As the 2023 summer season came to an end, Parks Canada concluded its archaeological research at the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site in Nunavut.

The research team conducted sixty-eight dives during a twelve-day period to continue investigating and documenting the wreck of HMS Erebus. Carefully excavated artifacts were retrieved to help piece together more information about the 1845 Franklin Expedition, including naval technology, scientific work, and life aboard the vessel.

Parks Canada underwater archaeologists found items related to navigation, science, and leisure in an officer’s cabin, believed to be that of Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte. These items included a parallel rule, an intact thermometer, a leather book cover, and a fishing rod with a brass reel.

Other items such as a leather shoe or boot bottom, storage jars, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle were found in an area believed to represent the Captain’s Steward’s pantry. Excavation continued in a cabin believed to be that of Third Lieutenant James Fairholme, in which a collection of unidentified fossils was uncovered that supplements similar fossil finds from the 2022 season.

The team began excavating a seamen’s chest in the forecastle area, where most of the crew lived, that held numerous artifacts including pistols, military items, footwear, medicinal bottles, and coins. Recovered artifacts will be studied in Ottawa and undergo conservation treatment before many are returned for display at the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut. The archaeologists also captured thousands of high-resolution digital photos, that will be used to produce highly accurate three-dimensional models to better understand how the site is changing over time.

Research activities at the site of HMS Erebus concluded on September 18 and the team, on the Research Vessel David Thompson and with Qiniqtiryuaq (excavation support barge), returned to Gjoa Haven on September 20. The research team was then able to make a short visit to the wreck of HMS Terror to conduct remote sensing recording, using the ship’s multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler. This included surveying of the wreck to capture a snapshot of its condition and widening the mapping of a vessel access corridor into this mostly uncharted bay.

Parks Canada held an event at the Nattilik Heritage Centre on September 21 to share some of the 2023 discoveries with the community. Parks Canada continues to work in close collaboration with the Nattilik Heritage Society and its Wrecks Guardian Program on a variety of initiatives, including active site surveillance during the summer and ongoing terrestrial archaeological research with Inuit Heritage Trust.

The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is co-managed by Parks Canada and the Nattilik Heritage Society.

By Editor