Before its discovery, explorers were convinced of the existence of the Antarctic continent. They called it 'Terra Australis Incognita', the 'Unknown Southern Land'.
Antarctica History Overview
The history of Antarctica is an epic story. From the discovery of the continent, to its first explorers, to the advent of mechanically aided expeditions and scientific investigation to the signing of the Antarctic treaty.
The Discovery of Antarctica
In terms of human history, the discovery of Antarctica is a very recent event. All the secrets of Antarctica have been discovered in just the last 200 years.
However, ever since the time of Columbus cartographers included the mythical continent, then described as 'Terra Australis Incognita', the 'Unknown Southern Land', in more or less the position where Antarctica lies today.
The first sighting of Antarctica was made possibly by a member of a sealing party, Russian Admiral Von Bellinghausen, in January 1820.
Soon, further sightings were made. British Officer Edward Bransfield sighted the Antarctic Peninsula about a month later and an American sealer named Nathaniel Palmer claimed to see the continent later that year in November.
The Race for the South Pole
At the turn of the century the race for the South Geographic Pole caught the imagination of the European public and explorers alike.
The first attempt was in 1901, when Robert Falcon Scott led a British naval expedition to the Ross Sea. After wintering at Hut Point on Ross Island, Scott and five men pushed inland to within 720 kilometres of the South Geographic Pole but finally had to turn back in despair.
The pole was not reached until December 1911, when after 57 days a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen pioneering a new route onto the polar plateau, became the first expedition to reach the South Geographic Pole.
The Antarctic Treaty
The United States first proposed that the Antarctic be ruled either by a United Nation's Trusteeship, or an organization of eight nations, however neither of these ideas caught on.
Twelve nations finally signed the Antarctic Treaty on December 1, 1959, and the treaty came into force on June 23, 1961. The treaty comprised some 14 Articles that the nations were prepared to agree upon for successful co-existence in the Antarctic.
Since then, 28 other nations have signed the treaty. The Treaty has now been in place for 36 years and in this time it has served as an unprecedented example of international cooperation.
All thirty-nine countries which have become signatories to the Antarctic Treaty represent over 80 per cent of the world's population, including the super powers and many developed and developing nations.