Probe finds signs of doomed Franklin expedition

Fri Sep 26, 2008 5:09pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Explorers trying to trace two ships from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition in Canada's Arctic found fragments of copper sheeting likely to have come from the vessels, one of the explorers said on Friday.

Sir John Franklin, his 128 crew and the British ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were seeking the fabled Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans when they became stuck in ice. The men all died and the ships vanished.

"The archeological discoveries exceeded our expectations. We found copper fragments which could well have come from one of the ships we're looking for," said Robert Grenier, chief of underwater archeology at Parks Canada.

"They revealed the prior presence of considerable number of these sheets," he told reporters. "This was for us, I would say, a very significant find."

Copper did not exist naturally in the region and the sheets could not have been made by the local Inuit, he said.

The team found the fragments during a six-week trip in August and September to three islands near O'Reilly Island in the Queen Maud Gulf, close to where Franklin's ships are believed to have sunk.

"Just as the DNA in a lock of hair can provide detectives with evidence proving a criminal's guilt, these ... (fragments) indicate that we are on the right track," said Grenier. Other searches over the years found traces on copper sheets on other islands in the vicinity.

He said the copper fragments showed signs that Inuit had used the sheets over the years to make traditional tools.   Continued...