Skip to comments.Antarctic May Hold Future Of Archaeology
Posted on 02/25/2008 10:07:04 AM PST by blam
Antarctic may hold the future of archaeology
Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent
It is a truism that archaeology begins yesterday, and now with only the archaeology of the future to plan for, the discipline has been expanding into areas of the globe where material culture has hitherto played little part.
Antarctica is one of these new areas: more than two centuries of human occupation have left plentiful traces. At least five successive and partly overlapping phases of activity can be defined: sealing, whaling, polar exploration, scientific investigation and tourism.
Sealing began in the late 18th century, when Captain James Cooks account of his voyages in the Southern Ocean, published in 1777, included his discovery of South Georgia with its enormous population of fur seals. Sealers from England and the eastern United States swarmed to raid the seal rookeries.
Wooden clubs and iron-tipped lances were used to kill the seals for their pelts, which were scraped clean of fat before being salted for shipping. Sealers lived in primitive camps, traces of which survive on South Georgia. The skins were shipped to China to have the dense fur removed and made into felted clothing: in the 1800-1801 season the Aspasia, out of New York, took 51,000 pelts.
Elephant seals were also hunted for their thick blubber that was used to make oil: some of the large iron trypots in which this was done can still be seen. As overkill took its toll on South Georgia, the sealers moved south, and their characteristic artefacts have been found on the Antarctic mainland and adjacent South Shetland Islands.
The industry continued throughout the 19th century, and on South Georgia sealing licences were issued until 1965, but whaling had long overtaken it in economic significance. Steamships and explosive harpoons made a once-chancey industry much more cost-effective. First the humpback whale and then the great blue, sei and fin whales were hunted to within an ace of extinction. Their bones can be seen on King George Island and elsewhere.
The Norwegians set up the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia in 1904 before expanding south to Deception Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula, in 1912. Houses, boilers and oil tanks from the Hektor station survive, interspersed with the remains of a later phase of occupation, the secret British base for Operation Tabarin during the Second World War. In 1944 this became the first scientific base in Antarctica.
Volcanic activity in 1969 launched a mud flow that buried many of the structures and artefacts, as well as the whalers cemetery, creating an Antarctic Pompeii for future study. Whalers Bay has been designated as Historic Site and Monument (HSM) 71 in the Antarctic inventory, while the nearby Chilean Cerda base, which was destroyed at the same time, is HSM 76. The Chilean Government has done a certain amount of cleaning up, reducing its archaeological integrity.
The advent of factory ships in the 1920s moved much whale-processing offshore, so that whalings archaeological presence diminished long before the industry was wound down: Grytviken, which serviced the ships, is the best-preserved site (and the initial casus belli of the 1982 Falklands War when Argentine scrap merchants began raiding it).
Remains from the epic age of polar exploration exist at Hope Bay, on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a stone hut built in 1903 (HSM 39) marks Otto Nordenskjölds Swedish expedition, which was forced to overwinter there. A second stone building (HSM 41) survives on Paulet Island just to the north, where the crew of the Swedish support ship Antarctica was trapped.
On the far side of Antarctica, at Ross Island, where huts from Shackletons and Scotts expeditions before the First World War survive on McMurdo Sound, some of the provisions still remain. Nothing is left of the temporary camp of 1916 on Whale Island, where Shackletons men survived for 105 days under two upturned boats while he sailed to South Georgia for help. But one of the few ceremonial monuments in Antarctica is there: a bust of Luis Pardo, the Chilean skipper who eventually brought relief. A cross on Petermann Island commemorates three members of the British Antarctic Survey lost in the sea ice in 1982. The age of scientific investigation has created a substantial material culture base: some of the research stations (which often double as political markers, in case the Antarctic Treaty should break down) date back more than half a century, while the large American base at the South Pole is probably the most substantial area of human material presence on the frozen continent.
Increasing numbers of tourists have led to new material resources: at Jougla Point a whale skeleton has been reconstructed from the bones of several different animals to provide a focus for photography, and the British base at Port Lockroy near by has been restored by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust and turned into a museum.
Although Antarctica is unlikely to be colonised in the same way as other continents, children have been born there, as part of Argentinas effort to establish its claim; the dead lie there, from Scott and his companions somewhere in the moving icefields of the mainland to Shackleton in the tidy graveyard at Grytviken; and solid and substantial traces of industry and exploration abound. So far there has not been the rigorous systematisation of sites and application of analytical theory that mark archaeology elsewhere: but an archaeology of Antarctica is on the brink of being written.
Deception Island? Is that where Hillary grew up?
“At the Mountains of Madness” by HP Lovecraft tells the story of an archaeologist who finds more than he bargained for in Antarctica.
Artifacts from the 1800’s. Wow. They must be worth a fortune.
Global Cooling Alert (Sarcasm)
Antarctica today is a cold, inhospitable desert; however, in the more distant past, the climate was much warmer. Abundant finds of fossil leaves and wood point to the existence of extensive forestation in earlier geological periods, even to within a few degrees of latitude of the South Pole itself. Dinosaurs, and later, marsupial mammals once roamed across its surface.
All will become clear when the mothership returns in 2012.
Total nonsense. Try here (http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/PiriRies.HTM) for a refutation of those bizarre claims.
I don't know whether the theories in the first article about the Peri Reiss map are true or not but that refutation is pathetic. Lots of nice (useless) graphics though.
The map is good on Europe, Africa, and northeastern South America, chaos and conjecture everywhere else. If that southern projection of South America is anything it's an attempt to describe (or imagine) the real southern projection of South America, not a separate continent that no European had any inkling of except through speculation.
"Duh. If you draw a map from existing sources, they are certainly older. Note the logical leap from "older" to "much older.""
There is his answer to a question presented to him. That is the voice of a fourth grader not a scientist.
I’d say it’s the voice of exasperation after hearing from too many fools. Suffice it to say, anyone who says that the Piri Reis map reflects ancient knowledge of Antarctica was born one.
I don’t know if the map is accurate or not. I do know the first argument was cogent and backed up research that wasn’t rebutted or debunked it was just laughed at. The debunkers argument is based on a pathetically illogical premise and defended with grade school derisions. Apparently that’s the kind of argument that floats your boat. Go for it.
Cogent? The letter-writer was arguing that the map was drawn from information extracted when Antarctica was “very hot” and iceless, way way before any human conceived of a map. If that’s cogent and backed-up research to you, no wonder you’re sticking up for this nonsense.
I wasn’t talking about the letter writer.
Which seems to conclusively prove that he may have drawn this in the 16 century, but a lot of it is based on much older information.
Which is hardly what you say he said...
The letter-writer was arguing that the map was drawn from information extracted when Antarctica was very hot and iceless, way way before any human conceived of a map.
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