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Antarctic conservation

217 Posts authored by: Conservators
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Mid -Winter

Posted by Conservators Jul 10, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26 June 2013

Temperature: -19.9

Wind Speed: 0

Temp with Wind Chill: -19/9

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Recently we celebrated mid- winter in true Antarctic fashion, with an elaborate dinner at Scott Base, for the fifteen of us and 25 invited American guests. The following evening was Mc Murdo's turn which, given their number of winter staff, was a much larger event to which we were all invited.

 

Mid-winter dinner LR.jpg

Scott Base Mid-Winter dinner - Tim Delaney

 

This tradition of celebration goes back to the early expeditions, for whom the passing of midwinter must have been hugely significant, allowing them to look forward to the gradual return of the sun and a chance to get away from the cramped confines of their winter quarters.

 

http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.447/ Click here to see a photograph of Midwinter Day Dinner at Winterquarters Hut, June 22nd 1911.

 

Mid –winter has also given us all a reminder of that we on Ross Island are just one small part of an extensive international community of Antarctic winter residents at bases both on the continent and on the sub-Antarctic islands. A new tradition is emerging with each of the bases e-mailing their mid-winter greetings (and usually a group photo) to each of the others. We received about thirty and they now cover the dining room wall, a great reminder that in spite of all this apparent emptiness, we do still have neighbours.    

1

Flexing our Lenses

Posted by Conservators Jul 4, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 2 July 2013

Temperature: -26C

Wind speed: 10 knotos

Temp with wind chill: -37C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Some of my favorite accounts of life at Cape Evans is how grateful and respectfully the men talk about their shared lecture series. You get a sense they are thriving of each others knowledge and love to learn from one another. I find it very saddening these days that immediacy and access to information on anything make many iPhone professors with a few finger swishes and the desire to listen, debate, and share in person is eroding rapidy.

 

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.543/

Herbert Ponting lecturing on Japan.  October 16th 1911

 

The link attached is to a wonderful image of Ponting giving a talk about his time in Japan. He has brilliantly bleached in the glow of the projector and added in the image of the Geisha. I can't help, in looking at the photo to think how wonderful it would be to be back in a time where such mystery and intrigue still lay uncharted by most and learning was rich with personal accounts and captured audiences.

DSC00003 (LR).jpg

Aurora show, on Scott's birthday.  © AHT/Stefan

 

Everyone on base is trying to do their best to keep 'Ponko's' art of photography alive, and we’re all happily learning from each other, not Wiki-searches!.

1

One man and his pan

Posted by Conservators Jun 28, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 12 June 2016

Temperature: - 31C

Wind speed: 5 kts

Temp with wind chill: -40C

Text.bmp

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.477/

 

Above is the obituary of one Thomas C. Clissold, taken from The Polar Record.  Having worked as a Chef for many years it always amuses me when if I happen to mention Clissold's name, my work space neighbor (Jaime) retorts, "Oh! Mr Grumpy ". Although Clissold can seem very stern of expression in Ponting's photographs, if you have worked in catering it's very easy to understand why the rigours of life might give you a furrowed brow.

 

Our Chef, Damian is a joy to have on base.  He's a true talent and manages to maintain a very laidback and jolly disposition.  But as the long Antarctic winter marches on you can see why someone like Clissold would have been in a unique position. Whilst many of the men would be finding differences in behavior and working practices endlessly grating and annoying, it’s an entirely different prospect to cook a hot dinner for someone you might not like day in, day out.

 

Cooking pot BT.jpg

Cooking pot before treatment

 

Food and its quality determines so much of what happens with morale on base, and in reading how miserable a poor cook made life on the Discovery expedition, you can see how much of an impact Clissold's service was to a happy life in the Cape Evans hut.

cooking pot.jpg

Cooking pot after treatment

 

I've recently been lucky enough to work on one of the cooking pots, (famously featured in a Ponting photograph), with Clissold at the stove………….looking grumpy.

1

Author: Marie

Date: 17 June 2013

Temperature: -24

Wind speed: 15

Temp with wind chill: -32

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

You probably know that Scott's choice of ponies and motor sledges against dog-hauling contributed to his terrible fate. We have already mentioned the ponies, and now for the motors:

Back in France, a few kilometres from my home town, there is a mountain pass quite famous for having dodgy conditions in winter. On this specific pass, in 1908 French Antarctic explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot and Robert Falcon Scott, not convinced by dog-hauling sledges, conducted the first motor sledges test.   Two French companies worked together to produce the sledges they were willing to offer to both expeditions.

