The Lost Lands of Mu and Lemuria: Was Australia Once Part of a Sunken Continent?

From New Dawn 103 (Jul-Aug 2007)

Lemuria and Mu are interchangeable names given to a lost land believed to have been located somewhere in either the southern Pacific or Indian Oceans. This ancient continent was apparently the home of an advanced and highly spiritual culture, perhaps the mother race of all mankind, but it sank beneath the waves many thousands of years ago as the result of a geological cataclysm of some kind.

The thousands of rocky islands scattered throughout the Pacific, including Easter Island, Tahiti, Hawaii and Samoa, have been claimed by some to be the only surviving remains of this once great continent. The theory of a lost continent in this area has been put forward by many different people, most notably in the mid 19th century by scientists in order to explain the unusual distribution of various animals and plants around the Indian and Pacific Oceans.In the late 19th century occultist Madame Blavatsky reincarnated the idea of Lemuria as a lost continent / spiritual homeland and influenced a host of subsequent occultists and mystics including well known American psychic healer and Prophet Edgar Cayce. The popularisation of Lemuria / Mu as a purely physical place began in the 20th century with ex-British army officer Colonel James Churchward, and the idea still has many adherents today.

But is there any physical evidence to back up these claims of an ancient continent beneath the Pacific or Indian Ocean? Or should these ‘lost homeland’ stories be interpreted in another way entirely, perhaps as the symbol of a mythical vanished ‘Golden Age’ of man?

The Land of Mu

The idea of a lost continent known as ‘Mu’ in the Pacific Ocean does not actually have a particularly long history, neither is it mentioned specifically in any ancient mythologies as some writers have suggested. The title ‘Mu’ originated with eccentric amateur archaeologist Augustus le Plongeon (1826-1908), who was the first to make photographical records of the ruins of the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in Yucatán, Mexico. Plongeon’s credibility was badly damaged by his attempted translation of a Mayan book known as the ‘Troana Codex’ (also known as the ‘Madrid Codex’).

In his books Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayans and Quiches (1886) and Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx (1896) Plongeon interpreted part of the text of the Troana Codex as revealing that the Maya of Yucatán were the ancestors of the Egyptians and many other civilisations. He also believed that an ancient continent, which he called Mu, had been destroyed by a volcanic eruption, the survivors of this cataclysm founding the Mayan civilisation. Plongeon equates Mu with Atlantis and states that a ‘Queen Moo’ originally from Atlantis, travelled to Egypt where she became known as Isis, and founded the Egyptian civilisation. However, Plongeon’s interpretation of the Mayan book is considered by experts in Mayan archaeology and history as completely erroneous, indeed much of what he interpreted as hieroglyphics turned out to be ornamental design.


‘Lemuria’, the alternative name for the lost continent, also originated in the nineteenth century. Ernst Heinrich Haeckel (1834-1919), a German naturalist and supporter of Darwin, proposed that a land bridge spanning the Indian Ocean separating Madagascar from India could explain the widespread distribution of lemurs, small, primitive tree-dwelling mammals found in Africa, Madagascar, India and the East Indian archipelago. More bizarrely, Haeckel also suggested that lemurs were the ancestors of the human race and that this land bridge was the “probable cradle of the human race.”

Other well-known scientists, such as the evolutionist T.H. Huxley and the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, had no doubt about the existence of a huge continent in the Pacific millions of years previously, which had been destroyed in a disastrous earthquake that submerged it beneath the waves, much as Atlantis was thought to have been drowned.

Before the discovery of continental drift it was not unusual in the mid to late 19th century for scientists to propose submerged land masses and land bridges to explain the distribution of the world’s flora and fauna. In 1864, the English zoologist Philip Lutley Sclater (1829-1913) gave the hypothetical continent the name ‘Lemuria’ in an article ‘The Mammals of Madagascar’ in The Quarterly Journal of Science, and since then it has stuck.

The Geologists’ View

Zoologists and geologists now explain the distribution of lemurs and other plants and animals in the area of the Pacific and Indian Oceans to be the result of plate tectonics and continental drift. The theory of plate tectonics, and it is still a theory, affirms that moving plates of the Earth’s crust supported on less rigid mantle rocks causes continental drift, volcanic and seismic activity, and the formation of mountain chains. The concept of continental drift was first proposed by German scientist Alfred Wegener in 1912, but the theory did not gain general acceptance in the scientific community for another 50 years.

