South Georgia Archaeological Expedition 2019: collection of news from the field

The South Georgia Archaeological Project (SGAP) was developed by the South Georgia Heritage Trust and the first expedition was completed in March 2019 as part of our programme of conserving the island’s heritage.

  • The map below shows the landing sites followed by an introduction to the 2019 expedition.
  • Links to news from the field of the 2019 expedition appear further down this page.
  • View the South Georgia Archaeological Project page here.

A group combining the SGHT and archaeologists from the University of Cambridge made the near month long expedition on the MV Hans Hansson, a 26 metre, former Swedish rescue cruiser to study the heritage of the 18th and 19th century American and British sealers who worked and lived on South Georgia.

A contribution to this expedition was made by the DPLUS065 Coastal Habitat Mapping project, which is grant aided by the Darwin Initiative through UK Government funding. The Hans Hansson’s itinerary around South Georgia provided opportunities for the Coastal Habitat Mapping Project led by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) based in the Falkland Islands. It provided valuable assistance for the archaeologists and helped maximise the scientific value of the expedition.

The actual tracks of the Hans Hansson can be followed on its operator’s site map here:

https://www.quixote-expeditions.com/news/

 

An aerial team photo at Elsehul

 

We would like to thank the South Georgia Archaeological Project’s sponsors and grant funding bodies:

Sponsors:

 

The Shackleton Company supplied expedition jackets

 

Granting Bodies:

Gino Watkins Fund

 

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

 


In the links below we’ve collected some reports from the expedition landing sites, keep following our social media channels for further updates as the post-expedition analysis begins!



Elsehul, 28 Feb to 3 March 2019

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Trypot photos
Hans Hansson Day 1 of archaeology – by Vanessa
Hans Hansson Elsehul excavation – by chip

Photos (notes by Bob Burton):

Elsehul, at the west end of the island, is well-known for the line of three trypots, which were used for rendering elephant seal blubber into oil. Excavation shows the remains of a brick furnace. The surrounding boulders are the remains of a wall that has collapsed.

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Remains of three buildings have been found. This is a wooden one whose remains were barely visible before excavations. A number of metal objects were found, including a large iron disc.

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Undine Harbour, 28 Feb to 3 March

Contemporary Archaeology

Important scientific activities across the South Georgia often leave little trace, but occasionally there are remnants of this from the 20th century. At the isthmus between Undine and Elsehul was a hydrological observation post, now evident amongst the deep seal wallows only by a few upstanding poles and occasional artefacts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bird Island, 4 March

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At Bird Island there is a very unusual site. Nestling in the shelter of a low rock wall, there are the collapsed remains of a stone hut and a gently curving trackway leading to the sea.

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Wilson Harbour, 5 March

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Nilse Hullet, 6 March

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Peggotty Bluff, 6 March

Peggotty Bluff was used for anchorage. We checked a cave but found no sign of sealing use. 


Larsen Harbour, 7 & 8 March

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Albatross Cove, 8 & 9 March

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Albatross Cove: There is another sheltered site at Albatross Cove at the back of Cooper Bay. Excavation has revealed the extent of a timber floor and other artefacts, including a clay tobacco pipe which can probably be accurately dated.


Gold Harbour, 9 March

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Köppen Point, 10 March


Ocean Harbour, 11 March

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Godthul, 11 March

Whaling Stations – Godthul


Grytviken, 11 & 12 March

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Carlita Bay 13 & 14 March


Jason Harbour, 13 & 14 March

Whaling Stations – Jason Harbour

Drone mapping and ground validating were done at Jason Harbour  in parallel with the Carlita Bay the Archaeology.


Whistle Cove (Fortuna Bay), 15 March


Prince Olav Harbour, 16 March

Dr. Marcus Brittain of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) writes: “At Prince Olav Harbour we uncovered the ‘hut’ remains. It looks more like a natural landfall that has been levelled off on one side and raised on the other with up to four courses of rough dry-wall stone for a whale rib scaffold over the top (three are present). Two whale vertebrae may have been employed as furniture. One piece of very degraded wood, but no other finds.”


Prion Island, 17 March

(Photo taken on the Prion Island boardwalk by Bob Burton in 2009)

A landing was made to gather data for the coastal habitat mapping project. Low cloud and drizzle prevented the drone from flying but a ground validation survey was carried out. Prion Island is an important site for this project because there is controlled access for visitors to see nesting wandering albatrosses from a boardwalk. The survey will be used as a baseline for monitoring changes in the future.


Salisbury Plain, 17 March

Dr. Marcus Brittain of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) writes: “At  Start Point at the western end of Salisbury Plain, the remains of a stone hut is preserved to about 50cm height, the walls being 60cm in width. We did not expose too much so to not disturb the context in the limited time available. A test pit at the centre of the hut revealed a thick covering of root-matted sand and a basal tussock or grass floor upon which the hut was erected (and on which the upper tier of walling has collapsed). No finds, but there is good potential for a full exposure in the future (though it is clearly under threat from seal activity).”

 

 

Neil Golding (Coastal Mapping Project Manager) writes:  “Start Point was a priority for the archaeological perspective, but the  @Darwin_Defra #SouthAtlanticCoastalMapping Coastal Mapping project also took the opportunity to collect ground validation points from the surrounding area as well as fly a drone habitat mapping mission, so putting the archaeological dig site into a wide context.  The sheer amount of wildlife present on the beach with us was amazing – a special last day to what has been a very successful collaborative project.”