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At the size of over 17 million square mi. Asia is the biggest continent on the planet. It is also the most populous with almost 4 billion people. However is Asia really the biggest continent? What is Asia? Does it fit the scientific definition for a continent? By definition a continent is a large discrete landmass surrounded by water. However of all the seven continent Asia least fits this criterion. If we were to go by the exact defintion, neither Asia or Europe would count as separate continents. They would actually be a landmass called Eurasia. While other continents have dubious characteristics such as isthmuses, only Eurasia has an artificial boundary.
The concept of Europe and Asia are unique to Europeans and the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean. Ironically Asian do not see themselves as part of a single continent but identify themselves by their nations’ individual cultures. So in many ways the concept of Asia is seen as a very ethnocentric view.
However this view of the world has its foundation in old maps dating back to the times of the Sumerians. The old concept of the known world was called the O and T map. It was made of the three known landmasses of the time What we now know as Modern Turkey and beyond, Europe to the West, and Africa to the south. These landmasses were separated by the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and the Euphrates River. All of these landmasses were surrounded by the unexplored seas which the Greeks later called Ocean.
As Europeans advanced their map making the concept of the O and T map still remained. This became manifested in the arbitrary boundary that was decided when it was discovered that Asia and Europe were connected by land. This boundary was set at the Ural Mountains and the Ural river and it is still used in modern maps.
Asia is becoming a major player on the international stage as it is making use of its population and extraordinarily high number of skilled workers to become a key region production specifically in the area of Finance. The two major nations in this region leading this effort is China and India. While both have to face the challenges of Asia vast geography they are making use of the resources and advantages of their geography to make a major impact on the world stage. This awareness is already being felt in other regions of the world as they continue to exercise their influence.
If you enjoyed this article there are others on Universe Today that you will be sure to enjoy. There is an interesting article on the prospect of Super Earths. There is also an article about India losing its lunar orbiter.
There are also great resources on the web. WorldAtlas.com is a great resource with maps and facts about the various landmass, especially Asia. The online version of the CIA world fact book is another great resource with relatively up to date information.
You can also check out Astronomy Cast. Episode 115, The Moon, Part 3: Return to the Moon is quite fascinating.