Archaeological Excavation and Artefact Conservation at the Heroic-era Expedition Bases, Ross Island, Antarctica
Keywords:Heroic Era, archaeological excavation, polar exploration, Conservation
Four expedition bases built during the Heroic Era (1897–1922) of polar exploration remain standing in the Ross Sea region in Antarctica. Conservation work and archaeological excavation carried out by the Antarctic Heritage Trust on two of these huts, Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 base at Cape Evans, and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 base at Cape Royds is the focus of this article. A combined estimate of 14,000 artifacts are contained within these base buildings and in their immediate environs. The buildings and their contents provide unique connections and insights into life, expeditions and science in Antarctica 100 years ago. Many artifacts which lie outside the huts remain buried in permafrost or frozen in ice. These are often well preserved in this frozen state. However, artifacts can become exposed during periods of low snowfall, the summer melt period, and during any excavation work that forms part of the building conservation programme. Exposed artifacts can be subjected to increased UV, wind and wind-blown gravel erosion, freezethaw cycles, melt-water, wildlife and human visitor damage. This article will describe the logistical challenges faced by working on conservation at these historic bases in Antarctica. Antarctic archaeological process and decision making by the Antarctic Heritage Trust will be discussed, as developed following earlier work by Dr Neville Ritchie. Strategies for mitigating future degradation will also be explored.
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