This timeline is an incomplete list of significant events of human migration and exploration by sea. This timeline does not include migration and exploration over land, including migration across land that has subsequently submerged beneath the sea, such as the initial settlement of Great Britain and Ireland.
Maritime migration and exploration
|~128,000 BCE||Archaic humans from Africa migrate to the Mediterranean island of Crete.|
|~63,000 BCE||Modern humans migrate to Australia and New Guinea. This may mark the first major sea migration of modern humans.|
|~43,400 BCE||People from New Guinea migrate to the Bismarck Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean.|
|~36,000 BCE||People inhabit the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu.|
|~23,000 BCE||People from eastern Siberia inhabit Beringia.|
|~18,000 BCE||Small groups of seafaring Beringians begin migrating along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.|
|~18,000 BCE||People inhabit the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.|
|~13,000 BCE||People from Honshu inhabit the Japanese island of Hokkaido.|
|~9000 BCE||People from Sardinia inhabit the Mediterranean island of Corsica.|
|~8800 BCE||People inhabit the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.|
|~8000 BCE||People from South America inhabit Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.|
|~6500 BCE||People inhabit the Mediterranean island of Crete.|
|~6000 BCE||People inhabit the Mediterranean island of Sicily.|
|~5900 BCE||People from Sicily inhabit the Mediterranean island of Malta.|
|~4500 BCE||People from South America inhabit the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica.|
|~4500 BCE||Early Paleo-Inuit people migrate from northeastern Siberia across frozen seas to the island of Greenland.|
|~4500 BCE||People from China migrate to the island of Taiwan. They will mix with earlier inhabitants who had arrived from China when a land bridge existed.|
|~2300 BCE||Trade ships from the Indus Valley begin sailing to Mesopotamia.|
|1500-300 BCE||Phoenicians sailed, traded, and settled around most of the Mediterranean Sea three millennia ago. Phoenicians sailed through the Pillars of Hercules (Strait of Gibraltar) and explored the Atlantic Coast of Iberia and North Africa.|
|~600 BCE||A questionable legend holds that Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II commissioned a Phoenician ship that sailed from the Red Sea around Africa to the mouth of the Nile River in three years.|
|~500 BCE||Carthaginian Hanno the Navigator explores the Atlantic Coast of Africa.|
|~500 BCE||Paleo-Inuit people migrate across frozen seas to the North American Arctic.|
|~325 BCE||Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia from Provence explores the British Isles and the North Sea.|
|~200||Chinese envoys sail through the Strait of Malacca to Kanchipuram in India.|
|~420||People from the Sunda Islands of Southeast Asia inhabit the African island of Madagascar.|
|674||Chinese explorer Daxi Hongtong reaches Aden in Yemen.|
|~750||Monks from the islands of Dál Riata settle on the North Atlantic island of Iceland.|
|~750||Ships from Sunda Islands of Southeast Asia round the Cape of Good Hope and reach Ghana in Africa.|
|793||Norse Vikings raid the Lindisfarne Priory, off the coast of the island of Great Britain.|
|870||Norwegian Náttfari settles on the North Atlantic island of Iceland.|
|978||Icelander Snæbjörn galti Hólmsteinsson sails to the island of Greenland and unsuccessfully attempts to settle the island.|
|982||Exiled from Iceland for three years, Norwegian Erik Thorvaldsson (Erik the Red) explores the island of Greenland. Erik leads the Icelandic settlement of Greenland in 985.|
|~1000||Polynesians settle in the Society Islands of the Pacific Ocean.|
|~1000||Polynesians settle in the Marquesas Islands of the Pacific Ocean.|
|1001||Iceland-born Greenlander Leif Erikson, son of Erik Thorvaldsson, establishes a settlement on the island of Newfoundland and explores nearby lands in continental North America.|
|~1100||Polynesians settle on the Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).|
|~1100||Norsemen abandon the island of Newfoundland and North America.|
|~1240||Polynesians settle in the Hawaiian Islands of the Pacific Ocean.|
|~1250||The Thule people of the Arctic Coast of Alaska inhabit the Arctic islands of North America and Greenland.|
|1258||Japanese sailors land on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu.|
|1270||Japanese sailors carrying sugar cane land on the Hawaiian island of Maui.|
|~1320||Polynesians settle in the Pacific islands of New Zealand.|
|~1350||The Inuit people of the Alaskan Arctic inhabit the Arctic islands of North America and Greenland.|
|1403||The Yongle Emperor (Zhu Di) orders Grand Director Ma He to construct a Foreign Expeditionary Armada to explore lands of the Western Ocean (Indian Ocean) and exert Chinese hegemony. The emperor honors Ma He with the name Zheng He.|
|1405||Zheng He departs from Nanjing with 27,800 men on 255 ships for a voyage of two years. The fleet visits Champa, Java, Malacca, Aru, Semudera, Lambri, Sri Lanka, Quilon, and Calicut.|
