Antarctica history is relatively short, at least in terms of human activity. Going back some 170 million years, Antarctica was part of a larger landmass, or supercontinent, which is referred to as Gondwana. Over time, this supercontinent broke apart, and the various pieces drifted off in different directions. Antarctica was pulled south by the Earth's magnetic field, and at its core is the South Pole. When it comes to interesting facts about Antarctica, it's worth noting that it was the ancient Greeks who first conjured up the idea of a continent at the South Pole. Historians believe that the ancient Greeks were already aware of the Arctic and that they thought there must be a landmass on the southern end of the planet to balance things out. Visits to the continent by the ancient Greeks aren't part of the history of Antarctica. In fact, nobody had even crossed the Antarctic Circle before James Cook did so in 1773.
Captain James Cook, who was a British explorer, led the first recorded expedition into the Antarctic Circle, and while Cook and his men never spotted mainland Antarctica, they did allegedly discover the South Georgia and South Sandwich islands. It was Cook's reports of large seal colonies in the region that really started to spark interest in Antarctica expeditions, and some historians estimate that seal hunters actually discovered many of the regional islands. As for the first person to see the Antarctic continent, that distinction goes to a Russian naval officer and captain named Thaddeus Bellingshausen. Two other parties, one led by a British captain named Edward Bransfield and the other led by an American sealer named Nathaniel Palmer, spotted mainland Antarctica in the same year as Bellingshausen. The year was 1820, and by 1821, the first documented landing occurred, at least according to some historians.
An American captain and sealer named John Davis, who was actually born in Surrey, England, is believed by many historians to be the first to land on continental Antarctica. Some historians dispute this claim, which lends to a certain amount of uncertainty when it comes to Antarctica history. As for facts about Antarctica that are indisputable, historians know that a British scientist and naval officer by the name of James Clark Ross discovered both the Ross Ice Shelf and Mt Erebus. The southernmost active volcano in the world, Mt Erebus dominates that landscape on Ross Island, which can be found in the McMurdo Sound. Other expeditions bound for Antarctica made subsequent landings and land sightings in the 1800s, though it would be quite some time until people started exploring the inland areas.
In and around the early 1900s, Antarctica history takes an interesting turn. The sponsored expeditions that were headed to the continent during this period started to focus more on science and less on seal and whale hunting. Various teams from different countries made pushes to reach the South Pole in the early 1900's, and one can imagine how grueling these expeditions must have been. As for more interesting facts about Antarctica, the first team to reach the South Pole was a five-man team led by Norwegian explorer Roald Admudsen. This first arrival to the South Pole occurred on December 14, 1911. One month later, a British captain named Robert Scott, who was Admudsen's rival, reached the South Pole with his crew. Scott and his party, however, tragically perished on their return trip. Another explorer who deserves mention when discussing the history of Antarctica is Ernest Shackleton, who attempted to cross the continent in 1915. That expedition failed, and Shackleton and his men had to rely on seal and penguin meat for a year before they were able to get help.
The history of Antarctica is definitely a fascinating one, especially when one considers the early explorers. It's especially interesting to note that while Admudsen and Scott reached the South Pole in 1911 and 1912 respectively, it wasn't until 1956 that people returned! In 1957 and 1958, twelve different nations established more than 60 research stations on the continent, and by 1961, the Antarctic Treaty went into force. This treaty, which was originally signed by twelve countries, essentially mandates that no specific country may lay claims to the continent. Today, nearly 30 countries send personnel to Antarctica to work at the dozens of research stations that are situated both on the mainland and on the area islands. Some of these stations operate year round, while others are seasonal. In addition to studying the natural history of Antarctica these research stations also focus on the wildlife, water conditions, general geology, and a range of other disciplines.