Sketch imagining one of Franklin's ships trapped in the Arctic ice by George Beck (Toronto Public Library)

The lost Franklin expedition in the Arctic: new research

Share

When Sir John Franklin left Britain with two ships and 129 sailors in 1845, it was to be an epic adventure to discover the fabled Northwest Passage to the Orient. Possibly the most prepared exploration of the Canadian Arctic at the time, what it became was an enduring mystery of their fate.

Bits of information came out over subsequent decades of searching, including the only very recently discovery of their ships, which has only served to further heighten the mystery.

Since then science has discovered and proposed that high lead levels in their bodies likely either slowly poisoned them or seriously affected their thinking process – or both-  leading to disastrous and ultimately fatal decisions by the crew.

This newest study shows lead levels may have contributed to the tragedy, but were not the main cause of the disaster.

Lori D’Ortenzio(PhD) is a researcher in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where the study took place.

Listen

The findings of the McMaster researchers was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports under the title, “The Franklin expedition: What sequential analysis of hair reveals about lead exposure prior to death” (abstract Here)

(L) Researcher Michael Inskip, a visiting expert on lead isotope analysis in the Department of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation Sciences programme, and (R) lead author Lori D\Otenzio (PhD) Dept of Anthropology (Kevin Patrick Robbins-McMaster U)

The research involved hair sample from a crew member, Henry Goodsir. whose body had been discovered in the Arctic in 1869. He died somewhere between 1846 and 1848. Brought back to England, the body was buried in a memorial to the lost expedition. Recent renovations in the area required the body to be moved which provided an opportunity to take hair samples for analysis.

Hair sample probably of Henry Goodsir, from the tragic Franklen expedition. (McMaster U., Hamilton Ontario)

D’Ortenzio points out that earlier testing on crew members bodies involved tooth and bone samples which showed high lead levels. These however indicate only lead exposure over decades long time periods. The advantage of hair samples she says, is that hair grows about 1-cm per month and can provide chemical analysis in the months before death or longer, depending on hair length.

Scientists have long speculated that the lead water pipes in the ships, lead content in medicines, and lead solder sealing tinned food resulted in high lead content being consumed by the crew.

Ceramic plates recovered from the sunken ship HMS Erebus (Adrian Wyld-CP)

If there was a sudden increase in lead exposure during the trip or in the months the ships were trapped in ice., this would have been evident in the new analysis.

The researchers had a 3-cm sample of hair thus the final 3 months of his life.

The lead content was similar to that of previous testing for lead contamination of other crew members bodies which provided information on long term exposure.  This test of hair however showed similar exposure levels, thereby showing no sudden or significant increase in lead consumption from life on the expedition, and so dispelling the theory that a sudden high lead contamination from water pipes and tinned food led to their deaths.

Thus the researchers conclude that while lead may have been a contributing factor in the bad decisions by the crew, it was not the main reason for the ultimate loss of all those on the expedition.

Share
Categories: International, Internet, Science and Technology
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*