Early Antarctica History - A Timeline


4th Century B.C.: Aristotle theorizes that there must be a landmass in the south similar to that of the northern hemisphere. Aristotle names the southern end of the earth “Antarktikos” (or opposite of end of “Arktos”, or bear). Later, it is renamed “Terra Australis incognita”, or “The Unknown South Land.”

1772: Explorer James Cook circumnavigates Antarctica, crossing the Antarctic Circle four times. He never finds the southern continent but discovers and claims South Georgia Island on behalf of the King of England.

Early 1800’s: Thaddeus Bellingshausen is believed to have the first sighting of Antarctica when he viewed land on an ice shelf near the Haakon VII Sea.

1820: William Smith and Edward Bransfield saw and charted part of Antarctica.

1820: Nathaniel Palmer enters Neptune’s Bellows and explores Deception Island.

1831: John Biscoe and the Enderby Brothers Sailing Company penetrate the Antarctic Circle and indisputably sight Antarctica.

1837 - 1840: Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d’Urville lands on a small islet near mainland Antarctica, kidnapping a few penguins and naming the area “Adelie Land” after Dumont’s wife.

1841: Explorer James Clark Ross passes through what is now known as the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island, both of which are named after him.

1853: Mercator Cooper lands in East Antarctica.

1898: Adrien de Gerlache and crew get stuck in ice pack of Antarctica and are the first persons to weather an Antarctic winter.

1899: Carsten Borchgrevink lands at Cape Adare. His crew builds huts and weathers the first winter on the Antarctic mainland, considered by some to be the first “real landing” on Antarctica.

20th Century: Early exploration of Antarctica is replaced by exploration for profit. Sealers and whalers exploit the area’s waters, causing some species of seals and whales to approach extinction.

1907: During the Nimrod Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, parties led by Edgeworth David became the first to climb Mount Erebus and nearly reaches the South Magnetic Pole, but fails to make all the way there.

December 1908 – February 1909: Ernest Shackleton and crew are the first humans to traverse the Ross Ice Shelf, the first to traverse the Transantarctic Mountain Range (via the Beardmore Glacier), and the first to set foot on the South Polar Plateau.

1911: An expedition led by Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen from the ship Fram becomes the first person to reach the geographic South Pole.

1930’s – 1940’s: Richard E. Byrd leads several voyages to the Antarctic by plane.