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A frozen graveyard: The sad tales of antarctica's deaths

In the bleak, almost pristine land at the edge of the world, there are the frozen remains of human bodies – and each one tells a story of humanity’s relationship with this inhospitable continent.


Even with all our technology and knowledge of the dangers of Antarctica, it can remain deadly for anyone who goes there. Inland, temperatures can plummet to nearly -90C (-130F). In some places, winds can reach 200mph (322km/h). And the weather is not the only risk.


Many bodies of scientists and explorers who perished in this harsh place are beyond reach of retrieval. Some are discovered decades or more than a century later. But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge – or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.


The stories behind these deaths range from unsolved mysteries to freak accidents. In the second of our new series Frozen Continent, BBC Future explored what these events reveal about life on the planet's most inhospitable landmass.

这些死者背后的故事中既有未解之谜又有诡异事故。在我们的全新系列冰冻大陆(Frozen Continent)的第二期节目中,英国广播公司未来栏目(BBC Future)探索了这些事件的真相, 披露了地球上这最不适宜人类生存的大陆上的生命形态。

1800s: Mystery of the Chilean bones


At Livingston Island, among the South Shetlands off the Antarctic Peninsula, a human skull and femur have been lying near the shore for 175 years. They are the oldest human remains ever found in Antarctica.

利文斯顿岛(Livingston Island)是南极半岛(Antarctic Peninsula)外的南设得兰群岛(South Shetlands)其中一个岛屿,在那里,一块人体头盖骨和股骨长眠于岸边已经有175年了。这是在南极洲发现的年代最为久远的人体残骸。

The bones were discovered on the beach in the 1980s. Chilean researchers found that they belonged to a woman who died when she was about 21 years old. She was an indigenous person from southern Chile, 1,000km (620 miles) away.


Analysis of the bones suggested that she died between 1819 and 1825. The earlier end of that range would put her among the very first people to have been in Antarctica.


The question is, how did she get there? The traditional canoes of the indigenous Chileans couldn’t have supported her on such a long voyage through what can be incredibly rough seas.


“There’s no evidence for an independent Amerindian presence in the South Shetlands,” says Michael Pearson, an Antarctic heritage consultant and independent researcher. “It’s not a journey you’d make in a bark canoe.”

皮尔逊(Michael Pearson)是一位南极遗产顾问兼独立研究员,他说:“没有证据表明南设得兰群岛上曾出现过独立的印第安人。这不是仅凭一个树皮做的独木舟就可以完成的旅程。”

The original interpretation by the Chilean researchers was that she was an indigenous guide to the sealers travelling from the northern hemisphere to the Antarctic islands that had been newly discovered by William Smith in 1819. But women taking part in expeditions to the far south in those early days was virtually unheard of.

智利研究者们最初给出的解释是:她是那些从北半球来到南极岛屿捕猎海豹者的当地向导,这些南极岛屿刚由英国探险家威廉‧史密斯(William Smith)于1819年新发现。然而在最早时期来到地球最南端探险的人士中却从未听说过有女性参与。

Sealers did have a close relationship with the indigenous people of southern Chile, says Melisa Salerno, an archaeologist of the Argentinean Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet). Sometimes they would exchange seal skins with each other. It’s not out of the question that they traded expertise and knowledge, too. But the two cultures’ interactions weren’t always friendly.

阿根廷科技研究院(Argentinean Scientific and Technical Research Council,简称Conicet)的考古学家萨勒诺(Melisa Salerno)说,当时的海豹捕猎者的确和智利南部的土著居民关系密切。有时他们还会彼此交换海豹皮。他们之间交换专业技能和知识,也并不是不可能的事情。然而这两种文化之间的互动却并不总是友好的。

“Sometimes it was a violent situation,” says Salerno. “The sealers could just take a woman from one beach and later leave her far away on another.”


A lack of surviving logs and journals from the early ships sailing south to Antarctica makes it even more difficult to trace this woman’s history.


Her story is unique among the early human presence in Antarctica. A woman who, by all the usual accounts, shouldn’t have been there – but somehow she was. Her bones mark the start of human activity on Antarctica, and the unavoidable loss of life that comes with trying to occupy this inhospitable continent.


