Studies of cultural heritage relics on Heard Island aim to reconstruct the history of 19th century sealing activities on the island and the stories of the sealers who lived and worked there.
During the 2003/04 summer a survey was undertaken in the coastal ice-free areas between Fairchild Beach, in the northeast and Long Beach in the south, where intensive sealing operations occurred between 1855 and 1877.
This survey complemented similar efforts at Atlas Cove in 2000/01, and built upon earlier records of sealing relics such as historical photographs from 1947–87, earlier archaeological surveys from the mid 1980s, and published and unpublished field notes from previous expeditions.
Several hundred sealing relics were located, ranging from shards of pottery to the foundations of cobble stone houses. Their locations were recorded using a global positioning system (GPS), and photographs were taken in situ, to supplement the GPS data and field notes.
One of the more significant findings was the rediscovery of a sealers’ cemetery on the vegetated slopes overlooking Doppler Hill, and a seal processing facility on Sealers Beach. The cemetery had been discovered in 1987–88 but not mapped accurately at the time. It consists of four relatively prominent headboards, the tops of which can can now barely be seen over the surrounding vegetation.
Ruins of two sealers’ huts at Capsize Beach on the southeast coast, reported by a private expedition in 1965 were re-located. Numerous relics and fragments were found, including parts of machinery and tools associated with the sealers’ work. Fragments of cast iron were also discovered at Fairchild Beach, providing the first evidence of sealing activity in the area.