What was discovered today

Explorer: How the sea was discovered

Today we find all seas marked on world maps. But in order to have this knowledge, the sea first had to be discovered. Read here who were the greatest explorers of the sea, what dangers they had to face and what is still to be explored today

The first explorers of the sea: Africans

If we look very far back in history, namely a good 1.8 million years, we meet the first sea explorers. Our human ancestors lived in eastern Africa. Over time, they have explored their area more and more. But what drove them out into the unknown sea?

Kerstin Viering and Roland Knauer have an answer to this question, because they wrote a book about explorers: "The question of what lies beyond the horizon, whether there aren't other regions and other coasts, probably always bored into the back of people's heads. than the known. "

To explore the areas, the early humans probably built simple rafts out of tree trunks or bamboo. However, we will never know what these people experienced on their tours across the water

Only from ancient times are there records in which sea explorers report on their journeys. A well-known adventurer was called Hanno the navigator. In 470 BC he set out from Carthage, a city in North Africa, on a journey around the coast of Africa.

He saw a lot of the unknown: He came to a river "which was big and wide and was teeming with crocodiles and hippos," as he wrote. In addition, Hanno the Navigator passed a country "that was glowing with fire and full of smoke. Huge streams of fire rushed out of it into the sea. But the bottom could not be stepped on because of the heat."

During the day the sailors could see that the fire was coming from a mountain. So you watched a volcanic eruption. Such large expeditions did not take place too often in ancient times.

Sea route to India wanted

It wasn't until the 15th century that the sea was really busy. A whole discovery tourism broke out at the time. Because the world was still not fully known then.

But the people - especially the Spaniards and Portuguese - puzzled, for example, whether there might not be a sea route from Europe to India that would bring them trade advantages. In order to actually know whether there is a long waterway along the coast of Africa, they ventured into new territory with a great deal of uncertainty.

Not always successful: some explorers failed because of the wild water or dwindling supplies. "One of the problems was also in the minds of the seafarers," says Kerstin Viering: "All sorts of fantastic rumors circulated among the crews. For example, it was said that hell was opening beyond the notorious" Cape of Terror "on the west coast of Africa.

The sea should boil there and the sun should burn so hot from the sky that the skin of the people turned black. Who wanted to sail there? Such superstitious fears of their subordinates didn’t make their work any easier for the captains of the time.

Always to the west

The Portuguese Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) managed to find the sea route to India around Africa in 1498. When he returned to Lisbon, he was celebrated in a big way. But even his trip was not carefree: 100 of 160 men are said to have lost Vasco da Gama to scurvy on the trip.

Scurvy was one of the worst seafaring diseases, "explains Roland Knauer." It is caused by a lack of vitamin C. The food on board usually consisted only of ship's biscuits, salted meat and similarly low-vitamin food, so that the crews often got under full after a few weeks Suffered exhaustion. Their teeth fell out, they had a fever, diarrhea and wounds that did not heal well. "

Many other seafarers also struggled with the disease and dwindling supplies. It is also passed down from Columbus' discovery tours. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a sailor from Genoa who wanted to find out if there was a sea route to India if one always sailed west and not along the dangerous coast of Africa.

Columbus reached land after a while on the water, but that turned out not to be India, but rather islands off the coast of America. But he never found out himself, he always believed that he had been in India.

The first circumnavigator: Ferdinand Magellan

In fact, the Portuguese made it first Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) discovered a sea route to India along the South American coast. Some time after he drove around the southern tip - the area is now called the Strait of Magellan after him - he reached the Philippines after driving through the Pacific.

He was familiar with the area. Because he had already been there on another trip. "With his tour he also proved that the earth is a sphere," says Roland Knauer. "However, he did not see his return home from his circumnavigation. He was killed by locals in the Philippines." But the entry in the history books as the first circumnavigator is for him.

Off into the depths

And what is the situation today? All we have to do is look at a map of the world to see all bodies of water at a glance. Are there still opportunities to become famous in this area? "The sea still offers enough work for generations of explorers," says Kerstin Viering with certainty.

"Marine researchers like to say that we know more about the back of the moon than about the oceans on Earth. Biologists can only guess the variety of mysterious and fascinating creatures hidden under the surface of the water. For every known marine animal, there are thousands of them nobody has seen it. The deep sea in particular is still full of puzzles, "she says.

To become as famous as Columbus or Magellan, however, is difficult, Roland Knauer points out: the projects are technically complex and you need a lot of money. "In order to find out new things about the sea and the earth, a lot of scientists normally have to work together these days - the days of lone warriors and stars of discovery are almost over."