How many continents are there in the world?

The concept of continents and their borders

Continents are commonly understood as large land masses, but their borders are not determined by any clear geographic barriers – in many cases, humanity has simply agreed that a certain area can be considered a continent and another cannot. So, how many continents are there in the world? And can there be more or fewer in the future?

Africa

It may seem that some land masses clearly deserve to be called separate continents, such as Africa, whose boundaries are clearly defined by seas and oceans. But is this really the case? If we take a closer look, we will see that Africa is actually connected to Asia by a narrow strip of land called the Isthmus of Suez. At its narrowest point, it is 121 kilometers wide, which is not insignificant. It is true that the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea and ultimately separating the two land masses, was only built in 1869. Before that, for millennia, Asia and Africa were essentially one continent.

Europe

The situation with Europe is even more interesting, as it is clearly connected to Asia and is actually an integral part of the mega-continent known as Eurasia. From the perspective of citizens of countries such as China or Australia, Europe is just a small peninsula at the end of a much larger land mass. Its status as a separate continent is largely due to its enormous influence on world history, starting from the 16th century and the period of colonization.

Australia and Oceania

We mentioned Australia – it is worth noting that the smallest continent, although not connected to any other land mass, could easily function simply as the world’s largest island. Here, too, the cultural factor and the fact that the island was colonized by European settlers played a role. The second largest island in the world, Greenland, has never been considered a separate continent, probably because it lacks major cities and is marginal in the global economy. It is worth noting that the term “Australian continent” in official language refers not only to the island of Australia itself but also to the island region of the world known as Oceania.

Antarctica

Another continent, Antarctica, became a separate continent despite not having a single permanent inhabitant. However, its sheer size – with a surface area of 14 million square kilometers – makes it larger than Australia and Europe combined. It is only slightly smaller than South America.

North and South America

Finally, the division into North and South America is also highly arbitrary. Both continents are separated by a narrow strip of land called the Isthmus of Panama. At its narrowest point, it is 47 kilometers wide, and like the Suez Isthmus, it is separated by a canal – the Panama Canal. However, it is still one land mass. However, there are significant cultural differences between Canada and the United States and countries further south, sometimes referred to as Latin America due to the use of Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent French). The Central American region, which is part of North America, stands out as part of Latin America.

How many continents are there?

In response to the above question, let us remind ourselves of the statement at the beginning of the article – there are at most seven continents. However, we can consider merging Asia and Europe as Eurasia (then there will be six continents). Moreover, we could abolish the division into two Americas and keep only one supercontinent under that name – leaving us with five continents. We can also consider downgrading the separate status of Australia and Antarctica, leaving only three continents. And finally, in a radical version, we could claim that Africa and Eurasia are actually one continent called Afro-Eurasia. The two remaining large land masses – the Americas and Afro-Eurasia – would then be the two main continents of the world, whose boundaries are determined only by seas and oceans, and not by cultural factors and customary agreements.


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