29 March 1912: Scott’s South Pole expedition crew


Robert Falcon Scott’s team of British explorers reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, just three weeks after the Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had departed from the same spot.

罗伯特‧史考特(Robert Falcon Scott)的英国探险队于1912年1月17号抵达南极极点,而就在三个礼拜之前,由亚孟森(Roald Amundsen)带队的挪威科考团刚刚从同一地点启程离开。

The British group’s morale was crushed when they discovered that they had not arrived first. Soon after, things would get much worse.


Attaining the pole was a feat to test human endurance, and Scott had been under huge pressure. As well as dealing with the immediate challenges of the harsh climate and lack of natural resources like wood for building, he had a crew of more than 60 men to lead. More pressure came from the high hopes of his colleagues back home.


“They mean to do or die – that is the spirit in which they are going to the Antarctic,” Leonard Darwin, a president of the Royal Geographical Society and son of Charles Darwin, said in a speech at the time.

英国皇家地理学会的主席,提出进化论的查尔斯·达尔文(Charles Darwin)的儿子伦纳德·达尔文(Leonard Darwin)在当时的一次演讲中说:“他们有着破釜沉舟的决心,要么光荣凯旋,要么客死他乡,正是这种精神指引他们踏上南极大陆。”

“Captain Scott is going to prove once again that the manhood of the nation is not dead… the self-respect of the whole nation is certainly increased by such adventures as this,” he said.


Scott was not impervious to the expectations. “He was a very rounded, human character,” says Max Jones, a historian of heroism and polar exploration at the University of Manchester. “In his journals, you find he’s racked with doubts and anxieties about whether he’s up to the task and that makes him more appealing. He had failings and weaknesses too.”

史考特并非对这些期望无动于衷。马克斯·琼斯(Max Jones)是曼彻斯特大学(University of Manchester)研究英雄主义和极地探险的一位历史学家,他说:“他有非常丰满立体的人物性格。在他的日志中你会发现,他被是否要直面任务的怀疑和焦虑所折磨,这也让他更有魅力。他同样有缺陷和弱点。”

Despite his worries and doubts, the mindset of “do or die” drove the team to take risks that might seem alien to us now.


On the team’s return from the pole, Edgar Evans died first, in February. Then Lawrence Oates. He had considered himself a burden, thinking the team could not return home with him holding them back. "I am just going outside and may be some time," he said on 17 March.

队伍离开南极点回程时,埃文斯(Edgar Evans)便在二月份第一个辞世。然后是奥茨(Lawrence Oates)。他把自己视为队友们的负担,认为自己会拖慢队友的行程,有了他全队是回不去的。他在3月17号说,“我只是到外面去一下,这可能要一会儿。”然后他走出帐篷,迎接他的死亡。

Perhaps he had not realised how close the rest of the group were to death. The bodies of Oates and Evans were never found, but Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers were discovered by a search party several months after their deaths. They had died on 29 March 1912, according to the date in Scott’s diary entry. The search party covered them with snow and left them where they lay.

也许奥茨没有意识到其他队员离死亡已很近。奥茨和埃文斯的尸体一直没有找到,然而史考特、威尔逊(Edward Wilson)和鲍尔斯(Henry Bowers)的尸体在他们死后数月之后被一支搜救队发现。据史考特一篇日记中的日期记载,他们死于1912年3月29号 。搜救队用雪将他们就地掩埋。

“I do not think human beings ever came through such a month as we have come through,” Scott wrote in his diary’s final pages. The team knew they were within 18km (11 miles) of the last food depot, with the supplies that could have saved them. But they were confined to a tent for days, growing weaker, trapped by a fierce blizzard.


“They were prepared to risk their lives and they saw that as legitimate. You can view that as part of a mindset of imperial masculinity, tied up with enduring hardship and hostile environments,” says Jones. “I’m not saying that they had a death wish, but I think that they were willing to die.”


14 October 1965: Jeremy Bailey, David Wild and John Wilson

1965年10月14号:杰里米·贝利(Jeremy Bailey)、怀尔德(David Wild)和威尔逊(John Wilson)

Four men were riding a Muskeg tractor and its sledges near the Heimefront Mountains, to the east of their base at Halley Research Station in East Antarctica, close to the Weddell Sea. The Muskeg was a heavy-duty vehicle designed to haul people and supplies over long distances on the ice. A team of dogs ran behind.

