Something that fascinates Ramaswamy about Lemuria was how this theoretical lost continent entered the popular imagination of the late 19th century and began to take on a life of its own.
"What happens when scientific knowledge leaves the realm of science and disseminates into broader society?" says Ramaswamy. "How is that knowledge taken up and reworked?"
Sclater, the geologist, probably never imagined that his hypothetical land of the lemurs would be adopted by Helena Blavatsky, a 19th-century Russian occultist and co-founder of the Theosophical Society. Theosophists believe that neither science nor religion have captured the full truth about the origins of Earth and mankind, but through psychic gifts, people like Blavatsky can access lost wisdom.
In her 1888 book, "The Secret Doctrine," Blavatsky explained that modern humans are the latest in an ancient evolutionary line of seven "root races." Lemuria, said Blavatsky, was the home of the "third root race," gigantic humans who were once hermaphroditic and laid eggs, before eventually evolving distinct sexual organs. Oh, and dinosaurs lived there, too.
From there, says Ramaswamy, Lemuria got wrapped up in new-agey ideas of lost civilizations (another one is called Mu) where highly evolved spiritual beings once lived in peace and harmony. Those ideas persist today.
"When you Google the word Lemuria, the majority of the hits are New Age sites talking about writing retreats and meditation centers," says Ramaswamy. For $25, you can even buy a Lemurian quartz crystal for "removing all types of energy blockages."