Exploration is the act of searching or traveling around a terrain (including space, see space exploration) for the purpose of discovery of resources or information.
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1550 B.C. to 300 B.C.
The Phoenicians (1550 B.C. - 300 B.C.), traded throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Asia Minor, and many of their routes are still unknown today. They may even have been to Britain because of the tin that was found in a few of their wares. The Phoenicians traveled far and wide, some scientists even speculate that they traveled all the way to Central America, although this is disputed. Even Queen Dido,[disambiguation needed] in the Virgil's Aeneid, was a Phoenician from the Asia Minor who sailed to North Africa for safety.
4th century BC
Pytheas (380 – c. 310 BC) – Greek explorer. First to circumnavigate Great Britain and to explore Germany. Reached Thule, most commonly thought to be the Shetland Islands or Iceland.
3rd century BC
Xu Fu (b. 255 BC) – Chinese court sorcerer who led two voyages to the Eastern Seas in 219 BC and 210 BC.
2nd century BC
Zhang Qian – Chinese imperial envoy to Central Asia who helped established the Silk Road.
Brendan the Navigator (c. 484 – 577) – Irish monk, allegedly discovered Iceland and America in the 6th century.
Dicuil (born 8th century) – Irish monk and geographer, author of "De mensura Orbis terrae". The Papar – Irish monks who lived in Iceland, 8th-9th centuries, before the Vikings.
- Ahmad ibn Fadlan – 10th century Iraqi explorer.
- Erik the Red (950–1003) – Norwegian Viking explorer. After being exiled from Iceland, he sailed to Greenland and settled there.
- Leif Ericson (980–1020) – Icelandic explorer. Believed to have been the first European to land in North America.
- Friar Julian (traveled in 1235) – Hungarian Dominican friar.
- Marco Polo (1254–1324) – Venetian explorer
- Ibn Battuta (1304–1377) – Moroccan explorer.
- Wang Dayuan (fl. 1311–1350) – Chinese explorer who made two major trips by ship. During 1328–1333, he sailed along the South China Sea and visited many places in Southeast Asia and reached as far as South Asia, landing in Sri Lanka and India. In 1334–1339 he visited North Africa and East Africa.
- James of Ireland (fl. 1316–1330) – Irish companion of Odoric of Pordenone.
- Simon FitzSimon (fl. 1323) – Irish author of a itenerum through Egypt and the Holy Land.
- Zheng He (1371–1433) – Chinese admiral who made seven voyages to Arabia, East Africa, India, Indonesia and Thailand.
- Afanasy Nikitin (? - 1472) - Russian traveler and merchant. One of the first Europeans to travel to and document his visit to India.
- João Fernandes Lavrador (1445? – 1501) – Portuguese explorer. First European reaching Labrador/Newfoundland. Fernandes charted the coasts of Southwestern Greenland and of adjacent Northeastern North America around 1498. In 1501, Fernandes set sail again in discovery of lands and was never heard from again.
- John Cabot (c. 1450–1499) – Italian explorer for England. Discovered Newfoundland and claimed it for the Kingdom of England.
- Bartolomeu Dias(c. 1450–1500) – Portuguese explorer. He sailed from Portugal and reached the Cape of Good Hope.
- Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) – Genoese explorer for Spain. Sailed west in 1492 attempting to reach Asia, but instead arrived in the "New World" of the Americas.
- Amerigo Vespucci (c. 1454–1512) – Italian explorer for Spain and Portugal. Sailed in 1499 and 1502. He explored the east coast of South America.
- Juan Ponce de León (c. 1460–1521) – Spanish explorer. He explored Florida while attempting to locate a Fountain of Youth.
- Piri Reis (c. 1465/1470–1554/1555) – Ottoman explorer.
- Pedro Álvares Cabral (c. 1467 – c. 1520) – Portuguese explorer, generally regarded as the European discoverer of Brazil.
- Vasco da Gama (c. 1469–1524) – Portuguese explorer. The first European to sail from Europe to India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope.
- Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c. 1475–1519) – Spanish explorer. The first European to cross the Isthmus of Panama and view the Pacific ocean from American shores.
- Francisco Pizarro (c. 1475–1541) – Spanish explorer. Conquered the Inca Empire.