四名男子正开着一辆马斯卡格(Muskeg)拖拉机,并拖着雪橇行进在黑迈弗朗特山脉(Heimefront Mountains)附近,这里位于他们在东南极洲(East Antarctica)哈雷研究站(Halley Research Station)基地的东面,靠近威德尔海(Weddell Sea)。这辆马斯卡格是一部结实的交通工具,用于冰面上人和物资的长距离运输。雪橇犬队则在后面奔跑紧跟。

Three of the men were in the cab. The fourth, John Ross, sat behind on the sledge at the back, close to the huskies. Jeremy (Jerry) Bailey, a scientist measuring the depth of the ice beneath the tractor, was driving. He and David (Dai) Wild, a surveyor, and John Wilson, a doctor, were scanning the ice ahead. Snow obscured much of the small, flat windscreen. The group had been travelling all day, taking turns to warm up in the cab or sit out back on the sledge.

他们当中有三个人在驾驶室里。还有一人是罗斯(John Ross),他坐在车后面的雪橇上,离哈士奇雪橇犬很近。贝利是一位科学家,他测量拖拉机下面冰层的厚度,车辆由他驾驶。他和测量员怀尔德以及医生威尔逊扫描着前方的冰面体。又小又平的挡风玻璃一大部分被雪花模糊了。四人小组行进了一整天,轮流在驾驶室暖身或坐回到后面的雪橇上吹冷风。

Ross was staring out at the vast ice, snow and Stella Group mountains. At about 8:30, the dogs alongside the sledge stopped running. The sledge had ground to a halt.

罗斯盯着沿途巨大的冰体、大雪以及斯特拉群山(Stella Group mountains)。八点半左右,在雪橇两旁奔驰的犬队突然停止奔跑。雪橇停了下来。

Ross, muffled with a balaclava and two anoraks, had heard nothing. He turned to see that the Muskeg was gone. Ahead, the first sledge was leaning down into the ice. Ross ran up to it to find it had wedged in the top of a large crevasse running directly across their course. The Muskeg itself had fallen about 30m (100ft) into the crevasse. Down below, its tracks were wedged vertically against one ice wall, and the cab had been flattened hard against the other.


Ross shouted down. There was no reply from the three men in the cab. After about 20 minutes of shouting, Ross heard a reply. The exchange, as he recorded it from memory soon after the event, was brief:


Ross: Dai?


Bailey: Dai’s dead. It’s me.


Ross: Is that John or Jerry?


Bailey: Jerry.


Ross: How is John?


Bailey: He’s a goner, mate.


Ross: What about yourself?


Bailey: I’m all smashed up.


Ross: Can you move about at all or tie a rope round yourself?


Bailey: I’m all smashed up.


Ross tried climbing down into the crevasse, but the descent was difficult. Bailey told him not to risk it, but Ross tried anyway. After several attempts, Bailey stopped responding to Ross’s calls. Ross heard a scream from the crevasse. After that, Bailey didn’t respond.


Crevasses – deep clefts in the ice stretching down hundreds of feet – are serious threats while travelling across the Antarctic. On 14 October 1965, there had been strong winds kicking up drifts and spreading snow far over the landscape, according to reports on the accident held at the British Antarctic Survey archives. This concealed the top of the chasms, and crucially, the thin blue line in the ice ahead of each drop that would have warned the men to stop.

冰隙,冰川中的断层,是往往向下伸展数百英尺很深的裂缝,这是南极洲行路途中最可怕的危险。英国南极调查局(British Antarctic Survey)的档案对于这次事故的报告显示,1965年10月14号这一天,有强风将积雪吹起,掩盖了大范围的冰面,从而也掩盖了冰隙露在冰面的裂缝,而这条细长的冰隙蓝线攸关生死,因为每次下坡之前,看见这道蓝线会提醒人们要停下来,小心跨越。

“You can imagine – there’s a bit of drift about, and there’s bits of ice on the windscreen, your fingers are bloody cold, and you think it’s about time to stop anyway,” says Rod Rhys Jones, one of the expedition party who had not gone on that trip with the Muskeg. He points to the crevassed area the Muskeg had been driving over, on a map of the continent spread over his coffee table, littered with books on the Antarctic.