 

Charcot tried a 200kg motor sledge, which was really successful. The next day, Scott tried a 750kg sledge.  The weight appeared to be a major problem as the sledge sunk in the snow, stopping the chain rotation and so the motor.  But the load capacity (several tons against 400 pounds for a pony, 200 for a man and 100 per dog) was such an advantage that both explorers decided to carry the machine to the ice.

 

Capt Scott front of Glaciers Hotel.jpg

Capt. Scott at the Lautaret Pass, in front of Glaciers' Hotel

 

In 1909, Charcot shipped his motor sledges to Antarctica on his boat the Pourquoi Pas? considering them as an experiment for future expeditions and relying on man-hauling for the party.

 

The weight of Scott’s sledges was a predominant problem again as the party unloaded the cargo at Cape Evans in 1911. Being too heavy, one of them broke the ice and got lost in the sea.  The party had already decided on restrained use of the motor when engine complications started…

 

Unidentified componet.jpg

An unidentified component with a broken pipe....

 

I started working on a potential 'car part' or 'engine part' last week. They are still unidentified, but as Stefanie and I are just starting classes with our dear mechanic Lex, we hope to solve the mystery.

3

Bowers' Annex

Posted by Conservators Jun 17, 2013

Author: Jamie Ward

Date: 12/06/2013

Temperature: -27.7 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 22 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -45 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

For the members of Scott's Terra Nova expedition, the hut at Cape Evans provided a warm, secure shelter. But the fact that it had to also accommodate all their food and equipment, whilst at the same time maintaining a useable living space, meant that space was always at a premium.

 

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of theTerra Nova hut..jpg

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of the Terra Nova hut

 

Luckily, both wooden food boxes and to a lesser extent the horses' fodder bales, provided a ready supply of regular building blocks from which extensions to the hut could be created. With the addition of roofs made from surplus timbers, the remains of packing crates, and a final covering of roofing felt and canvas, stables were fabricated and Bowers' Annex was built against the southern wall of the hut to store much of the expedition food. At around 25kg each, neatly stacked Colman's flour boxes, produced excellent external walls, strong and heavy enough to resist the worst of the Antarctic weather.

 

The remains of Bowers' Annex.jpg

The remains of Bower's Annex

 

A few years ago, the remnants of the Annex were excavated from solid ice, beneath a deep snow drift and the remaining badly deteriorated boxes were carefully removed to Scott Base for conservation. After over three months' work, this task is now complete and a total of 79 boxes, most still with their original contents, will return home to Cape Evans this coming summer. 

 

Restored flour boxes.jpg

Conserved Colmans flour boxes - JW. New timber weathers to silvery grey over a few years.

 

1

Author: Marie

Date: 09/05/2013

Temperature: -25 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -30 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Light is life, and so is poetry. I had this very simple thought slowly building up in my mind throughout this week.

 

We walk out of the night on Sundays. A few weeks ago, we were walking to see, between two nights, an inch of blue sky, we were looking at appearing light from under an ice roof; Now, we walk again, just to stare at the white hidden into the complete darkness.

 

An inch of blue sky, a glance into a Velasquez book by the fireplace, poems on Auroras that Jaime translated, the Aurora I saw last night, and then this morning a question: what I am going to write on? What's really meaningful here? All these precious moment merged into evidence. We're living here, as anywhere, out of light and words. There are just different lights and different words.

 

Picture2.JPG

Blue light through the ice

 

Our flashes of light are made of moon rays on the ice shelf, our city's lamps are hanging from the stars in faded green auroral curtains and the sunray touching one's hand has been swapped for an electric sparkle.

 

Picture1.JPG

Enlighten cities of ice

 

From all over the world, we're here sharing our songs and our slangs, we remember Italian and Greek, comment on English Latin roots and on Verlaine's lover.

Here we live and that's how we stand.

1

Author: Stefanie

Date: 29/05/2013

Temperature: -27 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -55 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

 

The environment in Antarctica is extremely dry. It is an average of 18% Relative Humidity in the lab at Scott Base and while the development of corrosion on metal artefacts is inhibited, the dry humidity is not so kind to organic materials. Great effort is made to prevent paper artefacts from curling during their treatments and to introduce a degree of humidity to aid the treatment of organic objects. A humidity chamber is normally constructed for this purpose:

Image1.jpg

 

Humidity chamber constructed by Stefan and Jam for the treatment of leather harnesses.

