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Block Of Ice In Antarctica Reveals Remarkable Discovery Of 100-Year-Old Negatives


In a groundbreaking discovery, a block of ice in Antarctica reveals remarkable discovery of 100-year-old negatives. The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust stumbled upon a remarkable find while restoring an ancient exploration hut—an unprocessed cache of 22 cellulose nitrate negatives, believed to date back to Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea Party between 1914 and 1917. These negatives had been ensconced in a block of ice, untouched and concealed from the world for a century.

Century-Old Negatives In Antarctic Ice Block

The Ross Sea Party, led by renowned polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, encountered a devastating blizzard that left them stranded in the exploration hut when their ship was swept away by the turbulent sea. Although the party was eventually rescued, a block of ice in Antarctica reveals remarkable discovery of 100-year-old negatives.

With meticulous care, a photography conservator from Wellington delicately processed the long-forgotten negatives, unveiling an extraordinary glimpse into the adventures of the past. Despite some damage over time, the images captured within these cellulose nitrate negatives provide a rare window into the untold tales of intrepid explorers.

Nigel Watson, Executive Director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, expressed his excitement about the undeveloped negatives.

It's the first example that I'm aware of, of undeveloped negatives from a century ago from the Antarctic heroic era. There's a paucity of images from that expedition.- Nigel Watson

This serendipitous discovery serves as a poignant reminder that Antarctica, even in modern times, continues to pose daunting challenges to those who dare to explore its icy wilderness. While a Russian-flagged vessel remains ensnared in Antarctic ice, the unveiling of these century-old photo negatives reinforces the notion that this cold, enigmatic continent has thwarted explorers for over a hundred years.

The Mysteries Of Antarctic Exploration

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust chanced upon these invaluable negatives within an expedition hut that had once sheltered Captain Robert Falcon Scott during his ill-fated 1912 endeavor to become the first person to reach the South Pole.

Later, this same hut became a temporary abode for members of Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea Party after their ship was tragically lost at sea. The cellulose nitrate negatives were discovered compacted together in a small box within the darkroom of Herbert Ponting, the official expedition photographer for Scott's ill-fated expedition.

Although some of the negatives suffered damage over the passage of time, the trust successfully identified familiar landmarks around McMurdo Sound, offering glimpses of the expedition's treacherous surroundings.

Regrettably, the identity of the photographer responsible for capturing these captivating moments remains a mystery. Nevertheless, these photographs provide invaluable insights into the trials, tribulations, and triumphs experienced by the courageous explorers of the Ross Sea Party—an enthralling visual narrative of a tumultuous period in Antarctic exploration.

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, during which both Scott and Shackleton played prominent roles, witnessed daring expeditions and fierce competition to conquer the icy realms of the southernmost continent. Scott's Terra Nova expedition, intended to claim the South Pole, ended in tragedy as he and several companions perished during the arduous return journey in 1912.

Shackleton, undeterred by Scott's setback, embarked on an ambitious quest known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, aiming to cross Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Shackleton's Ross Sea Party, a vital support group tasked with establishing supply routes, faced numerous misfortunes and setbacks, including the loss of their ship, the Aurora. Ultimately, three brave members of the party lost their lives before their eventual rescue in 1916.

Nigel Watson was overwhelmed by the historical significance of these newly discovered photographs.

It's an exciting find, and we are delighted to see them exposed after a century.- Nigel Watson

These images provide a captivating visual record of the struggles, endurance, and ultimate resilience displayed by the members of the Ross Sea Party—a testament to their indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication.

The preservation of these century-old negatives, concealed within the frozen confines of an Antarctic ice block, bears testament to the extreme conditions prevailing in this icy wilderness.

Antarctic Expedition Photo, Discovered and Conserved
Antarctic Expedition Photo, Discovered and Conserved

In 2013, conservationists restoring exploration huts in Antarctica stumbled upon another extraordinary find—an ice-entombed box containing similarly frozen negatives. These well-preserved photographs offered a tantalizing glimpse into the ill-fated polar expedition of the Ross Sea Party, complementing the recent discovery and contributing to our understanding of early Antarctic exploration.

Despite enduring a century-long deep freeze, the team managed to restore these remarkable images, granting us unprecedented insight into the tragic events that unfolded during the Ross Sea Party's perilous mission.

These photographs, together with the newly unearthed negatives, serve as invaluable historical artifacts, enriching our comprehension of the intrepid explorers who dared to venture into the inhospitable Antarctic landscape.

Beyond their historical significance, these photographs narrate an extraordinary tale of adversity and resilience. They encapsulate the harshness of the Antarctic environment, the camaraderie forged amidst hardship, and the unwavering determination that propelled these explorers to embark on perilous journeys into the unknown.

