The Exploration of the North

For thousands of years the High Arctic was populated only by small, wandering groups of Inuit. Ice blocked the way for ship-borne explorers. The gradual exploration overland of Siberia and the northernmost region of the American continent, and the search by ships for new trading routes and possible riches further north both claimed many lives and produced amazing tales of suffering. More than 1000 men died in the search for the Northwest Passage alone, and dozens of vessels were shipwrecked. Sir John Franklin’s famous last expedition in 1845 resulted in the loss of two ships and 129 men. Blank areas on early maps were filled with imaginary monsters and non-existent land and sailing routes, but explorers, scientists and hunting expeditions (particularly whaling) gradually filled in many gaps. Studies of maps through the centuries show us how knowledge of the world slowly expanded, but by the end of the 1880s there were still many question marks on the maps of the Arctic regions.