This map lets you plug in your address to see how it’s changed over the past 750 million years
This map lets you plug in your address to see how it’s changed over the past 750 million years During the Early Triassic Epoch, Washington, D.C. was situated in a massive supercontinent called Pangea. (Ian Webster/Ancient Earth/Flickr)
This map lets you plug in your address to see how it’s changed over the past 750 million years
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Some 240 million years ago, a patch of land would one day become the National Mall. That land was part of an enormous supercontinent. It was known as Pangea. It encompassed nearly all of Earth's extant land mass. But Pangea bore little resemblance to our current planet. 

Now people can superimpose today's political boundaries onto the geographic formations of the past. That's thanks to a recently released interactive map. But, the map only dates back to 750 million years ago.

The results are intriguing. Take the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for example. During the Early Triassic Epoch it was wedged almost directly adjacent to Mauritania. It was yet to be separated from the Northwest African country by the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ancient Earth is the tool behind this millennia-spanning map. It is the brainchild of Ian Webster. He is the curator of the world's largest digital dinosaur database. Michael D'estries reported for Mother Nature Network. He said Webster drew on data from the PALEOMAP Project. It was spearheaded by palaeogeographer Christopher Scotese. The initiative tracks the evolving "distribution of land and sea" over the past 1,100 million years. That's what they used to build the map.

Users can input a specific address. They can also input a more generalized region, such as a state or country. Then they choose a date. It must range from zero to 750 million years ago. Currently, the map offers 26 timeline options. These travel back from the present to the Cryogenian Period. The map shows intervals of 15 to 150 million years.

George Dvorsky works for Gizmodo. He said Ancient Earth includes an array of helpful navigational features. These include toggle display options related to globe rotation. It also includes lighting and cloud coverage. Brief descriptions of chosen time periods pop up on the bottom left side of the screen. A dropdown menu at the top right allows users to jump to specific milestones in history. These include the arrival of Earth's first multicellular organisms some 600 million years ago. And it includes early hominids' relatively belated emergence around 20 million years ago.

You can switch from one time period to another. You can either manually choose from a dropdown menu or use your keyboard's left and right arrow keys. Start at the very beginning of the map's timeline. That's advice from Michele Debczak at Mental Floss. He says you'll see the planet evolve. It will change from an "unrecognizable blobs of land" to the massive supercontinent of Pangea. Eventually you'll see the seven continents we inhabit today.

Fast Company's Jesus Diaz outlines several insights revealed by Ancient Earth. One example is from 750 million years ago. It shows that Midtown Manhattan was situated at the center of a giant icy landmass. A description on the side of the map explains. 

"Glaciers may have covered the entire planet during the [Cryogenian Period]. The greatest ice age known on Earth." 

Debczak says to move forward to 500 million years ago. The map shows that New York City pops up as a tiny island. It is in the southern hemisphere. In that same view London is still part of Pangea. It appears almost directly adjacent to the South Pole.

"I'm amazed that geologists collected enough data to actually plot my home 750 [million] years ago, so I thought you all would enjoy it too." That's what Webster wrote in a comment on Hacker News.

He is quick to point out that the map should be considered an estimate. That's despite the fact that plate tectonic models return precise results.

"Obviously we will never be able to prove correctness," Webster concludes. "In my tests I found that model results can vary significantly. I chose this particular model because it is widely cited and covers the greatest length of time."

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What do you think is the biggest benefit of this map? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • biankab-
    9/30/2019 - 02:20 p.m.

    This map seems like a very cool way for students to learn about the Earth, It showed how to continents used to be together and that interests kids.

  • jamesf-5
    9/30/2019 - 02:24 p.m.

    I think it's a great idea because then you can see your family history even if your house got torn down.

  • trevorn-
    9/30/2019 - 02:28 p.m.

    i'd say that the map is good and helps you were to go

  • raeganh-
    9/30/2019 - 02:30 p.m.

    You can see what the world use to look like so you can learn what happened to the world over time.

  • turnerb-
    9/30/2019 - 02:30 p.m.

    I think that this will be a cool way for kids to know the history of their own address. Also I think it is a good way to know the past.

  • ethanm-10
    9/30/2019 - 02:36 p.m.

    This is a great idea and helps educate people about what the earth looked like a long time ago. It also shows people what the earth looked like with out housing and what your neighborhood used to look like.

  • Alvin-dun
    10/01/2019 - 12:22 a.m.

    I think this map is really great. It is because this map can let you see how earth changed millions of years ago, and they tell you the controls of the map, how did they build this map and what they use for it, they also give some examples of the things you can see; they even talk today's political boundaries.

  • Amy-dun
    10/01/2019 - 09:45 a.m.

    I think the map would become a great tool to use for kids to fulfill their curiosities and a great way to learn geography possibly. It's just a really cool idea in general to see how places today might have looked like 750 million years ago, and how much it developed over time.

  • AveryC-lam
    11/07/2019 - 10:49 a.m.

    I believe that the map could be useful to learn more about geography and how land changes over time.

  • 26nalee
    11/12/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    I agree with Webster that we can't call it accurate because it's just an estimate. We would need maps or photographs from millions of years ago to prove this. But I do think it is a very good ways to imagine what the world was like millions of years ago. I would be a good tool for a social studies class,even though it isn't a primary source. This map is a way to see what the past may have been like.

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