Wednesday 14 January 2009

Rare Antarctic Discovery

A group of passengers on board Aurora Expeditions voyage to Commonwealth Bay made the
discovery while exploring the Madigan Nunatak (‘nunatak’ is the term for a rocky peak
surrounded by ice), led by Greg Mortimer, expedition leader and a veteran of more than 100 Antarctic voyages.

The rare food cache was found last week, 40 kilometres east south east of Cape Denison, which was the AAE’s base for two years. The location was named after Cecil Madigan, a geologist with Mawson’s AAE who established the food store in case of emergency for sledging parties.

Attempts to find Madigan Nunatak in the 1980s failed with ice covering the rocky peak and only a long bamboo pole protruding from the cache sighted in 1985.

Mortimer, the founder of Aurora Expeditions and also a member of the first Australian team to climb Mt Everest, was leading the group of passengers on a helicopter reconnaissance from his ship, Marina Svetaeva.

“I have been trying to get to Madigan Nunatak for years,” said Mortimer. “This year we were in the right place at the right time.

“We observed a cairn highlighted by a tin, consistent in shape and construction with kerosene tins associated with the AAE, on a tiny ridge in the white expanse of the polar plateau about 2400 feet above sea level,” he said.

“The tin contains at least three calico bags held in place by a rock. One contains white powder, probably flour and the other a brown substance, possibly pemmican, a food mix favoured by the AAE on sledging parties.”

The long bamboo pole, which marked the spot for the AAE still remains but now lies on the rocks. The find is significant because it extends the archaeological boundary of the site associated with the AAE of 1911-1914.

Also on board the voyage as guest lecturers were Emma McEwin, great granddaughter of Sir Douglas Mawson; Julia Butler, grand-daughter of Cecil Madigan; and historian Estelle Lazar, who confirmed that the group of passengers were probably the first people to see the cache since Madigan left it there in 1912. Eight members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation were also on board being transported to the site to undertake important conservation and restoration work on the historic huts over the next month.

Aurora Expeditions has two more scheduled expeditions to the Ross Sea region of Antarctica this season, and will be conducting another expedition to Mawson’s Antarctica in December 2009.

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