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Terra Australis Incognita


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The name given to the great and unknown southern continent required by the classical Greek geographers, who knew that the earth was spherical, to balance the land mass which was known to exist north of the equator. For a period in the Middle Ages the Church's insistence that the earth was flat led to the complete eradication of all belief in a southern continent, but the great years of exploration by sea in the 15th and early 16th centuries confirmed the approximately spherical shape of the earth. Maps of that period showed Terra Australis as a vast continent centred on the South Pole, and extending as far north as approximately latitude 60° S., and in the Pacific Ocean almost up to the equator. The rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomew Diaz in 1478 and of South America by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 stimulated the search for this unknown continent by many navigators, but notably by Tasman and then by Cook, which gradually reduced the ‘unknown land’ to two smaller continents, Antarctica and Australia.


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