Humans have been leaving traces of their presence in the Antarctic region for around 200 years. In the beginning, explorers and discoverers were reluctant to stay long or even permanently in the seemingly hostile icy world. But in 1898, the Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink wanted to be the first to establish a permanent station on the Antarctic mainland in order to explore the continent from there and reach the South Pole. His dwelling at Cape Adare still stands today and is a unique testimony to the golden age of Antarctic exploration. Experts from New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust have now developed a unique app to give a glimpse into the explorers’ lives, in 3D.
During the 2015/16 season, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Meek, Al Fastier and Torbyn Prytz of the NZAHT had cataloged, photographed and, where appropriate, conserved the buildings and items that survived in Borchgrevink’s cabins since 1899. Because the huts are unique in the world: nowhere else in the world are the first buildings erected by humans still preserved. Therefore, it was incredibly important to preserve these historical treasures. Within two weeks the huts were started to be gently repaired and conserved and as many items as possible were returned to New Zealand for conservation work. “It was a pretty tight timeframe, but I managed to pull out close to 1500 artefacts from the main room and loft area,” explains Lizzie Meek.
Not only Carsten Borchgrevink and his 9 men had used the huts. Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s northern team during the “Terra Nova” expedition had also used the buildings. Therefore, one of the NZAHT team’s tasks was to catalogue the objects and foodstuffs from the two expeditions separately. This was no easy undertaking, as both expeditions had been equipped in Great Britain and brought the appropriate material with them.
In addition, the environmental conditions had a stronger effect on the objects than, for example, in the huts of Shackleton and Scott further south. “The conditions inside the hut weren’t too bad. But it was still messy, dirty work and I was cold all the time,” Lizzie Meek recalls. The light conditions in the hut were not exactly favourable either, something that had also affected Borchgrevink’s men.
The objects that had been secured by the researchers were brought back to New Zealand to be examined more closely and, above all, to be conserved and catalogued. In addition, some objects were included as three-dimensional objects in an app developed by the NZAHT. This should give interested parties a more detailed insight into what the early expeditions were equipped with. In addition, the app has another feature that allows people to visit other huts of explorers like Shackleton and Scott. The magic word is “augmented reality”. Here users are guided into the buildings and receive a lot of information. The app is available for both Android and Apple devices and a corresponding link can be found at the end of this article.
However, the items that have been investigated since 2017 will not remain in New Zealand, the NZAHT clarifies. When the restoration work on the cabins is finished, which was put on hold last season due to the COVID situation, everything should be brought back. “The Trust is 100 per cent committed to bringing everything back together at the site and keeping it conserved,” the foundation writes. Because for Lizzie Meek, one thing is clear: “Whether or not people can visit these buildings, they carry a resonance that has importance for so many people. They are connecting points for who we are, and why we are.”
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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