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It took mil­lions of years for con­ti­nents to drift apart to where they are now

In the begin­ning, more than 4.6-billion years ago, the world was a ball of burn­ing gas, spin­ning through space. At first, super-heat­ed gas­es were able to escape into out­er space, but as the Earth cooled, they were held by grav­i­ty to form the ear­ly atmosphere.

Clouds began to devel­op as water vapour col­lect­ed in the air … And then it began to pour with rain, caus­ing the ear­ly oceans to rise up.

It took hun­dreds of mil­lions of years for the first land mass­es to emerge.

About 250-mil­lion years ago, long, long after the Earth had formed, all the con­ti­nents of the time had joined togeth­er to form a super-con­ti­nent called Pangaea.

This super-con­ti­nent broke up about 200-mil­lion years ago to form two giant con­ti­nents, Gond­wana and Laurasia.

Gond­wana com­prised what is now Africa, South Amer­i­ca, Aus­tralia, Antarc­ti­ca and India. The Indi­an sub-con­ti­nent lay off the east coast of Africa, before it broke off and moved north rapidly.

It col­lid­ed with Asia, cre­at­ing one of the world’s great­est moun­tain ranges, which extends for more than 2,500 kilo­me­tres – the Himalayas.

By now, our world had start­ed to look like some­thing we would recognise.

The amaz­ing process of plate tec­ton­ics, in which the Earth’s land mass­es move slow­ly across the Earth’s crust, is still continuing.

Far in the future, some sci­en­tists have pre­dict­ed that the present con­ti­nents will con­verge again, to form a new supercontinent.

Only time will tell…

Watch an excit­ing dis­play of tec­ton­ic shift and how the Earth took its cur­rent shape at Maropeng.

Return to the Exhi­bi­tion Guide.