It was late April in 1848 when the surviving men aboard Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition abandoned their ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which had been frozen for several years in Victoria Straight near King William Island.
They mounted several ship’s boats on sleds and pulled them, filled with personal artifacts, south across the frozen terrain. The men never reached their destination, Back River, and succumbed to hypothermia, starvation and disease, the evidence suggests. Some may have resorted to cannibalism.
Boats and skeletons were eventually discovered by the Inuit who, as they recounted to later explorers, crafted tools out of the wood and metal, materials which were extremely rare and valuable at the time. Nails were bent into fish hooks and wooden harpoons with metal tips were crafted.
“The Arctic is one of the harshest environments on Earth, so you take what you can get,” says master’s student Dana.
What the Inuit took from those boats, and what they left behind, is the subject of Dana’s research. With the help of Prof. Robert Park in the Department of Anthropology, she is examining the bits of the boats that the Inuit left behind, rediscovered years later on King William Island, Nuvanut.
Dana will look through trays and trays of tiny bits of woods and metal pieces to determine what the Inuit were looking for and what they were doing with the material they took away. It’s a challenging task since she won’t be studying harpoons and fish hooks, only the material the Inuit rejected or missed. She will also be looking for evidence that the Inuit were testing the material.
Dana moved from Winnipeg in August after completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Manitoba. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the placement of stone artifacts around two Paleo-Eskimo tent rings.
“My previous research was all about little bits of stones. So I moved from little bits of stone to little bits of wood and metal.”
Dana hopes to pursue her PhD in anthropology when she finishes her master’s degree.