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Arctic Explorers Uncover (and Eat) 60-Year-Old Food Stash

Tins of jam and crackers hidden in Greenland’s Arctic desert made for a delicious surprise

(Leif Skoogfors/CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

While exploring the coldest parts of the planet, even the smallest snacks can be a lifesaver. In case of emergencies (or sometimes to for a future treat), polar explorers will leave caches of food and supplies along their return route. But they don't always make it back to retrieve them. Recently, a teams of researchers camped out in Greenland’s arctic desert discovered one such cache—ration tins left behind by an expedition about 60 years ago.

The team was camping by Centrum Sø Lake in northeast Greenland while they explored a local cave system. Their work done, the group started their trek back to base camp. As they tromped across the desolate landscape, they noticed a small pile of unopened cans, each stamped with "combat ration individual" across the side with the dates "09-55” or “09-60,” Caroline Santinelli writes for National Geographic.

“It’s a nice thing in Greenland … there’s no rubbish because, of course, there’s nobody there,” expedition member Chris Blakeley tells Santinelli. “So to see a couple of rusty tins was a bit of a surprise.”

Blakeley had discovered army rations likely left behind in the 1960's by the team that discovered Centrum Sø Lake, an expedition led by William E. Davies of the Military Geology Branch and Daniel B. Krinsley of the U.S. Geological Survey, writes Santinelli. Krinsley’s later writings suggest that their base camp wasn’t too far from the new expedition.

When the team opened the cans, they found perfectly preserved meals of crackers, jam, cocoa powder, meatballs and beans. The hungry explorers weren't turning down food—even 60-year old treats—and brought it all back to their camp. 

They tasted and savored every piece of their find, even the 60-year old meat.

“It was funny actually,” expedition leader Gina Moseley tells Santinelli. “We had kilograms of porridge back at basecamp, so we were eating a lot of it—just dried milk powder and porridge. It was nice, but we were thinking ‘some jam would be really nice right now.’” 

The extreme cold and dry weather at the Earth’s poles can help preserve a host of relics from old expeditions. Earlier this year, conservators finished restoring huts left behind by in the early 1900's by Antarctic explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott. While the huts themselves were damaged by seepage and harsh weather, restoration workers uncovered newspapers, tins of food and even bottles of whiskey dating back to Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod expedition, Christine Dell'Amore writes for National Geographic.

These days, most explorers can only walk in the shoes of their predecessors; only rarely do they actually get to taste what it was like.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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