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Antarctica today is covered permanently by thick layers of ice, making it extremely inhospitable to humans. And, unlike the Arctic regions, it had no indigenous population of humans when modern man arrived there. (Presumably because unlike the Arctic regions, getting to Antarctica involves a danger-fraught journey over the open ocean, and once you're there, it's just as hard to get back.) See: Antarctica has no indigenous population

What do we know about possible ancient (or at least not modern) human settlement in Antarctica - perhaps during pockets of time when there was less ice, or people somehow settling in the ice - human extremophiles, as it were? Or, to expand the possibilities somewhat, settlement by some of the pre-human hominids in very ancient times, when there was perhaps less ice? Are there myths and legends suggesting such a possibility? Any archaeological finds that might indicate such a thing? Maybe at least along the coastlines which are not continually buried in ice? Do those exploring Antarctica today concern themselves at all with such a possibility?

We do know that there were periods in Earth's history when Antarctica was not covered by ice and would have been quite habitable, (see Lennart Regebro's citation: A forest grows in Antarctica) so it does have some history of habitability, but that history dates at minimum to 3 million years ago based on that source, long before hominids capable of settling in Antarctica arose. So that period would not be relevant to the discussion. Also see: Antarctica was not always cold, dry and covered in ice sheets..

I have no 'conspiracy theory' agenda here - I am not suggesting, as some 'unorthodox...' (pseudo) researchers have, that there is some hidden secret civilization existing today in Antarctica that is the source of UFO's etc. That is nothing but science fiction IMO. I ask this question simply because it seems rather incredible to me, that although humans had already reached virtually every place on earth in prehistoric times, a whole continent existed that humans never reached. In recent times, we have learned so much about the scope and ingenuity of human life in ancient times and far flung corners of the earth, and so I wonder: Have we perhaps learned something about humans in Antarctica?

Can we say with a degree of certainty (i.e. barring some sudden, spectacular revolutionary discovery) that Antarctica is an entire continent untouched by humans until modern man arrived there in the early 19th century? See: The first documented landing on mainland Antarctica was by the American sealer John Davis in West Antarctica on 7 February 1821,

(I am looking for more than just additional references to the wiki page which I already read - we can all find things in wiki - my hope is that on this site we can delve deeper and further. IMO wiki should not have the final word in all our historical inquiries.)

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I think I already asked something similar. –  Anixx Aug 17 '13 at 9:44
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@Anixx: pls provide the link for your similar question to this one. –  bhau Aug 17 '13 at 9:51
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It's amazing to consider, but it seems that we might know more about the Moon and Mars than we do about Antarctica. –  Vector Aug 17 '13 at 9:52
    
somthing similar - history.stackexchange.com/questions/7393/… –  bhau Aug 21 '13 at 7:18
    
@bhau - excellent. Thank you. –  Vector Aug 21 '13 at 7:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

We can be fairly certain that humans did not live on Antarctica, the continent, before the 20th century.

Since about 15 Ma, the continent has been mostly covered with ice.

Ref: Trewby, Mary, ed. Antarctica: An Encyclopedia from Abbott Ice Shelf to Zooplankton. Firefly Books. ISBN 1-55297-590-8.

Intermittent warm periods allowed Nothofagus shrubs to cling to the Sirius group in the Dominion Range as late as 3-4 Ma. After that the Pleistocene ice-age covered the whole continent and destroyed all major plant life on it.

Ref: Stefi Weisburd, "A forest grows in Antarctica". Science News.

Since the earliest member of the Genus Homo is younger than that (c:a 2.3Ma) Humans can not have been living there at that point. So earlier hotter periods are not a possibility for human settlements.

Humans also got the technology for reliable oceanic travel at the earliest around two thousand years ago, so a prehistoric settlement would not have been possible, and a settlement in the last thousand or so years would likely have been accompanied by legends, like the Norse settlements in Greenland.

Also, the cultures that colonized Greenland had a much less extreme climate to deal with than the antarctic climate, and perhaps more importantly, they could develop the technology for that gradually, while moving further north. A culture that settled Antarctica would have to go from at worst a climate where winters average around freezing, to a climate where winters average -10C to -30C. This a gradual development of tools to survive in that climate would not have been possible, which means settlements would not have been possible.

It is possible that it would have been reached by sailors in prehistory, but making a viable settlement in Antarctica is highly unlikely because of the forbidding climate.

As such we can be fairly certain that the first human to set foot on Antarctica did this in the 19th century, although exactly who it was is disputed.

