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Open Water

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 09/04/2014

Temperature: -24 degrees C

Windspeed: None

Temperature with wind chill: -24 degrees C

Sunrise: 0905

Sunset: 1643

 

One of the highlights (so far) of this winter on the ice has been, without doubt, the opportunity to observe the effects of having open water in front of Scott Base. Usually a year-round frozen ice shelf, the open water has brought some spectacular sea mists and not just the usual populations of Weddell seals and Adelie penguins, but large numbers of killer whales and Emperor penguins (and even the occasional cruise ship!) … to literally right outside our windows. Beats television!

Morning sea mist.JPG

Morning sea mist

 

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A cruise ship takes advantage of the open water to take a closer look at Scott Base

 

 

Each day we have had the pleasure of watching a group of about 50 Emperors (all adolescent males, I'm told) huddle, fish, play, squawk, dive and scoot around (belly down) on the ice edge. And occasionally they'll take a long walk across the ice to what seems like nowhere in particular, usually in single file and in a very determined fashion, only to huddle for a while before returning again by foot or from beneath the ice through an open pool or crack. But, alas, as we head into our last fortnight of daylight before the austral winter darkness sets in, the sea now looks to have frozen over and, sadly for us (and perhaps also for them, as they may have been equally fascinated by the behaviours of Scott Base residents) the last of the Emperors have walked off … to somewhere else.

Emperors huddling.JPG

Huddling

 

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Off for a walk

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Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 02/04/2014

Temperature: -34 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 0 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -34 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 0926

Sunset: 1826

 

Oh the frustration of losing things. It's a bit late for the owner now but it's nice to have found his second sock. Of course it couldn't have been in the washing machine, and it wasn't under the bed. It was in fact under the floorboards of Discovery hut. Why and how did it get there is anyone's guess. The magical mystery of missing things may never be understood. Interestingly though, the sock was also under the floorboards with other objects including empty ration bags, twine and cordage, a dust-brush, sardine can and safety pin.

 

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Second sock

 

The objects were recovered from under the floor by the outgoing AHT summer team who were undertaking structural stabilisation work on the hut which involved lifting some of the floorboards. So how did these objects manage to find their way there? Of course we can only speculate but it's likely they were simply swept into a hole in the floor which had been created by the Ross Sea Party.

The empty ration bags are unmarked and so we can't ever know what meal they contributed to. One of the bags is still tied at the top and ripped open down the side. One appears to be covered in cocoa and white crystalline grains, perhaps sugar. Taste testing is not advised for obvious reasons. Others contain a soft waxy substance also of unknown identity. I'm curious as to what they actually contained and what the men were up to on the day they emptied those bags. The image below shows the ration bags drying after being washed to remove damaging acids and salts. All stains, soot and contents are retained as important historic information.

 

RATION BAGS DRYING.jpg

Ration bags drying

 

Another interesting part of the underfloor assemblage of objects is a beautifully retained length of twined rope with a particularly strong smell. The smell isn't altogether unpleasant but it's distinctive as you open the door to the workspace each morning. The smell is very similar to pine tar which was used to saturate hemp fibres for pre-prepared wooden ship caulking, which is likely the purpose of this rope.

 

CAULKING.jpg

Caulking

It's been an interesting week contemplating the discarded or lost objects under the hut and I wonder if the loss of that sock was ever of torment to its owner.

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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.

 

Image 1.JPG

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.

 

Image 2 .JPG

 

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

Image 3.JPG

 

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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A Date with Google

Posted by Conservators Mar 20, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 12 March 2013

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -41 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 06.39

Sunset:  21:21

 

 

The world has changed exponentially since I began my professional life as an archaeologist… back in the olden days when hardcopy books and journals were our main sources of information. One of the more remarkable changes is without doubt the access we now have to information on pretty much everything, via the internet. A good example occurred this week as I was treating artefacts from Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery hut, down here at Scott Base. The hut was constructed in 1902 by Scott's 1901–04 expedition, was used a number of times by Shackleton's 1907–09 expedition, used for periods by Scott's 1910–13 expedition, and again by Shackleton's depot-laying Ross Sea Party in 1915–16. The US Navy was next to visit in the late 1940s, a US research base grew alongside it from the 1950s, and a group of NZ volunteers carried out some restoration work in the early '60s, and fitted a lock to the building for the first time. So there is a long history of activity in and around the hut, which was found filled with snow and ice on several occasions, and emptied. Artefacts that remain there today could date from any of the 'heroic-era' periods of use or subsequent visits, so it's interesting to ponder how and when an artefact came to be there … and particularly satisfying to discover some evidence of its age. An object I was working on this week revealed just such information, with more than a little help from Google. It was a Primus stove made by a Swedish company, and now covered with a thick layer of black soot from Discovery hut's seal-blubber stove, suggesting it dated from one of the early expeditions. Whilst stabilising the corrosion, I discovered a small letter 'D' stamped in the base beneath the soot layer, and a quick search revealed that, from 1911, Primus stoves made by this company were stamped with a letter to indicate their year of manufacture! How convenient is that?!

