When Did Explorers First Encounter Antarctica?

Oral traditions suggest that the Maori reached Antarctica over 1,000 years before Westerners “discovered” it.
Oral traditions suggest that the Maori reached Antarctica over 1,000 years before Westerners “discovered” it.

According to most history books, a Russian expedition was the first to sight Antarctica in 1820, while American sealer and explorer John Davis is thought to have been the first person to step onto the icy ground, just one year later. But research published in 2021 has proposed that the real discoverers of Antarctica were the ancestors of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, who might have traveled to the southernmost continent many centuries earlier.

Priscilla Wehi, a conservation biologist and the work's lead researcher, says that oral histories shared among the Maori paint a solid account of travels to Antarctica more than 1,300 years ago. "We find Polynesian narratives of voyaging between the islands include voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi O Atea, likely in the early 7th century," she said. "When you put it together, it's really clear, there's a very long history of connection to Antarctica."

More on the Maori:

  • For most of its history, the Maori language, known as te reo, was never written down, but was instead passed along through song and narratives.

  • The traditional way of greeting for the Maori is pressing one's nose and forehead to someone else's, an act known as hongi.

  • In the Maori culture, almost all of Earth's geography -- from mountains and lakes to landmarks -- are shrouded in legends, which are often taught to children in lesson form.

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    • Oral traditions suggest that the Maori reached Antarctica over 1,000 years before Westerners “discovered” it.
      By: Goinyk Volodymyr
      Oral traditions suggest that the Maori reached Antarctica over 1,000 years before Westerners “discovered” it.