Newly discovered Arctic graves could be tied to Franklin Expedition

By Randy Boswell - Montreal Gazette

A British adventurer has piqued the interest of the Canadian government after reporting the discovery of skeletal human remains on a small, unnamed island in Arctic waters close to where members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition are known to have disappeared more than 160 years ago.

Bear Grylls, star of the popular Man vs. Wild outdoor survival TV series, claims to have found bones, charred wood and other artifacts earlier this month during a charity-fundraising expedition to cross the Northwest Passage in a rigid inflatable boat.

At the expedition website, Grylls described how he and his team members discovered the remnants of a mysterious campsite on Sept. 2 on an tiny island in Wellington Strait east of King William Island — the place where some of the survivors from Franklin’s ice-locked ships Erebus and Terror took shelter in the late 1840s before they eventually succumbed to cold and starvation.

“We found the rocky outline of a grave set by some stranded visitor long ago,” Grylls wrote at his expedition blog. “And at the grave, we saw bones. And a small piece of felt or fabric. And then as we looked there was another grave.

And another, and a fourth.”

Such sites are not unheard of among Canada’s Arctic islands, where extreme cold and dry conditions can preserve archeological remains intact for generations or even centuries.

Graves from the Franklin Expedition have previously been found. In the 1980s, scientists even studied the frozen corpse of one of Franklin’s doomed sailors and shed light on the possible lead poisoning of the crew because of improperly tinned foods.

But it wasn’t immediately clear if the graves reported by Grylls had been previously documented by Nunavut or federal heritage officials.

Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of underwater archeology at Parks Canada, told Postmedia News on Sunday that he was aware of the reported discovery but reluctant to comment in detail because “we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Franklin expedition Labrador Sir John Franklin Canada Erebus and Terror Grenier Strait of Belle Isle