Notebook From Ill-Fated Antarctic Expedition Discovered in Ice

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A notebook belonging to a photographer on the 1911-1912 Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic – famously led by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott – has been discovered frozen in the ice. The century-old book offers a glimpse of what conditions on that expedition were like, as Scott and his team attempted to become the first men to reach the South Pole.

The notebook belonged to a British scientist named George Murray Levick, who was a part of the Northern Party on the Scott expedition. The hand written notes are said to still be legible, although the binding has been worn away after being exposed for more than a hundred years to the elements. It was discovered outside of a cabin that served as Scott’s last base before setting off to the Pole. Last year’s ice melt exposed the book for the first time.

A team of forensic scientists painstakingly restored and preserved the pages, which contain details of the photos that Levick took while part of the expedition. The notes offer hints on the subjects, dates, and exposure details for the images that he shot. Levick himself was not a part of Scott’s South Pole team, but he and others faced challenges of their own, spending the winter in ice cave while they waited to depart the harsh Antarctic climate.

The tale of Scott himself is well known at this point. After several failed attempts, he found himself in a race to become the first man to reach the South Pole with Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Both men actually achieved their goal, but Scott arrived just a few weeks behind his rival, missing the glory of being first by a narrow margin. On the return trip to the coast, Scott and his men faced numerous hardships before being caught in a massive blizzard. Tent bound, they ended up freezing to death, as they waited out a storm that lasted ten days. They perished just a few miles from a supply cache that would have saved their lives.

While this newly discovered notebook doesn’t offer much insight into what Scott and his men faced on their final, dreadful, march, it does offer some insights to the expedition as a whole. Levick’s team stayed along the coast, exploring a section of the Antarctic that remained unknown at the time. When winter pack ice made it impossible for the team’s ship to retrieve them from the ice, they were forced to spend the winter in an ice cave that they dug themselves. They also ate seals and penguins in order to survive.

After restoring the notebook, the team of New Zealand researchers who found it have now returned it to Scott’s cabin at his base camp on Cape Evans. Over the past few years, the same group has been meticulously restoring other artifacts from the expedition, and creating a make-shift museum of sorts in the Antarctic.

Kraig Becker