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EXPLORATION

EUROPE AND ASIA

Who were the earliest explorers from Asia?

Many scientists believe that around 14000 B.C.E. small groups of peoples, originating from what is now Siberia in Russia, crossed a land bridge to what is now Alaska. From there, they moved as far south as South America. Considerable genetic evidence, archaeological finds, and skeletal remains support this theory.

When did the Chinese Empire begin naval exploration?

During the Song Dynasty (960-1270 c.e.), the Chinese began to build sea-faring trade ships. It was during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 c.e.) that Chinese traders began to appear in the ports of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, and as far west as Africa. They were seeking goods for the royal kingdom, such as spices, ivory, medicine, and tropical woods.

Who disguised himself as a Muslim to travel to Mecca?

Since non-Muslims are not allowed into the sacred city of Mecca, British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton disguised himself as an Afghan pilgrim in order to enter the city in 1853. Burton, having learned various languages in the military, explored India, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Also a prolific writer, Burton published many accounts of his journeys and is perhaps most famous for translating 1001 Arabian Nights into English.

An illustration of Marco Polo, the great explorer who introduced Europe to the Asian world.

An illustration of Marco Polo, the great explorer who introduced Europe to the Asian world.

What were Marco Polo's contributions to exploration?

Though Marco Polo did not actually discover anything, his writings in Travels of Marco Polo served as Europe's introduction to the East, and spurred interest in exploration. Marco Polo, born in the mid-thirteenth century in Venice, traveled with his father and uncle to China. During his stay, Polo served the Emperor Kublai Khan as an ambassador, as a governor, and in a host of other diplomatic positions. In his 30s he returned to Venice and fought against the city-state of Genoa and was eventually captured. While imprisoned in Genoa, he dictated the story of his travels to a fellow prisoner, creating the somewhat exaggerated memoir Travels of Marco Polo.

What did Marco Polo note in his journals about the Chinese fleet, when he arrived in the thirteenth century?

Marco Polo noted that Chinese ships had crews of more than 300, cabins for 60 people, and four sailing masts.

Which explorer was named the Grand Imperial Eunuch by the Emperor of China?

The Chinese explorer Cheng Ho helped Emperor Yung-lo come to power in 1402, and in 1404 the Emperor named Cheng Ho the Grand Imperial Eunuch. In 1405, Cheng Ho set sail on the first of his seven voyages, which spread Chinese influence and knowledge throughout South Asia and Africa. China moved toward isolationism after Yung-lo died.

Who was Alexander von Humboldt?

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1862) was a German geographer who explored South America, Europe, and Russia. Von Humboldt traveled deep within the Amazon rain forests, developed the first weather map, and wrote a five-volume encyclopedia in which he sought to describe all of human knowledge about the Earth. Von Humboldt was the world's last great polymath (one of encyclopedic learning).

Where was the world's first geographic research institute?

In 1418, Prince Henry the Navigator created the Institute at Sagres, Portugal, to study navigation, cartography, and advances in ship building. Though Prince Henry was not an explorer himself, he commissioned many explorations that sailed south along the coast of Africa.

How early were the islands of the Pacific explored?

Polynesians, the people who settled many of the islands in the South Pacific, brought their people, culture, and knowledge to the islands before 1500 b.c.e. Experts at celestial navigation, reading the currents, flight patterns of birds, and how to travel in light canoe-like crafts, the ancient Polynesians left New Guinea and traveled first to the areas we know of as the Solomon Islands, then on to present-day Vanuatu. As the distance between islands became even greater, they refined their boat-making ability to create ships with double hulls that were able to carry animals, people, and trading supplies as far east as Hawaii and even Easter Island, which is 2,237 miles (3,600 kilometers) west of Chile. By the year 1000 c.e., Polynesian culture could be found in a gigantic triangle—the Polynesian Triangle—spreading across thousands of miles of ocean.

Who was the greatest explorer of the Arab world?

Known as the "Muslim Marco Polo," Ibn-Batuta (1304-1369) explored much of Africa and Asia. In his lifetime, Ibn-Batuta traveled over 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers), gaining the reputation of the most-traveled man on Earth.

What did Genghis Khan conquer?

Genghis Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire, conquered an area stretching from China to western Russia to the Middle East. Khan created the world's largest empire, which began to dissolve following his death in 1227.

Who was Prester John?

In the twelfth century, a letter arrived for the Pope claiming to be from "Prester John," the leader of a Christian kingdom in the east that was in danger of being overrun by infidels. Prester John reportedly asked for help from European brethren. Though Prester John and his kingdom were never discovered, his mysterious letter sparked travels and explorations for centuries in an attempt to rescue the kingdom.

Which explorer fought for both the Union and Confederate armies in the U.S. Civil War and went on to discover a famous missing African explorer?

Though born in Britain, Sir Henry Morton Stanley sailed to the United States and worked there for several years before the start of the Civil War. He joined the Confederate Army but was captured in 1861 at the Battle of Shiloh. He then joined the Union Army. Stanley is best known for his search for the missing African explorer, David Livingstone, and his greeting upon finding him: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

When did Phoenician explorers begin discovering and colonizing Europe?

Around 800 B.C.E., the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho began commissioning naval ships to go beyond the Mediterranean Sea. They traveled along the coast of France, Spain, Great Britain, and Africa.

What were the Crusades?

From the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries, groups of armed Christian Europeans invaded the Middle East to take the Holy Land from the Muslims and reclaim it for Christianity. The Crusaders ruthlessly murdered and pillaged throughout their long journey to the Middle East, and continued their brutality once there. Though the Crusades were a horrific era, the knowledge of the world gained by the Crusaders spurred a better geographic understanding.

 
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