- Juan Sebastián Elcano (1476–1526) – Spanish explorer. Completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in a single expedition after its captain, Magellan, was killed.
- Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) – Portuguese explorer for Spain. Initiated the first circumnavigation of the globe in a single expedition. Sailed through Strait of Magellan and named Pacific Ocean. Died in the Philippines after claiming them for Spain.
- Giovanni da Verrazzano (c. 1485–1528) – Italian explorer for France. Explored the northeast coast of America, from about present day South Carolina to Newfoundland.
- Hernán Cortés (1485–1545) – Spanish explorer. Conquered the Aztec Empire for Spain.
- Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) – French explorer. Discovered Canada.
- Hernando de Soto (c. 1496–1542) – Spanish explorer. Explored Florida, mainly northwest Florida, and discovered the Mississippi River.
- Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (c. 1510–1554) – Spanish explorer. Searched for the Seven Cities of Gold and discovered the Grand Canyon in the process.
- Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546) – Spanish explorer, in 1541–42 sailed the length of the Amazon River.
- Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–1592) – Spanish explorer of the Pacific.
- Yermak Timofeyevich (c. 1532-1585) - Russian cossack leader and explorer. Conquered the Khanate of Siberia.
- Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596) – English explorer. The first English captain to sail around the world and survive.
- Alvaro de Mendaña de Neyra (1541–1596) – Spanish explorer of the Pacific.
- Willem Barentsz (1550–1597) – Dutch navigator and explorer, leader of early expeditions to the far north.
- Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (1565–1614) – Portuguese navigator. Explored the Pacific in the service of the Spanish Crown.
- Pedro Páez (1564–1622) – Spanish missionary was the first European who saw and described the source of the Blue Nile.
- Luis Váez de Torres (born c. 1565; fl. 1607) – Spanish or Portuguese navigator. Explored the Pacific in the service of the Spanish Crown.
- Henry Hudson (1611) – English explorer. Explored much of the North Atlantic, including Labrador, the coast of Greenland, and Hudson Bay. Presumed dead in a 1611 mutiny of his own crew.
- António de Andrade (1580–1634) – Portuguese explorer. First European reaching Tibet. His reports were the only account of the Tibet culture and geography until the second half of the 18th century.
- Samuel de Champlain (1567/80-1635). - French explorer. He explored parts of Canada.
- Semyon Dezhnyov (1605 – 1672). - Russian explorer of Siberia and the first European to sail through the Bering Strait.
- Yerofey Khabarov (1603-1671). - Russian entrepreneur, best known for his exploring the Amur river region.
- Abel Tasman (1603–1659) – Dutch explorer. Discovered New Zealand and Tasmania.
- Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682) – Ottoman traveller.
- Edmond Halley (1656–1742) -In 1690, Halley patented the diving bell. In 1698, Halley was given the command of the HMS Paramour, a 52-foot Pink, so that he could carry out investigations in the South Atlantic into the laws governing the variation of the compass.
- Vitus Bering (1681–1741) – Danish explorer. Explored the Siberian Far East and Alaska and claimed it for Russia.
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (May 26, 1689 – August 21, 1762) – explored Turkey.
- Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) – Swedish biologist. His six month exploration of Lapland in 1732 described about one hundred previously unknown plants.
- James Cook (1728–1779) – British naval captain. Explored much of the Pacific including New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.
- Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (23 August 1741 – ?1788) – French naval captain. Lapérouse was appointed in 1785 by Louis XVI and his minister of marine, the Marquis de Castries, to lead an expedition around the world. He vanished in Oceania with the remains of his expedition being found later in 1826 at the island of Vanikoro, which is part of the Santa Cruz group of islands. Lapérouse was a significant French figure of the Age of Enlightenment.
- Alessandro Malaspina (1754–1810) – Italian explorer. Explored the Pacific and the west coast of North America in the service of Spanish Crown.
- Alexander MacKenzie (1764–1820) – Scottish-Canadian explorer who in 1789, looking for the Northwest Passage, followed the river now named after him to the Arctic Ocean and then in 1793 crossed the Rockies and reached the Pacific in 1793, thus beating Lewis and Clark by 12 years.
- Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) – German explorer and scientist whose work was foundational to the field of biogeography.
