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Antarctic conservation

65 Posts tagged with the artefacts tag
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An Outsider's View

Posted by Conservators May 31, 2011

Author: Troy Beaumont, Scott Base Winter Manager


Date: 23/05/2011
Temperature: -21.3
Wind Speed: O knots
Temp with wind chill: -21.3
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA


When I found out about the blog that the AHT team here writes, my curious/nosey nature got the best of me. It’s an excellent read but I did notice that there is not too much about the people behind the blog.


They work all hours, and their unabashed enthusiasm and passion for conserving Antarctica’s unique human heritage is amazing.  Watching them relate an article of clothing to a photograph, an historic object to a passage of a book, is something the staff and I really enjoy.


It’s great to have them as part of the Scott Base team here for winter 2011.   In addition to their work with the AHT, they all contribute to base life in other ways.  Sarah is an excellent cook, and has made several dinners for the entire base on the chef’s day off.  She is also a fine watercolorist.  Jane is a social butterfly and has taken on party planning for the entire base. In her spare time, she has written a song about conservation.  Julie plays guitar and sings backing vocals in the Scott Base band, and has two groupies and a roadie.  She occasionally lurks around with a sketchbook, scaring people.  Martin is the only person on the AHT team who can get into a truck gracefully.  He is also a ping-pong champion, a cult figure, and builds igloo walls in strange places.

 

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Sarah repairing ice axe holes in a hat © Troy Beaumont

 

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Julie cataloging artefacts © Troy Beaumont

 

 

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Jane conserving historic food tins  ©  Steven Sun

 

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Martin repairing boxes © Troy Beaumont

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Tent Repairs

Posted by Conservators May 31, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date: 23/5/2011
Temperature: -27
Wind Speed: 5 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -50
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

 

 

Scott Base on Ross Island is very isolated for much of the year and new supplies are often impossible to get. An enormous amount of planning goes into getting all the things that Scott Base and all the scientists need in the field, many years in advance.  Additionally great care is taken to make things last and as much as possible is reused and recycled. This has not changed since man first arrived on the continent.

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Troy repairing a polar tent © AHT/ Sarah


The Field Support Officer and Base Leader, Troy Beaumont, has just spent many weeks repairing polar tents for the 2011/2012 summer science season, with the industrial Singer sewing machine.

 

There is a Herbert Ponting image of P.O. Evans inside Captain Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova Expedition Hut at Cape Evans, at a similar  but hand cranked Singer sewing machine, working with heavy canvas.


These ongoing connections with the heroic era remind us how lucky we are with all the modern facilities we have, and that we must also value and respect what we have here.

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Sea Anchor

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2011

Posted by Sarah, conservator with the Antarctic Heritage Trust

 

Date: 18 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -28

Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA


Two items arrived on my desk at Scott Base a few weeks ago. The catalogue record described them as wind socks, but as soon as I opened up the box I realised that what I had were not wind socks.


The items are cone shaped canvas devices with a wooden loop at the large end. Three ropes are tied around the wooden loop and extend to a central point above the cone of fabric.  The material is far too heavy and there is no swivel point to allow the cones to catch the wind direction.


I had no idea what they could be used for. I wondered if they would have been used to dredge water or other items from the ocean, as they showed signs of being in salt water, and having just treated the plankton net, I was thinking they could be related to science.


The week I was treating these unknown items, we had a tour of the lab for staff from the American Base, McMurdo Station. It was then that a number of Americans on the tour suggested they could be small sea anchors or drogues.
Drogues used in the ocean, attached to a small boat to slow or help steady it and have been used since antiquity.


The shape, construction and size is certainly correct for a small boat.

 

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Sea Anchors from Cape Evans © AHT

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Author: Julie
Date: 11/5/11
Temperature: 17
Wind Speed: 11
Temp with wind chill: -24
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 


On our work list is an object from Scott’s hut at Cape Evans described as: Wooden case, marked: To be sent away by August 20th 1910. Balloons for South Expedition, 2 large canvas items, disintegrating celluloid.  The box was assumed to contain Scott’s weather balloons.   Last week we brought the box inside to begin work.  Well… in the end this box contained 43 items, none of them weather balloons, and none of them celluloid.  Several are mysterious.  Amongst the contents, things that I am personally fond of include:


A sheaf of amber-coloured transparent sheets.  It’s not celluloid, cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate, but it does react like sized gelatin.  We are not sure what this is.  It does not seem to be cooking gelatin.  It is not film.  Historic tracing paper? Any ideas?


A felt-covered aluminum canteen with a cork stopper, with as-yet unidentified crystallized contents.


