Dilemmas

The Antarctic Heritage Trust (the trust) faces a number of challenges in saving the explorers' historic huts beyond the technical challenges of conservation in an extreme environment. Why bother saving buildings so few people see? Whose responsibility is this heritage?

Why conserve huts so few will see?

These huts are an important part of the world's cultural heritage. Not only are they the first buildings on the continent, but this is the last continent on earth where the first human dwellings survive. These sites are part of the record of human endeavour, and action must be taken now to preserve them for future generations.

To counter the remoteness of the location, the trust is working to take advantage of digital technologies to give virtual access to visitors who would probably never make the journey to these sites in person.

How best to preserve the huts?

Visitors to the huts are fascinated by finding the legendary explorers' belongings preserved as though they had just walked out. Looking at the images, you get a sense of how extraordinary it is to see 100-year-old tins, jackets hung in rows, notebooks, socks, chocolate and newspapers, and to know they appear pretty much just as they were left.

Much conservation work has, however, already been done over many years to create this impression. It's certain that without more work the huts and their contents could not survive indefinitely. The outhouses have already deteriorated beyond recovery, and records of the artefacts show that visitors over the years have pilfered some of the explorers' belongings.

The challenges of conservation in such an extreme climate are high. These buildings and their collections are not in museum-type conditions and are extremely remote, accessible for only some of the year. The team currently in Antarctica faces numerous technical challenges, as you can read in their blog.

Who should preserve the huts?

Ownership of Antarctica and of the land on which the huts stand is put to one side by the Antarctic Treaty. No country has been willing to act as a nominating state to place the huts on Unesco's World Heritage list which would ensure international profile for the huts. The trust is working to raise awareness of the risk to this heritage through other channels. Following nomination by the trust, Shackleton's hut was included on the World Monuments Fund 100 Most Endangered Sites on Earth.