罗德·里斯·琼斯(Rod Rhys Jones)是那次探险队的一员,但他没有参加那次马斯卡格行程。他说:“你可以想象,那时正在飘雪,挡风玻璃上有一块块的冰,你的手指冷得没办法,你认为无论如何是时候停下来了。”他指着自己咖啡桌上一张铺开的南极洲地图上马斯卡格曾经驶过的冰隙区域,桌上还杂乱地放着一些讲南极洲的书籍。

“You’re driving along over the ice and thumping and bumping and banging. You don’t see the little blue line.”


Jones questions whether the team had been given adequate training for the hazards of travel in Antarctica. They were young men, mostly fresh out of university. Many of them had little experience in harsh physical conditions. Much of their time preparing for life in Antarctica was spent learning to use the scientific equipment they would need, not training them in how to avoid accidents on the ice.


Each accident in Antarctica has slowly led to changes in the way people travelled and were trained. Reports filed after the incident recommended several ways to make travel through crevassed regions safer, from adapting the vehicle, to new ways to hitch them together.


August 1982: Ambrose Morgan, Kevin Ockleton and John Coll

1982年8月:摩根(Ambrose Morgan)、奥克尔顿(Kevin Ockleton)和科尔(John Coll)

The three men set out over the ice for an expedition to a nearby island in the depths of the Antarctic winter.


The sea ice was firm, and they made it easily to Petermann Island. The southern aurora was visible in the sky, unusually bright and strong enough to wipe out communications. The team reached the island safely and camped out at a hut near the shore.

海冰很结实,他们轻而易举地来到了彼得曼岛(Petermann Island)。南极光在天际清晰可见,异常明亮,强度之高足以令通讯中断。一行人安全上岛,在海岸附近的一个木屋里安营扎寨。

Soon after reaching the shore, a large storm blew in that, by the next day, entirely destroyed the sea ice. The group was stranded, but concern among the party was low. There was enough food in the hut to last three people more than a month.


In the next few days, the sea ice failed to reform as storms swept and disrupted the ice in the channel.


There were no books or papers in the hut, and contact with the outside world was limited to scheduled radio transmissions to the base. Soon, it had been two weeks. The transmissions were kept brief, as the batteries in their radios were getting weaker and weaker. The team grew restless. Gentoo and Adelie penguins surrounded the hut. They might have looked endearing, but their smell soon began to bother the men.


Things got worse. The team got diarrhoea, as it turned out some of the food in the hut was much older than they had thought. The stench of the penguins didn’t make them feel any better. They killed and ate a few to boost their supplies.


The men waited with increasing frustration, complaining of boredom on their radio transmissions to base. On Friday 13 August 1982, they were seen through a telescope, waving back to the main base. Radio batteries were running low. The sea ice had reformed again, providing a tantalising hope for escape.


Two days later, on Sunday 15 August, the group didn’t check in on the radio at the scheduled time. Then another large storm blew in.


The men at the base climbed up to a high point where they could see the island. All the sea ice was gone again, taken out by the storm.


“These guys had done something which we all did – go out on a little trip to the island,” says Pete Salino, who had been on the main base at the time. The three men were never seen again.

萨利诺(Pete Salino)当时就在主基地。他说:“这几个小伙子做了我们大家都做过的事情,去岛上来个小型旅游。”但他们从此再也未能见到这三个年轻人。

There were very strong currents around the island. Reliable, thick ice formed relatively rarely, Salino recalls. The way they tested whether the ice would hold them was primitive – they would whack it with a wooden stick tipped with metal to see if it would smash.


Even after an extensive search, the bodies were never found. Salino suspects the men went out onto the ice when it reformed and either got stuck or weren’t able to turn back when the storm blew in.


“It does sound mad now, sitting in a cosy room in Surrey,” Salino says. “When we used to go out, there was always a risk of falling through, but you’d always go prepared. We’d always have spare clothing in a sealed bag. We all accepted the risk and felt that it could have been any of us.”


Legacy of death


For those who experience the loss of colleagues and friends in Antarctica, grieving can be uniquely difficult. When a friend disappears or a body cannot be recovered, the typical human rituals of death – a burial, a last goodbye – elude those left behind.


