Hundreds of underwater treasures found in 180 year old Erebus shipwreck as explorers face race against time

Archaeologists have found hundreds of preserved artefacts within the remnants of the HMS Erebus nearly two centuries after it sank in Arctic Canada.

Pistols, sealed bottles of medicine, fishing rods and seaman’s chests were among the discoveries made by Parks Canada, the underwater team that completed the most recent exploration of the wreck.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror went missing in 1845 during an expedition that set off from Greenhithe in Kent to find the Northwest Passage, a polar route that linked the Atlantic and Pacific. It was led by the British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.

The ships failed to return and it was not until the 1850s that the Scottish explorer John Rae discovered, after interviewing local Inuits, that Franklin had died in 1847 after his ships had been trapped in sea ice for two years.

All 129 crew members were believed to have died. The tragedy is considered one of the worst disasters in the history of British polar exploration.

Mr Bernier is part of the Parks Canada team exploring the wreck

(Parks Canada )

After the ships were found – Erebus in 2014 and Terror in 2016 – diving missions have been rushed as severe storms continue to degrade the wreckages.

Divers conducted 68 missions in September last year to the HMS Erebus, which is positioned just 11 metres below the surface compared to Terror’s 24 metres. Erebus was found in shallow water in Wilmot and Crampton Bay in Arctic Canada.

Inside a cabin believed to belong to Second Lieutenant Henry Dunda Le Vesconte, archaeologists unearthed artefacts such as an intact thermometer, a leather-bound book cover, and a fishing rod adorned with a brass reel.

Meanwhile, a leather shoe, storage jars, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle were discovered in an area presumed to be the captain’s steward’s pantry.

Further exploration focused on a seaman’s chest in the forecastle area, the primary living quarters for the crew. Within it, archaeologists uncovered pistols, medicinal bottles, and coins. The meticulous documentation extended to the capture of thousands of high-resolution digital images, forming the basis for precise 3D models crucial in understanding the evolving state of the site.

Jonathan Moore, who led the expedition, highlighted the challenges posed by dives as the wreckage continues to deteriorate.

“Parts of the ship’s upper deck collapsed recently and other parts are sloping over dangerously,” he said. “It’s getting tricky down there.”

The meticulous investigation, conducted with care, has thus far yielded no human remains. The wrecks, gifted to Canada by the United Kingdom in 2018, are jointly overseen by the Inuit and Parks Canada, ensuring a collaborative and respectful approach to this historical exploration.

Mr Moore said they would look to search the Terror only after they had carried out research on the Erebus.

“Terror is 24 metres below sea level, but Erebus is only 11m down, and that makes the latter our prime concern,” he said.“We are going to concentrate on it and peel back its story layer by layer.”

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