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Antarctic conservation

65 Posts tagged with the artefacts tag
2

A Guessing Game

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date:  10th April 2013

Temperature:  -22.4° C

Wind Speed:  20/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -34° C

Sunrise: 09:14

Sunset:16:31

 

I refer you to a blog written by conservator John in December 2011:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/antarctic-conservation/blog/2012/01/16/mystery-from-the-hut-of-captain-scott-at-cape-evans

John, who found an intriguing metal-sheet figurine at Cape Evans, describes the object's unusual features and asks his readers to suggest a solution to its mysterious function. The responding suggestions, which included a weather vane and tin opener, are problematic for several reasons and the mystery of the one legged figurine remains just that, a mystery.

 

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Mysterious Man: Metal sheet figurine with unknown function.

 

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Mysterious Man: Reverse side of figurine

 

The unresolved function and purpose of that curious metal figurine was recently revisited as the object came through the lab for conservation treatment. Each one of us pondered its purpose and after making no concrete conclusions, I made a card replica of the object to demonstrate the full functioning of the moveable leg and to aid tactile and visual understanding.

 

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Archaeologist Jennifer Danis ponders the function of the mysterious man.  Image taken by:  Zachary Anderson 2013

 

I presented the mystery at our Scott Base meeting and invited ideas, suggestions and resolutions from everyone. A guessing game began with some interesting results:

 

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Jennifer uses card replica to help understand the object.  Image taken by Zachary Anderson 2013

 

Graeme, an engineer, concluded that the figurine is most likely a latch or clamp similar to one used for a chest or suitcase today. However, he also suggested that as the figurine is pressed with an especially shaped form, several shapes of the same figurine could have been cut to create a display or scene. This idea is promoted by Damian, the cook, who considers the object a puppet similar to a shadow puppet. Tim, the science technician, also thought the object a puppet, however after further consideration added that it may have been used as a measuring device. This corresponds to an idea presented by Colin, the carpenter, who suggests the object is similar to a current day pick-a-mood device, used as a tool to enable people to communicate their moods in stressful social interactions. Or perhaps this curious one legged, one armed man is as Stefan suggests, the result of Clissold's mechanical ingenuity. The case remains unsolved and the guessing game continues… 

       

        

 

   

 

 

    

 

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Leaving Cape Evans

Posted by Conservators Jan 8, 2013

Author: Karen

Date: 11 December 2012

Temperature: -1.5C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

 

The hagglund arrived at 10.15am to pick us up and take us back to Scott Base.  But first Martin and Kevin had to identify two safe routes down to the sea ice, in order for us to stage (put all the items in one place) our cargo.  This would make it much easier when loading the Hagglund.  One route was identified from the carpentry workshop/field laboratory area and another from Scott’s hut.  Kevin made a temporary wooden bridge across one of the tide cracks as it was just a little too big to step across safely.

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The temporary bridge across one of the tide cracks © AHT/Karen

 

The ice had just started to break up around our camp and there were many tide cracks, which you could easily fall down and twist an ankle, so great care was required, especially when carrying artefacts.  We had our first lunch of soup and bread and proceeded to load the hagglund.  It took around 2½ hours.  We were taking artefacts from Scott’s hut back to Scott Base for our winter conservation team to conserve during the Antarctic winter season (Feb - Aug 2013).

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Jana loading artefacts © AHT/Karen

 

It was a very sad time, my final visit to Scott's hut, it truely is an amazing place, Scott's hut is very powerful and I found it extremely difficult to walk down to the sea ice and climb into the Hagglund.  The journey back to Scott Base was slow and took approximately 3 hours; this was because we had to travel at 10km per hour, due to having artefacts on board.  On arrival at Scott Base, we unloaded the artefacts and headed for the showers.  After showering, we met in the dining room for dinner. It had been a long, exhausting but very rewarding day and we all slept extremely well that night. 

1

Author: Karen

Date: 2 December 2012

Temperature: -7°C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -15°C

 

After over six years with the Trust as Administration Officer, I was given the opportunity to visit Antarctica to assist the team during a busy period.  I was both extremely excited and concerned at the same time, since I was told that the majority of my time involved camping in a tent at Cape Evans (the site of Captain Scott’s second expedition base).  Having never camped before, this was worrying, but I was not going to let that get in the way of such a remarkable opportunity.

