The Unknown Southern Continent

The southern continents of Australia and Antarctica were still unknown to Europeans long after parts of all the other continents had been explored. Ptolemy, a geographer in ancient times, had suggested that there was one huge continent in the south of the world. 1500 years later mapmakers were still putting this imaginary super-continent on their maps. They labelled it, in Latin, Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Southern Land).

Ortelius' world map showing the Unknown Southern Land

Look at this map of the world that appeared in a 1592 atlas by the mapmaker, Abraham Ortelius. Can you see Australia or Antarctica? The large island on the far left is New Guinea. Click on the picture to have a better look.

The Pacific voyages of Abel Tasman and Captain James Cook brought into question the idea of a southern super-continent.