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Exploration: a work in progress

The exploration does not end with the first glance, nor the first step, nor the first photograph. Exploration is a collective adventure that continues and rage today. Although geography is only one of the many fronts of our collective exploration, through it, the maps are able to crystallize in an image the state of knowledge of a territory. A reminder of how explorers can change our worldview, both the of one that is physical and palpable and the one that lives only in our minds.


This brief compilation of the cartographic evolution of Tierra del Fuego and Cordillera Darwin illustrates the development of geographic knowledge of this fascinating region. The first maps that we show correspond to the 17th century, compiled by cartographers who collected reports of the few expeditions that entered the area, such as those of Magallanes, Sarmiento, Ladrillero, and L'Hermite among others. There were several centuries of maps with more fiction than reality. They were populated by channels, mountains, sea monsters and people emanating from the stories of sailors returning from one of the most remote corners of the planet. This would change in the first decades of the 19th century, when the British Admiralty recognized the strategic value of the extreme south of America. Between 1926 and 1936, they sent Captains Phillip Parker King and Robert Fitz Roy to explore and map the maze of islands and channels of Patagonia onboard the HMS Adventure and HMS Beagle. For the first time, it was observations and not stories what was turned into the paper. In this way, they produced the first maps that correctly represented the Fuegian geography, but they did not ventured inland, and even a few fjords escaped their scrutiny.

The next great leap in the knowledge of this territory was made by Alberto M. de Agostini, to whom we dedicated a post in this blog a few weeks ago. Passionate mountaineer, explorer and cartographer. He was the first to pay real attention to the mountains, which for him were much more than a reference point for navigation. In his explorations, he discovered the fjords Contraalmirante Martinez and De Agostini. Perhaps the last great geographical discovery in the area made from the surface. Whose is only paralleled by the discovery of the Finland fjord by Väino Auer in 1929.

The next leap in knowledge of the area, arguably the largest but somewhat less romantic, was the result of U.S. Air Force Trimetrogon flights, which in the summer of 1944-1945 photographed almost all of Patagonia from 6,000 meters of altitude, finally revealing the intricate structure of this region. These photographs were used to make the preliminary map at scale 1:250,000, which was published in 1955. The transition from schematic cartography to another with an unprecedented level of detail meant a significant challenge concerning the correct placement of place names in this new frame of reference. Unfortunately, this task was not carried out with the necessary thoroughness, and many of the errors in name placement in the current cartography of the IGM (Instituto Geografico Militar) can be traced back to that transition.

Later, in the 80's, modern photogrammetric flights (Chile 60 and later GEOTEC), allowed to make the current cartography 1: 250,000, 1: 100,000 and 1: 50,000.

However, the methodology used left many blank areas, either due to the presence of clouds or snowy areas that. In such areas, the lack of contrast did not allow the topography to be reconstructed. Unfortunately, there were no significant efforts to fill these topographical gaps, which persist to this day. But more regrettable than the topographic gaps, are the toponymic, historical and heritage voids, a shortcoming that our project has attempted to fill in some of the mountainous areas of Tierra del Fuego through our map UNCHARTED: Cordillera Darwin.

The historic maps used in this compilation are:


1630 - Freti Magellanici ac novi freti vulgo le Maire exacticissima delineatio, Petrus Kaerius caelavit

1633 - Hondius, Hendrik, Freti Magellanici ac novi freti vulgo le Maire

1646 - Tabula Geographica Regni Chile, Alonso de Ovalle

1740 - Carte réduite de la partie la plus meridionale de l’Amerique pour servir a l'histoire Generale des Voyages, par le Sr. Bellin

1749 - Les Terres Magellaniques, par le Sr. Robert de Vaugondy fils de Mr. Robert

1775 - Kaart van het Zuidlyk eind van Amerika

1775 - Mapa geográfico de America meridional, Juan de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla

1839 - The Strait of Magalhaens commonly called Magellan, Surveyed by H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle 1826-1834.tif

1851 - Falkland islands and Patagonia, the map drawn & engraved by J. Rapkin

1853 - Carte des Cotes de la Patagonie et des Mers du Cap Horn Dressee d'apres de Travaux du Cap.e R. Fitz Roy de la Marine Britannique

1869 - The South-Eastern Part of Tierra Del Fuego with Staten Island, Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands Surveyed By Captn. Robert Fitz Roy R.N. and The Officers of H.M.S. Beagle 1836

1878 - Plano de limites Rufino de Elizalde - Ultima esperanza a Tierra del Fuego

1879 - Mapa de la parte austral del continente sud-americano (desde 45º 30' lat. sud)

1881 - Carta que demustra las diversas proposiciones de arreglo de la cuestion de límites Chileno-Arjentina - Carlos M. Prieto (mapa chileno posterior al Tratado de Límites de 1881)

1890 - Carta de la extemidad meridional de sudamerica construida para señalar el límite entre Chile I la Republica Arjentina (bajo la direccion de Barros Arana)

1897 - Map of the Magellan territories by Otto Nordenskjold

1901 - Mapa preliminar de la región meridional de la República Argentina

1902 - General map of the southern region of the Argentine Républic and Chile, Showing the Argentine and Chilian projects and the boundary line settled by the Arbitrator

1904 - Nuevo Mapa de Chile - Paine a Cabo de Hornos - Formado con arreglo a los datos oficiales mas recientes i los ultimos levantamientos efectuados por las comisiones de limites

1906 - Mapa de la Rejion Austral de Chile, Agustin Torrealba

1918 - Tierra del Fuego segun las exploraciones y estudios efectuados por Alberto M De Agostini 1910-1918

1920 - Tierra del Fuego segun las exploraciones y estudios efectuados por Alberto M De Agostini 1910-1918

1930 - Tierra del Fuego - by the American Geographical Society of New York

1955 - Tierra del Fuego- American Geographical Society of New York

1955 - Carta Preliminar IGM 1:250.000


Followed by the official IGM map at scale 1:250.000, 1:50.000 and our map UNCHARTED: Cordillera Darwin.

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