With this understanding of plate tectonics geologists now regard the theory of a sunken continent beneath the Pacific as an impossibility. They also point out that theories of lost lands in the Pacific mostly originate in the 19th century, when knowledge of the area was limited and well before the Pacific sea floor had been mapped.

Blavatsky’s Lemuria

The idea of Lemuria as something more than a physical place, or at least somewhere which had been inhabited by non-human entities before the appearance of man, derives from the writings of colourful Russian occultist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891). Blavatsky was the co-founder, together with lawyer Henry Steel Olcott, of the Theosophical Society, in New York in 1875. The Society was an esoteric order designed to study the mystical teachings of both Christianity and Eastern religions.

In her massive tome The Secret Doctrine (1888) Blavatsky describes a history originating millions of years ago with the ‘Lords of Flame’ and goes on to discusses five ‘Root Races’ which have existed on earth, each one dying out in an earth-shattering cataclysm. The third of these Root Races she called the ‘Lemurian’, which lived a million years ago, and who were bizarre telepathic giants who kept dinosaurs as pets.

The Lemurians eventually drowned when their continent was submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean. The progeny of the Lemurians was the fourth Root Race, the human Atlanteans, who were brought down by their use of black magic, their continent of Atlantis sinking beneath the waves 850,000 years ago. Present humanity represents the Fifth Root Race.

Blavatsky envisioned her Lemuria as covering a vast area. In her own words it stretched from

…the foot of the Himalayas, which separated it from the inland sea rolling its waves over what is now Tibet, Mongolia, and the great desert of Schamo (Gobi); from Chittagong, westward to Hardwar, and eastward to Assam. From thence, it stretched South across what is known to us as Southern India, Ceylon, and Sumatra; then embracing on its way, as we go South, Madagascar on its right hand and Australia and Tasmania on its left, it ran down to within a few degrees of the Antarctic Circle; when, from Australia, an inland region on the Mother Continent in those ages, it extended far into the Pacific Ocean…

Blavatsky also describes survivors of the catastrophic destruction of Lemuria escaping to become the ancestors of some of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. She maintained that she took all of her information regarding Lemuria from ‘The Book of Dzyan’, supposed to have been written in Atlantis and shown to her by the Indian adepts known as ‘Mahatmas’.

Madame Blavatsky never claimed to have discovered Lemuria; in fact she refers to Philip Schlater coining the name Lemuria, in her writings. It has to be said that The Secret Doctrine is an extremely difficult book, a complex mixture of Eastern and Western cosmologies, mystical ramblings and esoteric wisdom, much of it not meant to be taken literally.

Blavatsky’s is the first ‘occult’ interpretation of Lemuria, but on one level it should not be equated with the physical continent later proposed by Churchward. What Blavatsky and other occultists since have suggested concerning Lemuria could be partly interpreted as an ideal spiritual condition of the soul, a kind of spiritual-historical vision.

Nevertheless, there are some psychics and prophets who even today regard the existence of ancient Lemuria / Mu as a physical reality. Indeed, there are a few who when ‘hypnotically regressed’ have recalled former lives as citizens on the doomed continent.

Lemuria and Australia

The writings of Blavatsky and other Theosophists about Lemuria, and the idea of Australia as part of this ancient lost continent and the scene of a lost golden age, had a significant influence on mystics and occultists in the country at the end of the 19th century.

Queensland-born novelist Rosa Campbell Praed represented Australia as the last remnant of ancient Lemuria and believed the myth of the lost continent to be based on fact. In Praed’s case, she used the theosophical idea of Lemuria to present an idealised primeval history of Australia, a land very different to the Queensland frontier country wracked by racial violence she had witnessed first-hand as a child.

Other evidence for this fascination with ancient Lemuria comes in the series of Australian adventure of the 1890s known as “the Lemurian novels.” In The Last Lemurian, written in 1898 by historian of Australian exploration and adventure-romance novelist George Firth Scott, the narrator Dick Halwood discovers the remains of legendary Lemuria out in the Australian desert, in a plot involving reincarnation, pygmies, a bunyip-monster, and an occult Yellow Queen.

