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275 Artifacts Uncovered by Archaeologists From the Wreck of a 19th-Century Ship

By: April Carson

A captivating narrative of one of the world's most famous maritime mysteries is unfolding. The Parks Canada team, which manages shipwrecks like the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, recently finished their excavation near Gjoa Haven and have recovered 275 artifacts - among them a leather folio that could contain handwritten notes from the crew on board. As researchers study these items further, more pieces to this puzzle are sure to emerge. It is an exciting time for archaeologists and maritime historians alike, as each object brings us one step closer to uncovering the fate of the British expedition that had set out to find the Northwest Passage in 1845.

From coins to navigational instruments and even art supplies, these artifacts offer a unique perspective into what life was like on board this ill-fated voyage.

Parks Canada recently informed Artnet News that the wooden wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are among the most magnificently preserved in the world. However, climate change has reduced ice cover and increased ocean swells which have begun to accelerate their deterioration.

With a renowned explorer, Sir John Franklin, at the helm and 128 crew members aboard both vessels, the expedition set sail from England in 1845 to try and locate an elusive Atlantic-Pacific passage through Arctic waters –the Northwest Passage. Evidence later uncovered revealed that both ships became trapped by ice with no survivors; a note detailing this tragedy was discovered afterwards.

Archaeologists began excavating the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in 2014. Since then, they have uncovered an incredible array of artifacts from this historic 19th-century voyage.

Ever since its awe-inspiring discovery in 2014, two years prior to locating the Terror 45 miles away, archaeologists have monitored and documented the condition of the Erebus. In 2022 they will be opening their second season excavating artifacts from this wreck site. Ryan Harris has been part of this process ever since it was first discovered and is looking forward to furthering his research on these shipwrecks.

He and his team have already uncovered 275 artifacts, ranging from navigational instruments to canisters of food. These items tell a story of life in the 19th century Arctic – and how it affects our understanding of this region today. Harris also states that many of these archaeological finds will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at Canada's Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

Every year, the waters of the Arctic open for a brief window of time to allow diving and underwater excavations. In 2015, archaeologists aboard Erebus were able to unearth various artifacts including a cannon and kitchenware following their first experiment. 2016 focused more on sample collection due to technological troubles that delayed further excavation until 2018 when 350 objects such as wine bottles and hair brushes were discovered.

The artifacts found date back to the 19th century, providing insight into the lifestyle of those who traveled aboard the ship. Many of these items still retain their original colors and designs that give a glimpse into the daily life onboard.

Harris exclaimed to CBC Canada of the intricate leather-bound folio they stumbled upon, marveling at its beauty and ornate details. Even more fascinating is that a feather quill pen was nestled in its crevices as if it were waiting for someone to pick up before recording their thoughts in an intimate journal by the bedside table.

In 2022, archaeologists had the opportunity to explore the officers' cabins that were left with a certain respect. Upon entering mapmaker 2nd Lieutenant Henry Thomas Dundas le Vesconte's room, they stumbled upon a green box containing drafting tools inside.

The items uncovered from the cabins have been carefully preserved and will be exhibited in a museum so the public can appreciate their significance. The shipwreck has also provided invaluable insight into life during the 19th century, giving us a peek into what everyday things were like for people of that time period.

Parks Canada declared that all newly discovered artifacts "belong to both the Government of Canada and Inuit," a reinforcement of their enduring cooperation on this matter. Among the artifacts found were two carpenter's hammers, a pocket watch, and mariner’s dividers.

A copper anchor was also discovered, with its stock still intact. A black and white portrait of Queen Victoria hung on the wall beside it, as if it had been carefully placed there by one of the shipmates hoping that the vessel would be guided safely to its destination.

Currently, all 275 artifacts are undergoing examination and upkeep in Parks Canada's laboratory in Ottawa. Experts have only uncovered a small part of the shipwreck Erebus; they haven't yet explored Terror since it is more safeguarded. There has been discussion about potentially turning them into tourist attractions sometime down the line as well.

It's hard to imagine the lives of those onboard the ship, especially given the mystery that shrouds it. Parks Canada archaeologists continue to strive for uncovering new artifacts and knowledge about what happened on Erebus and Terror.

Billy Carson & Doctah B Sirius January 7th 2023 Event Warm-up.


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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