Conservationists working on a project in Cape Adare, Antarctica have discovered a 100-year-old, freakishly well preserved-looking fruit cake that they think dates from Scott of the Antarctic’s famous 1910 expedition. Yes, the one no-one returned from.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust is currently carrying out conservation work on the huts that would have been vital shelter for early expeditions, focusing on the Cape Adare area, the north-easternmost peninsula in East Antarctica.
The researchers have been working preserving artifacts found in the area since May 2016, with around 1,500 items found so far. But the most surprising is definitely the century-old fruit cake.
“With just two weeks to go on the conservation of the Cape Adare artefacts, finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake in amongst the last handful of unidentified and severely corroded tins was quite a surprise,” program manager for artifacts, Lizzie Meek, said in a statement. Explaining its presence she continued: “It’s an ideal high-energy food for Antarctic conditions, and is still a favourite item on modern trips to the Ice.”
The cake, identified by the tin it was still in, was made by Huntley & Palmers, a well-known British biscuit company from the time Robert Falcon Scott undertook his ultimately doomed Terra Nova expedition of 1910 to 1913.
Although the tin was in poor condition, incredibly the cake still looks edible. In fact, the researchers described it as in “excellent condition” and smelling not bad. “There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that the cake looked and smelled edible! There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation,” Meeks said.
With the tin repaired, and the paper wrapping mended, they have added stabilizing chemicals to both tin and cake in preparation for returning it to the Antarctic. It was found in one of the oldest huts in Antarctica. Built by the Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink during his 1899 expedition, it was used by Scott’s team in 1911, which we know from his recovered diaries.
Scott’s famous Antarctic expedition was both scientific and powered by a desire to be the first person to reach the South Pole. The five-man team did eventually reach the South Pole on January 17, 1912. Unfortunately, upon arrival, they discovered that Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team had beaten them to it by 34 days.
“Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority,” Scott wrote in his diary.
On their return journey, all five men perished, their tent and bodies discovered by British explorers crossing the Ross Ice Shelf in November 1912. Seeing as their expedition was one of the first to explore Antarctica during its winter, it’s assumed they froze to death after starving.
They really could have done with that cake.