|1407||Zheng He departs from Nanjing with 247 ships for a second voyage of two years.|
|1409||Zheng He departs from Nanjing with 27,000 men for a third voyage of two years.|
|1413||Zheng He departs from Nanjing for a fourth voyage of two years. The fleet ventures as far west as the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.|
|1417||Zheng He departs from Nanjing for a fifth voyage of two years. The fleet ventures as far west as Hormuz, Yemen, Somalia, and Kenya.|
|1421||Zheng He departs from Nanjing for a sixth voyage of 18 months.|
|1431||At the direction of the new Xuande Emperor (Zhu Zhanji), Zheng He departs from Nanjing for a seventh voyage of two years.|
|1434||Portuguese captain Gil Eanes sailing for Prince Henry the Navigator (Infante Don Henrique of Portugal) rounds Cape Bojador in Western Sahara. This voyage marks the start of the Portuguese exploration and exploitation of Africa.|
|1436||The new Zhengtong Emperor (Zhu Qizhen) bans the construction of sea-going imperial vessels.|
|~1450||Norsemen abandon Greenland.|
|1460||Portuguese navigators António de Noli and Diogo Gomes, sailing for Prince Henry the Navigator, discover the islands of Cabo Verde.|
|1473||Portuguese navigator Lopes Gonçalves becomes the first European to sail across the Equator and reaches Cape Saint Catherine in Gabon.|
|1482||King John II of Portugal orders navigator Diogo Cão to explore the Atlantic Coast of Africa. Cão sails up the Congo River to Shark Point and then sails south to Cape Santa Maria in Angola.|
|1485||King John II of Portugal orders navigator Diogo Cão to return to Africa. Cão sails up the Congo River to Matadi and then sails south to Cape Cross in Namibia.|
|1488||King John II of Portugal orders navigator Bartolomeu Dias to search for a possible route to India. Dias rounds the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.|
|1492||Genoan Christopher Columbus (Cristoffa Corombo) leads an expedition of three ships for Queen Isabella I of Castile, seeking a short westward sea route to China. Columbus sails west across the Atlantic Ocean and lands on the Caribbean island of San Salvador on 12 October 1492. Columbus explores the Caribbean in the belief that China lies a short distance west. Columbus establishes a fort at La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola, the first European settlement in the Americas. Columbus will make three more voyages to the Caribbean in an effort to reach China.|
|1493||Queen Isabella I of Castile directs Christopher Columbus to lead a second expedition of 17 ships and 1200 men to colonize the Caribbean. Columbus finds La Navidad destroyed and establishes a new settlement at La Isabela farther east on Hispaniola. The colonists will enslave native Arawak people.|
|1497||King Henry VII of England commissions Venetian navigator John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) to search for a route to China. Cabot lands on the island of Newfoundland, the first European to explore the island since the departure of the Vikings four centuries earlier.|
|1497||King John II of Portugal orders navigator Vasco da Gama to lead an expedition of four ships and 170 men to seek a sea route to India. Da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope and sails across the Indian Ocean, landing at Kappadu in India on 20 May 1498.|
|1498||On his third voyage to the Caribbean, Christopher Columbus lands on the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela, thus becoming the first European to reach South America, which he thinks may be the Garden of Eden.|
|1499||Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailing for the Catholic Monarchs of Spain reaches the mouth of the Amazon River.|
|1500||King Manuel I of Portugal dispatches Major-Captain Pedro Álvares Cabral to lead an expedition of 13 ships and 1500 men to India. Cabral sails to Cabo Verde and then south to Brazil, which he claims for his king. Cabral sails south along the coast of Brazil and then east around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean to Calicut in India.|
|1501||King Manuel I of Portugal dispatches Spanish captain Alonso de Ojeda accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci to explore the extent of newly claimed Brazil. Ojeda follows the Brazilian coast south to Guanabara Bay. The voyage convinces Vespucci that the land could not be the East Indies but rather a new continent, which Martin Waldseemüller later names America in his honor.|
|1502||On his fourth voyage to the Caribbean, Christopher Columbus lands at Puerto Castilla in Honduras, thus becoming the first European to reach Central America.|
|1501||King Manuel I of Portugal dispatches cousins Afonso and Francisco de Albuquerque to lead an expedition of six ships to India. They battle the Zamorin of Calicut and ally with the King of Cochin who grants them the right to build fort Immanuel in 1503, the first European settlement in India.|
|1505||Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Diego Columbus, the elder son of Christopher Columbus, brings African slaves to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. This marks the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade.|
