The Final Days of the Franklin Expedition: New Skeletal Evidence

Anne Keenleyside, Margaret Bertulli, Henry C. Fricke


In 1992, a previously unrecorded site of Sir John Franklin's last expedition (1845-1848) was discovered on King William Island in the central Canadian Arctic. Artifacts recovered from the site included iron and copper nails, glass, a clay pipe fragment, pieces of fabric and shoe leather, buttons, and a scatter of wood fragments, possibly representing the remains of a lifeboat or sledge. Nearly 400 human bones and bone fragments, representing a minimum of 11 men, were also found at the site. A combination of artifactual and oxygen isotope evidence indicated a European origin for at least two of these individuals. Skeletal pathology included periostitis, osteoarthritis, dental caries, abscesses, antemortem tooth loss, and periodontal disease. Mass spectroscopy and x-ray fluorescence revealed elevated lead levels consistent with previous measurements, further supporting the conclusion that lead poisoning contributed to the demise of the expedition. Cut marks on approximately one-quarter of the remains support 19th-century Inuit accounts of cannibalism among Franklin's crew.

Key words: Franklin Expedition, skeletal remains, oxygen isotope analysis, lead poisoning, cannibalism


Artifacts; Bones; Cannibalism; Diseases; Expeditions; Explorers; Food poisoning; Franklin, Sir John, 1786-1847; History; Traditional knowledge; Inuit; Isotopes; Lead; Oral history; Search for Franklin; King William Island, Nunavut

Full Text:




Copyright (c)