I arrived at Cape Evans by Hagglund, it took approximately one and half hours from Scott Base.  Walking into Scott’s hut for the first time was very emotional: even after seeing thousands of photos, they did not prepare me for the feelings stirred.  When I stepped inside I immediately noticed a distinctive smell, it took a few seconds before I realised it was the blubber stack, (left behind by the Ross Sea Party) stored in the western annexe.  After over 100 years the smell was still extremely strong. It was like I’d been transported back in time and I was back in 1911, all was very real, in fact I was expecting to turn around and see Scott or one of the men from his party sitting at the wardroom table. 

Walking around Scott’s hut I found myself thinking how noisy it must have been with 25 men living in the hut when it was first built in January 1911, but today it was eerily quiet, all I could hear was the wind howling around outside.

 

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Stack of blubber in the Western annexe, Cape Evans

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Veiw of the Western annexe, Cape Evans

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The Little Joys

Posted by Conservators Dec 3, 2012

Author: Martin Wenzel

Date: 20/11/2012

Temperature: -6 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 14 knots

Wind Chill : -20 degrees celcius

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

About a week ago I started  working on fuel storage boxes found  around Robert Falcon Scott's expedition hut at Cape Evans. They were used to transport fuel tanks for the motor sledges that turned out to be not very  successful in Antarctic conditions. Conserving large numbers of these and other historic boxes which are in all states of disrepair, and come in a variety of styles and conditions, requires a lot of patience. And yet it is still fascinating when boxes have little surprises in store, provide a new structural challenge or show a particular nice piece  of wind sculpted timber.

 

Missing part of a board yesterday, and contemplating how to secure what was left over, I started looking through some debris found around the box. And there it was - clearly the missing piece but looking quite different. The piece attached to the box was weather worn and had lost up to 2mm of thickness through abrasion while the found piece had been protected for a hundred years and looked almost new. Joining them again looked a bit unusual but provided  the structural integrity needed. It is only a matter of time until the found piece will adjust its appearance.

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Same board, but a different look

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One board again.

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Cape Royds

Posted by Conservators Nov 23, 2012

Author: Lizzie
Date: 1 Nov 2012
Temperature: -18.2C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -18.2°C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a
Photo Description & Credit 1: Mt Erebus in light and shadow c . Lizzie, AHT
Photo Description & Credit 2: Lizzie back inside the hut at Cape Royds

We’re back at Cape Royds after a year, this time just a short visit for 5 days to complete the annual maintenance and inspection programme. This year’s summer Antarctic Heritage Trust team consists of Jana (objects conservator, Canada), Martin (timber conservation carpenter, NZ), Kevin (timber conservation carpenter, UK) and myself (Programme Manager-Artefacts, AHT): a mix of skills, ages, nationalities and experience in both the Arctic and Antarctic.


There’s a list for me of things to do as soon as I get to Cape Royds:
1. Check the hut is OK after winter and spring storms…it is, bar a couple of things. We find a Colman’s flour box and a pony fodder box blown loose from their usual positions. In the case of the flour box it has been picked up by the wind from the south side of the building, rolled around the east side, and then blown a further 80m north of the building, where I spy it in its own lonesome wee drift of snow. Remarkably the box is completely undamaged despite its travels. Martin fixes it back more firmly in position on the south wall.


2. Say hello to the penguins…. It’s early in the season. Over at the rookery only a couple of hundred Adelie penguins are in and beginning the business of stone gathering – trotting back and forth with one stone at a time in their beaks.


3. Say hello to Mt Erebus – sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Tthe day after we arrive, Erebus is playing hide and seek, high wind clouds shifting and stacking up in sharp curves, in and out of light.
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4. Haul the gear up and over the hill ready for several days of snow digging, photography, minor repairs and treatments.


5. And last but not least, walk inside the hut, check all the artefacts are OK, drink in the smell, the light, the distinctive small sounds, and the incomparable atmosphere of this 1908 expedition base.
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7 more sleeps!

Posted by Conservators Nov 1, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 24 October 2012

Temperature: -18

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32

Sunrise: None!

Sunset: None!

 

 

Well, the time has come for us to wrap up our conservation work here at Scott Base and pour all of our energy into preparing for our imminent deployment out to our field camps at the historic huts. 

 

As you might imagine, this is slightly more involved than preparing for a weekend camping trip:  it will take several days for the four of us to inventory, sort, test and pack the hundreds of pounds of food, tents, stoves, safety equipment, sleep kits, sleds, shovels, toilet supplies, fuel and timber, not to mention all of the specialized conservation and carpentry tools and material that we will require during the three months we spend out in the field.  

