Cultural remains

One of the great things about guiding in both the Arctic and the Antarctic are the stories that can be told at historical sites. In both cases, human history is relatively short. Spitsbergen was discovered only in 1596, and the first remains are from early 17th century. Antarctic history is even more recent. The first building that was constructed on the continent was erected by Borchgrevink in 1899.

Places like this, where history can be seen, are often a favourite landing site, as seeing the remains add something to the story. But that is very depending on the state of the cultural heritage. Polar climates are very tough and can break down buildings very rapidly as soon as the wind can get hold of it. And here is where the difference between those two regions comes in.

Duits weerstation; German weather station
Remains of the German WWII weather station in Signehamna, Spitsbergen

In Spitsbergen, the rule is that everything from before 1946 (so WWII and earlier) is to be considered cultural remain and is not to be touched. Where this makes sense in a way, it also means that things wear down and get destroyed by the harsh climate. Slowly the remains will disappear or turn into a heap of rubble. Not interesting at all for anyone anymore.

The inside of Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans, Ross Sea, Antarctica

In Antarctica however, they have taken a different approach. Especially in the Ross Sea -home to several historical huts from Scott, Shackleton and above mentioned Borchgrevink- scientists from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust have taken all artefacts from the huts to New Zealand to be photographed, archived and conserved so they can withstand the Antarctic climate. After this, they were brought back and put back in their original place. The huts themselves were restored as well and locked. Visitors can apply for the key and are allowed in under strict regulations. A costly project, but this way the remains are well preserved and still visible to the people.

The German WWII weather station of Haudegen, restored to the original state.

It must be said that things changed a little on Spitsbergen in recent years. The German WWII weather station Haudegen has been restored, and holes in the walls were fixed. We’re not allowed in but can watch from 30 meters distance and this way the plywood building will survive time and will be visible for future visitors.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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