The golden age of discovery and exploration may be over, but the relics of heroic adventures stretch to the most remote corners of the world. There they remain, largely cut off from human interference, victims only of time and the elements. Here are five amazing places that our ancestors visited, and in some instances remained.
The Stilt Village of Ukivok
The abandoned village of Ukivok clings precariously to the edge of a cliff in one of the most bleak and inhospitable corners of the world. Located on King Island in the Bering Sea, Ukivok became abandoned around 1970 when the last settlers moved to the Alaskan mainland. The island, forty miles west of Cape Douglas, was once the winter home of around 200 Inupiat people.
King Island was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778. In 2005 and 2006 the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a research project enabling some King Island natives to return home, many for the first time in 50 years. The National Trust for Historic Preservation lists King Island as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, with efforts being made the protect the historic settlements against the tumultuous weather conditions of the region. Read our full feature on the stilt village of Ukivok.
Punuk Islands: “The Graveyard of the Bering Sea”
There’s something chilling about an island which is also a natural “graveyard” – especially when washed-up articles include human remains. The Punuk Islands were charted using their Yupik name, obtained by Captain M. D. Tebenkov of the Imperial Russian Navy in 1849. They are also known by the names “Pinik Islands” and “Poongook Islands”. Home to seabirds and walruses, the islands also host native Tundra Voles, part of an endemic subspecies, in addition to the grisly remains.
The Punuk Islands include three small islets located east of St Lawrence Island (inset, above). The strong currents of the Bering Sea have transported all manner of debris there – including bones, hence the eerie nickname. Once upon a time, the broken human skulls (above) belonged to real people, but who they were and how they died will forever remain a mystery. It is intriguing that two skulls should appear side by side on more than one occasion (assuming they remained untouched). Could the fate of these individuals be somehow intertwined? Read more in our Punuk Islands feature.
Deception Island lies among the South Shetland Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula (below). It has one of the safest harbours in Antarctica, Whalers Bay, serving as a welcome refuge from storms and icebergs since the early 19th century. During that time the island was used by sealers, whose huts and rusting oil tanks are still extant today. The Norwegian-Chilean Whaling Company began using Whalers Bay as a base for factory ships and had 13 vessels based there by 1914. The site was abandoned in 1931 after the Great Depression crushed the whale oil market.
A former British base with a derelict hangar stands nearby. Until 2004, the a De Havilland Canada Otter aircraft rested outside the hangar, its markings still visible after 40 years of abandonment. Now in Grimsby, UK, it will become the centre-piece of an exhibition celebrating the world-class scientific achievements of the British Antarctic Survey. The British scientific station building, Biscoe House, was severely damaged by mudflows after the eruptions of 1967 and 1969, which hampered any chance of establishing a permanent base on the island.
As of 2000, the only two scientific stations still in use (summer only) belonged to Spain and Argentina. The only humans still permanently located here are the 45 residents of the Norwegian-Chilean station’s cemetery, which was buried in the eruption of 1969 (pictured before the event). The only signs pointing the way to their nearby graves are the rusting tanks and boilers the survivors left behind. Read more in our feature article on Deception Island.
South Georgia Island
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South Georgia Island, a British Overseas Territory, emerges from the ocean just north of Antarctica. With no native population, it’s little wonder the island’s abandoned settlements and ships remain as they were when the last whalers moved out. In 1775 explorer Captain James Cook circumnavigated the island, naming it “the Isle of Georgia” in honour of King George III. To this day, the only inhabitants are the British Government Officer, Deputy Postmaster, scientists and support staff from the British Antarctic Survey.
The old Norwegian whaling station at Grytviken, operated under leases granted by the British Govenor of the Falkland Islands, was founded in 1904 and finally abandoned in 1965. The station today is essentially unchanged, with its original whale oil tanks and docked fishing vessels rusting beneath the elusive Antarctic sun. More great photographs here.
The grave of legendary British explorer Ernest Shackleton can be found at Grytviken. Fate caught up with Shackleton in January 1922, after his successful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1916. He died onboard ship near South Georgia. His body was taken ashore by his crew and buried in this distant corner of the world – a fitting end for the celebrated adventurer. Find out more in our article covering South Georgia Island.
Scott’s Hut, Ross Island
Named after the legendary “Scott of the Antarctic”, Scott’s Hut is located on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross Island in Antarctica. It was built in 1911 by the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910–1913 (Terra Nova Expedition) led by Robert Falcon Scott. Insulation for the 50 feet long hut was provided by seaweed sewn into a quilt, placed between double-planked inner and outer walls. Ironically, Terra Nova expeditioners described the hut as being warm to the point of uncomfortable. During the winter of 1911, 25 men lived in the hut, from where Scott set out on his fatal trek to the South Pole.
The hut was reused from 1915-1917 by several of Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party who had become marooned. In January 1917, after the survivors were rescued, the hut was vacated and remained untouched until 1956 when U.S. expeditioners dug it out of the ice. The hut and its contents are remarkably well preserved today. It’s incredible to think that much of what still remains inside was used by the great explorers of the early twentieth century, and has remained untouched since Shackleton bolted the door more than 90 years ago.
To discover more amazing historic sites around the world, check out Atlas Obscura, a compendium of the world’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica.
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