|1508||Ferdinand II of Aragon, Regent of Castile commissions Juan Ponce de León to settle the island of San Juan Bautista (Puerto Rico). Ponce de León founds Caparra, the first European settlement on the island.|
|1508||King Henry VII of England commissions Sebastian Cabot (Sebastiano Caboto), the son of John Cabot, to search for the Northwest Passage to China. Cabot explores the Atlantic Coast of North America from Ungava Bay to Chesapeake Bay.|
|1509||King Manuel I of Portugal dispatches Portuguese fidalgo Diogo Lopes de Sequeira to the wealthy Sultanate of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. Portuguese general Afonso de Albuquerque seizes Malacca in 1511.|
|1510||Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa establishes Santa María la Antigua del Darién in Colombia, the first European settlement in the continental Americas.|
|1511||Diego Columbus directs Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar to settle the island of Cuba. Cuéllar establishes Baracoa, the first European settlement on the island.|
|1513||Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish governor of San Juan Bautista (Puerto Rico), explores Florida which he assumes is another island. He becomes the first European to explore continental North America since the departure of the Vikings four centuries earlier.|
|1513||Portuguese explorer Jorge Álvares becomes the first European to reach China by sea.|
|1513||Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the Spanish governor of Veragua (Panama), crosses the Isthmus of Panama to the shore of a sea he names the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). Balboa claims all lands draining into the sea for Spain.|
|1515||Spanish Franciscan friars establish a mission at Cumaná, the first European settlement in Venezuela.|
|1516||Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís reaches Río de la Plata between Uruguay and Argentina.|
|1518||Spanish conquistador Juan de Grijalva explores the east coast of Yucatan and Mexico.|
|1519||Spanish Captain-General Hernán Cortés establishes the first European settlment in Mexico at Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on 18 May 1519. Cortés then marches to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.|
|1519||On 15 August 1519, Spanish governor Pedro Arias Dávila establishes Panamá (Panama City) in Panama, the first European settlement in Central America.|
|1520||King Charles I of Spain directs Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães) to lead an expedition of five ships and 270 men to seek a westward sea route to the East Indies. Magellan discovers the Strait of Magellan and encounters a sea he names the Peaceful Sea (Pacific Ocean). Magellan becomes the first explorer to cross the Pacific Ocean, which proves far vaster than he imagined and requires an arduous four-month voyage.|
|1521||Ferdinand Magellan is killed on the island of Mactan in the Philippines, but the expedition's two remaining ships attempt to return to Spain.|
|1522||On 6 September 1522, the carrack Victoria arrives in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain with the 18 survivors of the Magellan Expedition, having circumnavigated the Earth.|
|1526||Portuguese traders bring African slaves to Brazil. This marks the beginning of the Portuguese slave trade.|
|1526||Spanish conquistador Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón sails with six ships from Santo Domingo on Hispanola to establish a colony north of the Bahama Islands. Ayllón selects the mouth of the Sapelo River in Georgia and establishes the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape on 29 September 1526. The colony fails in a few months and the survivors return to Hispanola.|
|1527||Venetian Captain-General Sebastian Cabot sailing for the Spanish Council of the Indies builds the Sancti Spiritu fort on the Carcarañá River, the first European settlement in Argentina.|
|1532||Portuguese fidalgo Martim Afonso de Sousa establishes Porto dos Escravos in Brazil, the first Portuguese settlement in the Americas.|
|1533||Spanish Marquesado Don Hernán Cortés orders Diego de Becerra to sail from Colima in Mexico in search of the mythical Strait of Anián and the Islands of California. Mutineers murder Becerra and land at the Bay of La Paz in Baja California Sur.|
|1539||Spanish Marquesado Don Hernán Cortés orders Francisco de Ulloa to lead an expedition of three ships to search for the mythical Strait of Anián. Ulloa sails from Acapulco north along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Ulloa circumnavigates and names the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) and sails around the Baja California Peninsula to Isla de Cedros, proving that the Sea of Cortez is not a strait and that Baja California is a peninsula. (Spanish secrecy allows the notion of an Island of California to persist.)|
|1542||Antonio de Mendoza, the first Viceroy of New Spain, directs Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and Ruy López de Villalobos to lead explorations of the Pacific Ocean from Barra de Navidad in Jalisco.
