February 1 – Happy Birthday, Jacob Roggeveen

Posted on February 1, 2015

He didn't find Terra Australis...but he found Easter Island!

When I think of explorers—even Dutch explorers in the early 1700s—I think of rugged young-to-middle-age sorts who are hardy and daring and thirst to see new lands.

But Jacob Roggeveen, who was born in what is now the Netherlands on this date in 1659, set off on his big exploratory expedition when he was 62 years old!

Before becoming an explorer, Roggeveen had studied law, had been a notary in the Netherlands, and had served as the “Council Lord of Justice” in what is now Indonesia.

I bet a big part of the reason Roggeveen went on his exploratory journey was because his father, a mathematician with a passion for geography, studied the mythical Terra Australis—the huge continent in the Southern Hemisphere that so many scholars were sure must exist.

You see, many people living in the 16th and 17th Centuries were sure that all the landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere must be balanced by much more land in the south than was known. But it's just not so. The landmasses of the Earth are not spread around evenly—and right now, at least, there is far more land in the North. (You probably already know that the land masses have been moving around on huge tectonic plates, forming and reforming different continents over the course of the past several millions years.)

The Northern Hemisphere above;
the Southern Hemisphere below.

The continent we know as Australia was first discovered by Europeans in 1606—half a century before Roggeveen was even born!—but it wasn't until 1820 when explorers first spotted the ice shelves of Antarctica, although James Cook did spot some islands in the Antarctic Circle in 1773. During Roggeveen's time, people still thought that they must have missed a much larger land mass in the South than Australia, which is roughly the size of the “lower 48” states of the United States.

In his efforts to find that mythical land, Roggeveen became the first European to have landed on Easter Island (so named because the Dutch ships landed on the island on Easter Sunday of 1722). Roggeveen estimated that there were 2,000 to 3,000 people living on the island.

This is what Easter Island is famous for:

Some of the moai appear to be
just heads but are actually
partially buried.
There are 887 monumental statues, called moai, which were carved by early Rapa Nui people between the years 1250 and 1500.

This moai is on the sea floor off the coast of
Easter Island. However, it's a fake.
Some Hollywood movie makers created it and
sank if for the filming of a movie.

Also on this date:

Hula in the Coola Day

Superbowl Sunday  

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