For centuries, man has been fascinated by the sea, and even today, our oceans continue to hold enduring appeal. Since the Pharaohs of Egypt sat on their princely thrones, humanity has struck out for that watery horizon – venturing to the edges of the map in search of discovery and adventure.
While scientists continue to make new discoveries in the depths of our oceans, it’s fair to say we know our seas better than ever before. But this hasn’t always been the case, and without the intrepid, trailblazing explorers of the past, the world would be a very different place indeed.
But which voyages and discoveries had the greatest impact on our understanding of the world and its oceans? And which brave adventurers risked their lives to chart our seas?
To find out, we’re taking a look back through the history of ocean discovery, exploring the voyages which changed our relationship with the seas forever. Use the links below to navigate the guide, and use our interactive timelines to discover the enthralling history of ocean exploration and discovery.
Historic records and archaeological finds tell us that humanity has explored the seas since ancient times, charting the depths both above and below the surface. The Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Vikings and Chinese were among the earliest civilisations to actively explore the oceans, with early explorers tasked with discovering new lands and new possibilities.
The Golden Age of Discovery was a period when the world’s oceans were charted and explored like never before. Spanning the Middle Ages to the 17th century, it saw the emergence of legendary explorers like Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook, whose collective discoveries plotted the scale of the seas and oceans in their entirety.
The dawn of the 19th century saw the emergence of a new era of ocean discovery, with the Industrial Revolution and the age of science helping to promote research-focused expeditions. Some of our most fascinating seafaring discoveries have been made in the past 200 years – from voyages to the Poles to Darwin’s ground-breaking discoveries in the Galapagos.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look into the history of ocean voyages and discovery. Keen to learn more about our enchanting seas and the creatures that inhabitant them? Then join us for a fun and educational day out at Bristol Aquarium. For information and tickets, visit the homepage or call us on 0117 929 8929.