Several sections of ‘London Magazine’, including a racy story about Peggy who is about to marry a man who had a fling with her Aunt Bella, and Bella is scheming to break up the engagement. I’ll never know the outcome asI can’t turn the page!


11 small cotton ration bags, some containing dried figs, raisins, and cocoa.  Elsewhere in the box were plum pits, tea, biscuits, and canned goods.

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Disintegrating amber-colored sheets in situ in the box © AHT/Sarah

 

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A Box of History

Posted by Conservators May 15, 2011

Author: Guest blogger Jana


Date: 10/5/11
Temperature: -21
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Temp with wind chill: -27
Sunrise: August
Sunset

 

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A box of mystery tins from Cape Royds © AHT

 

A Box Of History

 

A box made of wood,
At first glance rather ordinary,
With a closer look,
Steeped in history,
Shrouded by mystery,
An artefact, a reminder of the past,
Of the hardship endured down South.

One of many to be conserved by Sarah, Julie, Martin and Jane,
A task fit only for the patient or perhaps a Saint.

Huddled around this box of hidden treasure,
Meat, medicine or soap? Hard to gather,
Ready to unleash what dormant for decades has been,
Martin with his tools and utmost care breaks in,
And we all peek in.

At the history that lies within…

 

Author Bio:
Jana is the Scott Base first aider, domestic, and a member of the Search and Rescue team.  She was present at the opening of a box of tins from Cape Royds, opened for the first time in 100 years.  We are still trying to identify the contents of the tins.


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Mysterious white powder

Posted by Conservators May 4, 2011

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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Boxes 3. Installment

Posted by Conservators Apr 20, 2011

Posted by Martin

 

Date: 20.4.2011
Temperature: -23degree C
Wind Speed: 5knots
Temp with wind chill: -30 degree C
Sunrise: 10:49
Sunset 14:54


Photo Description & Credit 1: Snow drift in front of container line ©
Photo Description & Credit 2: Snowed in box

Well, rather than another box installment, this could more fittingly be called ‘Boxes Stalling’. About a week ago we had a storm that really earned its name. Gusts up to 65 knots and enormous amounts of snow blown around the base and dumped in various places.

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Snow drift in front of container line © AHT/Martin

Eager to get to my next historic box, once it was over, I found myself shoveling snow for the next hour. In order to get to our outside storage container door, I had to cut a trench into a big snow drift right in front of the container line. I got my box in the end, worked on it, but then had to store it over night.

 

 

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Snowed in box © AHT/Martin

Being sure that all the wild weather was gone I put it into an open crate just outside our back door, only to find it in the morning completely buried under another lot of snow. Rescuing it yet again, I reminded myself that you never, ever trust the weather in Antarctica. Luckily these historic storage boxes have been in this climate outside Shackleton's Nimrod Hut for about 100 years and have become quite used to it.         

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Pemmican

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2011

Posted by Julie

 

A can of pemmican from Captain Scott’s Cape Evans hut  © AHT

 

In “The Worst Journey In the World.” Apsley Cherry-Garrard describes a vaguely masochistic experiment undertaken during an already torturous winter expedition: “By taking individually different quantities of biscuit, pemmican and butter we were able to roughly test the proportions of proteids, fats and carbohydrates wanted by the human body under such extreme circumstances.” He reports that Bowers, eating excess pemmican “was all right (this was usual with him) but he did not eat all his extra pemmican.  Bill could not eat all his extra butter, but was satisfied.  I got hungry, certainly got more frost-bitten than the others, and wanted more fat.  I also got heartburn.”  The conclusion?  Pemmican: better than biscuits!

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Lance checks the drying beef and berries © AHT/Julie

Luckily for us, our excellent cook, Lance, decided to make us some pemmican, using a secret recipe which I promised to never divulge.  Okay, I’ll tell you.  Slice thin some lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, and salt and pepper liberally.  Dry the meat along with some wild blueberries for 15 hours in a warm oven.  Pulverize.  Render some fat.  Strain the fat.  Mix it all together, and let it firm up.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.  The recipe concludes, “Pemmican will keep almost forever.”  (Ha – we conservators will be the judge of that.) Being vegetarian, I of course can’t comment on the taste.  Okay, it was delicious.

Date: 11/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -37
Sunrise: 09:19
Sunset 16:28

Sledging rations on Scott’s 1910-1912 expedition included canned pemmican, a mixture of fat, dried meat, and dried fruit ground together.
Pemican.jpg
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Posted by Martin Wenzel


Date: 6.4.2011
Temperature: -23 Degree C
Wind Speed: 5 to 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35 Degree C
Sunrise: O8:39
Sunset 17:10

 

As they say: “You can never have enough clamps”. It is certainly true while I am conserving hundreds of wooden food storage boxes here at Scott Base in Antarctica. After transporting them from the expedition bases of R.F.Scott and E. Shackleton to Scott Base, we have temporarily stored them in unheated containers outside the base.

