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This Map Lets You See Where Modern Cities Were Millions of Years Ago

What is New Delhi today was a floating landmass south of the equator when the first dinosaurs lived on the planet.
August 31, 2020, 7:06am
maps
A screenshot of the globe showing New Delhi 120 million years ago; (right) a screenshot of the globe showing Los Angeles 300 million years ago. Images courtesy of Ian Webster/Ancient Earth

Do you remember when you were younger and had just discovered Google Maps? You’d go on it, and out of all the places in the world you could see, you’d see what your home looked like from the satellite. There obviously is a certain charm in being able to spot the specific piece of land we belong to in a space as huge as the Earth. And now, a paleontologist has taken that fascination up a notch: For the first time ever, you can see how your hometown has moved across the Earth over 750 million years of continental drift. 

The online map is an interactive graphic that features a range of tools that make it easy to discover more about the Earth: an equator to give you a reference of space, features which let you see where a modern city was, when the first dinosaur lived, when the first flower bloomed, and information about the period. 

“It shows that our environment is dynamic and can change," Ian Webster, the creator of the globe, told CNN. "The history of Earth is longer than we can conceive… It will be very different in the future, and Earth may outlast us all."

The project is attached to the world’s largest digital dinosaur database, also created by Webster, who drew on geographical data from another resource called Ancient Earth. Created by paleographer Christopher Scotese, Ancient Earth was a culmination of work called the Paleo Maps Project. Scotese's models describe plate tectonic development since 750 million years ago, not long after green algae first evolved in the Earth's oceans. 

Webster's globe lets users enter a location and then plugs that location into plate tectonic models. His software geocodes the location and then uses Scotese’s models to run their location backward in time. The result is that users can see how towns and cities moved through millions of years. 

New Delhi, for example, was a floating mass of land somewhere south of the equator, 120 million years ago. Los Angeles was a submerged landmass 300 million years ago. Tokyo, on the other hand, was a part of a huge landmass close to the northern pole 240 million years ago. The map will even show users what dinosaurs used to live nearby in the area they search.

“I’m amazed that geologists collected enough data to plot my home 750 [million] years ago, so I thought you all would enjoy it too,” wrote Webster. The project, he says, is meant to spark fascination and respect for the scientists that work to understand our world and its past. Obviously, there’s no way to prove the accuracy of this globe. Regardless, it is a captivating activity once again proving the vastness of life and existence. 

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