Steven Universe Tectonic-Plate Theory

In the mythology of Steven Universe, earth was visited in its distant past by a species of crystalline-like lifeforms who sought to terraform the planet according to their own designs. But a group of these aliens realised this would involve wiping out all organic life on earth, so they decided to rebel against their people in order to save it. They called themselves the Crystal Gems, and they fought a bitter and protracted war against their homeworld which, ultimately, saved earth from colonisation.

The series itself picks up in the present, after one of the original rebels falls in love with a human and decides to have a child with him –– an act which ultimately involves sacrificing herself so that her son, Steven Universe, can exist.

In a recent episode, though, we finally got a good look at exactly what those terraformation plans would have entailed. And it’s sort of as beautiful as it is terrifying…

“It could have been great!”

What some viewers might find curious, though, is what’s going on with earth geography in this clip. Because it seems a bit odd. Here is a screenshot at the point where Peridot is talking about the initial Gem colonies, pictured as red dots.

It’s familiar, but not too familiar. But not too not-familiar.”

Those continents don’t look quite right. A common assumption is that they represent the fallout from the Gem war — continent-wide destruction as the rebel and homeworld forces battled it out. The hole in the middle of Eastern Europe is a big tell on that front: it looks like a whole mess of localised destruction around a central point. And this is not too inconsistent with the sort of planetary destruction we saw in that other post-war children’s cartoon, Adventure Time.

But I think we’re actually looking at something else, here. Steven Universe is set on an alternate earth from ours––one where we weren’t invaded by crystal aliens––and in that alternate universe the continents simply formed a bit differently.

The obvious tell on our earth that plate tectonics is a thing is with respect to South America and Africa, which just look so much like jigsaw-puzzle pieces when presented against each other that it’s difficult not to ultimately imagine they weren’t once one single continent. But it seems as if, in Steven’s universe, most of West Africa stayed with South America when the division happened. This seems fairly probable when you look at current modelling of plate tectonics, which treats West Africa as its own platelet.

It’s familiar, but not too familiar. But not too not-familiar!

Once you notice how that piece falls into place, a lot of the other weirdness starts to make sense. India is missing because it never broke free and slammed into Asia, forming the Himalayas, as it did in our universe. Instead, it either stayed stuck to Antartica, or it is that partially-submerged landmass which hit Australia.

(As an aside — we don’t see Antartica in the above map, but we know it’s there because it can be seen in the next episode.)

Antartica is only peaking below South America, but it’s there.

This also explains why Florida doesn’t exist––it was formed in the Jurassic period in our universe, but seemingly not in Steven’s. Conversely, Europe fused together during the Cretaceous period on our world, but it never quite got there in this one, instead leaving a wide inland sea.

This is where I’m up to, anyway. I think there are more hints out there for the paleogeographers to pick up on, but as a geography-enthusiast I think we’re not looking at continental destruction or weird sea-levels so much as lava-lamp continental drift forming differently in Rebecca Sugar’s fictional universe.