As researchers and historians continue to unravel the secrets embedded within the newly processed negatives, a sense of anticipation builds. The photographs offer a tangible link to the past, bridging the gap between modern-day exploration and the heroic era of Antarctic discovery.

Antarctic Expedition Photo, Discovered and Conserved
Antarctic Expedition Photo, Discovered and Conserved

The images from the Ross Sea Party present a unique perspective on the daily lives of the explorers, their struggles against the elements, and their ingenious resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Each captured moment serves as a testament to the courage and resilience of those early pioneers who ventured into uncharted territories, pushing the boundaries of human exploration.

With every new discovery in Antarctica, our appreciation for the challenges faced by these intrepid trailblazers grows deeper, and their enduring legacy becomes increasingly evident.

The photographs retrieved from the icy grip of the Antarctic ice block stand as enduring reminders of the irresistible allure and enigmatic allure of this frozen continent—a captivating testament to the indomitable spirit that continues to draw explorers and researchers to its icy expanses.

Preservation Of Century-Old Negatives

The discovery of century-old photo negatives preserved in the depths of Antarctica are delicate artifacts, found during the restoration of an exploration hut that offers a captivating window into the lives of early Antarctic explorers.

Photo negatives hold a treasure trove of visual memories, capturing moments from the past with their unique characteristics and historical significance. As photography technology has evolved over time, different types of photo negatives have emerged, each requiring specific preservation techniques. Let's explore the various types of photo negatives and provide insights into how to scan, preserve, and store them for future generations to enjoy.

(More) Recent Developments in Using, Storing, and Transporting Cellulose Nitrate Still Picture Film

Types Of Photo Negatives

Over the years, different formats of photo negatives have been used, each with its own characteristics and preservation requirements. Let's take a closer look at the most common types of photo negatives:

Glass Negatives

Glass negatives played a significant role in the early days of photography, enabling the widespread availability of photographic images. There were two primary types of glass negatives:

  • Collodion (or wet plate) negatives were produced individually by photographers in the field from the 1850s to around 1880. They feature a gray coating and are made on thick glass plates.
  • Gelatin dry plate negatives, on the other hand, were factory-produced and sold in boxes. They have a thin and uniform thickness, offering greater convenience compared to collodion negatives. Gelatin dry plate negatives were available from the 1880s through the 1920s.

Preserving glass negatives requires careful handling due to their fragility. When handling glass negatives, it is crucial to hold them only by the edges to prevent damage to the emulsion (coating). Storing glass negatives upright in cool, dry places within reinforced archival boxes with dividers is recommended to protect them from breakage.

Film Negatives

Film negatives became popular during the "You push the button, we do the rest" era of amateur photography in the 20th century. Different cameras required specific film sizes, with the standard 35mm negative stock being the most widely used. However, not all film formats maintained their popularity or usefulness over time.

Film negatives have been made of various materials, including gelatin film, nitrocellulose roll film, gelatin roll film, plastic roll film, and modern film coated with clear cellulose acetate or polyester. Each material has its own unique properties and preservation considerations.

To preserve film negatives, it is important to avoid exposing them to high heat, humidity, or improper storage conditions. Maintaining a cool, dry environment with around 50% relative humidity and stable temperatures between 68 to 70°F is ideal. Storing film negatives vertically in archival-safe sleeves and boxes, avoiding PVC materials, is recommended to prevent deterioration.

Nitrate Negatives

Nitrate negatives, while technically a type of film, require special attention due to their unstable and flammable nature. Nitrate film contains a chemical also used in explosives, making it a format that demands caution.

Identifying nitrate film can be challenging, but signs of deterioration include discoloration, brittleness, bubbling, and a vinegary smell. Proper storage and handling are essential, and it is advised to consult a reputable photo-conservation lab to make copies of well-preserved nitrate negatives.

Nitrate film should never be exposed to heat or humidity. Fire codes often outline specific procedures for the safe disposal of nitrate materials. Handling and storing nitrate-based film require appropriate containers for flammable materials or explosion-proof freezers.

Preservation Challenges And Best Practices

Preserving photo negatives, regardless of their type, presents unique challenges. Here are some best practices to ensure their long-term preservation:

  • Handle negatives with care- Whether dealing with glass, film, or nitrate negatives, it is essential to handle them gently and only touch the edges to prevent damage to the emulsion or fragile surfaces.
  • Use proper storage materials- Archival-safe sleeves, boxes, and dividers designed for the specific type and size of negatives should be utilized. Avoid materials containing PVC, as they can cause damage over time.
  • Maintain optimal storage conditions - Negatives should be stored in a cool, dry environment with stable temperature and humidity levels. Extreme fluctuations in these conditions can accelerate deterioration.
  • Be cautious of light exposure - Protect negatives from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or intense artificial light, as this can fade or damage the images.
  • Consider digitization - Scanning negatives at high resolutions and saving them as TIFF files provide a digital backup that can be easily accessed and shared. Flatbed scanners or dedicated negative scanners can be used for this purpose. Cleaning negatives and scanner glass beforehand helps ensure accurate digitization.

