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Geographic Discoveries

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During the age of exploration, which began from the 15th century and lasted to the 17th century, many new lands and territories were discovered. The most famous being America, India and South Africa. But that is not all as many more exiting new places were discovered. Below is a list of location and a summary of their discovery.

Machu PicchuMachu Picchu shortly after sunrise. Photo by Charlesjsharp.

Africa

While we can pinpoint who discovered America, Columbus, and who discovered India, Vasco da Gama, it’s harder to say who discovered Africa. As humanity started out on this continent, we’ve always known it, so it’s more a case of saying who re-discovered Africa.

America

Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus gets all the credit for discovering America in 1492. However, he may not have been the first European to set foot on the continent, as there are remnants of Viking ships on the American coast!

Ayers Rock

Ayers Rock, or to give it its native name, Uluru, has always been known about and revered by the Aborigine, the indigenous people of Australia. However, the first European to find this stunning and huge rock formation was William Christie Gosse, who found and surveyed Ayers’ Rock in 1873.

Colorado

Colorado was inhabited by pre-Colomian (before Columbus discovered America) Native Americans at least 13,000 years ago. Around 12,000 years ago, Eurasian – the Paleo-Indians – people migrated into America and settled there, slowly spreading throughout the continent, including into Colorado.

Florida

It’s widely acknowledged that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon found Florida in 1513, when he claimed the territory for Spain. There are a few detractors from this account, though, as de Leon claimed to meet Spanish-speaking natives, meaning that Europeans must have been there previously. Another likely candidate is the Italian-English John Cabot and his son Sebastian who might have landed in Florida in 1496.

Georgia

Georgia was inhabited by pre-Colombian (before the time of Columbus) Native Americans for thousands of years. The first European person to discover Georgia was Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who is also known for his (possible) discovery of Florida.

Hawaii

Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific were the first people to discover Hawaii, sometime around 2,500 years ago. The first European to discover Hawaii was British explorer James Cook, in 1778.

Machu Pichu

American explorer Hiram Bingham III discovered Machu Pichu in Peru on July 24 1911. Of course the Inca people who built this mountain-top citadel in the 15th century were the first to see and use it!

Madagascar

Madagascar was first populated by migrating Indonesian people, probably around 2,000 years ago. The first European to set foot on this island was Portuguese explorer Diogo Dias, in August 1500.

Massachusetts

The Algonquian Native Americans discovered and populated Massachusetts, where they grew corn and squash, and hunted and fished. In the late 17th century, English settlers known now as the Pilgrims found the area and settled there. Thankfully, the Pilgrims treated the native inhabitants decently.

Mississippi

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered what we now know as Mississippi in 1570, but the area was claimed for France in 1699 by Pierre d’Iberville.

New Jersey

New Jersey was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape people, known also as Delaware Indians for millennia before the arrival or European settlers. The first Europeans to explore and claim the area were the Dutch, who established a colony there in the early 17th century.

New York

The area we now know as New York State was first inhabited by Native Americans around 12,000 years ago. The French settlers were the first Europeans to find and set up colonies in New York State, in 1524.

New Zealand

New Zealand was first discovered by Polynesian seafarers, who settles on the two islands and became what we now know as the Maori. Dutch sea captain Abel Tasman was the first European person to find New Zealand, on December 13 1642.

Niagara Falls

Of course the Native American people around the Niagara Falls knew all about these amazing phenomenon, but the first European to find and explore the falls was Frenchman Samuel de Champlain sometime around 1604.

North Carolina

North Carolina was inhabited first by Native Americans, from around 200AD. These people have left behind archaeological evidence in the form of earthwork mounds. The first Europeans to find North Carolina were Spanish explorers in the 16th century.

Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage was discovered by Roald Amundsen between 1903 and 1906. Amundsen was also the first to reach the South Pole.

Pangaea

German scientist Alfred Wegner (1880-1930) was the first person to postulate the idea that the world’s continents were once joined together. He came up with the idea around 1911 when he realized that similar fossils were found on the coasts of countries that once fitted together.

Simpson Desert

Captain Charles Sturt, originally from England, was the first European person to discover the Simpson Desert in central Australia. He set out in 1845 to see if the centre of Oz was a vast sea, and found quite the opposite!

South Carolina

Native American hunter tribes were the first people to find South Carolina, living there from around 13,000BC. The first Europeans settled there in 1526, in a short-lived Spanish-founded colony.

Caribbean Islands

The Caribbean Islands were originally populated by two tribes, the warlike Caribs and the peaceful Arawaks. The first European to find these islands was Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who sailed past them in 1492 and mistook them for India or Japan.

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by Spanish adventurer Fray Tomas de Berlanga. Berlanga was traveling to Peru from Panama in early 1535 to settle a dispute between the resident conquistadors and was carried off course by a strange current. This current took his ship to the Galapagos Islands.

Grand Canyon

There’s a bit of a dispute as to who discovered the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Some say that the canyon was found by Captain El Tovar in 1540, while others say that it was the Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado sometime between 1510 and 1554.

Great Barrier Reef

British explorer James Cook discovered the Great Barrier reef in 1770 while he was on his expedition in the Southern hemisphere on board HMS Bark Endeavour. Before the Europeans, the reef was known to more than 70 Aborigine tribes.

North Pole

There are two men who have both claimed to have been the first to the North Pole – Robert E Peary Sr and Frederick A Cook. Peary claimed to have got to the North Pole in 1909, and his claim was accepted until his notes were reviewed in 1988. Cook’s 1908 claim seems to be more realistic. The two guys had quite a history together and quite a wrangle!

South Pole

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen found the geographical South Pole on December 14th, 1911, after being beaten to the North Pole by rival Robert E Peary. Amundsen beat his famous rival Robert Falcon Scott by 35 days, but this achievement has been overshadowed by the heroic and tragic deaths of Scott and his entire party on their return trip.

Yellowstone National Park

The Paleo-Indians of the Clovis culture were the first people to live in the place we now call the Yellowstone Park. The first European to talk about the park was John Colter, a former expedition member working as a trapper in the region. His descriptions of bubbling geothermal pits were dismissed as fancy for decades!

More on geography: Facts about geography.