REVIEW: The Road to Gondwana: In Search of the Lost Supercontinent by Bill Morris
This is the story of a journey. Actually, it’s a story of many journeys, of paths woven through the fabric of Earth’s history, and of human history, all of which lead to one semi-mythical, and yet completely real place — the lost supercontinent Gondwana.
An immersive and fascinating journey into deep time, charting the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana through a billion years of Earth’s history.
‘Gondwana’ is a mystery of geological history; a lost supercontinent anda place woven into the consciousness of all who inhabit its scattered fragments. Today, the people who live in Africa, South America, India, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Arabia spend their lives walking around on what’s left of Gondwana. But what was life like when it was whole?
The Road to Gondwana traces the steps science took to find Gondwana, and the evolutionary journey of Gondwana itself. Our tour guide on this journey is Glossopteris – an extinct tree that dominated the supercontinent for 50 million years, before vanishing in the most devastating event ever to strike life on this planet, the Permian mass extinction.
Bill Morris is an author and journalist rather than the usual scientist I would have thought would write a book like this. But it turns out he’s the right guy to get an idea, research it, and then succinctly condense a whole lot of information into a book which will take readers back into Earth deep time. When I say “succinctly condense” remember we’re talking about roughly 500 million years of Gondwana + historical scientific discoveries.
As the book began, I thought, “What …? Why are we starting with a recoup of the horrific attempt of the Scott party to reach the South Pole in 1912?” Because, I discovered, the real reason for that attempt was to also do scientific research including looking for fossils. Scott and his men found fossils, refused to leave them behind even as they fell deeper into exhaustion and ultimately froze to death. Glossopteris fossils were found thus helping prove that Antactica was once part of a giant supercontinent that also included Africa, South America, India (part of which gave Gondwana its name), Australia, the Falkland Islands, and New Zealand.
The book is not just about how we think Gondwana looked, and the flora and fauna that became fossils and proved a link between them all. It’s also a deep dive into the scientific efforts of 300 years of people who proved the continent once existed leading up to the only recently (even in human terms, much less geological ones) discovered means by which continents “move” across the face of the Earth leading to landmasses crashing together before pulling apart, rinse and repeat.
Then – interspersed between Morris’s journeys to these various countries and continents – he describes a world alien to ours with (sometimes, depended on O2 levels) giant dragonflies (27 in wingspans), lumbering herbivores, enormous forests (which after the Permian Extinction became our coal seams), and drastic weather. Then as the giant continent began to break up, dinosaurs and different plants flourished. Most of Morris’s attention is paid to plants which began the initial molding of the planet into a place that could sustain life and which, were we to vanish tomorrow, will immediately take over.
When I asked for this arc, I wrote a short story about how when I was in college, I took a geology course known on campus as “Rocks for Jocks.” The jocks soon realized that it wasn’t the easy A it was supposed to be but I stuck around and developed a lifelong interest in what we now call deep time as well as for a little mentioned supercontinent called Gondwana. I’m glad to finally read some more about it. B
Precambrian Animation by CR Scotese – YouTube
plate tectonics – YouTube
Seafloor Spreading – YouTube