Preserving photo negatives requires ongoing vigilance and adherence to best practices. Regular inspections, proper storage, and a proactive approach to environmental conditions are crucial for their longevity.

Nitrate film why do we keep it?

Scanning And Reversing Negatives

Scanning photo negatives opens up new possibilities for preserving and sharing visual memories. With the advancement of technology, scanning negatives has become more accessible than ever. Here are some considerations and tips for scanning negatives:

  • Choose the right scanner- Use a dedicated film scanner or a flatbed scanner with a transparency unit for the best results. All-in-one machines or handheld scanners are generally not suitable for high-quality negative scans.
  • Clean negatives and scanner glass - Before scanning, ensure that both the negatives and the scanner glass are free from dust and debris. Compressed air can be used to gently remove any particles.
  • Preserve contrast and avoid damage - Some scanners have covers with a white undersurface that helps maintain contrast when scanning negatives. If your scanner lacks this feature, placing a white paper over the negative can achieve a similar effect.
  • Scan at high resolution- Aim for a minimum scanning resolution of 600 DPI (dots per inch) to capture fine details. Saving the scanned images as TIFF files ensures the preservation of image quality and flexibility for future editing or printing.
  • Back up and store digital files- After scanning, make sure to back up the digital files in a secure location, such as an external hard drive or cloud-based storage, to protect them from loss or damage.

Reversing the scanned images to positive format allows for improved print quality and the creation of new prints. Various software applications and editing tools provide options to invert the negative image digitally, resulting in a crisp and vibrant positive representation.

Development Of Film Negatives

If you come across undeveloped film negatives, whether forgotten rolls or those found in vintage cameras, there is still a possibility to develop them and uncover hidden visual treasures. While finding a store that offers film development services for older formats can be challenging, specialized services such as The Darkroom or Dwayne's Photo may offer solutions for developing various film types, including older and discontinued formats.

Once the film negatives are developed and digitized, sharing them with family and preserving them digitally becomes more accessible. Uploading the images to online platforms, attaching them to emails, or creating collaborative shared files ensures that the visual history captured in the negatives can be enjoyed and cherished by future generations.

People Also Ask

What Was Antarctica Like During The Ice Age?

During the ice age, the leading scientific evidence suggests that temperatures in Antarctica were, on average, approximately 9 degrees Celsius cooler compared to the modern era. Globally, temperatures during that time were around 5 to 6 degrees cooler than present.

What Did Antarctica Look Like During The Last Ice Age?

During the last ice age, certain areas of the Antarctic ice sheet experienced thinning as the amount of snowfall decreased. This led to a reduction in surface elevation, resulting in cooling of around 4 to 5 degrees in those regions. In areas where the ice sheet was much thicker during the ice age, temperatures cooled by more than 10 degrees.

Why Is The Ice Melting In Antarctica Bad?

The melting of glaciers and sea ice in Antarctica has several negative implications. Rapid glacial melt in Antarctica and Greenland has an impact on ocean currents. The influx of significant amounts of very cold glacial-melt water into warmer ocean waters leads to a slowing down of ocean currents. Additionally, as ice on land continues to melt, it contributes to rising sea levels, which poses risks to coastal areas.


In conclusion, the remarkable discovery of century-old negatives hidden within a block of ice in Antarctica has unveiled a captivating glimpse into the past. These invaluable artifacts provide a unique window into the lives of early Antarctic explorers, reminding us of the challenges they faced and the triumphs they achieved.

Through meticulous preservation efforts, including careful handling and digitization, we are ensuring the longevity of these historical records for generations to come. The block of ice in Antarctica reveals remarkable discovery of 100-year-old negatives sheds light on our shared human history and igniting our curiosity for the untold stories of the past.

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About The Authors

Dr. Felix Chaosphere

Dr. Felix Chaosphere- Dr. Felix Chaosphere, a renowned and eccentric psychiatrist, is a master of unraveling the complexities of the human mind. With his wild and untamed hair, he embodies the essence of a brilliant but unconventional thinker. As a sexologist, he fearlessly delves into the depths of human desire and intimacy, unearthing hidden truths and challenging societal norms. Beyond his professional expertise, Dr. Chaosphere is also a celebrated author, renowned for his provocative and thought-provoking literary works. His written words mirror the enigmatic nature of his persona, inviting readers to explore the labyrinthine corridors of the human psyche. With his indomitable spirit and insatiable curiosity, Dr. Chaosphere continues to push boundaries, challenging society's preconceived notions and inspiring others to embrace their own inner tumult.

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