Antarctic and sub-Antarctic cultural heritage
Dr Estelle Lazer
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
There is considerable historical documentation of most of the sites but on-site archaeological investigation is incomplete. Archaeological investigation provides information that challenges or is not included in historical sources. While studies have been made of above-ground sites (e.g. Townrow 1990; Townrow 1992b; McGowan 2000), there is still a need for further investigation and recording as much of this work has been preliminary or restricted by the constraints associated with short, summer field seasons. Also, there is a need for continued site surveys to accumulate knowledge about sites like Mawson’s Huts because there is differential snow cover and ablation within and between seasons. No research has been undertaken on the skeletal remains of sealers who died during the course of their work on Heard and Macquarie Islands. Little is known about their mortuary practices and whether the different cultural groups can be identified by variations in the ways their bodies were treated. While it would be inappropriate to gratuitously exhume these individuals, some of these graves are threatened and the exposed bones of sealers have been observed at Macquarie Island (Joan Russell pers. comm.). Graves are particularly threatened at Heard Island, where the increase in temperature has resulted in the expansion of Stephenson’s Lagoon so that it now nearly bisects the island. Erosion associated with the changing coastline could expose graves that have been observed at Doppler Hill (Max Downes pers. comm.; Eric Woehler pers. comm.).
Other areas that require further research include best practice techniques for conservation in polar conditions, tourist and official visitor behaviour at sites, salvage techniques in relation to sea level change and coastal erosion, and the criteria for establishing which portable artefacts should be conserved in situ and which should be returned to Australia for conservation.