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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stolen Artifacts Are Returned To Antarctica After 40 Years

SCOTT BASE, Antarctica - Artifacts stolen from a hut used by a famous South Pole explorer were brought back to the Antarctic today, more than 40 years after they disappeared from their home.

British Environment Minister Michael Meacher, one of 24 officials visiting the frozen continent this week, returned the items to Cape Evans, where the hut of English explorer Robert F. Scott stands as a symbol of his daring journey.

The items - a dog harness, a coat hook and a lantern - were taken in 1957 by a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot who was working in the region. "We heard about these goods just before they were to be sold at Christie's and prevailed upon the owner to hand them over," said Meacher. He gave the items to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Meacher and the other officials toured a number of sites in Antarctica today, including the hut used by Scott, who died in an unsuccessful attempt to become the first man to reach the South Pole. Although Scott and his party reached the pole on Jan. 17, 1912, they were 33 days behind Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Scott and his team died in blizzards on their return journey.

At the hut, Scott's sleeping bag remains on his bunk, as if he had just left it, and a stuffed emperor penguin is stretched out on his desk for examination. On the porch of the hut stands a box of penguin eggs and piles of seal blubber.

Outside the carefully preserved building, the freeze-dried carcass of a sled dog remains chained to the back door, where it was left behind by Scott and his men.

Over the years "hundreds if not thousands of items" have been taken from expedition huts that are preserved in the region, said Stuart Prior of New Zealand's Antarctic Policy Unit. Prior said a "trickle" of them are now being returned.

During their visit, the 24 officials will discuss a slew of problems that the Antarctic faces, including environmental hazards, fishing disputes and a recent tourist boom that threatens its status as one of the most unspoiled places on earth.

Under the Antarctic Treaty, the frozen continent is the only one in the world devoted to peace and science.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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