 

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Box before treatment © AHT / Martin

 

From there I take them one by one into our heated lab space and work on them as quickly as possible. In order to avoid splitting, distorting and delaminating, it is important to reduce to a minimum the time they are exposed to the warm and dry atmosphere inside.  It almost becomes a game to try to do simultaneously as many gluing steps as possible.

 

 

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Clamping © AHT / Martin

Once the clamps are off after about 2 to 3 hours, parts get reassembled, nailed joints strengthened and contents returned. Depending on the condition, a box will be out of the lab the same day, stored again at -20 to -30 degree C and waiting to be transported back to its original location.  

 

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Treated box © AHT/ Martin

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Catching Plankton

Posted by Conservators Apr 12, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date: 6 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: 08:39
Sunset 10:10


Science was at the forefront for Captain Scott's 1910 Terra Nova Expedition. Seven scientists made up the expedition crew, looking at every aspect of science in Antarctica.  When I opened a large package marked ‘net’, I was intrigued to find a large plankton net.

 

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Plankton Net from Cape Evans © AHT


Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the assistant Zoologist, in the ‘The Worst Journey in the world’ writes ‘The diatoms were so abundant in the Ross Sea, that the large plankton net (18 meshes to an inch) became choked in a few minutes, with them and other members of phytoplankton’. The plankton net that is currently sitting on my desk has 27 meshes to an inch! One can only imagine how choked it may have become.


There is a picture by Herbert Ponting depicting Nelson the Zoologist preparing a townet for use on the 15th March of 1911. Edward Wilson in his diary of the 24 October 1911, talks about Nelson, ‘all through the winter kept a good hole in a shelter off the end of the cape which he visited and worked at every day…. Here plankton samples were taken as short intervals with townets of various meshes.’


I think this is the only remaining complete plankton net from Cape Evans. It is in remarkably good condition, still structurally strong, the mesh I suspect is made of horse hair. I wonder how many times it was used and what secretes of the deep it revealed?

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Corn and flour

Posted by Conservators Mar 28, 2011

Posted by Julie

 

Date: 23/3/11
Temperature: -13.5
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -28
Sunrise: 7:58
Sunset 19:59


Martin has blogged about how food crates were used as architectural building blocks at both Cape Royds and Cape Evans (see last week’s blog).  Stacked into walls, crates of dry goods – predominately corn and flour – remained frozen until needed and also provided additional shelter, a practical system.


As Martin writes, many of those boxes will be conserved over the winter, but then we will return the food boxes to their original locations – i.e., outside, where they will remain exposed to harsh conditions.  This situation presents us with a conservation dilemma.  We are all aware that if the boxes disintegrate in spite of our conservation treatments, one-hundred-year-old corn and flour will leak into the environment. To make things worse, some of the corn and flour is already significantly mouldy.  Mould samples have been tested in previous seasons, and we are confident that the existing mould does not pose a current health hazard (though we continue to take health and safety precautions as we work).  However, we do not know what will develop in the future.

 

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Corn and flour drying, before reinsertion into conserved wooden boxes.   © AHT / Julie

We are charged with preserving the original configuration of the artefacts, but also with preventing the introduction of materials that could be hazardous to the Antarctic environment or wildlife.  In the end, we have settled on a compromise.  As Martin repairs the wooden boxes, we are drying the food in large trays, removing any mouldy contents, and then repacking the food into the conserved boxes in sealed, doubled plastic bags.  The introduction of the plastic bags alters the original contents of the boxes, but the bags should prevent hazardous leakage into the environment.

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Signs in the sock

Posted by Conservators Mar 28, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date:           22/3/11
Temperature: -12
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -28
Sunrise:           7:51
Sunset           20:07


What, you may ask, can a humble sock tell us about the heroic era of exploration? Well quite a lot if you know what to look for. Many of the explorers on Captain Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova Expedition stitched name tags in their sock, while others used simple colours stitches to indicate whose they were. In fact we still do similar things today with our matching Antarctic New Zealand issue clothes, using coloured ribbons.  So these name tags give us a direct and very personal link to individual explorers such as Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

 

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Label on sock belonging to Apsley Cherry-Garrard © AHT/Sarah

 

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Detail of  embroidered ‘name tag’  © AHT/Sarah

But there is more.  Many of the socks are so well worn, they have been darned, patched and re-patched, this speaks of a make do culture, where everything was valued and repaired. These repeatedly patched socks very often indicated reuse by the subsequent Ross Sea Party from Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Not having enough of their own clothes they had to make, repair and reuse whatever they could from the previous expedition. 

