Conservationists Unearth Century-Old Artifacts Left By Early Explorers In Antarctic Outpost


A team of conservationists in Australia's Antarctic outpost scoured a century's worth of snow and ice to excavate items - from a bowl of peas to bullets - that reveal the extreme and harsh conditions that early explorer Sir Douglas Mawson and his team had once battled.

The six-member team painstakingly moved about 39 cubic yards of ice, or the equivalent of a five-ton truck of ice, out of a hut that used to be the headquarters for critical scientific and geological surveys of the region before World War I.

"You walk into the workshop now and the smells are very, very strong," said Martin Passingham, leader of the two-month restoration team. Passingham spoke to the media through a satellite telephone from the site, which was often lashed by blizzards.

"The removal of the ice has let all of that smell come out of the floor and timbers. You get a feeling of how people moved around the building and how cramped it would have been, with so many of them," said Passingham.

Perched on the edge of Commonwealth Bay, the site known as Mawson's Hut is Australia's most isolated and oldest Antarctic outpost. The site is about 1,675 miles or 2,696 kilometers south of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart.

Mawson's Huts was one of the six complexes that survived the Heroic Era of exploration in the Antarctic.

Named after Mawson, the hut was used in 1912 and 1913, when Mawson and his team charted the region's shoreline and first described several of its animal and bird species.

Passingham said the central hut was filled with artifacts everywhere, with a coal shovel alongside the jars, stove, and food containers on the shelf, as well as wooden spoons on the kitchen bench.

"All of these things really do tell the story more thoroughly," he said.

Two members of Mawson's expedition had lost their lives by the time Australia's first expedition to the Antarctic sailed back to the country in 1913, after finishing its scientific investigations.

The location of Mawson's Hut, which Passingham said was the "home of the blizzard" because of its ferocious winds, is acknowledged as a historic site and a monument under the Antarctic Treaty.

"The reason why Australia administers claim to 42 percent of Antarctica is all because of Mawson and what he did here," the explorer said.

Mawson, who was born in Britain and became a geology professor, gained fame for his feats of endurance in the Antarctic.

He had been on the expedition to the Antarctic with fellow explorer Ernest Shackleton from 1907 to 1909.

Aside from his Antarctic pursuits, Mawson pioneered studies in radioactive materials.

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