Stories of lost continents and vanished cities have stirred men's minds for centuries. To this day, the search goes on for Atlantis, which was supposedly destroyed by earthquakes and tidal waves more than 12,000 years ago. Survivors of the doomed kingdom are said to have fled eastward to the Americas, where they helped inspire the development of civilization.
According to legend, however, two larger civilizations vanished long before Atlantis. They were the continents of Lemuria and Mu, each credited with being the original Garden of Eden.
The theory that Lemuria once covered what is now the Indian Ocean gained scholarly support in the mid-19th century, to explain similarities in animal and plant life on continents separated by thousands of miles of sea.
British zoologist P.L. Sclater coined the name Lemuria from the lemur family of animals, which are found in Africa, southern India and Malaya. He claimed that the lemurs must have been split up when the sea swamped their central homeland,an area that presumably stretched from the Malagasy Republic across the south coast of Asia to the Malay archipelago.
This theory was backed up by the finding of similar animal fossils in the South African province of Natal and southern India. Some 19th-century evolutionists, including England's Thomas Huxley, expressed their belief in Lemuria, and the German biologist Ernst Haeckel went a step further by suggesting that the vanished continent had been "the probable cradle of the human race."
From this developed the idea that the continent of Lemuria was Eden. "Lemuria was a land of clean air and flowing rivers, where man and beasts lived in wondrous harmony with the Creator's gracious bounty," said Professor Haeckel. "It was here on this sunny, wave-washed isle where the human race originated. This was the land God gave us called Eden."
The lost continent of Mu was supposed to have been situated in the Pacific. According to Col. James Churchward, an adventurer who told the world of Mu in 1870, this continent was 5,000 miles long and 3,000 miles wide, with its center just south of the equator.
Among other things, the people of Mu had supposedly developed the ability to fly.
Col. Churchward claimed to have learned about Mu in India during the famine of 1866. He described how a Hindu priest taught him an ancient language, Naacal, which was apparently the original tongue of all mankind. The colonel was then able to decipher the story of Mu on ancient stone tablets hidden in the priest's temple.
The tablet supposedly revealed that man had appeared in Mu 2 million years ago and that a sophisticated race of 64 million people had evolved. Then the continent was destroyed in a volcanic eruption. But there were some survivors, and from them sprang all the world's present races.
"The people of Mu fell out of favor with their Creator and were destroyed," Col. Churchward wrote. "The children of that land had mastered the arcane sciences and were on the verge of challenging God's supremacy when calamity struck."
Both Lemuria and Mu may well have existed, for earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions have changed the face of the Earth many times. Certainly continents thousands of miles apart were once joined together, which accounts for plants and animals of the same species being found in different parts of the world.
It is now known that this is due to continental drift -- masses of land moving away from each other. But the continents drifted apart long before man appeared on the earth several million years ago.
Old beliefs die hard, however. Some people believe it is only a matter of time before deep-sea divers come across the crumbling remains of one or more of these ancient drowned kingdoms.
E. Randall Floyd can be reached at Rfloyd2@aol.com.