 

AHT11032_1!_Side2_AT.JPG

 

So this one was made in 1914 … after Scott but in the same year that Shackleton's Ross Sea Party was stocking the refitted SY Aurora in Australia in preparation for laying supply depots for Shackleton's unsuccessful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in Endurance. Aurora took on supplies in Sydney and then more in Hobart before heading south in late December of 1914. So this Primus, brand spanking new at that time, almost certainly made its way from Sweden to Australia to be procured by the expedition in either Sydney or Hobart, travelled to Antarctica on Aurora, and was used in the hut by the Ross Sea Party. Cool! And that was revealed in just a few short minutes from the comfort of Scott Base, on the ice, via satellite. Whatever did we do before Google … or modern technology, for that matter?

 

Sue (bright+contrast).jpg

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Dog biscuits

Posted by Conservators Mar 6, 2014

Auhtor: Megan Absolon

Date: 07/03/14

 

 

I’ve been very fortunate since arriving on the Ice to be working in the on-site conservation laboratory at Hut Point, which is situated directly behind Scott’s Discovery Hut (1901-04). Stefanie and I have been conserving food boxes from an internal wall made from stacked supply boxes. This wall was built during Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (1907-09) when they used Discovery Hut as a staging point for depot laying. The Hut is described by various expeditioners as a dark and cold place to spend time and Shackleton’s men wished to enclose a cosy space around the stove to make the quarters more habitable. The supply boxes used were predominately Special Cabin Biscuits and Special Dog Biscuits made by Spratts Patent Limited of London, who also supplied the army and navy.

Meg documenting the supply box wall - Stefanie White (Small).jpg

Meg documenting the supply box wall

 

Every time we walk into the Hut we get the chance to imagine the many stories and desperate situations the men who passed through Discovery Hut experienced.  It’s incredibly exciting conserving the boxes that make up the internal wall in the Hut as we discover new and different details every day.

Special Dog Biscuit Box - Stefanie White (Small).jpg

Special Dog Biscuit Box

 

Box with paw print - Meg Absolon (Small).jpg

Box with paw print

 

Dogs are also part of the amazing history of the Hut, with Scott taking 23 dogs for hauling sledges on his National Antarctic Expedition. In 1908, during Shackleton’s Expedition, three puppies ended up at Hut Point. It was decided to leave the puppies in the Hut for nearly a month while depots were laid for Shackleton’s push to the Pole. Dr Eric Marshal recorded that 24lbs of mutton was chopped up for the puppies as well as dog biscuits and snow left for their survival. The men returned to find the puppies had eaten all the mutton but not the biscuits.

 

tom_crean and puppies (Small).jpg

Tom Crean, with a litter of sledge dog puppies

 

The highlight of my week was discovering two puppy paw prints inside one of the boxes. The prints were made from seal blubber which was throughout the Hut at the time as it was used as fuel for cooking and warmth. Dogs are no longer allowed in Antarctica but we’d still love to have one to play with.

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Top memories

Posted by Conservators Feb 27, 2014

Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 28/02/14

 

This is my first time in Antarctica, and since I have been here, each day is more surprising than the day before. After two weeks of getting to know the new lifestyle and the objectives of the paper conservation work, I went last week for an evening walk. Two friends from Scott Base working for Antarctica New Zealand came with me. We were enjoying the sun and the weather, still warm at the end of the summer (already -15 ⁰C). Walking here means being well covered especially because of the wind and the temperature, but the landscape and the silence around are very special.

Image 1 (Small).JPG

The cross at the top of Observation Hill last Friday

 

We went up Observation Hill, between Scott Base and McMurdo Station, where a cross was erected in 1913 in memory of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party who died on their return from the South Pole the previous year. Because of the difficulty of the path to the top, and the surrounding landscape, reaching the top and arriving at the cross was a very moving experience for me … I realised the danger and the exceptional lives of these men, who came to Antarctica more than a century ago.

