Archaeologists from Parks Canada, accompanied by Inuit Guardians from the Nattilik Heritage Society, conducted excavations at the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. They found 275 rare artifacts from the storied shipwreck in the Canadian Arctic late last year, according to a statement.
In May 1845, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror departed England in search of the elusive Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The two ships, both under Sir John Franklin’s command, mysteriously vanished at some point during the expedition, and the 128 crew was never seen or heard from again.
The remains of one of the ships, the H.M.S. Erebus, were discovered in the icy waters near King Williams Island in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory, in 2014.
In 2016, they discovered the wreck of the other ship, the H.M.S. Terror, nearby.
Dives to the wrecks were prohibited during the Covid-19 pandemic, but archaeologists from Parks Canada and local Inuit guardians from Gjoa Haven were finally able to return last year.
In April and May 2022, archaeologists and members of the Nattilik Heritage Society established an ice camp at the site of the HMS Erebus to assess its condition and collect images and data. This was the site’s first inspection in over two and a half years.
The researchers did 56 dives over the course of 11 days in September, during which they discovered a leather folio, serving dishes, platters, drafting tools, an eyeglass lens, and lieutenant’s epaulets, according to Smithsonian magazine.
They also noticed physical changes to the wreck since their last visit, which were “most likely due to waves generated by wind storms,” according to Parks Canada.
According to Artnet, officials suspect climate change is causing lower ice cover and increasing sea swells, which could be speeding up the deterioration of the ships.
“Located in one of the planet’s most unique and sensitive marine environments, the wrecks of H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror are some of the best-preserved wooden wrecks in the world,” said Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s environment and climate change minister, in a statement. “The important archaeological research onsite continues to advance our understanding of how changing climate conditions are impacting the region and helps us preserve and protect irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage.”