Franklin voy­age se­crets ready to be re­vealed

RE­SEARCH TEAM PRE­PAR­ING FOR HIS­TORIC EX­CA­VA­TIONS

The London Free Press - - CANADA - BoB We­Ber in Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut

Atiny dot of fuch­sia bobs livid against the deep blue Arc­tic sea at a GPS point known only to se­lected re­searchers and the few lo­cal hunters who guard it. An­chored some­where in Wil­mot and Cramp­ton Bay off Queen Maud Gulf, the buoy could not be more re­mote. Even the Inuit seem un­cer­tain about what to call the is­lands — mere rock-strewn smudges of sand — that dot these wa­ters. That is about to change. The buoy marks where, 10 me­tres down, Sir John Franklin’s flag­ship the Ere­bus rests on the bot­tom, heav­ing up and down in the un­der­sea swells as if breathing. Its lonely moor­age will soon be home to one of the largest and most com­plex arche­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions Canada has ever mounted. Now, six arche­ol­o­gists camp out on a beach near the site. They dive from a small in­flat­able boat, sub­ject to the va­garies of wind and wave. By this time next year, a ded­i­cated re­search ves­sel big enough to sleep 14 will be moored here. Along­side will be a barge, loaded with ev­ery­thing from ar­ti­fact­clean­ing ta­bles to a hy­per­baric cham­ber for divers if they get into trou­ble. Vac­uum dredges will suck sed­i­ment top­side where work­ers will search it for any­thing from but­tons to mus­ket balls. A hy­draulic crane will lift heavy items. Multibeam sonar will scan the site. Divers, wear­ing suits trail­ing air hoses and com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines and warmed by hot wa­ter pumped from the sur­face, will spend hours comb­ing the wreck. “I’ve never seen a case where ship­wrecks have so much to con­trib­ute to a story,” says Mar­cAn­dre Bernier, head of Parks Canada’s un­der­wa­ter arche­ol­ogy team. The Franklin Ex­pe­di­tion is one of the great le­gends of Arc­tic ex­plo­ration. The Ere­bus and its sis­ter ship the Ter­ror — which lies in deeper wa­ter just to the north in King Wil­liam Is­land’s Ter­ror Bay — set out from Eng­land in 1845 with 129 men to search for the North­west Pas­sage. They never re­turned. A mes­sage found in 1859 by a search ves­sel said both ships were trapped in ice in late 1846 and re­mained so for about 18 months. It added that in April 1848, 105 sur­vivors headed out on foot. None sur­vived. More than 30 ex­pe­di­tions have since tried to find them. A few ar­ti­facts, graves and hor­ri­ble tales of can­ni­bal­ism is all they had to show. In 2008, Parks Canada joined the ef­fort. Us­ing a blend of Inuit oral his­tory and sys­tem­atic, high-tech sur­veys, the Ere­bus was found in 2014 to ex­cited head­lines around the world. Since then, Parks Canada has been work­ing to un­der­stand what’s down there — and what light it could shed on a story that has be­come part of Cana­dian lore. “The de­gree of preser­va­tion is as­ton­ish­ing,” says Charles Dag­neau, one of the arche­ol­o­gists. “Typ­i­cally, we deal with ship­wrecks that are col­lapsed, split open, cov­ered with sed­i­ment. This is a 3D struc­ture so well pre­served that you can ac­tu­ally see fur­ni­ture in place.” The helm re­mains in po­si­tion. The la­trines are still in place. The cook’s gal­ley is there, com­plete with stove. So is the steam en­gine, one of the ear­li­est out­fit­ted for a ship. The wreck is ex­pected to of­fer com­pelling in­sight into the lives of both of­fi­cers and rank-and-file sea­men. “There is, for ex­am­ple, a sea­man’s chest,” says Dag­neau. “They would sit on it, eat on it, but they would also store their per­sonal be­long­ings (in it). One of them is right next to the for­ward lad­der­way. We’re go­ing to look at ex­ca­vat­ing it and retriev­ing its con­tent.” Ice has crushed the deck atop Franklin’s cabin, but the con­tents should re­main. “We’re hop­ing to find many things here — per­sonal ar­ti­facts that re­late to in­di­vid­u­als, but also records, doc­u­ments say­ing what hap­pened to the ex­pe­di­tion af­ter the aban­don­ment of the ves­sel and why these ves­sels were aban­doned and where they were aban­doned.” These will not be anony­mous ar­ti­facts. The names of the