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Exhibition ‘Spitsbergen 79’ at the University Museum

A sensational summer at the North Pole
28 November 2019

On 7 December the Mayor of Groningen Koen Schuiling opened the ‘Spitsbergen 79’ exhibition at the University Museum of the University of Groningen. Through the work of photographer Ben Bekooy, you can travel along with the UG’s first archaeological expedition to Spitsbergen. In the summer of 1979, a team of researchers – under the leadership of the then still young archaeologist Louwrens Hacquebord – studied the living and working conditions of Dutch whalers in the seventeenth century.

The research team focused on the Smeerenburg settlement on the island of Spitsbergen that, not completely by chance, lies 79 degrees north. Over the course of the 1970s, archaeological material was under threat of being lost. Some of it was being washed away and some was even being taken home by tourists. For the UG, this was a good reason to organize a scientific expedition and to conduct research into the unique cultural-historical heritage of the Netherlands at the edge of the North Pole.

Polar bears

One of the expedition members was photographer Ben Bekooy. In the exhibition, countless photos that have never been shown before will be on display. They portray the adversities and the severe circumstances that the researchers had to face during the six sensational summer weeks of 1979: from problematic transport, sudden, raging snowstorms to the threat of polar bears and quickly diminishing food supplies. In spite of all of the adversities, the expedition delivered many new insights into the history of Dutch whaling. The exhibition will be enlivened with some of the original material that the researchers brought back from their expedition.

Under threat

In the exhibition, attention will also be paid to the other human activities that endanger Spitsbergen. Besides overexploitation, climate change is one of the biggest problems that the polar regions are facing. The exhibition curators have highlighted the consequences of this on the basis of current research by the Arctic Centre of the UG. The centre has organized various other expeditions to Spitsbergen, attended by scientists and, later on, by policymakers and tourists too. Another scientific ‘SEES’ expedition is planned for August 2020. The researchers will then be able to build upon the work and experiences of the expedition members in 1979.

This special journey can also be experienced by the public, in the special photo exhibition ‘Spitsbergen 79’, on display from 8 December until 1 March 2020 at the University Museum.

Last modified:03 September 2021 2.34 p.m.
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