In 1858 a young zoologist, playing around with an idea, came up with a possible lost continent. This led to one of the longest and weirdest pseudoscience theories of all time, as Lemuria became a lost island of lemurs that had everything from sanskrit to sasquatch.
This was thanks to Philip Lutley Sclater, who has plenty of less crazy credits to his name. He amassed a collection of thousands of bird specimens, which he gave to the British museum. He described the okapi to western zoologists. He founded The Ibis, a journal of ornithology. And he fathered a son, who grew to be another respected ornithologist. But in 1858, when Sclater was in his 20s and all the crazy young kids were coming up with tales of land bridges and lost continents, he undertook a study of the fauna of Madagascar. Sclater with struck by the fact that Madascar's ecology was similar not only to Africa but to India as well. Sclater's conclusion, drawn from the puzzling similarity, was that both continents had once been connected by a lost land called Lemuria.
The world hadn't arrived at the theory of continental drift just yet, but scientists studying the geology, zoology, and botany of different continents had noticed some links and uncanny coincidences. They came up with all kind of possible connections between continents, and Lemuria, a lost continent of lemurs, was Sclater's contribution. He wasn't alone. If he had been, Lemuria would have faded into obscurity; Ernst Haeckel, a Darwin enthusiast often credited with promoting Darwin's ideas of natural selection in Germany, also came up with the idea of Lemuria. He added his own spin on it, claiming that Lemurians were not just lemurs, but humans as well. The Lemurians migrated to India as their continent sank, Haeckel claimed, and became the Aryans.
Once Lemuria was connected to a mythical human race, everyone had a theory about it. Helena Blavatsky, noted cult leader and nutbag, claimed that the Lemurians were actual human-sized lemurs. They were "hermaphrodites," she said, that reproduced without sexual intercourse, until they discovered sex, and their wickedness made their continent sink into the sea. People believed that the Lemurians came up with Sanskrit, that they were telepathic, that they were unable to reason but lived happily by instinct alone. Herbert Spencer Lewis, a member of the Rosicrucians, published a book claiming that the Lemurians were actually ancestors of the Maya. (Though how they got from India and Africa to Central America was anyone's guess.) Furthermore, he believed that the last pure Lemurians lived in secret on top of Mount Shasta, in California. (Again, no word on their mode of transportation.) Hikers, he said, sometimes spotted them, as they had long hair and English accents. (Seriously. These people got around.)
Lemurian legends spring up to this day, and have less and less to do with lemurs. Sclater would not approve.
[Via Bogus Science]