 

We also have to pack up the hundreds of artefacts that were conserved here over the winter season, and then there is our personal gear as well; the handful of clothes, boots, tools and books that will see us each through the season are definitely an important part of the equation! 

 

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Wading through a small portion of our field gear © AHT/Jana

 

We’re excited enough to be counting down the days until we move out to the field though, so we find the work quite enjoyable, especially since it gives us a chance to make sure we don’t overlook anything important.  We also like to think about the fact that explorers of the heroic age would relate to our current flurry of activity; they too spent a good portion of their winters sorting, repairing and packing the vast amounts of food and gear needed for the sledging trips they undertook in the summer seasons.

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Going again

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 19.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

 

I am about to go 'to the ice' with the Antarctic Heritage Trust for the fifth summer in a row. The main focus will be conserving artefacts in and around the historic hut of Robert Falcon Scott at Cape Evans. While a lot of the pre-deployment briefings and preparations here in Christchurch have become a pleasant routine, the sense of privilege and excitement about being able to live and work for a while in this indescribable part of the world never changes.

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Enjoying Antarctica in Christchurch – Credit: AHT/Lizzie

 

Often people ask what it is that makes me want to go again. The answer is threefold and usually the same every time. I get to work with a small international team of wonderful people on  a project with world heritage status and all of that in an environment which never ceases to overwhelm me. So as long as I answer like that I am happy to be involved, look forward to going again and don't mind encountering -25 degrees C  tomorrow.  

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US Airforce plane ready to go – Credit:  AHT/Falcon

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A Few of My Favorite Things

Posted by Conservators Aug 17, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: Wednesday 15th August 2012
Temperature: -34 deg C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -75 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

 

Sadly, this will be my last blog with the Antarctic Heritage Trust as our season on the ice is coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey and I will be forever changed by the experience. In this blog I pay tribute to my three favorite objects from Cape Evans that I treated this season, each with their own challenges. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

 

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Copper Alloy Candle Holder Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

This copper alloy candle holder lived a hard life and was heavily used. In addition to the soot covering the surface, there are multiple layers of wax which contain unknown pigments and a match. This object was difficult to treat because I wanted to retain the wax and features that were encapsulated all the while removing the corrosion products that were forming. In the end, I was able to remove superficial corrosion and enhance the original polished brass appearance in some areas.

 

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Cooker with Four Wicks Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

When I first discovered this object, I wasn’t sure what its purpose was. Sometimes objects can become corroded in positions that are unnatural to how they were used which can hide details of use. This is a cooker that would have been used to heat pots. There are four wicks in the center that can be raised and lowered independently operating as a sort of heat control similar to a gas stove element. The iron was badly corroding, but I enjoyed the challenge of bringing life back to an object that would have been so critical to survival in Antarctica.

 

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Pillow from Cherry-Garrard’s Bed Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

This object was by far one of my favorite personal items that I was able to work on this season. Upon first visiting Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, I was completely humbled to see the sleeping conditions of the men. This pillow in particular is from Cherry-Garrard’s bed. It was a very intimate thing to be able to work on an object that provided some degree of relief from a hard day’s work. The wear marks were still visible from a lack of being washed for several years. This object only required a light surface clean and mold mitigation while leaving the soot in situ. 

I hope you have enjoyed the blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them and I wish the future teams of conservators the best of luck in their seasons!

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Hoofbeats on Ice

Posted by Conservators Aug 15, 2012

Author: Susanne

Date: Wednesday 8thst August 2012

Temperature: -34 deg C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -75 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Since the age of three, I grew up riding horses and quickly gained an appreciation for the gentle yet strong traits that these animals possess. Looking at images of the Manchurian ponies that were hand selected for the early Antarctic expeditions, reminded me of my own pony Goldie that has long passed on.

 

The first expedition to take ponies to the Ross Sea region was Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition. After choosing 10 Manchurian ponies, Shackleton and his crew set sail for New Zealand and then Antarctica, concluding a several month long journey in their stalls in stormy seas.  Scott’s Ponies on Board the Terra Nova

 

Upon arrival, the ponies were unloaded using a specially constructed box. They quickly adapted to their new home and stables were built to house them at Cape Royds. Scott also built stables at Cape Evans. Shackleton describes their diet in the “Heart of the Antarctic” as fodder, corn, and a specially purchased pemmican called Maujee rations.

 

While the ponies were an important part of the South Pole exploration stories, they weren’t as successful as Shackleton and Scott had hoped in reaching the South Pole. I am fortunate enough to be retelling their story through the conservation of several artefacts that were used to care for the ponies.

