Scientists have extracted DNA from the skeletal remains of several 19th-century sailors who died during the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, whose goal was to navigate the fabled Northwest Passage.
With a new genetic database of 24 expedition members, researchers hope they’ll be able to identify some of the bodies scattered in the Canadian Arctic, 170 years after one of the worst disasters in the history of polar exploration.
The results were published April 20 in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
A doomed voyage
Led by Sir John Franklin, a British Royal Navy captain, the 129-member crew embarked in 1845 in search of a sea route that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The sailors were doomed after their ships became trapped in thick sea ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in 1846. [In Photos: Arctic Shipwreck Solves 170-Year-Old Mystery]
The last communication, a short note from April 25, 1848, indicated that the surviving men were abandoning their ships — the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror — just off King William Island and embarking on a harsh journey south toward a trading post on the mainland. None of them seems to have made it even a fifth of the way there.
In the latest look at the array of bones, a team led by Douglas Stenton of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage, a territory in northern Canada, conducted the first genetic tests on members of the expedition who died following the desertion of the ships.
Stenton and his colleagues were able to get DNA from 37 bone and tooth samples found at eight different sites around King William Island, and they established the presence of at least 24 different members of the expedition. Twenty-one of these individuals had been found at locations around Canada’s Erebus Bay, “confirming it as a location of some importance following the desertion of Erebus and Terror,” Stenton told Live Science.
By| April 24, 2017 11:29am ET