History of Antarctica

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The history of Antarctica emerges from early Western theories of a vast continent, known as Terra Australis, believed to exist in the far south of the globe. The term Antarctic, referring to the opposite of the Arctic Circle, was coined by Marinus of Tyre in the second century AD.

The rounding of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn in the 15th and 16th centuries proved that Terra Australis Incognita ("Unknown Southern Land"), if it existed, was a continent in its own right. In 1773 James Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time but although he discovered nearby islands, he did not catch sight of Antarctica itself.

In 1820, several expeditions claimed to have been the first to have sighted Antarctica, with the very first being the Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev. The first landing was probably just over a year later when American Captain John Davis, a sealer, set foot on the ice.

The first Norwegian expedition to Antarctica was led by Captain Carl Anton Larsen aboard the barque Jason in 1892. During the expedition he was the first to discover fossils in Antarctica, for which he received the Back Grant from the Royal Geographical Society.[1] In December 1893 he also became the first person to ski in Antarctica where the Larsen Ice Shelf was named after him. Larsen is also considered the founder of the Antarctic whaling industry and the settlement at Grytviken, South Georgia.[2]

Once the North Pole had been reached in 1909, several expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole. Many resulted in injury and death. The Norwegian Roald Amundsen finally reached the Pole in December 1911, following a dramatic race with the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott.


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