 

During the conservation treatment of several small iron horseshoes, I came across a rather large horseshoe that was different in shape and size to the others. I started to imagine why it was there and what it was used for. Perhaps they brought a variety of shoe sizes for the horses?

 

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Small and Large Horseshoes from Cape Evans. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

Another really interesting object is this curry comb. There are several steps to grooming a horse or pony and the curry comb helped to reach dirt and debris that was trapped further down in their coat. This comb still has the pony hair and dirt trapped in the teeth. One of the challenges we face as conservators is how to retain that evidence while still preserving the artefact underneath.

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Curry Comb from Cape Evans. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

What do you consider to be important to keep?

2

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: Wednesday 1st August 2012

Temperature: -26 deg C

Wind Speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Among the utilitarian objects that we conserve there are also many weird and wonderful items. Objects from the expeditions have often been adapted or re-used in another form during their lifetime.  I have come across a pair of boot liners with a strange addition. The liners are made of cotton but have pieces of caribou fur sewn on to the heel. This gives them a particularly warm and comfortable look, but I’m not sure about the effectiveness or even purpose of this addition.

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Boot liners before conservation  Credit: AHT

 

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Boot liners after conservation Credit: AHT

 

I can only think this would have made them uncomfortable to wear inside a boot - although as a colleague pointed out, they may have prevented rubbing and blisters forming on the heel. The boot liners prompted a story about Thomas Griffith Taylor, Senior Geologist with Scott’s Terra Nova expedition who apparently sewed canvas heel tips to his socks and called them Taylor’s Patent Heel Tips. I wonder what the purpose of the fur heels was and what they may have been called at the time. Answers on a postcard to Antarctica.

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Balaclava borrowing

Posted by Conservators Jul 24, 2012

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: 24 July 2012

Temperature: -22 °C

Wind Speed: 30 knots

Temp with wind chill: -50 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Currently we are working on the conservation of artefacts from Cape Evans, the base hut built by Captain Scott for the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-13). I recently had the pleasure of conserving a balaclava, which came from the vicinity of Nelson’s bunk, (Nelson was the biologist with the expedition). The balaclava is knitted from dark blue wool, with a black trim around the face aperture, and has a piece of cotton sewn into the inside around the forehead/crown area. This particular item has been identified from its pattern as dating from 1907-1909 and originating from Cape Royds – the base hut built by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the Nimrod Expedition. It is not known who brought the balaclava to Cape Evans, unfortunately there is no name tag within as with some of the other items of clothing left in the huts. With the in-built neck gaiter preventing heat loss from the chest and neck area, and the extra insulation the sewn-in cotton piece provided by protecting the forehead from the biting Antarctic winds, it was no doubt a useful and treasured item.

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Balaclava before conservation Credit:AHT/Gretel

 

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Balaclava after conservation Credit: AHT/Gretel

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Sleuthing signatures

Posted by Conservators May 28, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 24/05/12

Temperature: -12c

Wind Speed: 15  kts

Temp with wind chill: -28c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A

 

It’s pretty rare when conserving the objects from Cape Evans to find something that has a personal touch you can pin to one of the shore party with full confidence. Nearly everything has evidence of human interaction but, (as Scott did with Shackleton’s hut) subsequent explorers have moved a great deal of the objects around, making it difficult to have full confidence an item has providence to a particular individual.

 

In a crate of McDoddie’s dehydrated rhubarb tins, it was immediately obvious that two had been signed with blue crayons (a few of which still lie on Scott’s table). Reading “R F Scott” on one and “Brown” on the other, I got busy rooting through handwriting samples from the expeditions and quickly concluded Bowers signature accurately matched the tin marked “Brown” (thought to refer to Browning, in the northern party). This would make sense as in being the storesmen Bowers would have been most likely to ration and name supplies.But what of the other tin? It’s obviously different handwriting, and does have characteristics both similar and dissimilar to Scott’s signature.

 

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Tins of dehydrated rhubarb with ‘R F Scott’ and ‘Brown’ written on the label with blue crayon. © AHT/Stefan

 

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Signatures from the Cape Evans shore party

 

Life in Antarctica doesn’t make solving this conundrum easy. There are numerous reasons why you might not write as you normally would, mental fatigue, lack of hand dexterity in the cold, over compensating in writing clearly to ensure no mistakes were made in rationing etc. I for one believe this is Scott’s handwriting. There were no other ‘Scott’s’ in any of the crews and in wouldn’t come naturally to include ‘R F’ if it was somebody else.