ship’s crew are known. Gov­ern­ment of Nu­navut arche­ol­o­gist Doug Sten­ton has al­ready de­vel­oped a DNA data­base of 19 of them and the divers sense their pres­ence. A belt plate has been linked to Daniel Bryant, sergeant of the Royal Marines. A boot has sur­faced, well­made and dec­o­rated with seal fur. Traces of skin in­side re­tain enough DNA to be iden­ti­fied. “That ar­ti­fact in par­tic­u­lar was, for me, won­der­ful,” Dag­neau says. “I felt like I was ex­ca­vat­ing the wardrobe of one of the of­fi­cers on board.” Where ob­jects are found could also shed light on in­ter­ac­tions with Inuit. A pile of un­re­lated ob­jects found to­gether may sug­gest hunters were scav­eng­ing use­ful items be­fore the Ere­bus sank. A to­tal of 64 ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing the ship’s bell, have al­ready been re­cov­ered. Many are now on dis­play at the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum in Lon­don. Their ul­ti­mate fate is in dis­pute. As a war­ship, the Ere­bus and its con­tents re­main the prop­erty of the Royal Navy. The United King­dom, how­ever, has granted Canada “care and cus­tody.” Nu­navut has its own claim, point­ing to a clause in its land claim giv­ing it own­er­ship of arche­o­log­i­cal sites within its bound­aries. The mat­ter is un­der dis­cus­sion by the Franklin In­terim Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Nu­navut, Ot­tawa and the near­est com­mu­ni­ties. “Govern­ments used to take ar­ti­facts and sim­ply tell the side of the story that they wanted to tell,” says Parks Canada CEO Daniel Wat­son. "This ap­proach is to make sure that the Inuit, who’ve been part of this story for longer than those of us in south­ern Canada, are able to make sure that story’s told. “The sto­ries around ar­ti­facts, what hap­pens with the ar­ti­facts, that’ll all be part of the con­ver­sa­tions with the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee.” Mean­while, the site is watched by four Inuit guardians who, from their camp be­side the arche­ol­o­gists, are able to spot any in­trud­ers. The RCMP, Trans­port Canada and the Cana­dian Coast Guard also keep an eye out — as does Na­tional De­fence from satel­lite mon­i­tors. “The like­li­hood of a large ship mak­ing its way to this area un­ob­served is small,” Wat­son said. “And it’s a long way out. Any­body who is com­ing in will have been ob­served. The sys­tem as a whole has a good sense of who is com­ing into this area and who’s leav­ing the area.” The study of the Ere­bus is just be­gin­ning. Its lo­ca­tion — much fur­ther south than it could pos­si­bly have drifted in sea ice — has al­ready raised ques­tions of whether the ship was re­manned af­ter be­ing aban­doned. The real fun is about to be­gin, says arche­ol­o­gist and pro­ject man­ager Ryan Har­ris. “The next step is tar­geted ex­ca­va­tion, and that’s the ex­cit­ing bit for an arche­ol­o­gist.” From be­neath the icy waves, more than 170 years af­ter the mys­tery was born, science and Inuit his­tory are about to res­ur­rect what may be the most we’ll ever know about a story that po­ets, nov­el­ists and artists have al­ready turned into myth. “What ex­cites me is the an­thro­pol­ogy of these ships, the lives of these men as they went through what must have been a ter­ri­ble cou­ple of years,” Har­ris says. “In these two ship­wrecks that pre­serve so much of the crew’s spa­ces in­side, we’re af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to study the lives of these men — in ex­tremis — as they stared over the precipice.”

TYP­I­CALLY, WE DEAL WITH SHIP­WRECKS THAT ARE COL­LAPSED, SPLIT OPEN, COV­ERED WITH SED­I­MENT. THIS IS A 3D STRUC­TURE SO WELL PRE­SERVED THAT YOU CAN AC­TU­ALLY SEE FUR­NI­TURE IN PLACE. — CHARLES DAG­NEAU, ARCHE­OL­O­GIST

JA­SON FRAN­SON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Is­lands on the coast of the Ade­laide Penin­sula near Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut. By this time next year, a ded­i­cated re­search ves­sel will be moored nearby, devoted to the ex­ca­va­tion of John Franklin’s flag­ship the Ere­bus, which will be one of the largest arche­o­log­i­cal un­der­tak­ings in Cana­dian his­tory.

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