- Mungo Park (1771–1806) – the first Westerner to discover the Niger River; he was the first Western explorer to reach Timbuktu, though he didn't live to share his discovery with the world.
- Ivan Krusenstern (1770-1846) - Russian explorer, who led the first Russian circumnavigation of the earth.
- Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) – American explorer and field scientist who led the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest in 1804–1806.
- Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) – British explorer, surveyed the coast of the Polar Sea between 1819 and 1824; died on his final Arctic expedition in 1845.
- Mikhail Lazarev (1788-1851) - Russian fleet commander and explorer who discovered Antarctica.
- Edward Sabine(October 14, 1788 – May 26, 1883) – Irish participant in the Ross and Perry Arctic expeditions.
- Sacagawea (c. 1788 – December 20, 1812) – accompanied and assisted Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806), the first American overland expedition to the Pacific coast and back.
- Thomas Coulter (1793–1843) – Irish botanist and explorer of Mexico and Arizona.
- Charles Wilkes (April 3, 1798 – February 8, 1877) – American naval officer and explorer who commanded the United States Exploring Expedition.
- George Fletcher Moore (10 December 1798 – 30 December 1886) – early Irish explorer of Australia.
- Pierre-Jean De Smet (1801–1873) – Belgian missionary and explorer in North America.
- David Livingstone (1813–1873) – Scottish missionary and explorer in central Africa. He was the first European to see Victoria Falls, which he named in honour of Queen Victoria.
- John Rae (1813–1893) – Scottish doctor in Northern Canada. He discovered a Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition.
- Robert O'Hara Burke (1821 – c. 28 June 1861) – Irish leader of the Burke and Wills expedition.
- Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890) – English explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotist, fencer and diplomat; known for his travels and explorations within Asia and Africa as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures; according to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian, and African languages.
- Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (1827 – 1914) - Russian geographer and explorer. He discovered the Altay Mountains and Tian Shan.
- Isabella Bird (October 15, 1831 – October 7, 1904) – the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society; she travelled extensively, exploring the Far East, Central Asia, and the American West.
- Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839—1888) - Russian geographer and explorer of Central and Eastern Asia.
- Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904) – Welsh journalist and explorer in central Africa best remembered for his search for David Livingstone, and upon finding him saying: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
- Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852–1905) - Franco-Italian explorer and colonial administrator, known for his humanitarian principles and egalitarian treatment of native workers in French Equatorial Africa. He founded the city later named Brazzaville in his honor.
- Charles Marie Bonaventure du Breil, Marquis de Rays (1832–1893) - Third de Rays Expedition or simply the de Rays Expedition, was the third New Guinea expedition of a French nobleman who attempted to start a colony in the South Pacific.
The expedition attempted to establish a colony in a place the marquis called La Nouvelle France, or New France, which was the island now referred to as New Ireland in the Bismark Archipelago of present day Papua New Guinea. Three hundred and forty Italian colonists aboard the ship India set sail from Barcelona in 1880 for this new land, seeking relief from the poor conditions in Italy at that time. One hundred and twenty-three colonists died before being rescued by Australian authorities.
The marquis is widely believed to have deliberately misled the colonists, distributing literature claiming a bustling settlement existed at Port Breton, near present day Kavieng, which had numerous public buildings, wide roads, and rich, arable land.
- Otto Sverdrup (1854–1930) – Norwegian explorer. Joined Fridtjof Nansen across Greenland in 1888 and captain on the Fram on the polar drift in 1893–1896 and the 2nd Fram expedition in 1898–1902. Mapped the Northernmost part of Canada in 1898–1902.
- Harry De Windt (1856–1933) – British explorer and member of the Royal Geographical Society. Travelled overland from Paris to New York in 1901–1902. Writer of books about his many expeditions.
- George Comer (1858–1937) – American polar explorer. The Comer Strait of northern Southampton Island and the Gallinula comeri flightless bird of Gough Island were named in his honor.
- Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) – Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat. He was the first to cross the Greenland ice cap in 1888 and drifted across the Arctic ocean with the Fram in 1893–1896 where he attempted to reach the North Pole with Hjalmar Johansen.
