Lizzie Meek, conservation manager for artifacts at the trust, said the cake was well preserved.
LONDON — In one of the most hostile regions to humankind, conservationists for the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust have unearthed an ice-covered fruitcake they believe once belonged to British explorer Robert Falcon Scott.
The age of the fruitcake: 106 years old.
It was in “excellent condition,” a spokeswoman for the trust said.
And it smelled “almost” edible.
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The cake, most likely dating to the Cape Adare-based Northern Party of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910-13), was found in Antarctica’s oldest building, which was built by a Norwegian explorer’s team in 1899, according to the trust.
The dessert, found wrapped in paper and in its original “tin-plated iron alloy tin” container, was made by the British biscuit company Huntley & Palmers. It boasts on a website that its “biscuits were exported all over the world and their tins have turned up in the most unexpected places.”
There is documentation showing that Scott took this particular brand of cake with him on his explorations, said the trust, a nonprofit that is in the business of “inspiring explorers.”
Lizzie Meek, conservation manager for artifacts at the trust, said in a statement that the cake was well preserved.
“There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible,” she said. “There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation.”
Almost 1,500 artifacts were found by a team of four conservationists that had been working at the hut since May 2016. Meek said, “Finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake among them was quite a surprise.”
But why a fruitcake?
“It’s an ideal high-energy food for Antarctic conditions,” she said, “and is still a favorite item on modern-day trips to the ice.”
Meek further explained to National Geographic: “Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today. Living and working in Antarctica tends to lead to a craving for high-fat, high-sugar food, and fruitcake fits the bill nicely, not to mention going very well with a cup of tea.”
The team finished part of the conservation project in July, the trust said. Some of the other artifacts found: tools, clothing and what Meek described as “badly deteriorated” meat and fish and “rather nice-looking” jams.
The next phase will be conservation work on the buildings at Cape Adare, the first in Antarctica and the only examples left of humanity’s first building on any continent, the trust says.
Everything found will be restored and returned to its original resting place, in accordance with the site’s status as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area.
In an emailed statement from the trust on Sunday, Jo Scott said: “Because the cake was one of nearly 1,500 artifacts removed from Antarctica’s first building, there are very strict rules around its handling, and it is now being stored carefully before it is returned to the hut (once the building is restored).”