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Exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources. Exploration occurs in all non-sessile animal species, including humans. In human history, its most dramatic rise was during the Age of Discovery when European explorers sailed and charted much of the rest of the world, largely in a pursuit of material wealth. Since then, major explorations after the Age of Discovery have occurred for reasons mostly aimed at information discovery.
In scientific research, exploration is one of three purposes of empirical research (the other two being description and explanation). The term is commonly used metaphorically. For example, an individual may speak of exploring the Internet, sexuality, etc.
The Phoenicians (1550 BCE–300 BCE) traded throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Asia Minor though many of their routes are still unknown today. The presence of tin in some Phoenician artifacts suggests that they may have traveled to Britain. Some scientists speculate that they voyaged all the way to Central America, although this is disputed. According to Virgil's Aeneid and other ancient sources, the legendary Queen Dido was a Phoenician from Asia Minor who sailed to North Africa and founded the city of Carthage.
The Greek explorer from Marseille, Pytheas (380 – c. 310 BC) was the first to circumnavigate Great Britain, explore Germany, and reach Thule (most commonly thought to be the Shetland Islands or Iceland).
During the 2nd century BC, the Han dynasty explored much of the Eastern Northern Hemisphere. Starting in 139 BC, the Han diplomat Zhang Qian traveled west in an unsuccessful attempt to secure an alliance with the Da Yuezhi against the Xiongnu (the Yuezhi had been evicted from Gansu by the Xiongnu in 177 BC); however, Zhang's travels revealed entire countries which the Chinese were unaware of, including the remnants of the conquests of Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC). When Zhang returned to China in 125 BC, he reported on his visits to Dayuan (Fergana), Kangju (Sogdiana), and Daxia (Bactria, formerly the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom which had just been subjugated by the Da Yuezhi). Zhang described Dayuan and Daxia as agricultural and urban countries like China, and although he did not venture there, described Shendu (the Indus River valley of Northwestern India) and Anxi (Arsacid territories) further west.
From about 800 Ad to 1040 AD, the Vikings explored Europe and much of the Western Northern Hemisphere via rivers and oceans. For example, it is known that the Norwegian Viking explorer, Erik the Red (950–1003), sailed to and settled in Greenland after being expelled from Iceland, while the Icelandic explorer Leif Ericson (980–1020) is believed to be the first European to land in North America.
Polynesians were a maritime people, who populated and explored the central and south Pacific for around 5,000 years, up to about 1280 when they discovered New Zealand. The key invention to their exploration was the outrigger canoe, which provided a swift and stable platform for carrying goods and people. Based on limited evidence, it is thought that the voyage to New Zealand was deliberate. It is unknown if one or more boats went to New Zealand, or the type of boat, or the names of those who migrated. 2011 studies at Wairau Bar in New Zealand show a high probability that one origin was Ruahine Island in the Society Islands. Polynesians may have used the prevailing north easterly trade winds to reach New Zealand in about three weeks. The Cook Islands are in direct line along the migration path and may have been an intermediate stopping point. There are cultural and language similarities between Cook Islanders and New Zealand Maori. Early Maori had different legends of their origins, but the stories were misunderstood and reinterpreted in confused written accounts by early European historians in New Zealand trying to present a coherent pattern of Maori settlement in New Zealand.
Mathematical modelling based on DNA genome studies, using state-of-the-art techniques, have shown that a large number of Polynesian migrants (100-200), including women, arrived in New Zealand around the same time, in about 1280. Otago University studies have tried to link distinctive DNA teeth patterns, which show special dietary influence, with places in or nearby the Society Islands.
The Chinese explorer, Wang Dayuan (fl. 1311–1350) made two major trips by ship to the Indian Ocean. During 1328–1333, he sailed along the South China Sea and visited many places in Southeast Asia and reached as far as South Asia, landing in Sri Lanka and India. Then in 1334–1339, he visited North Africa and East Africa. Later, the Chinese admiral Zheng He (1371–1433) made seven voyages to Arabia, East Africa, India, Indonesia and Thailand.
The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration, was a period starting in the early 15th century and continuing to the 17th century during which Europeans explored Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. The most important explorers include: Afanasy Nikitin (?–1472), a traveler and merchant who was one of the first Europeans to travel to and document his visit to India; Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450–1500), who was the first European to reach the Cape of Good Hope; Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), who led a Spanish expedition across the Atlantic and discovered America; Vasco da Gama (1460–1524), a navigator who made the first trip from Europe to India and back by the Cape of Good Hope; Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c. 1475–1519), who became the first European to view the Pacific ocean from American shores after crossing the Isthmus of Panama; Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) and Juan Sebastian Elcano (1476–1526), who together completed the first global circumnavigation; Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), who drew the first maps of what is now part of central and maritime Canada; Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546), who was the first European to navigate the length of the Amazon River; Willem Janszoon (1570–1630), who made the first European landing in Australia; and Abel Tasman (1603–1659), who discovered Tasmania and New Zealand.
Humanity is continuing to follow the impulse to explore, moving beyond Earth. Space exploration started in the 20th century with the invention of Rockets. This has given humans the opportunity to travel to the Moon, and to send robotic explorers to other Planets.
Humans have developed specialized tools and strategies to explore specific areas of the Earth, including the arctic, caves, deserts, oceans, and urban environments; and even Earth's moon. With robotic machines, humans have also explored many parts of the heliosphere, and through measurements, beyond the Solar System and beyond the Milky Way as part of an ongoing global Space exploration initiative.
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