Antarctica: Nature’s own preservative

February 20, 2011

Shackleton's Nimrod Hut. (Source: Flickr)

One of the striking things one encounters when reading about Antarctic exploration is how well preserved the sites of the explorer’s activity are today, even a century after they were abandoned. There are no grasses to overgrow the huts, no insects to harvest crumbs, and the cold temperatures prevent even bacteria from being an issue. The air, too, is almost totally free of pollutants. Consequently, those fortunate enough to visit the sites where Scott and Shackleton (for instance) made their bases find them much the same as they were at the time.

A recent news item noted that bottles of scotch left over from Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod expedition were discovered under some snow. The scotch, shielded by the snow from the more extreme temperatures, was still sloshing around in the bottle. Goodness, but I’d like to try some of that.

Shackleton's old scotch, c.1907.

Even more remarkable is how well organic materials are preserved. The photograph below shows a workbench in Scott’s Terra Nova hut, located at Cape Evans. The penguin on the workbench has been dead for a hundred years. The newspaper on the left is a copy of the 29 February 1908 edition of the Illustrated London News.

That penguin looks well-preserved, mind you, but I am not sure that I would want to eat it.

5 Responses to “Antarctica: Nature’s own preservative”

  1. Janet Says:

    I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it if you killed it this morning.


  2. Janet Says:

    It would make me feel like a sea leopard.


  3. cburrell Says:

    The pleasures of fresh penguin ought not to be disparaged. One gets a frisson of taste on account of its distinctive fatty meat, and a frisson of transgression on account of its being illegal to kill.

  4. Mac Says:

    There could be a Chesterton column in that newspaper.

  5. cburrell Says:

    I thought of that; the ILN was a weekly, and Chesterton was certainly publishing his weekly column at that time. I’ve been meaning to look up the column to see what it was about. (I did check whether it has been excerpted at The Hebdomadal Chesterton — but it has not.)

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