Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Arctic ship find: Inuit history plus high tech

The Toronto Star: A Parks Canada team of archaeologists has found the wreck of the ship abandoned 155 years ago by the crew credited with discovering the Northwest Passage. The remains of the HMS Investigator were detected eight metres below the surface of Mercy Bay, off the shores of Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, where Capt. Robert McClure and his crew were trapped by ice in the mid-1850s for two winters.

McClure had been dispatched from England to rescue the missing Sir John Franklin and his two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, but found neither vessel, Franklin nor any trace of his 128 crewmen... After this current 12-day search for Investigator and artifacts left in an on-shore Bank Island cache by McClure's crew, Canadian archaeologists will again attempt to locate Terror and Erebus farther south, off O'Reilly Island, for three weeks in August....

Prior to leaving for the Investigator expedition, Parks Canada marine archeologist Ryan Harris said finding McClure's ship would validate Inuvialuit oral history. The western Arctic people had long known where the largely intact ship sank after McClure abandoned it.

The Globe and Mail: 'The ship had not moved too much from where it was abandoned.' [said] Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada's head of underwater archaeology... The masts and rigging have long been sheared off by ice and weather. But the icy waters of the McClure Strait have preserved the vessel in remarkably good condition...

Archaeologists have been uncovering a trove of artifacts on land left behind by the stranded sailors, who unloaded everything that was usable and portable before abandoning the Investigator. The graves of three sailors thought to have died of scurvy have been marked off and will be left undisturbed...

The Investigator is also considered to be a significant part of aboriginal history... For years after the ship was abandoned, Inuvialuit hunters scavenged the site for valuable and rare bit of metal and wood. Even the nails were pulled out of one of the boats left behind. 'This is alive in Inuvialuit memory today,' Mr. Bernier said.

The next step will be to send down a remotely controlled video camera to get actual pictures of the wreck. There are no plans to bring it to the surface and all legal steps will be taken to ensure the site remains protected.
Image sources here and here.