It was believed that Antarctica exists already long time before it was actually discovered. Antarctica is derived from Greek origin and means “opposite of the Arctic”. The ancient Greeks believed that the earth was round, and they believed in the symmetry of a sphere, therefore there had to be a southern land to balance the Arctic. They gave the land the name Terra Australis Incognita, which means translated the “Unknown Southern Continent.”
Most early maps showed the expected location of the continent joining the southern ends of Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Expeditions in the 15th century however showed that Africa was not connected to the unknown continent. Other expeditions prooved that the continent is also not connected to South America as the strait between Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Pensinula was discovered by Francis Drake in 1577 and later named Drake Passage. Between the end of the 17th and the 18th century, many voyages were exploring the region south of Tierra del Fuego, discovering many of the sub-Antarctic and Southern Ocean islands such as the Falklands, South Georgia and Kerguelen Island.
In the 19th century, ships from Russia, Britain and the US were almost at the same time on missions to discover the continent. The Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen saw Antarctica first on 27 January 1820, while the others arrived shortly after. On 7 February 181, the first documented landing on Antarctica’s mainland was reported, untertaken by a sealer in West Antarctica.
The most famous exploration was the race for the discovery of the South Pole in 1911 between an expedition by the British officer Robert Falcon Scott and another one led by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. On 19 December 1911, Amundsen’s expedition made it to the South Pole after a two months journey. Scotts expedition reached it one month later but Scott and his four companions, who accompanied him to the South Pole, did not survive the return trip to their ship due to exhaustion and the cold.
On 1 December 1959, a treaty was signed by several countries which is still in effect today. The treaty is intented to keep Antarctica free from weapons, and to reserve it for scientific research. Moreover, it considers Antarctica neutral ground, refraining any claims on the territory.