 

We also suffer the consequences of the dry environment and continuously strive to remain hydrated by drinking copious amounts of water. Our water bottles have become permanent accessories. Moisturisers and silicon barrier creams are found distributed throughout Scott Base to help combat flaking skin and cracking fingers. Some people apply sticky tape around their fingers to prevent their skin from completely splitting, some apply eye-drops daily and everyone is seen applying lip balm regularly. And so, one very memorable Sunday, we constructed our own humidity chamber. Rain was made by spraying a room down with pressure water and for a few glorious hours we basked in rain, puddles and high humidity… 

 

Image2 (Medium).jpg

Humidity Chamber constructed by Mike for the treatment of Scott Base staff.

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A Stitch in Time

Posted by Conservators Jun 6, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 29/05/2013

Temperature: -27 degrees C

Windspeed: 10kts

Temp with wind chill: -39 degrees C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

It's been a particular pleasure this season to see some iconic pieces of the expeditioner's clothing pass through the conservation lab at Scott Base. It was noticeable last season that many of the gents clothing companies who had originally supplied the Terra Nova crew, were dedicating there AW2012 season to the heroic age. And a 100yrs of their own heritage.

 

Although companies such as Wolsey, Burberry, and Jaeger ran with collections that were heavily themed with clothes of the expeditions, one designer took it a step further and produced a limited edition range which celebrated individual garments attributed to shore party members. i.e. P O Evans's Jacket, and Charles Wright's Balaclava etc.

 

Nigel_Cabourn_14ozberlin_deck_jacket.jpg

Nigel Cabourn's 'Henry Bowers Deck Jacket' Credit: Nigel Cabourn

 

Nigel Cabourn (the designer wrote this about his work) "As a designer whose collections are inspired by history and real vintage clothing, my visit to the Polar Institute inspired me to base my AW12 collection on Scott and his team as a dedication to their fantastic feat. The wealth of information I found at the Institute spurred on my inspiration to create 12 individual garments that represent the achievements of Scott and his team on their last expedition"

 

Nigel_Cabourn_14ozberlin_expedition_smok.jpg

Nigel Cabourn's 'P.O. Evans Expedition Smok' Credit: Nigel Cabourn

 

Additonal item photos available here: http://14oz-berlin.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/nigel-cabourn-limited-edition-ii-scotts.html

 

The collection is a very beautiful tribute to the men, and even though single garments run into the thousands of pounds, I think I may be treating myself to a winter coat when I return home if there are any still available. Happy shopping.

0

Hip Hip Hooray

Posted by Conservators Jun 5, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 4 June 2013

Temperature: -25 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -38 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

It's natural that when a small group of people live together in close quarters in a harsh environment and a remote location such as Antarctica, a strong camaraderie develops and a bit of a deal is made when there's something to celebrate … and of course birthdays are one of those things.

This week marks the anniversary of Captain Scott's birthday – he celebrated his 43rd, and what was to be his last, birthday at Terra Nova hut on 6 June 1911. He wrote: 'It is my birthday, a fact I might easily have forgotten, but my kind people did not … an immense birthday cake made its appearance and we were photographed assembled about it. Clissold had decorated its sugared top with various devices in chocolate and crystallised fruit, flags and photographs of myself'. Scott goes on to describe how, later, they all sat down to a sumptuous spread of: 'Clissold's especially excellent seal soup, roast mutton and red currant jelly, fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate—such was our menu'. 

 

Click here to see a picture of Scott's birthday celebration http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.438/ 

 

Here at Scott Base, Becky our winter base leader, recently celebrated her birthday and asked for something a little more low key, forgoing the seal (!!) in favour of some simple fish 'n' chips out of newspaper in the bar with a screening of the Australian movie The Castle. Damian our cook topped it off with a totally OTT igloo-shaped dark-chocolate rum cake covered with white-chocolate drops, and filled with layer upon layer of chocolate cream ... a creation of which I'm sure Clissold would have approved!

 

Scott's Birthday.JPG

Birthday celebrations at Scott Base

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Pony Snowshoes

Posted by Conservators May 28, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 22 May 2013

Temperature: -26 degrees C

Wind Speed: 25 knots

Temp with wind chill: -44 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

When it comes to working with historical material that is only 100 years old, most things we recognise at least by function, if not from our own lives and times, then perhaps from those of our grandparents.

 

When reading Captain RF Scott's journals from his last expedition (1910 until his untimely death in 1912), he makes a number of references to the Norwegian snowshoes they took along for their ponies. The ponies hauled the heavy loads as he and his team erected their hut at Cape Evans and laid food and fuel depots southwards towards the Pole. Click here to see a photo of Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard with their ponies, 1911.  http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/

 

When they first trialled a pair of the snowshoes, on a pony they named Weary Willy, Scott wrote: 'The effect was magical. He strolled around as though walking on hard ground in places where he floundered woefully without them'. Scott offers nothing by way of a description but records that many a discussion was had over the snowshoes' efficacy and design.

