Abandoned infrastructures from Arctic science as cultural heritage – the Sorgfjorden project

In July 2017, researchers from REXSAC together with collaborators from other research environments at KTH, NTNU & UNIS, conducted historical-archaeological field work at Svalbard, funded by Svalbards Miljövernfond and with logistical support from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat. The aim of the project was to do a complete documentation of the material remains left behind by the Russian-Swedish Arc of the Meridian Expeditions (1898-1902) in the region of Sorgfjorden, North-east Spitsbergen, Svalbard. In order to test the hypothesis that the earth flattens closer to the poles, the arc of meridian expedition built a large research station at Sorgfjorden as well as a vast infrastructure of telephone lines, measuring points, base lines and mountain top cairns for triangulation. The expedition left all of this behind when their work was concluded and over the 20th century it was left to decay. Today however, the remains of their activities are gaining a new value – as cultural heritage. As the coal mines on Svalbard are closing down, state and business actors are looking for new economies and activities that could sustain the settlements there. Tourism and scientific research are the most important ones and historical remains such as the ones at Sorgfjorden can be turned into a resource for these activities.

In the Sorgfjorden project we are exploring the afterlife of the arc of meridian expedition infrastructures as an example of how material remains of past activities have been re-used for new purposes, through heritage processes, politics of memory and tourism, or other forms of practical purposes such as building materials for the hunting industry during the 20th century. The project also aims to develop new methods for historical-archaeological field-work in the polar regions and other areas in the world with similar environmental and geographical challenges. Last but not least, the Sorgfjorden project will deliver a high quality archaeological report on the current state of the Sorgfjorden sites to the governor of Svalbard (Sysselmannen).

Read the expedition blog here: Sorgfjordenprojektet


About Author

Dag Avango Dag Avango

Luleå University of Technology

E-mail: dag.avango@ltu.se