In 1985, a unique skull was discovered lying on Yamana Beach at Cape Shirreff in Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. It belonged to an indigenous woman from southern Chile in her early 20s, thought to have died between 1819 and 1825. It was the oldest known human remains ever found in Antarctica.
1985年，在南极洲南设得兰群岛（South Shetland Islands）希里夫角（Cape Shirreff）的雅玛那海滩（Yamana Beach）上发现了一具独特的颅骨。这具颅骨是一个智利南部二十岁出头的原住民女性的遗骸，死亡时间被认定在1819年到1825年之间。这是迄今为止在南极洲发现的最古老的人类遗骸。
The location of the discovered skull was unexpected. It was found at a beach camp made by sealers in the early 19th Century near remnants of her femur bone, yet female sealers were unheard of at the time. There are no surviving documents explaining how or why a young woman came to be in Antarctica during this era. Now, at nearly 200 years old, the skull is thought to align with the beginning of the first known landings on Antarctica.
The Yamana Beach skull was a significant find – and not just for archaeological reasons. In 30 years’ time, bones such as these may come into play in territorial claims for this pristine wilderness. Nations are quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – preparing to stake their rights as the owners of swathes of the nearly uninhabitable land.
"Lots of people just don't understand that there's a darker side to Antarctica," says Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway University of London. "What we're seeing is great power politics play out in a space that a lot of people think of as just frozen wastes."
伦敦皇家霍洛威学院（Royal Holloway University of London）地缘政治学教授多兹（Klaus Dodds）表示：“很多人都不明白南极洲有更黑暗的一面。我们所看到的是在这片被大多数人视为冰冻废墟的土地上，强权政治在互相较量。”
The Antarctic Treaty System was first signed in 1959 but, in 1998 a protocol on environmental protection was added. It states that Antarctica is to be a "natural reserve, devoted to peace and science," and prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except as is necessary for scientific research. But this is not set in stone forever.
南极条约体系（Antarctic Treaty System）最早是1959年签订的，但在1998年又加入了一项关于环境保护的协议。条约申明，南极洲是一个为和平与科学服务的自然保护区，除非必要的科学研究，禁止开展任何涉及南极洲矿产资源的活动。但是这并不是一项永久协议。
In 2048 – 50 years after the protocol was created – this part of the treaty could come under review. That is the date when the prohibition on mining and resource extraction could – and it's a big could – be altered or done away with.
"The reason 2048 looms large is because if certain countries feel that the prohibition on mineral exploitation is no longer to be respected, people worry that the whole thing could unravel," says Dodds. "Environmental protection is one of the key headlines of the treaty."
Seven nations laid overlapping claims on Antarctic land when the treaty was adopted: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK. The treaty held all these claims in place and prohibited any new ones from being established. The treaty also puts any expansions to territorial claims to Antarctica on hold – officially.
"The claimant states, in a sense, keep their claims in a box, if you like, with a lid on it. But that box will never be thrown away," says Jill Barrett, an international law consultant and visiting reader in international law at Queen Mary University of London.
伦敦玛丽王后大学（Queen Mary University of London）的国际法顾问兼访问读者巴雷特（Jill Barrett）说：“在某种意义上，这些有领土要求的国家把他们的要求放在了一个盒子里，如果你喜欢，还可以加个盖子在上面。但是这个盒子永远都在那里。”
Many nations, however, are engaging in 'doublethink' about this part of the agreement, says Dodds. "The big players, usually China and Russia, are thinking about this particular episode around 2048 and planning ahead."
As a result, many countries are sending feelers out to Antarctica in a number of ways, such as financing scientific research, historical investigation, and building research bases far and wide around the continent. "It's a very clear message to the wider world: we're in the whole space," says Dodds.
Archaeology is one of the most important activities, says Michael Pearson, an Antarctic heritage consultant and former deputy executive director of the Australian Heritage Commission. "It establishes an interest, if not a stake, in future discussions about territorial claims or commercial exploitation."
南极文化遗产顾问兼前澳大利亚文化遗产委员会（Australian Heritage Commission）副总监皮尔逊（Michael Pearson）说，考古是南极大陆上最重要的一项活动。“在未来关于领土主张或者商业开发的讨论中，即便不是一份子，由于考古也确立了自己的利益所在。”
While archaeological finds like the discovery of the Yamana Beach skull carry no legal weight – the woman was more likely to have been a sealer than an official – they might just challenge the known timeline of the continent’s history. If Chile can demonstrate that it had people living in Antarctica earlier than other nations staking land claims, then they have a stronger hand in negotiations.
Archaeological discoveries can also boost political support for a case back home. "When remains or objects are found in the ice, I could see straight away it would inflate territorial nationalism," says Dodds. "Archaeology has always been really important for national politics."
Other events, such as historic shipwrecks, could play a similar role as the Yamana skull. In 1819, the Spanish frigate San Telmo was wrecked in the Drake Passage, which separates the tip of Chile from the Antarctic Peninsula. Archaeologists have searched the Antarctic islands for signs of whether any crew made it alive to the shore.
其他事件，如历史沉船，也和雅玛那颅骨一样扮演同样的角色。1819年，一艘西班牙巡航舰圣特尔莫号（San Telmo）在分隔智利尖端和南极半岛的德雷克海峡（Drake Passage）遇难。考古学家一直在南极群岛上搜寻是否有任何船员活着上岸的痕迹。
"Shipwreck remains were found there washed up on the South Shetlands," says Pearson. "Quite possibly some of the crew survived on the floating wreckage." If there were survivors, they would have beaten the British to be the first in Antarctica.
The upside of all this attention is that a single nation’s investment in archaeology can reveal artefacts and remains that can enlighten the whole world – discoveries that might never otherwise have been found. "The underlying nationalistic ambitions of countries, be they overtly expressed or covert motivations, can be beneficial," says Pearson. "They provide funding and logistical support to carry out archaeological research, which is otherwise very hard to get."
For the Chilean woman whose skull was found on Yamana Beach, the most likely conclusion is that she was caught up somehow in a sealing mission to Antarctica. She may have drowned or died of exposure on the shore. But her bones remain among the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Antarctica. And they are now part of a much bigger picture of soft power and national pride, in the context of the political long-game of laying claim to the frozen continent.