 

Not being a person with much horse or snow experience, I imagined these snowshoes to be quite basic and to look something like a plate or a tennis racquet. My first glimpse of one was during my visit to Scott's hut where a couple hang on the wall of the stables and others fill some nearby boxes. (A quick search of our project database reveals there are 44 pony snowshoes at the Cape Evans hut.)

 

Image 1.JPG

Pony showshoes on the wall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)

Image2.JPG

A stash of pony snowshoes in a stall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)

 

And then we were fortunate to have six come through the lab recently for conservation treatment, allowing closer examination. They truly are expertly crafted with a base of coiled cane, bound neatly with copper wire, around a framework of iron links. A leather-wrapped fibre upper fits around the hoof and a buckled strap or woven tie attaches around the ankle ... probably not the most comfortable of winter attire, but splendidly made nonetheless!



Image 3.JPG

Norwegian pony snowshoe from Cape Evans (Marie-Amande)

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/ Photo credit H Ponting, SPRI.#

1

To plunge or not to plunge

Posted by Conservators May 26, 2013

Author: Jaime

Date: 22 May 2013

Temperature: -26

Wind speed: 10-15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -37

Sunrise: Still August

Sunset: Long ago

 

 

There are a number of traditional events that take place during the long winter season at Scott Base; the midwinter dinner and, the mini-golf tournament for example. But the time has now come to consider whether to undertake one of the more challenging events, the dreaded Polar Plunge.

 

For some people in Northern Europe, the idea of voluntarily leaping into water a degree or two above freezing is not completely unusual, although to be fair, they tend to have spent some time previously in a stiflingly hot sauna. Most of us however, offered the chance of an Antarctic dip, where the seawater is about -1.5 degrees would simply say No. A brave few will, for some inexplicable reason, immediately think that it is a great idea. But that still leaves The Undecided.

A perfect swimming spot LR.jpg

A perfect swimming spot © AHT/Jaime

 

You know it’s going to be frightening, that it’s going to leave you gasping for breath and completely numb, but on the other hand you also know it’s completely feasible, others do it regularly and after all its perhaps only a few seconds discomfort in an otherwise cosy life.

One of the undecided LR.jpg

One of the undecided © AHT/Jaime

 

Why is it so difficult to decide?

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Boots and Grass

Posted by Conservators May 22, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 15/05/2013

Temperature: -31 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 350/1 kts

Temperature with wind chill: -39 degrees celcius

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Sometimes we encounter the most unexpected surprises during a conservation treatment and expose a piece of history that is really quite special. Recently, two dry, stiff and distorted pieces of Reindeer fur that were labelled "mitten" and "fragment" arrived in the lab as two separate objects.

 

Before treatment of fragment.jpg

   Before Treatment of fragment   

Before treatment of Mitten.jpg                                                  

  Before Treatment of Mitten

 

The treatment of the objects involved the slow humidification of the fur and the even slower and more cautious reshaping of each object until their original shape was revealed. It slowly became apparent that first impressions (as well as labels) were misleading and the objects were neither a mitten nor a fragment, but a complete pair of fur boots. The matching fur boots present a fine example of Finnesko (a thermal boot made of tanned reindeer skin with the outside fur).

 

After Treatment of Finnesko.JPG

  After Treatment of Finnesko

 

Inside the boots sennegrass was also revealed. Sennegrass, a sedge (carex vesicaria) from Northern Europe, was used to insulate boots by carefully arranging the grass around ones feet and toes. By the time Scott and his men set about their expedition, the use of sennegrass to insulate footwear was already a long standing tradition. Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink tells us:

 

"if you get wet feet while wearing the grass in the 'komager" (Finnesko) you will be warmer than ever, as the fresh grass will, by the moisture and the heat of your feet, in a way start to burn or produce its own heat by spontaneous combustion. The great thing seems to be to arrange the grass properly in the boots..."

 

And so with what first appeared to be a fur mitten and fragment we discovered a very fine example of a pair of Finnesko with sennegrass contents.

0

A walk to blue sky

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 5/05/2013

Temperature: -25

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -30

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Last Suday to enjoy the last minutes of daylight we went for a walk that is quite famous here: Castle Rock loop. The track starts from McMurdo station, which is just over the hill, goes nice and flat to Castle rock (where we went for our first day out and also for the last sunset), comes down along the "Kiwi ski field" (open in summer but now closed). It's supposed to be a 5 to 8 hour journey, but in winter you would probably hike the loop in about 4 hours. It's too cold to stop moving or walking for long. Your camera freezes quickly if you spend too much time setting it. Alternatively, your battery goes flat quickly too if you take the camera out of your warm pocket too often.