Clifford Shelley, a British geophysicist based at Argentine Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula in the late 1970s, lost friends who were climbing the nearby peak Mount Peary in 1976. It was thought that those men – Geoffrey Hargreaves, Michael Walker and Graham Whitfield – were trapped in an avalanche. Signs of their camp were found by an air search, but their bodies were never recovered.

谢力(Clifford Shelley)是一位英国地球物理学家,他于20世纪70年代后期一直在靠近南极半岛海岸的阿根廷群岛(Argentine Islands)的科学基地工作。他在1976年失去了几位朋友,他们当时正在攀登附近的佩里山(Mount Peary)山峰。人们认为那几名男子—哈格里夫斯(Geoffrey Hargreaves)、沃克(Michael Walker)和惠特菲尔德(Graham Whitfield)遭遇到雪崩。他们宿营的遗迹被一次空中搜救发现,然而他们的遗体却一直没能找回。

“You just wait and wait, but there’s nothing. Then you just sort of lose hope,” Shelley says.


Even when the body is recovered, the demanding nature of life and work on Antarctica can make it a hard place to grieve. Ron Pinder, a radio operator in the South Orkneys in the late 1950s and early 1960s, still mourns someone who slipped from a cliff on Signy Island while tagging birds in 1961. The body of his friend, Roger Filer, was found at the foot of a 20ft (6m) cliff below the nests where he was thought to have been tagging birds. His body was buried on the island.

即使当遗体被找到,在南极洲生活和工作的严苛条件都使得悲伤之情也难以表达。平德(Ron Pinder)是20世纪50年代后期及60年代初期在南奥克尼群岛(South Orkneys)工作的一名无线电操作员。他至今仍然为1961年一位在西格尼岛(Signy Island)为鸟类做标记时从悬崖边坠下的朋友感到悲痛。他的朋友法勒(Roger Filer)的遗体在鸟巢下面20英尺(6米)的悬崖脚下被人发现,人们认为他在那儿一直为鸟类做标记。他的遗体葬在了岛上。

“It is 57 years ago now. It is in the distant past. But it affects me more now than it did then. Life was such that you had to get on with it,” Pinder says.


The same rings true for Shelley. “I don’t think we did really process it,” he says. “It remains at the back of your mind. But it’s certainly a mixed feeling, because Antarctica is superbly beautiful, both during the winter and the summer. It’s the best place to be and we were doing the things we wanted to do.”


These deaths have led to changes in how people work in Antarctica. As a result, the people there today can live more safely on this hazardous, isolated continent. Although terrible incidents still happen, much has been learned from earlier fatalities.


For the friends and families of the dead, there is an ongoing effort to make sure their lost loved ones are not forgotten. Outside the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, UK, two high curved oak pillars lean towards one another, gently touching at the top. It is half of a monument to the dead, erected by the British Antarctic Monument Trust, set up by Rod Rhys Jones and Brian Dorsett-Bailey, Jeremy’s brother, to recognise and honour those who died in Antarctica. The other half of the monument is a long slither of metal leaning slightly towards the sea at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where many of the researchers set off for the last leg of their journey to Antarctica.

对于死者的亲友来说,他们还在不断努力,以确保他们逝去的挚爱不会被世界遗忘。在英国剑桥(Cambridge)的史考特极地研究所外面,两根高高的弧形橡木柱子互相倚靠,两根柱子的顶端相互温柔爱抚。这是向死者致敬的纪念碑的其中一半,由英国南极纪念碑信托基金 (British Antarctic Monument Trust)所立,这一信托基金由罗德·里斯·琼斯和布瑞恩·多塞特·贝利(Brian Dorsett-Bailey)(杰里米之兄)设立,以向那些在南极洲去世的人们致谢并表达敬意。纪念碑的另一半在福克兰群岛(Falkland Islands)的斯坦利港(Port Stanley),是一条向上延伸的金属针状物,对着斯坦利港外的大海微微倾斜。南极研究者中的很多人都从这个港口出发,去完成他们南极洲旅途的最后一段行程。

Viewed from one end so they align, the oak pillars curve away from each other, leaving a long tapering empty space between them. The shape of that void is perfectly filled by the tall steel shard mounted on a plinth on the other side of the world. It is a physical symbol that spans the hemispheres, connecting home with the vast and wild continent that drew these scientists away for the last time.




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