found.


Newly found evidence of ancient events was re-dated. The age has been revised based on current geological data. The analysis of new data made it possible to state that in ancient times there was a continent here, now called Balkanatolia.

The authors of the article write that for about 50 million years it was an isolated archipelago, located separately from neighboring continents. This isolation contributed to the fact that a unique animal community flourished on this archipelago, which was markedly different from similar communities in Europe and East Asia.

Disappearance and animal migrations

Everything changed due to a sharp drop in sea level associated with the growth of the Antarctic ice sheets and the powerful tectonic shifts that occurred then. As a result of these catastrophic events on a global scale, the continent of Balkanatolia merged with mainland Europe. A new study proves that this happened between 40 and 34 million years ago.

The studied fossils show that during that period of time, mammals appeared on the territory of Balkanotolia, including rodents and four-legged ungulates from Asia. Gradually, other animals colonized the territory of the former archipelago.

By the way, in the course of their research, Licht’s team discovered fragments of a fossilized jawbone in Turkey. Analysis showed that it belonged to a rhinoceros-like animal that died about 38-35 million years ago. This fossil turned out to be the oldest of its kind and indicated that Asian animals came to this area at least 1.5 million years before the great extinction. All this together suggests that Asian mammals traveled to Europe via Balkanatolia, a lost and long forgotten continent.


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Licht, A., Métais, G., Coster, P., İbilioğlu, D., Ocakoğlu, F., Westerweel, J., Mueller, M., Campbell, C., Mattingly, S., Wood, M. C., & Beard, K. C. (2022, January 18). Balkanatolia: The insular mammalian biogeographic province that partly paved the way to the grande coupure. Earth-Science Reviews. (2022, February 21). Balkanatolia: The Forgotten Continent that sheds light on the evolution of mammals.
Taub, B. (2022, February 22). Lost continent of Balkanatolia may have been a battleground for ancient mammals. IFLScience.
Watson, C. (n.d.). A forgotten continent from 40 million years ago may have just been rediscovered. ScienceAlert.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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