Continents make up the largest landmasses on the planet earth. A continent is larger than an island and is usually made up of multiple countries. There are seven continents in the world although some people do combine Europe and Asia into the single continent Eurasia and others combine North and South America into the American continent.
While Africa is first alphabetically, it is second as far as population and size among the Earth’s continents. About 1 billion people live in the 54 countries in Africa. This is about 15 percent of the world’s population living on 20 percent of the total land area. The equator passes through the center of the continent with largely tropical climates. The northern and southern portion of Africa have more temperate conditions. Africa is also noted as the birthplace of mankind. The oldest fossil evidence of Homo sapiens was found in the eastern part of the continent.
Antarctica holds a number of firsts among the continents of Earth. The continent is the most southern of the seven continents and includes the South Pole. It is also the least populated with less than 5,000 residents. Antarctica is known as the coldest landmass and has few native plants or animals. Much of the landmass is covered with permanent glaciers.
Asia covers nearly 9 percent of the earth’s surface making it the largest of the continents. It is also the home to the most people with an estimated population of 4.3 billion. Asia is defined as the eastern portion of the Eurasia continent with the Ural river and mountains serving as the dividing line with Europe. Asia contains some of the oldest civilizations in the world including the Chinese and Japanese nations. The continents large population makes it an important part of the world economy. Asia includes the Saudi Arabia peninsula with the oil rich countries including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The continent also includes the manufacturing centers of India and Japan and Hong Kong, which is a leading banking and corporate headquarter center.
The continent of Australia includes the mainland of the country Australia and the island nations of New Guinea, Tasmania and Seram. During ice ages, when much of the world’s water was frozen in glaciers, the Australian mainland was connected by land bridges to these islands. Australia has a wide variety of animals and plants many of which are unique in the world. The continent first was inhabited by man nearly 45,000 years ago. European inhabitants came onto the Australian landmass in the 1700s. Australia is the most isolated and remote of the continents and has been least influenced by migrations of people, plants and animals.
The western portion of the Eurasian continent is known as Europe. It is noted as one of the smallest of the continents, with 7 percent of the world’s landmass. However, Europe is home to about 11% of Earth’s population, and is the second most densely populated continent, with 134 people per square mile, behind Asia’s 203 people per square mile. Europe, by definition, includes the continental mainland ending in the east at the Ural Mountains in Russia. Europe also includes islands such as Iceland and Sicily, and the islands of the British Isles. The British Isles consist of the large island that is home to England, Scotland, and Wales, and is called Great Britain; the British Isles also include the small island that contains Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and several much smaller surrounding islands. People have been living in Europe for about 100,000 years. Around 2000 B.C., Indo-European settlers came and brought the language that most modern European languages are descended from. The ancient Greek and Roman civilizations flourished there, from which we get much of our learning and culture. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Germanic tribes swept over most of Europe, and their descendants shaped the modern countries of Scandinavia, and west and central Europe. By this time the Roman Empire had become Christian, and eventually all of Europe became Christian, for reasons of both faith and economics. Many diverse and interesting elements went into shaping the Europe that we know today.
The North American continent includes the Latin American regions that serve as a connection between North and South America. North America makes up about 17 percent of the world’s landmass and is home to about 8 percent of the people. This population of about 529 million people live in about 23 independent countries. The earliest human inhabitants in North America were from Asia and crossed into Alaska over the Bering land bridge during an ice age. The arrival of Europeans occurred in the mid 1600s. This population is now dominant in North America.
The South American continent is the southern portion of the larger American continent. The equator passes through the continent yielding a tropical climate to much of the landmass with temperate conditions possible in the south. The indigenous people of South America may have migrated south from North America although the majority of its current 371 million residents are of European descent. The population bases are largely along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts with large portions of the inland regions hosting small and widely spread populations. South America includes the Andes Mountains which comprise the longest range of peaks in the world. The continent is home to llamas and alpacas that originally were wild but became domesticated nearly 5,000 years ago. Colonization efforts by Spanish and Portuguese explorers ultimately lead to the prevalence of those languages on the South American continent.