On 27 June 1542, Cabrillo sails northwest with three ships to explore the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Californias. Cabrillo reaches the Russian River before turning back. Cabrillo dies in the Channel Islands on the return voyage.
On 1 November 1542, López de Villalobos sails west with six galleons and 400 men across the Pacific Ocean to the East Indies. The expedition explores the Philippine Islands and the eastern Islands of Indonesia, but is captured by Portuguese authorities in 1544. López de Villalobos dies on 4 April 1544, in a Portuguese prison cell on the Island of Amboyna. The Portuguese send the 117 survivors of the expedition to Lisbon.
|1559||Spanish conquistador Tristán de Luna y Arellano sails with 11 ships from San Juan de Ulua in Veracruz to establishes the colony of Santa Maria de Ochuse at Pensacola Bay in Florida. The colony was largely destroyed by a hurricane after only six weeks, although the survivors are not rescued until 1561.|
|1560||King Philip II of Spain orders Captain-General Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, to lead the first Armada de la Carrera (Treasure Fleet) from Mexico and the Caribbean back to Spain.|
|1562||English slave trader John Hawkins brings African slaves to Hispaniola. This marks the beginning of the English slave trade.|
|1564||French explorer René Goulaine de Laudonnière leads an expedition of three ships to found the colony of Fort de la Caroline on the May River in Florida.|
|1564||Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi leads an expedition of five ships and 500 soldiers from Barra de Navidad in Jalisco to the Philippines. López de Legazpi lands in the Mariana Islands and proceeds to the Philippines. In 1565, López de Legazpi founds the colony of Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesús on the Island of Cebu, the first Spanish settlement in the East Indies.|
|1565||King Philip II of Spain orders Captain-General Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, to drive the French out of Florida. Aviles sails for Florida and on 8 September 1564 establishes the settlement of San Agustín (St. Augustine) on the Matanzas River. The city persists today. Avilés then attacks Fort de la Caroline and murders most of its inhabitants.|
|1605||French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons establishes a colony on Saint Croix Island in Maine. The following year, the colony moves to Port-Royal in Nova Scotia to become the first European settlement in Canada since the departure of the Vikings five centuries earlier.|
|1606||Dutch captain Willem Janszoon sails around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indonesian island of Java. He then sails to New Guinea and Australia, becoming the first European to explore those lands.|
|1607||In 1606, King James I of England charters the Virginia Company of London to establish colonies in North America. The following year the company establishes Jamestown in Virginia.|
|1615||English nobelman Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick arrives in Virginia with 20 African slaves. This marks the beginning of the American slave trade.|
|1616||Dutch explorer Willem Cornelisz Schouten sails around Cape Horn and west across the Pacific Ocean, visiting numerous islands before reaching the Indonesian island of Java.|
|1619||A "Dutch man of warre" arrives in Virginia with 20 African slaves. This marks the beginning of the Dutch slave trade.|
|1624||France brings African slaves to settle Guiana in South America. This marks the beginning of the French slave trade.|
|1642||Dutch explorer Abel Tasman explores Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Fiji Islands.|
|1648||Russian explorer Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnev rounds Cape Dezhnev in the Bering Strait.|
|1671||The Danish West India Company enters the Atlantic slave trade.|
|1675||English merchant Anthony de la Roché is blown off course and seeks refuge in a bay of the South Atlantic island of South Georgia.|
|1690||English captain John Strong lands in the Falkland Islands of the Atlantic Ocean.|
|1722||Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen lands on the Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).|
|1732||Russian geodesist Mikhail Spiridonovich Gvozdev sails from Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka to Cape Dezhnev, the easternmost point of continental Eurasia, thence east across the Bering Strait to Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost point of the continental Americas. Gvozdev proceeds to chart the northwest coast of Alaska.|
|1767||British explorer Samuel Wallis lands on Tahiti in the Society Islands of the Pacific Ocean.|