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I accept this answer, though I disagree with some of its contentions: Even if Heyerdahl was right, difficulties getting to Antarctica would have been insurmountable-the brutal weather and ice would have been impenetrable barriers. Even today, getting there by sea is not simple. Only the airplane has opened that continent to us-still only to a limited extent. But in spite of your point re gradual adaptation, I would not rule out entirely the possibility of some sort of settlement after they had learned to adapt somewhere else, or some window of luck allowed them to tough it out for a while. –  Vector Aug 18 '13 at 15:28
    
The comments are out of order because I consolidated them. –  Vector Aug 18 '13 at 15:29
    
Of course, there is the claim that the Chinese went there in the 15th century (by Gavin Menzies). But his works are deemed of non-historical studies quality (which is certainly true). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavin_Menzies. As said elsewhere, it is doubtful that a journey (coming back) reached such a place before the 18th century (the KonTiki experiment showed long journeys were possible with primitive maritime technology, but not in such dire conditions). Accidental landings in the 18th century by lost boats might have existed, but they left no written traces. –  Jean-Christophe Dubacq Aug 22 '13 at 14:08
    
@Jean-ChristopheDubacq: Yeah, Menzies is simply making things up and then putting a reference on it that doesn't support the claim. His books are, at best, fiction. –  Lennart Regebro Aug 22 '13 at 15:03

For reference, here is the official classification from Wikipedia of the conditions necessary for a "pleasant" Antarctic day:

Condition 3
Windspeed below 48 knots (55 miles per hour)
Visibility greater than 1/4 of a mile (402 meters)
Wind chill above −75 °F (−60 °C)
Description: Pleasant conditions; all outside travel is permitted.

Condition 3 is apparently the best forecast they give for most Antarctic stations, partly because of the great speed in which conditions can change. Note particularly the temperature requirement. Northern Quebec and Alberta never approached those temperatures in the 6 years I lived there.

Even with all our modern technology, it is difficult to maintain an Antarctic station through the long winter.

The notion that a pre0historic settlement could have somehow transported sufficient fuel from (not Patagonia as it doesn't have trees; The Falklands maybe, or the Cape, or Tasmania) in order to survive even one winter I find absurd. Only our technology provides us with the luxury, and means, for such research.

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That's the south pole though, so it's the most extreme. But yes, the antarctic has a much more extreme climate than Greenland. @Vector Inuits could adapt to that climate gradually, which you can't do with Antarctica. –  Lennart Regebro Aug 18 '13 at 8:10
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@Vector: I truly believe you have no concept of the conditions. 1) If you sweat, you are dead. No if's and's or second chances, because you will lose all your body heat in minutes. The moisture of your sweat fills the air gaps in your clothing, destroys its insulating effect, and then freezes next to your skin.2) The caloric requirements to keep your body warm are 2-3 times that of a temperate climate (6000+ calories a day, up to 11,000 in some instances).: bbc.co.uk/news/health-17371543. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 18 '13 at 15:19
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@Vector: Note that the reporter gets one detail wrong in that story: it's not the sledge-hauling that burns up the extra calories, but the cold. Since one cannot sweat, one cannot exert oneself. It is imperative to NOT SWEAT, so all actions must be performed at a very measured pace. None-the less, the body defends itself from the cold by, conceptually (Not literally, because the mechanics are a bit different), going into a type of permanent shiver. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 18 '13 at 15:23
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@Vector: Thermodynamics is life. Do you know the Gambler's version of the three Laws of Thermodynamics: (1) You cannot win. (Conservation of Energy) (2) You cannot tie. (Entropy always increases) (3) You must play the game. (No heat-sinks at absolute zero). Learn them like that and you will always remember which is which. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 18 '13 at 15:43
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@PieterGeerkens OK, you are right, I understand now. It says very little of what the typical conditions are though, as they only bother themselves with if you are allowed to go outside in modern gear or not. I updated my answer with average winter temperatures at the coast. And Inuit would use fat as fuel: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudlik –  Lennart Regebro Aug 18 '13 at 17:33

In addition to the other answers I would add that Antarctica is well protected by the Westerlies, a zone of westerly winds surrounding it from 30-60° S. These bands are named "Roaring Forties", "Howling Fifties" and "Screaming Sixties", try to guess why. Apart from mostly bad weather with regular storms of hurricane force and freak waves you must cross the oceans with continously decreasing temperatures and fields of pack ice. The only land near this regions is Patagonia in South America which is also quite inhospitable.

Under these circumstances it may be not so surprising that Antarctica was untouched until the l9th century.

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Inuits of the Arctic regions (before a western diet was introduced) have a different metabolism to other humans. They obtain their energy source not from carbohydrates but from blubber, whale meat etc., and the only carbohydrate they get is from a soup made from the stomach of seals and berries once a year. So proteins and fats are their main source for energy. We wouldn't last long on their native diet and calories consumed in polar conditions are increased. Actually their body shapes and metabolism resembles Neandertals who ate mainly protein and flesh.

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I'm sorry but this isn't a valid argument. The genetic difference between Inuits and other humans is minor; and Inuits would have almost completely the same difficulty at the South pole as anyone else. The "Fat is bad unless you are an Eskimo" argument is spin-off from high-carb advocates who still believe in the invalidated lipid hypothesis. –  LateralFractal Oct 19 '13 at 5:13
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I don't see how this answers the question. –  Vector Oct 19 '13 at 22:22

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