Picture1bis.JPG

Jamie and Molly in their winter gear

 

We still manage several breaks, at every emergency rescue station we pass by. Our American neighbours have two red domes that look half like a metal igloo, half like space craft. One of them has even got an old style phone. Overwintering Americans have also built a real igloo (out of ice bricks) where we had our first tea break out of a thermos bottle.

 

Picture2bis.JPG

United State Antarctic Program Emergency Shelter

 

Down the Kiwi ski field there is a green bubble, the Antarctica New Zealand emergency shelter, where we had our last tea break before finishing our journey. The track is flagged all the way and very secure. Despite the grey weather, we enjoyed a pale light, and even some blue sky around 2pm. It was warm for Antarctica, only -25 and with almost no wind.

0

Lord of the Flies/Ski's

Posted by Conservators May 16, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 08/05/2013

Temperature: -40 degrees C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -51 degrees C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

One of the most fascinating personnel choices for the Cape Evans shore party was one Tryggve "Trigger" Gran. In reading Gran's diary and that of the other members of the expedition, it became very obgious that a great frustration is held between him, and a number of the officers: "I have offered my assistance, but tey merely look at each other and laugh." - Gran on Oates and Dr Wilson. 

 

"A lazy posing fellow." R F Scott on Gran.

 

To some degree it is a palpable feeling when arriving in Antarctica today. You arrive and rub shoulders with many impressive specialists/characters, and there is often a very natural and interesting social jostling to work out where you will find yourself in this strata. Gran was often painted by others in diary accounts to be a lazy, somewhat adolescent figure. Gran was recommended to Scott by Fridtjof Nansen during the testing of the much-ill fated motor tractors, to teach the party to ski, something he was doubtlessly a master of.

 

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.583/ Please click here for an image of Lieut. Gran skiing on broken ice, October 1911. Credit - Herbert Ponting.

 

It is easy to see why there may have been a natural tendency to try and discredit Gran. He was a living, breathing representation of Norwegian skill, and Amundsen, the black cloud that hung on Scott's shoulder. Much like the use of dogs, using skis in combination with hauling was weighed up in pros and cons over and over again by the expedition and comments would swing full circle.

 

Gran's allegiances were complex. He wished in his diary that Amundsen would be victorious against Scott, but also in a very touching tribute (taking part in the search party for Scott's tent) wore Scott's skis, adamant that they would finish the distance back to Cape Evans.

Set of Skis.jpg

A pair of ski's I conserved last year. Credit: AHT Stefan

 

Gran went on to play football for Norway! He was the first pilot to cross the North Sea, and if that wasn't enough, was attibuted with shooting down flying ace Hermann Göring in WW1.  In an odd turn of fate Gran later headed a search party to find polar explorer Roald Amundsen, lost flying while trying to discover the fate of Umberto Nobile's North Pole expedition in 1928.

1

Author: Sue

Date: 7 May 2013

Temperature: -41 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a
Sunset: n/a

 

 

In our conservation work on the artefacts from the explorers' huts here in Antarctica we often get little surprises. As we inspect each artefact very closely in the pre-treatment process of documenting its materials, construction and condition, we come across little details that may not have been immediately obvious to those AHT conservators who, in the summer months, catalogued and packed up the artefacts in the huts and transported them here to us in the lab at Scott Base.

physics lab. - Cape Evans - Copy.JPG

Physics lab in Scott's Hut

 

I had one such delightful little surprise recently. I un-wrapped an artefact that bore the description "wood slat, approx. one metre long", which had been located under the physics bench in Captain Scott's Terra Nova hut, from the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition. As I inspected it I noted that it was, in fact, exactly one metre long, was made of oak, and was covered on one side and one edge with a heavy layer of black soot. Part of our approach to conserving the artefacts is to preserve all evidence of use, and this includes preserving those soot layers that tell of the items' long history around the blubber-and-coal fuelled stoves inside the huts. But occasionally the soot is also hiding information, so we investigate a little further and may find a good reason to remove or at least reduce it. Such was the case with the "slat" as, when I did, I revealed a very neat metric (one-metre) rule, or scale, with hand-written pencil numbers "10" through "90" at ten-centimetre intervals. Nice!

Detail, 30cm to 50cm.JPG

Detail, 30cm - 50m

And quite interesting, too, as Britain (and, for that matter, Canada, from where the Terra Nova physicist 'Silas' Wright hailed) was still using the imperial system of measurement until much much more recently... although scientists are always well ahead of their times!

 

One-metre oak rule, after treatment.jpg

One-metre oak rule, after treatment

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