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Timeline of European exploration


Timeline of European exploration

Columbus before the Queen, imagined by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 184

The following timeline covers European exploration from 1418 to 1957.

The 15th century witnessed the rounding of the feared Cape Bojador and Portuguese exploration of the west coast of Africa, while in the last decade of the century the Spanish sent expeditions to the New World, focusing on exploring the Caribbean Sea, and the Portuguese discovered the sea route to India. In the 16th century, various countries sent exploring parties into the interior of the Americas, as well as to their respective west and east coasts north to California and Labrador and south to Chile and Tierra del Fuego. In the 17th century, the Russians explored and conquered Siberia in search of sables, while the Dutch roughly charted the emerging continent of Australia. The 18th century saw the first extensive exploration of the South Pacific and the discovery of Alaska, while the nineteenth was dominated by exploration of the polar regions (not to mention excursions into the heart of Africa). By the 20th century, the poles themselves had been reached.


  • 15th century 1
  • 16th century 2
  • 17th century 3
  • 18th century 4
  • 19th century 5
  • 20th century 6
  • References 7

15th century

Vasco da Gama lands at Calicut, illustration for Os Lusíadas, 1880 by Ernesto Casanova.

16th century

An old painting depicting a wooden sailing ship with sails full blown by the wind
Cabral's ship on the fleet that sighted the Brazilian mainland for the first time on 22 April 1500. From the manuscript Memória das Armadas que de Portugal passaram à Índia

Balboa claiming possession of the Mar del Sur ("South Sea").
Map of the island city Tenochtitlán and Mexico gulf made by one of Cortés' men, 1524, Newberry Library, Chicago
Discovery of the Mississippi by William H. Powell (1823–1879) is a Romantic depiction of de Soto seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. It hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.
Coronado Sets Out to the North, by Frederic Remington, 1861–1909
The Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California
Crew of Willem Barentsz fighting a polar bear, 1596

17th century

John Collier's painting of Henry Hudson cast adrift.
A 17th-century koch in a museum in Krasnoyarsk. Kochi were used to explore the Siberian watershed and coasts by men such as Kurochkin, Perfilyev and Dezhnev.
"Murderers' Bay", on the South Island of New Zealand, where several of Tasman's men were killed by Maori in December 1642.
The expedition of Semyon Dezhnyov by Klavdy Lebedev
Pere Marquette and the Indians at the Mississippi River, oil painting (1869) by Wilhelm Lamprecht (1838–1906), at Marquette University.

18th century

Cook's map of New Zealand
Resolution and Adventure in Matavai Bay by William Hodges
"Mount Rainier from the south Part of Admiralty Inlet". The mountain was discovered by Vancouver during his exploration of Puget Sound in the spring of 1792.
Inscription at the end of the Alexander Mackenzie's Canada crossing located at

19th century

The famous map of Lewis and Clark's expedition. It changed mapping of northwest America by providing the first accurate depiction of the relationship of the sources of the Columbia and Missouri rivers, and the Rocky Mountains.
Colour drawing of Simon Fraser's 1808 descent of the Fraser River.
"The Crews of H.M.S. Hecla & Griper Cutting Into Winter Harbour, Sept. 26th, 1819". An engraving from the journal published in 1821.
John Franklin's party encamped at Point Turnagain, the furthest point he reached.
HMS Investigator, on the northwestern coast of Banks Island, 20 August 1851.
Map drawn by Robert McClure detailing the Northwest Passage, including the 1851 route of the Investigator.
The first ascent of the Matterhorn, by Gustave Doré.
The original survey map created by L.M. D'Albertis in 1876.
 A group of men pose on the ice with dogs and sledges, with the ship's outline visible in the background
Nansen and Johansen finally depart on their polar journey, 14 March 1895. Nansen is the tall figure, second from left; Johansen is standing second from right.

20th century

Amundsen's party at the South Pole, December 1911. From left to right: Amundsen, Hanssen, Hassel and Wisting (photo by fifth member Bjaaland).
 Five men in heavy clothing and headgear; three are standing and two seated on the ground. The standing men carry flags; all five have dejected expressions
Scott's party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing) Wilson, Scott, Oates; (seated) Bowers, Edgar Evans.

Severnaya Zemlya – raising of the Russian flag in 1913.


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