Discovery Era

The idea that Terra Australis Incognita, the Unknown Southern Land, existed can be dated back to the Ancient Greeks, who believed that a continent had to exist to the south to balance out the lands of the north, the Arctic.

Find out how and when Antarctica was discovered...

1788 onwards
Commercial Era

Incidentally, it was Captain Cook’s description of seals at South Georgia that led to the first sealers arriving in South Georgia in 1788. Quickly depleting these new lands (by 1822 fur seals had been wiped out in South Georgia), their search for new hunting grounds also furthered the exploration of Antarctica.

First sighting of Antarctica

The first to sight the Antarctic continent was the Russian Thaddeus von Bellingshausen in 1820.

1895 -1922
Heroic Era

The Heroic Era is considered to start in 1895, when a resolution passed at the Sixth International Geographical Congress advocated the exploration of Antarctica, and led to expeditions by scientists and explorers from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Norway and Japan.

Learn more about the famous Antarctic explorers and their expeditions in the early twentieth century.

1920s - 1930s
The Mechanical Age

Whilst Antarctic exploration had slowed during the First World War, technological advances along with the lessons learnt during the Heroic Era led to more Antarctic expeditions in the 1920s, with many utilising new and existing technology to ‘conquer’ the Antarctic continent.

Learn more about how technology advanced the exploration of Antarctica in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Operation Tabarin

During the Second World War the British Government mounted a secret mission, code-named Operation Tabarin, to establish a permanent presence in Antarctica to assert its territorial claims. This involved the building of the first permanent British bases in Antarctica, and formed the foundations of Britain's continued involvement in Antarctica for the last seventy years.

Discover Port Lockroy

Find out more about the history of Port Lockroy.

1950 onwards
The Age of Science and Exploration

The idea of another International Polar Year (the last being in 1932-33) was first discussed in 1950, and quickly broadened into an International Geophysical Year (IGY), to include research in meteorology, geomagnetism, seismology and research into the physics of the upper atmosphere.

Learn more about the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, which set a new standard in international scientific research in Antarctica and led to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve nations that had been active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. After demonstrating how successfully scientific cooperation could be carried out, and with territorial claims to Antarctica unresolved, the Antarctic Treaty established Antarctica as a region to be used only for peaceful purposes and placed all territorial claims in abeyance.

Find out more about the Antarctic Treaty, which governs all activity in Antarctica.

1993 onwards

UKAHT was founded by John Hamilton in 1993, who was inspired by the need to recognise and conserve Britain’s Antarctic history.

Territorial Claims and Permanent Occupation

From the time Antarctica had been first been sighted in 1820, territorial claims on behalf of various nations had been made by the explorers, scientists, sealers and whalers who had explored its lands and coasts.

As more claims to Antarctic territory were made, discover more about the expeditions that established the first permanent bases in Antarctica.

Key Dates Timeline

Find all the important and historically significant moments in the history of human endeavour in Antarctica all in one place, from the Discovery of Antarctica and it's first sighting to the Antarctic Treaty and beyond.

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Press Enquiries

We love to talk about the important heritage work that we do, telling the story of life in Antarctica both past and present. If you are interested in running a story about us, would like to arrange an interview, use our images or films, or want to discuss an opportunity to collaborate then get in touch.

For all press enquiries, please contact ukaht@89up.org or +44 (0) 203 411 28 89. For urgent press enquires out of office hours, please call +44 (0) 203 2 89 89 01.