Saturday, May 13, 2017

Franklin sessions at the CAA

Parks Canada's Marc-André Bernier (photo by R. Tacichman)
Yesterday was a real treat for those attending this year's meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association -- a full day of papers from both land-based and underwater experts giving background as well as the latest discoveries in their collective work on the fate of the Franklin expedition. The speaker's list offers a who's who of the foremost archaeologists in this field: Ryan Harris, Marc-André Bernier, Anne Keenleyside, Doug Stenton, and Robert Park -- along with several of the conservators and curators who are working with the recovered objects. Karen Ryan, the lead curator of the large exhibit which will open this July at the National Maritime in Greenwich, and arrive in 2018 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, was joined by Claire Champ, Danielle Goyer, and Kerry McMaster in a joint preview of the exhibit, which -- at 6,500 square feet -- will be the largest one of Franklin-related materials in more than a century, and the first to feature newly-recovered relics. Perhaps just as notable was the presence of David C. Woodman in the audience, since his work on the historical Inuit testimony was in many ways the key that unlocked these previously hidden histories.

There were a number of significant updates and revelations -- here are just a few highlights:

• Although an anchor cable seen stretching out from HMS "Terror" was once thought to be evidence that it had been anchored at the site, it appears that this anchor is still aboard ship; the cable had simply played out from the windlass. Parks was able to get some quite good imagery via ROVs and early spring dives through the ice.

• The propellor compartment on Terror was filled with a wooden block, so the propellor was not deployed -- making the presence of what's been thought to be the exhaust pipe of the steam engine still more of a puzzle.

• A previously unidentified object in the vicinity of Terror has been identified as a ship's cutter boat with chinker construction. Oars on top of the port side ice channels were noted; she was 23 feet long.

• The first focus of work involving the recovery of objects may well be HMS "Erebus," due to the fragile condition of the wreck and its vulnerability to currents or passing ice in its shallow resting place. Already, much of the upper and lower decks have collapsed onto the bottom.

• Jonathan Moore stated that there was as yet no evidence of Inuit scavenging of HMS "Erebus."

• Charles Dagneau showed images of graffiti and cut-marks on plates, possibly marks of ownership similar to those found on silverware. Based on an initial assessment of this evidence, the officers and sailors seem to have interacted more closely than might otherwise have been imagined.

• As they've said all along, the Parks Canada team feels that there's a very good chance of recovering written documents. A key question will be to establish a timeline -- which ship was manned (if indeed both were), and which abandoned first, and how and when were they connected to sites on land?

• In terms of archaeological work on land, Doug Stenton is still hoping to identify the location of the "Tent Place" at Terror Bay, now that we know where Terror is.

• Anne Keenleyside gave a presentation on her work (with Stenton and Park) on DNA recovered from  the bones of Franklin expedition members. As has been noted here and elsewhere, the most significant revelation of this study has been that a much higher number of individuals met their end at Erebus Bay than had previously been thought.

We live in exciting times.


  1. After the work this April, there is no evidence yet that Terror was remanned, said Ryan Harris.

    1. None yet. The ultimate proof may have to come from written materials found within -- even a single, written date would clear up a great deal!

  2. "We live in exciting times."

    Amen to that. And thanks for this briefing.

  3. Incredible update! Thank you so much for this. While reading through it of course all my new questions are already forming! I can't wait for more updates on this wonderful work by great people in so many specialties.
    In the back of my mind though is that fragile state of the Erebus. I hope she lasts long enough to be a safe place for the divers as well as yielding its secrets.

  4. Can we think that while still afloat, Erebus was already in its fragile state, and had to be abandoned first ? Terror, being in better condition , was remanned and sailed down the coast of KWI to Terror Bay?