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Toothache Plasters

Posted by Conservators May 24, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 23/05/12

Temperature: -22c

Wind Speed: 56  kts

Temp with wind chill: -35c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A

 

Everyone who comes to Antarctica has to undergo medical testing which includes a full dental assessment so that any necessary work can be carried out before arrival. We have a dentist here during the summer at McMurdo station, but in the winter months there isn’t one, and so toothache is something best avoided!

 

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Tooth powder. © AHT/Susanne

 

This season we have had various items from Scott’s Terra Nova hut relating to dental hygiene, including a broken toothbrush (stored in a broken pipe), tooth powder (like tooth paste) and toothache plasters. The plasters are little rubber caps (concave ovals) in a paper/card packet. Their instructions prescribe: 'Place a plaster in position (hollow side toward the gum) directly over the roots of the aching tooth. With a slight pressure of the finger expel the air from under the plaster and it will remain in position. Remove plaster when tooth stops aching.’  

 

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Packet of Toothache Plasters before conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

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After conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

Some of the plasters are missing, and it is not clear whether they were used by the British Antarctic Expedition or simply lost. We are also not sure how much relief they could have practically afforded a raging tooth, although by temporarily sealing a cavity from the air, perhaps some. Interestingly, we know that during Shackleton’s aborted attempt on the pole in 1908, the metereologist Jameson Adams was unable to sleep for days from toothache so allowed it to be extracted in the field without equipment or anaesthetic.

 

As for myself, after experiencing the discomfort of a fractured wisdom tooth during my 2010 season here, I’ll definitely be looking after the pearlies I have left, and so hopefully avoid any more association with either plasters or pliers.

 

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Toothbrush. © AHT/Stefan

2

Author: Susanne
Date: May 16, 2012
Temperature: -13.4°C
Wind Speed: 9knots
Temp with wind chill: -36°C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


Some of the best moments in the lab are when we discover a hidden message or drawing on an object. This week, on what I thought may have been just another tobacco tin, was an advertisement for Albany Cigarettes printed on the back of a cigarette case.

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Albany cigarette advertisement on the back of a tin. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

I was curious to know the history of the cigarette company and the details behind the design of the advertisement. The “Albany Cigarette” was made by F.L. Smith Ltd. in London at No. 5 Burlington Gardens. According to this New Zealand cigarette pack below, the Albany Cigarette was first made by hand in the building that is shown above, perhaps by the very dapper gentlemen pictured in front.

 

 

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Packaging from the predecessor company to F.L. Smith in New Zealand with the Albany storefront shown. Credit: http://www.zigsam.at/C_NewZealand.htm

 

A brief search also revealed this letter written by British Captain Edward Hulse in World War I to his mother asking her to obtain the handmade cigarettes: “Please ask F. L. Smith, 12 Burlington Gardens (Albany Cigarette people) to send me twice a week a box of 25 of the cigarettes which they supply me with generally.” Source: http://www.archive.org/stream/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich_djvu.txt


It is often these small connections that are provided by material culture that reflect the greater stories of heroism from the exploration of Antarctica to the battlefields of World War I.


  

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Of What Lies Within

Posted by Conservators Apr 13, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 10th April 2012
Temperature: -22C
Wind Speed: 15kts
Temp with wind chill: -41C
Sunrise: 9.17am
Sunset: 4.30pm

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Stefan delving into a tin of 100 year old custard. AHT Stefan

“The constant draw of the fume cabinet whirred steadily like the idling  of a contented bees nest. Nitrile gloves had enveloped my hands without a snag or curse, and the rare sense of ease filled me with anything but. The air was dense with a dull smell, which only rumoured to the true overwhelming nature of what stench could lie within the heart of the looming rusty monolith before me.  Armed only with a spoon, I approached the vessel in a familiar routine of dining, but dear lord this mass could not be stomached. With the lid tentatively removed, the greenish yellow contents emerged like a bad moon rising…custard.”

 

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Tin samples (left to right) custard, salt, anchovy paste, polishing compound. AHT Stefan

 

Emptying  tins is a daily occurrence working with AHT. Depending upon how badly the object is corroded/stained, you get a varying clarity of what you may have to empty and dispose of. The contents are only removed when objects are found to be leaking, and could place other parts of the collection at risk. The majority of the contents are placed in biohazard bags and flown back to New Zealand to be incinerated, yet we always take a small sample to be placed in science freezers, in order that we can research or investigate this material whenever we choose. Anchovy paste (suspected) has been the smelliest sample I’ve taken so far, but my team mates assure me that, chocolate and butter are far worse.

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