|1770||British explorer James Cook explores and circumnavigates the Pacific islands of New Zealand. Cook lands at Botany Bay in Australia and explores the Pacific Coast of the continent.|
|1775||British explorer James Cook explores the South Atlantic island of South Georgia and claims it for the United Kingdom.|
|1778||British explorer James Cook explores the Hawaiian Islands and the Northwestern Coast of North America from Alta California to the Chukchi Sea.|
|1820||Russian, British, and American ships first sight Antarctica.|
|1869||The Suez Canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea opens.|
|1880||Finnish-born Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sails through the Northeast Passage and completes the first circumnavigation of Eurasia by way of the Suez Canal on the SS Vega.|
|1906||Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen becomes the first to sail through the Northwest Passage on the Gjøa.|
|1914||The Panama Canal between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean opens.|
|1956||The United States Navy opens Naval Air Facility McMurdo on McMurdo Sound in Anarctica.|
|1958||The American nuclear submarine USS Nautilus becomes the first ship to reach the North Pole and the first ship to cross the Arctic Ocean.|
|1960||Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and American oceanographer Don Walsh descend to the bottom of the Challenger Deep (-10,911 meters) in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean in the bathyscaphe Trieste on 23 January 1960.|
- Age of Discovery
- Ancient maritime history
- Chinese exploration
- Chronology of European exploration of Asia
- Columbian exchange
- Early human migrations
- European exploration of Africa
- History of navigation
- History of slavery
- Human migration
- Indian maritime history
- Major explorations after the Age of Discovery
- Maritime history
- Maritime history of Europe
- Maritime Silk Road
- Maritime timeline
- Ming treasure voyages
- Naval history of China
- Polynesian navigation
- Portuguese discoveries
- Spanish colonization of the Americas
- Timeline of European exploration
- Timeline of human prehistory
- Timeline of the Ming treasure voyages
- Treaty of Tordesillas
- Voyages of Christopher Columbus
References are included in the linked articles.
- Team Led by PC Faculty Member Finds Evidence of Earliest Seafaring by Human Ancestors, Providence College.
- Strasser F. Thomas et al. (2010) Stone Age seafaring in the Mediterranean, Hesperia (The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens), vol. 79, pp. 145–190.
- Wilford, J.N., On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners The New York Times, 15 Feb 2010.
- Bruce Bower, Hominids Went Out of Africa on Rafts Wired Science, January 8, 2010.
- Davidson & Wahlquist 2017.
- Wright 2017.
- Bird et al. 2002, p. 1074.
- Chambers, Geoffrey K.; Edinur, Hisham A. (2015). "The Austronesian Diaspora: A Synthetic Total Evidence Model". Global Journal of Anthropology Research. 2 (2): 53–65. doi:10.15379/2410-2806.2015.02.02.06.
- Jett, Stephen C. (2017). Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas. University of Alabama Press. pp. 168–171. ISBN 9780817319397.
- Fujita, Masaki (2016). "Advanced maritime adaptation in the western Pacific coastal region extends back to 35,000–30,000 years before present". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 113 (40): 11184–11189. doi:10.1073/pnas.1607857113. PMC 5056111. PMID 27638208.
- Sanz, 157–159.
- Tsutsumi Takashi (January 18, 2012). "MIS3 edge-ground axes and the arrival of the first Homo sapiens in the Japanese archipelago". Quaternary International. 248: 70–78. Bibcode:2012QuInt.248...70T. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.01.030.
- Shinoda, Ken-ichi; Adachi, Noboru (2017). "Ancient DNA Analysis of Palaeolithic Ryukyu Islanders" (PDF). Terra Australis. Canberra, Australia: ANU Press. 45: 51–59. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
- Matsu'ura, Shuji (1999). "A Chronological Review of Pleistocene Human Remains from the Japanese Archipelago" (PDF). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese: 181–197. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
- Nakagawa, Ryohei (2010). "Pleistocene human remains from Shiraho-Saonetabaru Cave on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan, and their radiocarbon dating". Anthropological Science. The Anthropological Society of Nippon. 118 (3). Retrieved August 6, 2017.
- Gosch & Stearns, 12
- Dewar, Robert E.; Wright, Henry T. (1993). "The culture history of Madagascar". Journal of World Prehistory. 7 (4): 417–466. doi:10.1007/BF00997802.
- Dick-Read, Robert (2005). The Phantom Voyagers: Evidence of Indonesian Settlement in Africa in Ancient Times. Thurlton.