When Edward Eastaugh prepared himself for the more than 4,000 kilometre trek to the Arctic last week, he never imagined it would take longer to get there than to uncover the buried archeological treasures he sought.
“I’ve never been on a project where all of the main goals have been firstly just achieved full stock, which is remarkable,” says Eastaugh, lab manager in Western’s Department of Anthropology. “But even if we had taken weeks and weeks to do that, to find both the shipwreck and the graves, that would have been very good results. To do so within a matter of days is extraordinary.”
Eastaugh is currently with Parks Canada in Bank’s Island Mercy Bay in the Northwest Territories on an expedition to find the remains of HMS Investigator. The 19th century British Royal Navy ship set sail in 1850, led by Capt. Robert McClure, on a rescue mission to find the British men of the Franklin expedition who were lost at sea while attempting to find the Northwest Passage.
On Sunday (July 25), within minutes of beginning the sonar scan in Mercy’s Bay, the Parks Canada underwater archaeology team located the 155-year-old vessel – in great condition thanks to the icy waters – in approximately eight metres of water.
While excited by this historic find, Eastaugh’s role is to help find remnants of the ship’s cache, items removed from the vessel and piled on the island when it became stranded by pack ice.
With magnetometer in hand, Eastaugh uses small differences in the Earth’s magnetic field to cover hundreds of metres on foot collecting data about what lies beneath the surface of Banks Island. The magnetometer will build a picture of where items removed from HMS Investigator are located, which can then be compared with accounts written by the captain and surgeon, as well as the ship’s log book, to find out how many original items remain at the site.
“These have obviously become scattered about and are semi- buried in the soil so we are mapping the location of everything that we can see on the surface as well as doing more magnetometer work to define the distribution of the artifacts,” he says. “We’ll also be taking a lot of photographs and all this information will be put in different layers of information into a geographic information system so we can tie everything together. I’m sure there’ll be parts of the project that will make themselves known when we return.”
During the land survey, Eastaugh found the location of three graves belonging to sailors who died during the original expedition.
“We walked out and we could see the three grave outlines lying on the ground. It was a great moment,” Eastaugh says. “Having done the survey we are now busy looking at the finished results. The land survey and dive team both reached our principle goals extremely quickly, which raised everyone’s spirits.”
Eastaugh adds the dive team has captured amazing sonar images and is now looking to get in the water and around the ice with cameras to get footage of the wreck. “After they initially found the wreck, they couldn’t get back out on the ocean for four days because the ice came in and didn’t allow access.”
Eastaugh will continue with his own surveys until returning from the Arctic Aug. 9.