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Antarctic conservation

4 Posts tagged with the identification tag
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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.

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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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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.

 

mysterious man (Small).jpg

Mysterious Man: Metal sheet figurine with unknown function.

 

mysterious man2 (Small).jpg

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.

 

Jennifer Davis contemplates object.jpg

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:

 

Jennifer Davis contemplates purpose of object.jpg

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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Date: 13 October 2010
Temperature: -26C
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -39C
Sunrise: 4:48am
Sunset 10:39pm



I recently conserved a single leather slipper from the hut of R.F. Scott’s Terra Nova 1910-1913 expedition.  The slipper looked old, well worn and was crushed almost flat.  An intimate detail was the owner’s addition of straw padding on the bottom, presumably for added cushioning and warmth.  My treatment goal was to clean off the heavy layer of dirt and reshape the slipper in order to restore its original shape.  During the initial cleaning, while carefully unfolding the crumpled tongue, I found, to my surprise, the punched initials, “FD.”

AHT8326_2!_side1_BT.jpgAfter.jpg
Slipper,  Before Treatment © AHT/CricketDetail of Tongue, After Treatment © AHT/Cricket


I read that the men from these early polar expeditions often carved, wrote or stamped their initials onto their belongings and was excited to actually find such a mark.  “FD” most likely is Frank Debenham, a young Australian who was one of three of Scott’s geologists.  In early 1911, Debenham joined the four-man team and completed the Western Journey, which mapped the western mountains of Victoria Land, making geological observations and other scientific studies. This image shows Debenham grinding Geological specimans in July, 1911.

 

 

In his career, Debenham was prolific.  During his time in Antarctica, he had the idea of creating a learning center and repository for Arctic and Antarctic research.  In 1920 he, along with Raymond Priestley, a fellow geologist from Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Nimrod 1907-1909 expedition, opened the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University.  The Institute is famous for its comprehensive polar library and archives, and to this day, remains Britain’s leader in polar research and glaciology.