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10 'Unsolved' Mysteries That Have Been Solved


6
What Happened to the Franklin Expedition?
This engraving depicts the sad end of the Franklin Expedition. © Bettmann/CORBIS
This engraving depicts the sad end of the Franklin Expedition. © Bettmann/CORBIS

English explorer Sir John Franklin sailed to Canada in 1845 with a crew of 128 and a three-year supply of food, hoping to find an Arctic route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (what we now refer to as the Northwest Passage.) Instead, Franklin and his crew vanished. More than 30 expeditions looked for them -- so many that the death toll for searchers actually exceeded the lost Franklin crew [source: RMG].

Finally, in 1859, skeletal remains were found, along with a log that stopped in April 1848. After Franklin's ships had become stuck in the ice, the crew spent nearly two years trying to get them free, but after Franklin and 23 members died, the remainder set out on a doomed march across the Canadian tundra. Some resorted to cannibalism [source: Gillis and Sorensen, RMG].

So what went wrong? In the 1980s, a study by Canadian anthropologist Owen Beattie concluded that the explorers succumbed not to starvation or cold, but to diseases such as tuberculosis, after being weakened by poisoning from food cans with high lead content [source: Bayliss].

A subsequent 2013 study dissented in part, arguing that the high lead content in the bones probably came from life-long exposure in cluelessly toxic mid-1800s England, not just from the cans [source: Western]. Another part of the mystery was resolved in 2014, when a Canadian robotic submarine located the wreckage of one of Franklin's ships under the Arctic ice [source: Gillis and Sorensen].