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1.3: Early Exploration of the Oceans

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    Early Exploration of the Oceans

    Ancient World Explorations: Many ancient cultures traveled the oceans for exploration, trade and conquest. Selected important highlights in history include:

    * Ancient Egyptians used reed boats on the Nile River as early as 4,000 BC. Shipbuilding was known to the Ancient Egyptians as early as 3000 BC. Egyptian shipping trade extended throughout the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea, extending south around the Horn of Africa (modern Somalia).
    * Minoan seafaring culture centered on the island of Crete and other islands in the western Mediterranean region (2600 to 1400 BC).
    * Phoenician seafaring culture centered along coastal regions along with is now Lebanon, Syria, and Israel from about 1500 BC to 300 BC. Their shipping trade networks extended throughout the Mediterranean region into coastal waters of southern Europe and Northern Africa.
    * Chinese exploration began as early as 3000-2500 BC, some by ship. China's maritime economic development began in the Zhou Period (1030-221 BC).
    * Mayans traveled by boat throughout the Caribbean region (800 B.C-1521 AD).

    Eqyptian ship using a sounding pole to measure water depth.

    Figure 1.6. An Egyptian ship.

    Leif_Ericsoon on a Viking Voyage

    Figure 1.7. Leif Ericsson on a Viking exploration voyage


    Pacific Islanders
    Pacific Islanders are descendants of ancient seafaring peoples that navigated and settled remote islands throughout the South Pacific region (Oceania) dating back 1000s of years.
    • These people settled on many remote islands in what is now modern Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia.
    • Hawaii was inhabited around 500 AD explored from Marquesa Islands (and inhabited them around 300 AD).

    The Middle Ages
    Vikings explored the North Atlantic Ocean
    • Norse seafaring peoples colonized Greenland and Iceland.

    Early European navigators
    • Explored the Mediterranean Sea, coastal Africa, and the Middle East.
    • Developed a method to determine latitude using star navigation.

    Age of Discovery (1492-1522)
    Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Caribbean Sea in 1492 (He never set foot on North America.)
    • Many journeys were undertaken to explore and exploit resources to the New World.
    • Most exploration involved searching for new trade routes to Eastern Asian sources of precious spices & textiles.
    Ferdinand Magellan's ship crew was first to circumnavigate the globe 1519. (Magellan didn't survived the journey, he was killed during a tribal skirmish on Mactan Island in the Philippines.)

    Voyaging for science (1768-1780):
    • Explorer Captain James Cook was a navigator and cartographer (map maker) for the British Royal Navy.
    • Explored and traveled through all oceans on 3 different voyages
    • Determined outline of the Pacific Ocean on 3rd voyage
    • Modified shipboard diet to eliminate scurvy
    • Used John Harrison’s chronometer (a timing device invented to determine longitude)


    Ben Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream

    Figure 1.8. Map of the Atlantic Gulf Stream compiled by Ben Franklin, published in 1769 is an example of early oceanographic research. Ponce de Leon first observed the Gulf Stream in 1513. Ben Franklin first charted the Gulf Stream with the help of a Nantucket sea captain.

    View of a whale fishery from  Captain Cook's voyage

    Figure 1.9. View of a Whale Fishery from Captain Cook's voyage journal, 1790.

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