Bear Grylls tries his hand at archaeology

British adventurer, Bear Grylls, 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.

The 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.”

In an email response, he added: “Of course, if analysis and study end up showing that it is related to Franklin, then it could be important — as would be any find related to this story. However, we will have to wait to get more information.”

Bernier also noted that “if it is not related to Franklin, then it will be interesting to see what it is associated to.”

Earlier this year, Bernier announced Parks Canada’s discovery — near Banks Island in the Western Arctic — of the HMS Investigator, a famous 19th-century British ship that had searched for the Franklin Expedition before becoming locked in sea ice and abandoned by its own crew.

In August, Parks Canada archeologists under Bernier’s direction also probed the seabed near King William Island in an effort to locate the Franklin Expedition’s lost ships.

That search produced no discoveries but ruled out a huge swath of the sea floor as the site of the wrecks, setting the stage for another season of underwater scanning next year in another target zone near King William Island.

From: Montreal Gazette


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