The History of Antarctic Exploration
Discover and learn more about the incredible stories of Antarctic exploration in the 20th century with our interactive map.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Antarctica was the last uncharted continent on Earth. No man had set foot on the frozen Terra Incognita. During the first few decades of the century, adventurers discovered more and more of Antarctica’s secrets.
The mapping of the continent claimed many lives, and bred stories of courage, danger and heroism, played out in the many attempts to reach the South Pole. Discover these stories and more with our interactive map:
The History of Antarctica
It was the ancient Greeks who first came up with the idea of Antarctica. They knew about the Arctic – named Arktos – The Bear, from the constellation the great bear, and decided that in order to balance the world there should be a similar cold southern land mass that was the same but the opposite “Ant - Arktos” - opposite The Bear.
In 1773 James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica and although he did not sight land, he found deposits of rock on the icebergs showing that a continent must exist. The next to cross the Antarctic Circle was Thaddeus Bellinghausen. He made the first sighting of the continent in 1820.
From the late 1800‘s and up to the mid 20th century many expeditions followed. Mainly these were marine explorations, and in this same period sealers and whalers from all over Europe started hunting in various parts of Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. The first person believed to have landed on the continent itself was the Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink who also pioneered the use of sled-dogs for transportation in Antarctica.
1900 - 1916 is known as the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration. There is a saying: “For scientific discovery give me Scott, for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen, but when your back is against the wall and there’s no hope left, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”. Amundsen won the race to the South Pole December 14th 1911.
The first International Geophysical Year IGY was 1957-1958 when 12 nations built more than 60 research stations in Antarctica and formed the beginning of an international cooperation. In 1961 the Antarctic Treaty came into effect.