The origin of the Christmas Island Seamount Province in the northeast Indian Ocean is enigmatic. The seamounts do not form the narrow, linear and continuous trail of volcanoes that would be expected if they had formed above a mantle plume. Volcanism above a fracture in the lithosphere is also unlikely, because the fractures trend orthogonally with respect to the east-west trend of the Christmas Island chain. Here we combine 40Ar/39Ar age, Sr, Nd, Hf and high-precision Pb isotope analyses of volcanic rocks from the province with plate tectonic reconstructions. We find that the seamounts are 47-136 million years old, decrease in age from east to west and are consistently 0-25 million years younger than the underlying oceanic crust, consistent with formation near a mid-ocean ridge. The seamounts also exhibit an enriched geochemical signal, indicating that recycled continental lithosphere was present in their source. Plate tectonic reconstructions show that the seamount province formed at the position where West Burma began separating from Australia and India, forming a new mid-ocean ridge. We propose that the seamounts formed through shallow recycling of delaminated continental lithosphere entrained in mantle that was passively upwelling beneath the mid-ocean ridge. We conclude that shallow recycling of continental lithosphere at mid-ocean ridges could be an important mechanism for the formation of seamount provinces in young ocean basins.