Monday and Tuesday this week I have been working alongside the Antarctic Heritage Trust to see what they get up to in their work and help them out with some of their projects. The Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) is a New Zealand based registered charity, which has taken the initiative to take action in conserving and restoring Antarctica’s historic expedition huts and artefacts. They truly do some incredible work; I would highly recommend checking out their website for further details on what they have achieved so far, or taking a visit to the Christchurch Museum to see some of the artefacts.
The two programme managers, Lizzie Meek and Al Fastier, and their small team of conservators, have spent that past three months doing restoration work in very remote conditions out at Captain Robert F. Scott’s hut at Cape Evans and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. They are now back here on Scott Base finishing up their summer season and starting on their next project, which is restoration of Scott’s Discovery Hut, next to McMurdo. I was taken down to have a look around Discovery Hut. At the moment it’s just an empty shell as all the items have been taken out for restoration preparations. However, it’s still pretty cool to see the interior of the hut, the fireplace that the expedition huddled around to try to escape the extreme cold, and all the old wooden boxes that their goods were stored in. Hopefully I’ll get to see it completely restored sometime in the future!
My main job for AHT was to catalogue three historic food caches found in the Taylor Valley. The estimate date for when these caches were left behind is around the mid-1950s. It is believed that they were left behind because a member of a research party working in the Dry Valleys broke his leg and they had to evacuate out of the region, leaving behind non-essential items. These caches were jammed packed with different food products, like flour, dried fruit, and canned meat. Because of Antarctica’s cold temperatures, most items were in relatively good condition, and some even looked edible. However, I don’t think I would have the courage to try 60-year-old sliced tongue!
The first task was to pull out all the items, check their condition, and group the same/similar items together. I then assigned an identification number to the item, took reference photos, added all the details of the items to the AHT database, before packed the itemsso that they can be stored until a decision is made as to where they will be displayed in the near future. It was pretty neat to see the different foods that they ate during this period and the packaging that they were kept in. Surprisingly most are products that I would still find in my pantry at home today, such as Edmond’s baking powder, Sanitarium peanut butter, and Chelsea sugar. I think I processed around 220 items in total for the AHT, and since I have never done any historic conservation work before, I now have some new skills. Getting to do this job has given me a deep appreciation for the meticulous work that the AHT does.
In the evening of both days I managed to get out of base and do several walks around the area. I think my favourite thing is the prolific amount of wildlife around, such as Penguins, Seals, and Skua birds. Also the melting sea ice has created melt pools just off the coast of Ross Island, which has brought lots of MinkeWhales very close to base. It’s an incredible site to look out the window and see whales breaching just several hundred metres away!
BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2013