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Mysterious white powder

Posted by Conservators on May 4, 2011 10:39:36 PM

Posted by  Julie


Date: 26/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 22
Temp with wind chill: -40
Sunrise: August
Sunset


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Americans invade the conservation lab and Sarah keeps them enthralled with fun facts about old textiles.  © AHT/Julie

There is a good deal of interest in our conservation work from the Americans working four kilometers away at McMurdo Station.  In response, one night after dinner the AHT conservators ran tours through the conservation lab for a total of about 30 visiting Americans.

 

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Tin of mysterious white powder. © AHT/Julie

One of the objects we showed on our tour was a tin from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.  Full of white powder with a little handmade scoop (made from the lid of a ‘round fifties’ carton of cigarettes), the tin has a handwritten label that is only partially legible.  We asked the Americans: can you read this label?  It was a genuine question as we hadn’t completely deciphered it ourselves. - We had done some chemical tests on the powder and it was not reacting as it should have based on our guesswork.

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Detail of label. © AHT/Julie

The Americans came through!  A couple of people on the tour read the label as, ‘French chalk’.  (French chalk is another name for talcum powder.)  Mystery solved!  Talcum powder could have had a number of uses: not only was it used as a skin and foot powder, it could have been used as a lubricant for machinery (it is helpful in the repair of tyres) and can also be used to remove grease.

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