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The History of Antarctica – A Story of Great Explorers

The History of Antarctica – A Story of Great Explorers

The History of Antarctica – A Story of Great Explorers

Who first saw Antarctic ice, and who first discovered Antarctica?
Europeans are used to putting a person’s name to such things, such as “Christopher Columbus discovered America” (he didn’t, actually), but the discoverers of Antarctica could well be nameless individuals from the Pacific. So here is the story about the History of Antarctica:

The History of Antarctica

We know the Polynesian people were superb navigators and explored far southern waters. Pacific oral history tells of a canoe voyage around AD 650 reaching Antarctic sea ice. It’s even possible, though unlikely, that an open ice pack during a balmy late summer permitted Polynesians to see and even land on the Antarctic mainland.

European Discoverers

The History of Antarctica starts off with the European discoverers. Nearly 1000 years later, Europeans reached Antarctic waters. In 1599, Dutchman Dirck Gerritsz described land in the vicinity of the South Shetland Islands, and through the 1600s Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English and French navigators penetrated south of Cape Horn. The Englishman Antonio de la Roché reached South Georgia in the far South Atlantic in 1675, and around the same time other voyagers described “ice islands” south of South America.
The Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier (Bouvet) discovered the remote island that bears his name in 1739, and in 1762 the Spaniard Joseph de la Llana charted rocks west of South Georgia now called Shag Rocks. More French voyages quickly followed. Kerguelen Island was discovered in the southern Indian Ocean by an expedition under Yves Joseph de Kerguelen, and Marion de Fresne’s expedition discovered two island groups, now known as Prince Edward and Crozet, south-east of Africa.

James Cook

James Cook has a central place in the History of Antarctica. His circumnavigation of Antarctica from 1772 to 1775 was the first of many government-instigated expeditions to the Antarctic. Cook did not sight land, but his two ships penetrated well into the sea ice and well south of the Antarctic Circle, far enough that he was able to say with reasonable confidence that there was land over the South Pole.

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