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Antarctic conservation

12 Posts tagged with the boxes tag
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Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 26/03/2014

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -40 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 08.21

Sunset: 19.34

 

A paper conservator back in Spain, I arrived in the Antarctic knowing that the artefacts I would be working on for the Antarctic Heritage Trust would be very different to the European manuscripts I am used to.

Last week I had a very good example of the challenge that represents the conservation of a paper artefact here. Two wads of paper arrived on my bench in such bad condition that all the fragments of pages were stuck together. 

 

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Before treatment artefacts

 

The challenge that I was presented with was multiple; being able to understand its structure, identity, history and devise a conservation plan appropriate to the context of Scott's Discovery Hut, where the items were found. The paper was very fragile and the shape it arrived in was the result of degradation. Moreover, I had to make the correct decision about the presentation of the artefact after treatment, for its return to Discovery Hut.

 

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Aline treating the paper fragments

 

Sharing opinions and knowledge with my colleagues was very beneficial as well and together we made a decision. I discovered that the fragments were from two different newspapers, one unidentifiable and the other one from a British newspaper called 'The Review of Reviews' published in July 1893. Thanks to this information and the known history of Discovery Hut (built by Scott and his party in 1902 but where various expeditions also spent time), we decided to keep the artefact folded so as to not intervene with the shape in which it was found, but rather to access as much information contained within the pages themselves through the conservation treatment. 

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After treatment artefacts

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Author: Stefanie White

Date: 19th March 2013

Temperature: -14.0 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 5/8 knts

Temp with Wind Chill: -21 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

In Discovery Hut there is a bed (or sleeping platform) that is composed of a section of tongue and groove, originally from the ceiling of the hut itself and positioned on supply boxes beside the stove area. The area surrounding the stove became a cozy den for several desperate explorers seeking security from the harsh Antarctic environment. In the words of Dick Richards of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917): The hut may have been a dark cheerless place but to us it represented security. We lived the life of troglodytes. We slept in our clothes in old sleeping bags which rested on planks raised above the floor by wooden provision cases.

 

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Bed platform and sleeping aea in the hut. Credit: Stefanie White.

 

 

Before returning to Scott Base this week, Meg and I completed the conservation of the supply boxes that raised the bed. After many hours working in the soot and seal blubber drenched dark room, we learned how to overcome the difficulties working in the cold and dark of the hut. We wore leather padded gloves as opposed to nitrile gloves, which freeze immediately in cold environments. We wore Extreme Cold Weather gear and head lamps as opposed to our white lab coats and magnifying bench lights. We also defrosted ice to wash our tools and hands on the stove that we light every morning in our working container nearby.

 

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Stefanie conserving the area under the bed platform in the sleeping area beside the stove.

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Area under bed platform mid treatment.

We devised a method to systematically map each piece of the bed platform so that upon their return after conservation our interference left minimal mark. As well as leaving minimum traces of our presence in the hut, by taking back all of our equipment and waste to Scott Base every night we also left no trace in the environment.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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

 

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Bowers' Annex Beckons

Posted by Conservators Aug 29, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 28 August 2012

Temperature: -29.9C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45C

Sunrise: 09:59

Sunset: 15.32

 

 

Happy to have settled on the ice at last, Martin and I have wasted no time sinking our teeth into the first project of this summer’s work programme:  for the two months that we will be working from the relative comfort of Scott Base, we will be treating artefacts from one specific location at Scott’s Terra Nova hut, Bowers’ Annex.

 

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Boxes being excavated from Bowers' Annex.  © AHT/Jana

 

Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, whose distinctive nose earned him his distinctive nickname, was in charge of organising all the stores and supplies for Scott’s second Antarctic expedition.  The majority of these stores were tinned foods packaged inside wooden boxes, and by using dozens of these boxes as improvised building blocks, Bowers created a sort of lean-to addition to the south side of the hut – what we now call Bower’s Annex.  From inside this relatively protected structure he was able to sort, count and repackage the huge volume of supplies and rations needed by the sledging teams headed towards the South Pole. 

 

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Boxes waiting for treatment in Scott Base Carpentry shop. © AHT/Jana

 

While most of the supplies stored inside the annex were used up long ago, the boxes forming the walls of the annex remained in place until several years ago.  Because of their position on the south side of the hut, they were particularly vulnerable to wind and snow build-up, and it has been a priority for the Trust to excavate and treat them in order to prevent further damage.  The boxes were excavated from the annex several seasons ago and have gradually been staged to Scott Base, where they now lie in wait for Martin and I.  Martin will be treating the boxes themselves while I deal with the contents, and we look forward to showing you our progress!

