A mapping of geochemistry in southwestern Britain. A few hundred million years ago, the ancient continents of Armorica collided with Avalonia and Laurentia, which created modern England. For the study, the researchers examined minerals found in Devon and Cornwall. ( nature )

A new study has shown that England was created due to the collision of not two, but three old continental masses.

The third land mass called Armorica, today's France, was involved in the collision between Avalonia and Laurentia and created what is now known as England, Wales and Scotland.

How the British mainland came about

For centuries, geologists believed that only two ancient continental landmasses – Avalonia and Laurentia – collided and merged to create Britain. This happened over 400 million years ago.

However, a new study published in the journal Nature communications has alleged evidence that Armorica also collided with Avalonia and Laurentia.

The discovery was made by intensive study of mineral properties at 22 sites in Devon and Cornwall in England. These areas were exposed after subterranean volcanic eruptions that occurred about 300 million years ago, causing magma to reach the Earth's surface.

The researchers took rock samples and subjected them to a chemical and isotopic analysis to understand the history of the country. Then they compared their study with earlier research from the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.

"It has always been suggested that the border between Avalonia and Armorica is below the natural limit of the English Channel," said Arjan Dijkstra, who led the study.

"But our results suggest that although there is no physical line on the surface, there is a clear geological boundary separating Cornwall and South Devon from the rest of the UK."

On foot from France to England

The study found a clear separation between Devin and Cornwall. While the north of both counties shares its geological roots with the rest of England and Wales, the southern areas are more similar to France and other parts of mainland Europe.

Dijkstra and the team's discovery change the way geologists saw the birth of the United Kingdom millions of years ago. About 10,000 years ago, what today is known as England and France was connected by a land bridge that allowed humans and animals to migrate in and out of the areas. Now the world knows that England and France were even closer millions of years ago.

The collision also explains why tin and tungsten occur in the extreme southwest of England. The mineral can be found in other areas of mainland Europe, but not in the rest of the United Kingdom.

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