- Mary Kingsley (October 13, 1862 – June 3, 1900) – explored the Upper Ogawe River in Gabon and journeyed alone into unknown regions of the Congo jungle.
- Mirko & Stjepan Seljan (1871-1913, 1875-1936) - Croatian explorers, explored South America
- Roald Amundsen (1872–1928) – Norwegian explorer. He led the first successful Antarctic expedition between 1910 and 1912. He was also the first ever person to successfully traverse the North West Passage.
- Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922) – Anglo-Irish Explorer, noted for his ill-fated Endurance expedition to Antarctica.
- Hiram Bingham III (1875–1956) – U.S. Senator from Connecticut and explorer best known for uncovering Machu Picchu.
- Robert Bartlett (1875–1946) – Newfoundland captain. Led over 40 expeditions to the Arctic, more than anyone before or since. Was the first to sail north of 88° N latitude.
- Tom Crean (20 July 1877 – 27 July 1938) – Irish Antarctic explorer.
- Knud Rasmussen (1879–1933) – Greenlandic polar explorer and anthropologist. Rasmussen was the first to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled.
- Auguste Piccard (1884–1962) – physicist, balloonist, hydronaut. Explored the stratosphere and the deep sea.
- Mulford B. Foster (1888–1978) – American horticulturist known for extensive plant explorations of South America. Collected thousands of species of plants for the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. Discovered more new species of bromeliads than the previous plants explorers Andre and Glaziou.
- Richard Evelyn Byrd (1888–1957) - US naval officer whose expeditions may have been the first to reach the North Pole and the South Pole by air.
- Ahmed Pasha Hassanein (1889–1946) – Egyptian explorer, diplomat, one of two non-European winners of Gold Medal of Royal Geographical Society in 1924, King's chamberlain, fencing participant to 1924 Olympics, photographer, author and discoverer of Jebel Uweinat, and writer of "The Lost Oases" book in three languages.
- Freya Stark (January 31, 1893, Paris, France – May 9, 1993) – not only one of the first Western women to travel through the Arabian deserts (Hadhramaut); she often traveled solo into areas where few Europeans, let alone women, had ever been.
- Colonel Noel Andrew Croft (1906–1998) – held the record for the longest self-sustaining journey across the Arctic in the 1930s for 60 years.
- Sir Edmund Percival Hillary (1919–2008) – New Zealand explorer, together with Tenzing Norgay, the first to climb Mount Everest on May 29, 1953.
- Yuri Gagarin (March 9, 1934 – March 27, 1968) – Soviet cosmonaut who on April 12, 1961 became the first man in space and the first human to orbit Earth.
- Neil Armstrong (b. August 5, 1930) – American astronaut – First human being to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
- Valentina Tereshkova (b. 1937) – one of the first people in space; first female cosmonaut.
- Robert Ballard (b. 1942) – undersea explorer; discovered the shipwreck of the RMS Titanic.
- Ranulph Fiennes (b. 7 March 1944) – British adventurer. First journey around the world on its polar axis using surface transport only, covered 52,000 miles and visited both poles by land. First unsupported crossing of Antarctica.
- Reinhold Messner (b. September 17, 1944) – Italian mountaineer, first man to climb all the 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters.
- E. Lee Spence (b. 1947) – undersea explorer and pioneer underwater archaeologist: discovered numerous shipwrecks including H.L. Hunley the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship; and the Georgiana, said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser.
- Robyn Davidson (b. September 6, 1950) – the first person to make a solo crossing of the Australian Outback by camel; she also explored the remote desert regions of India.
- Michael Asher (b. 1953) – British adventurer. In 1986–7 Michael Asher and his wife, Italian-born photographer and Arabist, Mariantonietta Peru, made the first ever west-east crossing of the Sahara desert by camel and on foot.
- Frank Cole (1954–2000) – Canadian adventurer, filmmaker and life extensionist. He was the first North American to cross the Sahara desert in 1990 alone on camel. He was murdered by bandits during a second crossing in 2000.
- Kira Salak (b. September 4, 1971) – a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Salak was the first woman to cross the island of New Guinea; she was also the first person in the world to kayak 600 miles alone to Timbuktu. Salak has done solo exploration to regions such as Borneo, Libya, Iran, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.