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Interactive map shows you where your home was millions of years ago

Published Sep 8th, 2020 5:17PM EDT
interactive world history

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  • A scientist built a web tool that lets you find out where your town was millions of years ago on Earth. 
  • Earth’s plates have shifted a lot over the eons, and the landmasses that we see as continents were once in very different arrangements.
  • The tool lets you rewind time from 20 million years all the way to 750 million years in the past.

We tend to think of the current arrangement of land on Earth as being static, but nothing could be further from the truth. The continents and landmasses are always moving, and they have been for, well, forever. That means that wherever you’re sitting right now used to be somewhere else on the globe, or at least the ground beneath it was.

Researchers have spent decades trying to turn back time and track the movements of Earth’s landmasses. We know that at one point it was all bunched up together, but the journey from that point to what we see today was long, and the Earth looked very different from one 100-million-year stint to the next. Now, a new interactive map can actually show you were your town or city was, relatively speaking, as far back as 750 million years.

The tool is super simple to use. All you have to do is put in the name of your city and the globe will center on where that piece of land is thought to have been at some point in the distant past. You can filter the results based on how far back you want to go, from 20 million years all the way to 750 million years.

It’s kind of an addicting little tool, and you’ll likely find yourself tracking your location as far back as it goes. My sleepy little city in Wisconsin was once underwater, and then under ice, and then all over the place. The same will probably be true of most locations you type in, and it’s an interesting way to see how dramatically the Earth has changed even over a relatively short period of time. 100 million years being “short” in the grand scheme of things, of course.

“It shows that our environment is dynamic and can change,” Ian Webster, a paleontologist who designed the website, told CNN in an interview. “The history of Earth is longer than we can conceive, and the current arrangement of plate tectonics and continents is an accident of time. It will be very different in the future, and Earth may outlast us all.”

Now, to be clear, much of what we think we know about the history of the movement of Earth’s continents is guesswork based on geological modeling and discoveries made in ancient rock. We can match up a rock from certain periods with others found in on other continents and know that they were at one point much closer or even connected. The models themselves offer us just a rough estimate. It’s still incredibly interesting, however, and definitely useful for killing a few minutes… or more.