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How a Baby Staked Argentina's Claim on Antarctica

Antarctica is a strange place. It has no native population, but many countries have communities there, all with floating populations of people who don’t stay very long. Several countries have staked claims on the land, but no nation officially owns the continent. How does one stake a claim on an uninhabited land in this modern age? Argentina airlifted a pregnant women to its Esperanzo Base on the Arctic Penninsula in 1978 so she could give birth to the first baby born in Antarctica. Chile responded by registering over a dozen births at their Antarctic station in the ensuing years. If this seems like a particularly childish way to claim territory, it’s just par for the course.   

The decades of territorial tiffs have a juvenile air about them. Instances of placing and stealing and replacing flags have been common. For example, in November 1942, an Argentine expedition left a flag in a cylinder to mark its takeover of Antarctica’s Deception Island. Two months later, a British ship’s staff destroyed the evidence, planted their own flag, and notified Argentina of the act. Within another two months, an Argentine vessel had already removed it.

Argentina, Chile, and the UK, as well as France and New Zealand, have even designed special flags for their respective Antarctic territories, all within the last few decades. There’s also been lots of naming and renaming and conflicting names; the Antarctic Peninsula, for example, is known by Argentina as Tierra de San Martin, by Chile as O’Higgins Land, and by the British as Graham Land, while another part of the peninsula “belonging” to the United States is named Palmer Land.

Reminder: none of these countries actually own the land in question.

The territorial claims by various countries makes for a confusing history, which you can read about at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Andrew Shiva)

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