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As we know, the Earth had one super continent at one point in the history of our planet, which eventually broke apart to become what we have today.

Assuming we're talking about a planet near identical to Earth (size, density, distance from sun, similar atmosphere, similar geological processes, etc.), would it be possible for two super continents to have arisen early on (before life progressed into multi-cellular forms), and then stayed separate for 3-4 billion years? Is there some geological process or something else that would prevent this from happening, at least once in the galaxy?

Edits for clarification

I may have not been quite clear about my 'requirements', so a few clarifications.

  1. When I said 'Pangea' I used it as the name we typically give to the super continent that once existed.

  2. I understand that two such continents having existed at some point is entirely possible. My question is more along the lines of 'would it possible for not only those two to have existed at some point, but also to continue to exist for a long period of time such as 3-4 billion years without ever breaking apart or ever coming into contact with each other'.


Edit 2

The reason for the question is, I want to have two intelligent creatures evolve on the two continents separately, and not come into contact with each other until they've evolved into intelligent and sea-faring animals.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you would get evolution to have 2 separate branches of multi-cellular life. Multi cellular life, and life up through invertebrates can develop completely in the ocean before colonizing land. Birds can carry life between continents, and even trees can colonize across oceans (coconut palm) $\endgroup$ – Nate White Dec 4 '19 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I'm still fine with that. Suppose the two continents formed shortly after multi-cellular life. Then I can have distinct multi-cellular life forms evolve independently on each continent till they both produced intelligent creatures. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Also, you run into a timing issue. The time it took on Earth to go from Language to moonlanding is /tiny/ on the Geologic Timescale. Without something deliberately holding things in synch, one is going to develop intelligent creatures first, and they'll flash across the planet in a geologic instant. $\endgroup$ – notovny Dec 4 '19 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @notovny Even with humans, who are biologically the same species. the difference in technology present in first contact gave one side of the contact a huge technological advantage. These people diverged only on the scale of tens of thousands of years, around the last ice age. $\endgroup$ – Nate White Dec 4 '19 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Both of you bring up a good point. Maybe I can circumvent that problem by holding the dinosaur-like-creature phase long enough (maybe Oxygen concentration never fell, and giants roamed the world for much longer), and then something changed suddenly changing both continents and conditions were right in both for intelligent life. I understand that still leaves a lot of room for chance, so thanks, I'll think about this problem too. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 22:37
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On Earth, continental drift is caused by volcanic activity; so, are oceans. So without a lot more knowledge of what other worlds are actually like to maybe contridict that, a little bit of simple reasoning tells us that a planet with oceans should have significant continental drift over that time scale which makes 3-4 billion years of continental separation seem very unlikely. Furthermore, even with separate continents, you'll still probably have a enough major ice ages that would allow continental crossing via ice bridges many many times during that period.

That said, nature has your back on this one. As it turns out, it does not take super long continental separation to achieve what you are looking for. Thanks to a thing called convergent evolution, it is perfectly possible for two completely different species in different parts of the world to evolve the same characteristics given the same environmental niche and pressures. Considering how long it took humans to go from tree-swingers to computer engineers, your world only needs separate continents for about 1-2 million years to have smart lizards evolve on one land mass and smart mammals to evolve on the other without either competing for their niche until one learns to cross the Ocean.

The only thing you might need to adjust from Earth like is to make sure there are no major super volcanoes or asteroid impacts going off during that time period which might cause an ice age to bridge the gap.

Alternatively, without writing, civilizations don't exactly have the best memories of things that happened more than a few hundred years ago. It could be that your species did cross during an ice age, but they each successfully drove the other to extinction on their native continents after the ice age ended, then forgot about it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the first part, I guess it makes sense that continents will merge and/or ice sheets will eventually link them. I will dig deep into it to see if there are conditions under which the drift is slowed down. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ Re. the second part, I did think about it myself, and I'm conflicted. Even consider the common ancestor of us and chimps/bonobos, that's still only 7 million-ish years, so what you say stands in that regard. But then also, if all it takes is separation for that long, then another intelligent species could have arisen in another continent, for example why didn't marsupials evolve at least one human-level intelligent species in Australia? Or any other continent other than Africa? My guess is that conditions need to be just right for intelligent life to evolve, and it's such a rare occurrence... $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ ... that it can only happen once in every 3-4 billion years. That's why, despite complex multi-cellular life existing on earth for close to a billion years, and more than 500 million years since the Cambrian explosion, still only one intelligent species arose. This is why I wanted to separate the continents for 3-4 billion years, so essentially we have two planets with each having that many years to develop it's own intelligent life. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Separate "worlds" should actually make simultaneous evolution of intelligent life less likely. One continent could easily fall 50 million years behind the other in terms of evolution. Instead consider the Hyena. It looks like a dog, it acts like a dog, but it's actually a rodent of unusual size that filled the niche that canines filled in other parts of the world. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Dec 4 '19 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ I admit that timing problem is hard one to solve. This is a work in progress so I'm trying to find reasonable solutions to all these challenges. I'm not sure how Hyenas example fit in though; wouldn't it be arguing my case, that given similar niches different life forms can evolve into doing the same thing. If I can find a way to have isolated continents, but similar conditions, then there is perhaps a remote chance of two different species filling up the same 'job'. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 23:06
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Formation of super continents and their subsequent breakup is cyclical in nature.

Supercontinent Cycle

On geological time scales it would be reasonable to assume that there was a period in which there were only 2 major landmasses present on the planet.

Your timescale of 3-4 billion years is off by an order of magnitude of the Earth's, but it would be plausible that continents on other planets could move more slowly. Your planet must be much older than Earth, who's age is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please see the edits I've added. Follow up question: why must my planet be much older than Earth? Can't it be around 4-5 billion years as well, but continents move slowly? $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see why not. Your planet at 4-5 billion years would just be in it's first cycle. $\endgroup$ – Nate White Dec 4 '19 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the wp link! I always found this Pangea story a bit dodgy, esp. since it is not exactly a new theory. Makes a lot more sense now. $\endgroup$ – Karl Dec 4 '19 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @NateWhite OK that makes sense. So I suppose my two continents can have existed at least once. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 21:14
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We're pretty sure it's happened right here on a earth, a few times. Pangea didn't break up straight into seven continents, it was two big bits for a while both before it formed and after it broke up, and Pangea wasn't the first time all the continents had joined together either.

So, not only is there no process that prevents it from happening, it's pretty much guaranteed to happen at least once in the lifetime of any earthlike planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ I may not have been clear with my question so added a couple of clarifications. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 20:56
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First thing first, Pangea means "all the earth", because it encompassed the whole of the emerged land back in those times.

So, from a logic point of view there can be no two Pangea.

From a geological point of view, if you look at the appearance of the present emerged lands, you might argue that we have less than 5 continents: Asia, Europe and Africa are a single continuous bunch of dryland, so it is entirely possible that only two continents existed or will exist at a given time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I may not have asked the question very clearly, so added a couple of clarifications. $\endgroup$ – Sach Dec 4 '19 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ North and South America were also contiguous land masses until we dug a canal between between them, and the continental shelf is contiguous in parts between Asia and Australia; so, it might even be more accurate to say we have 4 or even 3 truly separate continents depending on how you look at it. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Dec 4 '19 at 22:24

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