 

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Sock from Cape Evans © AHT/Sarah

More evidence of use can be found in the dirt and detritus left behind on the socks. Some are covered in reindeer fur from sleeping bags - were they bed socks?  Others are thick with seal blubber and soot - who in the Ross Sea Partly wore these to gather and burn seal blubber with?
Have you any idea who the sock in the picture belonged to? Is the straw stuck to the heel from the padding inside a boot or is if pony fodder?

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Boxes Waiting

Posted by Conservators Mar 10, 2011

Author: Martin

 

Date: 9.3.2011
Temperature: -18 Degree Celsius
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -43
Sunrise: 06:14
Sunset 21:49

Tools are a bit like dear old friends. You might not see them for quite a while, but if you do it is as if you have never been apart. So it was with a great deal of excitement and relief to see my own workbench and a box of tools arrive with the yearly supply ship at Scott Base in Antarctica. The trusty workbench, which I built 28 years ago as an apprentice piece, is quite a seasoned traveller by now, having come from Germany to New Zealand and now Antarctica.

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Workbench waiting for action © AHT/Martin

Glad to be reunited, we had a fully operational little woodworking shop up and running in no time. Sarah, Julie and Jane , the three object conservators on the team have their own lab where they conserve a whole variety of artefacts, but will also help me conserving a large number of wooden food storage boxes. Literally thousands of these boxes have been used by R.F. Scott and E. Shackleton on their Polar Expeditions. Apart from transporting and storing food, they were also used as building blocks. Full of food and having been out in the harsh Antartic environment for a hundred years, a couple of hundred of them are in desperate need of some care and will be my companions throughout the coming winter month.

 

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Foodbox in need of some care © AHT/Martin

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Due to the devastating earthquake in Christchurch the blog below, prepared by Sarah at Scott Base, was not posted when it was received on the 22 February 2011.  Staff of the Antarctic Heritage Trust and their families have not been injured but they are involved in cleaning up homes, etc.

 

Author: Sarah

 

Date: 21-02-2011
Temperature: -9
Wind Speed: 30 knots, gusting to 35 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: 2:31
Sunset: 23:27

Being an Australian I am always excited when I find an object that is directly connected to an Australian in one of the Heroic Era Expeditions. Andrew Keith Jack was a member of the Ross Sea Party, a part of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17. Andrew Jack was a physicist on the expedition, in his diary of the time he writes 'In the midst of eternal snows in a waste and barren land'. So I was rapped to be able to conserve A.K.Jack’s sou’wester , which was very stiff, flattened and misshapen when it arrived in the laboratory. It was swabbed with water to remove a salt bloom on the surface and then gently heated with a hair drier to allow it to be reshaped. It was padded and weighted until cool to ensure it held its shape.

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A.K. Jacks Sou’wester hat before treatment © AHT/Sarah

 

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Posted by Julie


Date: 14 February 2011
Temperature: -9.6
Wind Speed: 12
Temp with wind chill: -15


In the winter, the Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation lab gets moved.  Summer AHT conservators work in a lab constructed from three shipping containers located away from the main building at Scott Base, Antarctica.  This allows the team to work out of the way of the scientific research activity on base in the summer.


In the winter, base activity goes to a minimum, so the AHT team can move into the main building. Not only does this make for more comfortable working conditions – conservators have stories about things freezing to the floor of the lab in the winter -- this means the outlying buildings do not need to be heated, saving on electricity usage.  (100% of the electricity at Scott Base is now wind-generated: http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/scott-base/ross-island-wind-energy).

 

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The forklift brings the fume extraction unit into the winter lab space.  © AHT / Julie


Everything in the lab is moved, including the fume extraction unit, solvent storage cabinets, bookshelves, and all tools, equipment, and supplies. This year’s move was accomplished in virtually one day with the help of several people on base, a forklift, numerous runs back and forth in a truck, and a “quad bike” (a four-wheel cycle) fitted with a trailer. The objects/textile conservators moved into a room normally used for research event logistics, and Martin, the conservation carpenter, has set up a workshop in a “cage,” or fenced-off area normally used for supplies storage.  (We promise to bring him food in the cage, and to let him out sometimes.)

 

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Jane and Sarah begin unpacking in the winter lab space.  © AHT / Julie

 

We are now up and running in our winter space. We have lost our views of Mt. Erebus and lounging seals, but we have gained running water and closer proximity to both coffee and the toilets.

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