Australia and North America may be thousands of miles away from each other, but a new study suggests that more than a billion years ago, a small town in northern Queensland was once part of what we know today as North America.
In a study published in the journal Geology, researchers from Curtin University, Monash University, and the Geological Survey of Queensland detailed their findings on the area around Georgetown, which is about 256 miles (412 kilometers) west of Cairns, with a population of about 250 people. As noted by the Guardian, the rocks found in the area did not resemble those found in Australia’s other rock deposits. Instead, they resembled rocks found in present-day Canada, a nation located close to 9,000 miles (14,484 kilometers) away.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the tiny Australian town of Georgetown was once part of North America, while also revealing some new information on the origins and history of the supercontinent Nuna. Also known as Columbia, the supercontinent is believed to have existed between 1.5 billion and 2.5 billion years ago, according to Science Alert, though the new study suggests a more exact timeline for its formation.
“Our research shows that about 1.7 billion years ago, Georgetown rocks were deposited into a shallow sea when the region was part of North America. Georgetown then broke away from North America and collided with the Mount Isa region of northern Australia around 100 million years later,” said lead researcher Adam Nordsvan, a doctoral student at Curtin University, in a statement quoted by the Canning Times.
Combining existing information on Georgetown and Mount Isa with their new data on the two locations, the researchers also concluded that Georgetown did not drift away when Nuna broke apart about 300 million years later, instead remaining in Australia, the Canning Times added.
In an interview with the Guardian, Nordsvan elaborated on his team’s discovery, stressing that researchers have long been suggesting a possible link between Australia and North America, with geologists first bringing up the theory in the late 1970s and researching further into it in the early 1990s. Furthermore, previous models of supercontinents, including Rodinia, which was formed after Nuna broke apart, hinted that the eastern part of Australia might have once been connected to the western part of North America.
While the researchers are confident that Georgetown, Australia, and North America were previously part of the same land mass, they believe that the entire northern tip of Queensland might also be of prehistoric North American origin. Nordsvan told the Guardian that there’s a good chance that was the case, based on preliminary findings, though his team is expecting more data to come in this year and truly confirm the possibility.