Thanks, global warming! Thaw reveals Antarctic explorer’s century-old notebook
A photographic notebook from Robert Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition has been found after a century trapped in the ice of the frozen continent, New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust said.
It belonged to scientist George Murray Levick and was discovered outside Scott’s 1911 Terra Nova base during last year’s summer ice melt.
Writing in the notebook remains legible but the binding has been dissolved by years of ice and water damage, the trust’s executive director Nigel Watson said.
“It’s an exciting find. The notebook is a missing part of the official expedition record,” he said.
“After spending seven years conserving Scott’s last expedition building and collection, we are delighted to still be finding new artefacts.”
He said the pages of the notebook were taken to New Zealand and individually preserved, then given new binding and returned to Antarctica, where the trust is working to preserve five sites used by explorers Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.
Scott’s expedition split into two groups after reaching the Antarctic, with the leader’s contingent reaching the South Pole on January 17, 1912, only to find Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them there a month earlier.
Scott and his companions later died of exposure and starvation.
Levick was in the other group, which travelled along the coast to make scientific observations but became stranded from the base camp when pack ice prevented their ship from picking them up.
The six men all survived the Antarctic winter by digging a cave in the ice and eating local wildlife, including penguins and seals.
Other discoveries made by the trust include bottles of whisky taken on Shackleton’s 1908 expedition and lost negatives from his 1914-17 foray to the Ross Sea.
The contents of Levick’s notebook are fairly mundane, comprising the dates, subjects and exposure details of photographs he had taken.
Much more interesting was a scientific paper he wrote titled “Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin”, which was lost until researchers at London’s Natural History Museum rediscovered it in 2012.
In it he records observations of the penguins’ “depraved” habits, including homosexual behaviour and males trying to mate with the bodies of dead females.
Levick was so horrified at the penguins’ antics that he wrote down some of his observations in Greek so the average reader could not understand them and his paper was never publicly released.