Posted by: benk1988 | November 16, 2009

New Zealand Whiskey Plans Raise Archeological Questions

The news that the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust plans to dig up whiskey buried by Ernest Shackleton raises a key question about the future of archaeology and its standing in today’s society.The two bottles were buried under a hut used by the polar explorer during his unsuccessful bid to reach the magnetic south pole at the start of the 20th Century. Plans have now been made to use special tools to cut through the ice that now encases the crate in an attempt to restore the whiskey to its original condition. Although there is no intention to sample the drink the question has to be asked, why bother?

Things like this are little colourful dots in the canvas of national culture. I am sure that they efforts by the Antarctic Heritage are noble and that they do not wish to offend anyone or disrupt the national history of New Zealand. But this takes away some of the mystique and will take away from the uniqueness of the trip that ended with Shackleton being forced to turn back. That is not to say that it is only New Zealand where this is an issue. By an extension of this argument though you could say that all forms of archaeological are wrong. Therefore we would have no Tutankhamun or Terracotta Soldiers. However this misses the point.

The large important discoveries are of such significance that they have to be removed from their site in order for us to properly understand their significance. This is not the same in the case of Shackleton’s booze and as such it should be left alone to continue being an interesting side note in the history of polar exploration.


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