John David Hennessey’s An Australian Bush Track (1896) calls Lemuria ‘Zoo-Zoo land’, and locates it somewhere in northern Queensland. Its inhabitants, the Zoo-Zooans, are a “remnant of a great nation which came there from some part of the mainland of Asia,” but had lost all the arts of high civilisation they once possessed. The Lost Explorer (1890) by James Francis Hogan has Lemuria as ‘Malua’, located in the centre of Australia, and ruled by the cannibalistic Queen Mocata, the last survivor of a superior race that once lived in “the interior of the great southern continent.”

The idea that Australia was once part of this lost Eden has also influenced those of a more practical bent, and attempts have been made to locate traces of Lemurian civilisation on both the west and east coasts of Australia.

Aboriginal art, artefacts and mythology have also been used to identify the Aborigines as prehistoric remnants of the Lemurians (following Blavatsky again), who somehow escaped the devastation of 20,000 or so years ago. Indeed, in some Theosophical publications of the first quarter of the 20th century Aborigines were described as the last of the Lemurians. However, the Aborigines of Australia had already been established on the continent for at least 30,000 years at the time of the supposed destruction of Lemuria, in fact they have perhaps the longest continuous cultural history of any people on Earth, so the theory of them having a Lemurian origin does not hold water.

Colonel James Churchward

The lost civilisation of Lemuria / Mu was brought dramatically back to public attention in 1931 with the publication of Colonel James Churchward’s bizarre The Lost Continent of Mu, the first in a series of five books by Churchward about the lost continent.

In the book he claimed that the lost continent of Mu had once extended from an area north of Hawaii southwards as far as Fiji and Easter Island. According to Churchward, Mu was the original Garden of Eden and a technologically advanced civilisation which boasted 64,000,000 inhabitants. Around 12,000 years ago Mu was wiped out by an earthquake and submerged beneath the Pacific. Apparently Atlantis, a colony of Mu, was destroyed in the same way a thousand years later. All the world’s major ancient civilisations, from the Babylonians and the Persians, to the Maya and the Egyptians, were the remains of the colonies of Mu.

Churchward claimed he received this sensational information when, as a young officer in India during a famine in the 1880s, he became friendly with an Indian priest. This priest told Churchward that he and two cousins were the only survivors of a 70,000 year old esoteric order which originated on Mu itself. This order was known as the ‘Naacal Brotherhood’.

The priest showed Churchward a number of ancient tablets written by the Naacal Order in a forgotten ancient language, supposed to be the original language of mankind, which he taught the officer to read. Churchward later asserted that certain stone artefacts recovered in Mexico contained parts of the ‘Sacred Inspired Writings of Mu’, perhaps taking ideas from Augustus le Plongeon and his use of the Troana Codex to provide evidence for the existence of Mu.

Unfortunately, Churchward never produced any evidence to back up his exotic claims, he never published translations of the enigmatic Naacal tablets, and his books, though they still have many followers today, are perhaps better read as entertainment than factual studies of Lemuria / Mu.

Nan Madol

It was James Churchward who first posited the theory that the site of Nan Modal, on Pohnpei Island in the North Pacific Ocean, was one of the seven cities of ancient Mu / Lemuria.

The cyclopean ruins of Nan Modal, at one time a ceremonial centre covering 11 square miles, consist of around 90 small artificial islands built up out of a lagoon, and interlinked by a network of tidal canals. These islands, situated on the tidal flats southeast of Temwen Island, Micronesia, contain house foundations, sea walls – thirty feet tall in places, tunnels and burial vaults, all constructed entirely from prismatic basalt columns stacked crisscross like log cabins. These rocks weigh several tons on average, with the largest weighing 25 tons.

What makes the construction all the more remarkable is that the stone had to be transported some distance to the site, as no quarries have been found nearby, though they do exist elsewhere on the island. A clue to how this feat was achieved are crystal basalt columns discovered at the bottom of the lagoon near Temwen Island and on the shores of other islets in the area, which would suggest that the stones were transported by raft.

Modern Pohnpeians, on the other hand, believe the stones were flown over the island using black magic. Radio carbon dates and analysis of pottery from Nan Madol reveal that construction of the site began around 1200 CE, though the area may have been occupied from as early as 200 BCE. Such dates would certainly preclude any connection with Churchward’s Lemurians or their descendents.

At the beginning of the 13th century CE the island of Pohnpei is thought to have been conquered and unified by the mysterious ‘saudeleur’ dynasty, and it was then that the spectacular complex was constructed as a ceremonial and political seat for the new royal line. The saudeleur line was brought to an end in the 1500s by exiled Pohnpeian warrior, Isokelekel. The new chiefs, known as Nahnmwarki, occupied Nan Madol for a couple of hundred years, but by the 1800’s when the first Europeans arrived, the site was deserted. Why this happened remains one of the many mysteries of this incredible site.