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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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Boxes repaired by Martin

Posted by Conservators Jun 12, 2011

Author: Julie

 

Date: 8/6/11
Temperature: -17.8
Wind Speed: 42 kts
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 

 

 

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Repaired historic boxes in situ at Cape Royds © Michael Morrison

 

As Martin has written in previous blogs, his job is to repair deteriorated historic wooden food crates so that they are structurally stable.  If sections of the timber boards are missing, Martin remakes the missing sections and inserts them back into the box like puzzle pieces.  The fills make the boxes more weathertight, and, together with other structural repairs to the box interiors, allow the boxes to carry the necessary weight and to withstand extreme wind and temperature differentials.  As is considered ethical in the field of conservation, the fills amalgamate visually with the original box, but remain distinguishable as new material (they are marked on their interior faces).  In that way there is no confusion about what is original to 1911 and what AHT has added in 2011.

 

 

 

 

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Missing section of timber replicated on box AHT9043.1. © AHT

Martin is using Scott’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) for the box repairs.  The growth rings of that timber are very close together, making it particularly stable.  Additionally, Scott’s Pine is compatible with the species identified as having been used for the historic boxes, including spruce, pine, and fir. What Martin hasn’t talked about is how aesthetically striking some of his repairs are.  Over time, the new wood will weather to match the old, and the repairs will not stand out visually.  However, when Martin first repairs the boxes, the new and old wood contrast, and the effect can be quite beautiful, like elegantly crafted pieces of sculpture.

 

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Repairs to box AHT9251.1: from an aesthetic standpoint, my favorite box so far.  © AHT

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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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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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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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Installment 1 - Boxes

Posted by Conservators Mar 23, 2011

Author: Martin

 

Date: 16-03-11

Temperature: -20°C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -40°C

Sunrise: 07:08

Sunset: 20:53

 

 

In my last blog I talked about boxes in waiting and the setting up of my workbench here in the Hillary Field Centre at Scott Base. Now I will talk about where the boxes came from and what will happen to them. Ever since they were used by Sir Ernest Shackleton to build a garage and stables outside the expedition base for his 1907-1909 British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition, these boxes have survived in one of the harshest climates on earth. Most of them still contain the original food. The food however has become an environmental risk as the boxes disintegrate and without intervention most of them would be lost to the environment very soon.

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Remains of the east wall of the stables © AHT

 

Over the summer months we have spent several weeks dismantling and excavating the structures, packing the individual boxes up and transporting them to Scott Base for conservation. This also included creating a very detailed record about the condition and location of every single item. It allows us to return the conserved boxes next year to their original location. They are now stored in their frozen state until we are ready to thaw them and look at their content for the first time in more than 100 years.

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Diana gets a box ready for travel © AHT

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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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Just in case!

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 23, 2010

Posted by Lizzie

 

Date: 23 December 2010
Temperature: -2.5C
Wind Speed: 4 Knots, North-East
Temp with wind chill: -3.3C
Sunrise: 24 hour daylight
Sunset
 
This season at Cape Royds, much of our work has revolved around the historic wood and ply cases of food used on Shackleton’s 1907-08 expedition. With the Nimrod moored at the foot of the cliffs, the heavy wooden boxes, sacks of coal and bales of fodder were hoisted up to the cliff-top plateau using a derrick, and the vast majority of the some 2000 boxes were moved down to the hut.

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Shackleton’s team man-hauling food stores © Canterbuy Museum 1981_110_30


Previous posts have mentioned the high risk of fire in Antarctica, with conditions being so dry, and water not being widely available. Shackleton and his team were well aware of the risk and took the extra precaution of staging a cache of food supplies up on the plateau above the hut. Over the last hundred years, the cache of boxes and tins has gradually corroded, eroded, become buried by scoria, tins have been blown hundreds of metres down the coast by the wind and at times been carried off by skua for lunch.


This season, to remove temptation from the skua, and to prevent contamination of the local environment, the food cache was excavated, documented, and then re-housed in boxes at the cache site.

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Cricket excavating food tins © AHT 2010