Exploring the Unknown

Heart Map Orontius 1534
Heart Map Oronce Fine 1534

The Untold Story of Exploration

This is a book by Lowell Thomas, published in 1937. Its various chapters outline the stories of explorers who are not the most widely known.

One chapter traces the career of Ulrich Schmiedel von Straubing (aka Ulrico Schmidl) who accompanied the Spanish expedition headed by Pedro de Mendoza to South America in 1534. The expedition founded the city of Buenos Aires and explored hundreds of miles up the Parana River hoping to find gold and silver mines. Their treatment of the natives was so brutal that several tribes combined to get rid of them. After multiple battles, the town of Bueno Aires was burned and abandoned by the Spaniards (it was re-founded several decades later). Ulrich spent twenty years exploring the hinterlands of what are now Argentina and Paraguay before returning to Europe and writing a book about his travels.

Another chapter is about Chang Kien (aka Zhang Qian), who was dispatched by the Chinese emperor Wu in 138 B.C. to explore the lands to the west of China and, if possible, to forge an alliance with tribes against the nomadic and predatory Xiongnu (who may or may not have been related to the Huns). He traveled vast distances, crossing the Gobi Desert to what are now Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and reporting back about even more remote places such as India, Parthia, and Mesopotamia. His travels established what later became the Silk Road.

There are many more. Don’t miss Pytheas, a Greek from Marsilla (Marseilles) who explored Great Britain and made scientific observations around 300 B.C., and Mary Kingsley, who explored West Africa in the 1890s, dealing with cannibals, crocodiles and gorillas along the way.

Lowell Thomas was a popular journalist and radio personality. His lively style fits well with the aim of the book to introduce exciting figures to a general public.

By Karl Oles

Seattle attorney, teacher of philosophy

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