The Kerguelen Continent

In the last twenty or so years submerged civilisations have once again been in the news due in particular to a number of intriguing underwater discoveries. In 1999 the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) Resolution research vessel made an amazing discovery drilling in an area of the southern Indian Ocean about 3,000 km to the southwest of Australia.

The researchers discovered that an underwater plateau about a third the size of Australia, known as the Kerguelen Plateau, was actually the remains of a lost continent, which sank beneath the waves around 20 million years ago. The team found fragments of wood, a seed, spores and pollen, in 90 million year old sediment, as well as types of rocks associated with explosive volcanism.

One of the many fascinating points about the Kerguelen Plateau is that it contains sedimentary rocks similar to those found in India and Australia, which indicates that they were at one time connected. Scientists believe that around 50 million years ago, the continent may have had tropical flora and fauna, including small dinosaurs. With further research planned, the fascinating puzzle of the Kerguelen Plateau may yet resurrect the Lemuria debate.

Yonaguni Island and the Gulf of Cambay

In 1985 off the southern coast of Yonaguni Island, the westernmost island of Japan, a Japanese dive tour operator discovered a previously unknown stepped pyramidal edifice. Shortly afterwards, Professor Masaki Kimura, a marine geologist at Ryukyu University in Okinawa, confirmed the existence of the 183m wide, 27m high structure.

This rectangular stone ziggurat, part of a complex of underwater stone structures in the area which resemble ramps, steps and terraces, is thought to date from somewhere between 3,000 to 8,000 years ago. Some researchers have suggested these ruins are the remains of a submerged civilisation – and that the structures represent perhaps the oldest architecture in the world. Connections with Lemuria and Atlantis have also been mentioned.

However, some geologists, such as Robert Schoch of Boston University, and others with knowledge of the area, insist that the underwater ‘buildings’ are natural, mainly the result of ocean erosion and coral reef settlements and similar to other known geological formations in the region. Furthermore, archaeologists also point out that no man-made tools or weapons have been recovered from the site, which would indicate human settlement.

In December 2000 a team from the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) claimed to have discovered the remains of a huge lost city 36 metres underwater in the Gulf of Cambay, off the western coast of India. A year later further acoustic imaging surveys were undertaken and evidence recorded for apparent human settlement at the site, which included the foundations of huge structures, pottery, sections of walls, beads, pieces of sculpture and human bone. One of the wooden finds supposedly from the city has given a radiocarbon date of 7500 BCE, which would make the site 4,000 years earlier than the oldest known civilisation in India.

Research is ongoing at this fascinating site, now known as the Gulf of Khambat Cultural Complex (GKCC), which if the dates are proved correct, may one day radically alter our understanding of the world’s first civilisations. However, it must be added that a number of marine geologists believe that the NIOT scientists have made serious errors in their interpretations of the sonar images obtained from the area. The opinion of these researchers is that the supposedly ancient ‘ruins’, shown as geometric patterns on the images, are natural rock formations and there is no evidence that the artefacts discovered in the area of the site, including the radio-carbon dated block of wood, are associated with it. The debate is still continuing among geologists, archaeologists and historians on this controversial discovery.

Whether any of these underwater finds in the Pacific and Indian Oceans prove to be the remains of forgotten civilisations or not, one thing is certain man will always be searching for a lost homeland or a more spiritually satisfying ancient past. In this sense Lemuria or Mu will always be more than just a physical place.

This article was published in New Dawn 103.
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Sources and Further Reading

The Lost Continent of Mu by J. Churchward, C.W. Daniel Co. Ltd, 1994 (1931).
The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories by Sumathi Ramaswamy, University of California Press, 2005.
The Secret Doctrine II – Anthropogenesis by H.P. Blavatsky,  Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California, 1970 (1888).
Other Temples, Other Gods: The Occult in Australia by N. Drury & G. Tillett, Sydney, Hodder & Stoughton, 1982. ‘Lost Continent Discovered’. The Kerguelen discovery. ‘Questionable Claims’. The finds in the Gulf of Khambat. Morien Institue page about Yonaguni. ‘Pohnpei Between Time and Tide’. Dr. William S. Ayres’s site about his work in Nan Madol.

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