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Drowned Worlds: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory, and Myth

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, October 21, 2021 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0128
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Ancient totem poles preserve native cultural heritage memory at Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada 

We live surrounded by drowned worlds according to geologist Patrick Nunn. For most of the time modern humans have wandered the Earth, the ocean surface has been around 200 feet lower than it is today. Our distant ancestors occupied worlds quite different than those we inhabit, where land areas were more extensive, more connected, and where ocean gaps between land masses were smaller. For Nunn, who has a long-standing fascination with myths and legends, much of human history lies beneath the ocean and we shortchange ourselves if we ignore this. 

Join him live from Australia as he recounts the histories of some of these shadow lands and what their understanding implies, drawing on research informed by science as well as human memories of submerged lands retained in oral traditions and eyewitness observations that became encoded in myth.

He discusses First Nations people’s stories from the islands (like those in Haida Gwaii) off the western seaboard of North America around the modern US–Canada border, where memories of submerged lands may have endured more than 10,000 years. He also examines the coasts of Northwest Europe where culturally grounded stories about “sunken cities” abound: places like Cantre’r Gwaelod in Cardigan Bay in Wales and Ys, the seat of King Gradlon, in France’s Douarnenez Bay whose existence may have been dismissed as legends. And in Australia, home to perhaps the world’s longest continuous cultures, stories about coastal inundation likely to be based on observations of rising sea level more than 7000 years ago have now been recovered from 26 places around the fringe of the continent.

Nunn’s new book, Worlds in Shadow: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory and Myth (Bloomsbury Sigma) is available for purchase.

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