|Many dream of being able to say one day that they have
set foot on all continents, namely on all seven: North and
South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and
Antarctica. But why only seven and not all twelve? Or on all
What is a continent anyway? According to the common
definition, continents are closed mainland masses that are
separated by oceans. They cover around 30% of the earth's
surface. The first problem arises here: Why are Asia and
Europe two different continents if they are not separated by
an ocean? This distinction has historical reasons. The Urals
have been seen as a natural border between Europe and Asia
since modern times. However, this in turn has mainly
political and cultural reasons. In our view of ourselves and
the world, European and Asian cultures were (and are) so
different that the division into two continents is hardly
But if we accept the cultural argument, why doesn't it
also apply to India and the Middle East? The cultures differ
at least to the same extent, just think of the religions:
here mainly Hinduism, there Islam. With this calculation, we
would already have nine continents: North America, South
America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, India, Australia
and Antarctica. So the cultural argument is not really
usable, because it would divide the world into more and more
confusing and ultimately arbitrary continents, which makes
the whole thing even more confusing.
So why not throw the cultural perspective overboard and
see Europe and Asia as one continent: Eurasia? But then what
about North and South America, which are actually connected
by the isthmus in Panama. Or at least they were until Teddy
Roosevelt decided to build the Panama Canal in 1906. In
theory, however, you can still walk from Alaska to the Cape
of Fire, because a small bridge leads across the canal at
its narrowest point. In any case, North and South America
are not naturally separate. From this perspective, there are
five continents: America, Eurasia, Africa, Oceania and
Antarctica. So that must be right, after all, even the five
rings of the Olympiad symbolize exactly these five
continents. And Columbus discovered America in 1492, not
North America or South America, right? But if the Panama
Canal no longer counts, doesn't the same also apply to the
Suez Canal, which has only separated Africa from Europe
within Egypt since 1869?
See detailed information and countries of Oceania on Countryaah.com.
So if continents are actually closed land masses
separated from each other by oceans, there are only four
continents: America, Afro-Eurasia, Australia and Antarctica.
Or…? Well. Not quite. When is a land area actually a land
mass? Is Australia really a land mass or just the largest
island? And why is Greenland actually an island and not a
continent? And first the Antarctic: Without ice, the
continent turns out to be a kind of huge archipelago, the
largest island of which is smaller than Australia. So what
about other large islands like Borneo, Madagascar or
Sumatra? So there should be dozens of continents. Or…?
No not true. Geology, which defines a continent as a
tectonic plate lying on the earth's crust, offers an answer.
In geology there are the Antarctic plate, the Australian
plate, the Eurasian plate, the South American plate, the
African plate... and the Arabic plate, the Indian plate, the
Caribbean plate, the Pacific plate, the Nazca plate, the
Scotia plate and the North American plate that lies below
half of Japan and part of Russia. Okay, okay, stop. So a
dozen continents after all? Not that either, because there
are also the coconut plate, the Philippine plate and a
number of other smaller plates.
The problem is: there is no consistent, universally valid
definition of the word “continent” for everyday use. By the
way, around 542 million years ago, in the Paleozoic Era, all
continents were interconnected for around 290 million years.
During this time, according to most definitions, there was
exactly one continent. This one supercontinent is called
Pangea, and it may be back in around 250 million years. In
ancient times, it was long believed that there were three
continents: Herodotus only differentiated between Europe,
Asia and Africa.
So how many continents are there today? Ultimately, just
as many as you want to travel.