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Hundreds of new artefacts recovered from wreck of HMS Erebus

In one of the largest and most complex underwater archaeological ventures in Canadian history, Parks Canada and Inuit are collaborating to explore the 19th century wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Both ships were part of John Franklin’s lost 1845 Expedition, which set sail from England in search of the Northwest Passage, a sea
Published: February 24, 2020 - 14:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 19:21
Hundreds of new artefacts recovered from wreck of HMS Erebus

In one of the largest and most complex underwater archaeological ventures in Canadian history, Parks Canada and Inuit are collaborating to explore the 19th century wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Both ships were part of John Franklin’s lost 1845 Expedition, which set sail from England in search of the Northwest Passage, a sea route from Europe to eastern Asia through the Arctic Archipelago.

More than 350 new artefacts that had previously been found and excavated at the archaeological site that is now the wreck of HMS Erebus were unveiled last week at an official press conference held at Parks Canada Conservation Laboratories in Ottawa, which was attended by representatives from the government side and institutions involved in the research.

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It has been a remarkable year for archaeological research carried out on the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. I offer my congratulations to all involved. The Government of Canada is proud to work with the Inuit in managing these historic sites, and we look forward to more amazing discoveries in future years,” said Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson

Building on the achievements of the first exploration of the interior of the wreck of HMS Terror, the Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Team, in collaboration with the Inuit, conducted another highly successful study. Hundreds of artifacts were recovered, including epaulettes from the lieutenant’s uniforms and ceramic vessels, among others.

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One of the most exciting moments was the finding and excavation of items believed to belong to Edmund Hoar, Captain Franklin’s steward. These included wax seals with a fingerprint. Researchers also found everyday objects such as a hairbrush with a satin handle and boar or porcupine bristles, bottles, and a pencil case.

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As co-owners of the artifacts, the Inuit Heritage Trust is pleased to continue working with the Government of Canada to ensure that our growing archaeological collection is properly protected and made available to Inuit, Canadians and the world. The huge number of discoveries this year represents an exciting development in our ongoing work on the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. As more discoveries about the Franklin Expedition and its Inuit connections are revealed, we will continue to include Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in the preservation, display and management of these artifacts with our partners at Parks Canada,” said William Beveridge, executive director of the Inuit Heritage Trust

In autumn 2019, a team of archaeologists made a total of 93 dives on the wreck of HMS Erebus over three weeks, spending around 110 h underwater. Using a variety of methods, including both traditional and developed proprietary and innovative approaches, sediment was carefully removed from 19th century artefacts, exposing them for mapping, photography and recovery. The excavated artefacts are now undergoing preliminary analysis – a process that includes identification of the physical characteristics of each object, as well as scaled illustrations, X-rays and studio photography.

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Discoveries made during a research mission to the site of HMS Erebus, will contribute to our understanding of the history of the lost Franklin expedition and help provide a clearer picture of crew life on the 19th century research vessel. Combined with the amazing discoveries from HMS Terror, the researchers expect to uncover more mysteries surrounding the expedition’s history, including aspects of the interactions between Franklin’s crew and the Inuit.

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The wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are not accessible to divers and a special permit is required to enter the protected areas.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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