 

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My bench at work with artefacts in conservation treatment

 

After having spent my first week on the conservation of artefacts that represent their quotidian life in the Antarctic in Scott's Discovery Hut—their food, their tools, their clothes, etc.—and getting to the cross, I had a completely different feeling about these artefacts and realised in a very concrete manner the exceptional qualities of these men. Top view, top memories …

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The stories of an artefact

Posted by Conservators Feb 25, 2014

Author: Stefanie White

Date: 26/02/14

 

 

 

Returning to visit Scott's Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans was an incredibly rewarding experience. The sun was especially bright that day making our view from the helicopter ride from Scott Base sensational.  Upon arriving we found Adelie penguins and seals playing in the shore break. Entering the hut is a magical experience where one steps back into the time of the historic explorers.  As we walked around the hut I noticed several objects that our previous winter team (which I was part of) conserved and had been returned to their place in the hut by the recent summer team.

 

The stories associated with artefacts play a major role in their interpretation, historical significance, value and conservation treatment and upon seeing the artefacts we conserved, I felt a personal connection and a new story that I associate with those artefacts. I was reminded of all the conversations, the deliberations, the analyses and the treatments that we carried out last year. I remember the excitement in the lab, when Stefan conserved Clissold's cooking pot, which now takes prime place in the kitchen area of the hut.

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Clissold's pot, conserved by Stefan, returns to its central position in the kitchen area of the hut

 

The Finnesko boots, which I spent so many hours reshaping and rediscovering now hang at the Hut's entrance.

Conserved Finneskoes in Scott's Terra Nova hut (Large) (Small).jpg

Finnesko boots hang beside the entrance to the hut

 

Not only did Marie conserve an enamel dish uncovering the residue of caramelized sugar on its edges, but also convinced our chef to recreate a Scott style rhubarb pie in a similar dish at Scott Base, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. That enamel dish now sits on the wardroom table in the officer's area in the hut.

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The conserved enamel dish on the wardroom table in the officers area of the hut

 

I look forward to the stories that I may associate to the artefacts I conserve this year!

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The great outdoors

Posted by Conservators Feb 20, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 21/02/14

 

 

With environmental awareness, survival skills and effective team processes topping the agenda, the incoming AHT winter team got stuck straight into Antarctic Field Skills training following our arrival on the ice last week. This included a couple of days out on the ice shelf (in spectacular weather, thankfully), forming teams to carry out a variety of tasks and learning or refreshing some vital skills.

 

Image 1 (Small).JPG

Getting started and discussing the design

 

After selecting appropriate layers of clothing for the minus 12-degree temperature, preparing our individual sleep kits and pitching our polar tents, we set about designing and building our kitchen in which to shelter from the breeze, light our stoves and boil water to prepare our dehydrated dinners-in-a-bag. Using saws and shovels to cut and lift ice blocks, we simultaneously created a pit and constructed walls, not forgetting some seating and a bench for cooking. Being somewhat easier than it sounds, before long our far-from-perfect but nonetheless perfectly adequate little ice-kitchen took shape.

 

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Looking good - the team relaxes in the ice-kitchen

 

In we piled, and some reasonable curries and pasta dishes (and considerably better camaraderie) were enjoyed late into the bright sunlit night.

 

Good training … good fun!

 

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N-ice work!

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Change of shift

Posted by Conservators Feb 11, 2014

Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 11/02/13

 

 

What an exciting week it's been for AHT on the ice! A shift change has brought four fresh conservators to Scott Base for the winter-over season and a much anticipated home-coming for the summer conservators and carpenters. For a short time we’ve been a group of nine AHT staff at Scott Base.

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Sue, Sefanie, Aline and Meg after fuel refill, Invercargill

 

The 2014 winter-over team consists of Lead Conservator Sue Bassett (AUS), Stefanie White (IRE), Aline Leclercq (FRA) and Meg Absolon (AUS). Following a whirlwind of introductions, inductions and field skills training we're all excited and ready to unpack artefacts from Scott's Discovery Hut for conservation treatment. And just to top off a fabulous first week in Antarctica, a pod of Orcas swam past the dining room at dinner time. Thanks for the welcome!

 

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Aline, Stefanie, Meg and Sue just landed

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