Archeologists to revisit Franklin Expedition wreck sites after two-year break

Researchers to undertake conservation work, climate change studies, says Parks Canada

Researchers will continue underwater archeological research at the wreck sites of the historical Franklin Expedition ships this summer, Parks Canada announced Thursday. This map shows the locations of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus ship wreck sites in Nunavut. (File image taken from Arctic Corridors Research study)

By Nunatsiaq News

Archeologists are returning to research the Arctic sites of the fabled Franklin Expedition shipwrecks, after a two-year break.

Parks Canada’s underwater archeology team was en route to the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror near Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, to conduct work focused on exploration and conservation of the ships, it was announced Thursday.

“The resumption of research at the sites of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror represents an important opportunity to continue the investigation of the legendary Franklin story,” said Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, in a news release.

In 1845, explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew set sail from England with two ships, Erebus and Terror, to cross the last unnavigated sections of the Northwest Passage across the Arctic.

Despite searches over the next 169 years, the ships were believed lost until an expedition led by Parks Canada and aided by Inuit locals discovered the Erebus in 2014 and the Terror in 2016 near Gjoa Haven.

The return of researchers to the national historic sites of the wrecks follows a two-year postponement due to pandemic precautions, Guilbeault said.

The archeological team’s research plans will include mapping and assessing current site conditions of the two wrecks. They will use remotely operated vehicles to carry out below-ice inspections of the sites and surrounding sea floor.

The first dive is expected to happen within days, with logistical support from Inuit Guardians, who help integrate Inuit knowledge into protection and monitoring of site operations. A second dive is planned for later this summer, Parks Canada said.

Their work will build off a previous dive in 2019, when the underwater archeology team, in collaboration with Inuit, recovered more than 350 artifacts from the Erebus.

The dives will also help researchers understand the effects of climate change on marine environments, the minister said.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Elaborate? on

    “with logistical support from Inuit Guardians, who help integrate Inuit knowledge into protection and monitoring of site operations.”
    Can someone elaborate on what this means? What traditional knowledge covers protecting a sunken British ship? I have a suspicion that this is just giving locals a few dollars for boats and gas but maybe there is more to this…

    • Posted by Pedantologist on

      Good to see people asking these kinds of questions.

      My ‘common tongue’ interpretation of a sacrament like this is something along the lines of “they will help us set up camp in a good location and keep the polar bears away.”

    • Posted by Adam on

      Inuit assistance was actually super important to finding both the Erebus and the Terror. 19th and 20th century explorers broadly ignored inuit accounts of what happened to the Franklin expedition (they had passed down stories of starving sailors begging for food and wandering around the area before cannibalizing each other). The archeology has shown these stories to be fairly accurate. The Terror, which was found before Erebus, was located in 2016 based on a tip from an Inuit crew member.

      So I don’t know what the particular involvement is at this point, but inuit folk and geographical knowledge is arguably the best evidence we have of what happened to the Franklin crew and was the reason these ships were found in the first place.

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