Ever since the Age of Exploration, European nations have laid claim to a number of events on planet Earth that were considered unknown to the world before the eyes of European explorers viewed them. These places and events, in many cases, existed long before Europeans ever saw them, but to the victors go the right to chart the course of history.
While Europeans were fond of making bold, and sometimes outrageous, claims about their discoveries, there were some genuine finds made by these explorers that were unknown by humans prior to the Age of Exploration that took empires around the world in search of wealth and treasure. The following map plots the actual locations in the world discovered by European nations at a time when no other human being knew of these places.
The Portuguese were one of the first European powers to expand beyond the continent and develop an empire that stretched around the globe. Charted in green on the map, the first discoveries made by the Portuguese came in 1418, and included places such as Seychelles, Mauritius, and Reunion in the Indian Ocean, as well as Ascension Island and Cape Verde in the Atlantic. The Portuguese uncovered 13,776 km2 of area now inhabited by 3.4 million people, more than any other empire.
Spanish explorers were not far behind their Iberian Peninsula neighbors on the exploration path. Discoveries made by Spain date back to 1493, and include the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands off South America’s Pacific coast, and the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific. Spanish explorers covered 8,938 km2 of area now inhabited by 149,732 people.
The Dutch Trading Companies of the 16 th and 17 th centuries were dominant on the high seas of the world. Dutch explorers covered the second most ground, 73,903 km2, landing on the Falkland Islands near South America, Prince Edward Island south of the African continent, and were among the first to explore the Arctic Circle. Despite the vast stretches of land and sea covered by the Dutch, modern populations in these areas stand at just 5,642.
Russian explorers offer contrasting success factors when it came to uncovering never-before-seen land. On the one hand, Russians covered more land than any other nation, at 74,634 km2. Conversely, the modern population of all those lands consists of just 613 people. The vast majority of Russia’s land discoveries include the Arctic Circle and previously uninhabited expanses in Siberia.
America’s status today is vastly different than it was during the Age of Exploration. For starters, America didn’t even exist as an independent nation till the end of the Age of Exploration. American explorers made their first discoveries in 1796, almost 400 years after the first Portuguese explorers. Americans discovered the uninhabited islands in Hawaii (though not all were uninhabited), as well as the Johnston Atoll and Phoenix Islands in the Pacific.
It is worth noting as you look at this interesting map of actual European discoveries, that some of the places were not exactly uninhabited completely. For instance, islands in the Indian Ocean were known to Arab traders long before Europeans, but those traders never established settlements. Additionally, there are islands around the world marked with an asterisk that show evidence of human inhabitation in the past, but had no native populations when Europeans arrived.