Revealed: The Fate of H.M.S. Erebus

Multibeam image of HMS Erebus produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service. The ship image is false-coloured using different palettes in order to highlight key features, depth and shape of the shipwreck located in Queen Maud Gulf. Image is generated with the ship’s bow facing south-east in direction. (Canadian Hydrographic Service)

It was in the midst of the great age of British exploration. Sir John Franklin, aboard the H.M.S. Erebus and followed by the H.M.S. Terror, set out to find a north west passage from the Atlantic through the Arctic to the Pacific. The ships and their entire crews were never to be seen again.

Last Night Marc-Andre Bernier of Parks Canada and Douglas Stenton of the Government of Nunavut, Canada’s largest northern territory, fully revealed the details of the recent discovery of the Erebus. The ill-fated ship was recently found resting in waters of Queen Maud Gulf.

Many expeditions were sent to learn the fate of the two ships. Over the years a trickle of information revealed that the desperate crews struggled to survive in the hard Arctic environment on Beechey Island near the frozen ships. Some even attempted a desperate trek south.


Sir John Franklin (Public Domain)
Sir John Franklin (Public Domain)

Searchers found the Beechey Island Camp – and a few graves. Franklin, a note said, had died in 1847.

The misery of the ships prevailed into modern times with some details gleaned from Beechey Island and much more learned from local Inuits who preserved an oral tradition concerning the location of the ships. Using this information a consortium of groups led by the Government of Nunavut and Parks Canada found the Erebus in September of last year.

Last night’s presentation and Internet forum revealed more details of the discovery. The Erebus lies in 33 feet of water, its massive hull damaged by centuries of Arctic winters. The hulls of both ships would have been eventually crushed by the ice. Once beneath the surface, a five foot cap of surface ice would have demolished the superstructure.

Astern of the wreck, Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass 6-pounder.  @ Thierry Boyer / Parks Canada
Astern of the wreck, Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass 6-pounder.
@ Thierry Boyer / Parks Canada

According to Bernier, the wreck is in a state of excellent preservation, the dark, cold water serving to preserve timbers and organics. While the exterior of the hull has been surveyed, divers have yet to enter the wreck–filled with everything needed to help the crews survive the harsh conditions. Unfortunately cans of tinned food contained high levels of lead and the water purification system may also have added to the lead poisoning. Many of the men appear to have died from scurvy, tuberculosis and lead poisoning.

The next field season on the wreck –and the continuing search for the H.M.S. Terror–will begin in July when the winter ice over the site begins to thaw. The Archaeology Hour will bring you an interview with Marc-Andre Bernier and with Doug Stenton during its broadcast after the Pilot Show due to air in March.

The detached ship’s bell of HMS Erebus as found on the deck.  © Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
The detached ship’s bell of HMS Erebus as found on the deck.
© Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (left) and Jonathan Moore (middle) examine the ship’s bell with Government of Nunavut archaeologist Dr. Douglas Stenton (right).  © Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (left) and Jonathan Moore (middle) examine the ship’s bell with Government of Nunavut archaeologist Dr. Douglas Stenton (right).
© Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer

Pilot on Track for March

The Pilot for The Archeology Hour is on track as we schedule interviews with archaeologists and investigators as far afield as Egypt, Italy, Sweden. the UK and the US. In addition new segment producers (upcoming announcement) are working on news and features on archaeological travel, major museum exhibits around the world, archaeological volunteer projects and reviews of major new historical and archaeological books. Our first book will be “The Lost Papers of John Bell Hood” by author Sam Hood from Savas-Beatie and hailed as having major revelations on the history of America’s Civil War.

Planned for the pilot and upcoming broadcasts will be news direct from the archaeologist in charge of an exciting new discovery at Sheikh Abd el-Gourna in Egypt. There two archaeologists have discovered a complex of tombs beneath a smaller tomb found in 1887. The early explorer missed a maze of chambers and shafts designed to mirror the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. Mila Sosa and Irene Morfini sent the last season completing a pre-disturbance survey of the complex, recording wall inscriptions, a statue of the God Osiris and the remains of numerous mummies destroyed and tons apart by early tomb robbers. In an upcoming interview, Morfini will discuss the upcoming season starting on October. This will mark the beginning of excavations inside the tomb complex and we will learn how the two archaeologists plan to proceed.

Irene Morfini: The Min Project
Mila Sosa: The Min Project

In the UK we will be talking to Vincent Drost, the Project Curator of the  Romano-British coin finds at the  Department of Coins & Medals at the British Museum. He is studying the Seaton Down Hoard – a massive cache of Roman coins found by a metal detectorist last year. The dates on the coins cover a hundred year period and were buried long before the Romans left Britain and viking and saxon hordes–which raises  many questions. Why were they buried? Who buried them. Why would they have been saved over such a long period of time?

Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum
Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum

In the US we will be looking at the recovery of the CSS Georgia, a Confederate gun boat sunk on the edge of the channel into the harbor at Savannah Ga. This is a daunting project. Over the past forty years the archaeologists with the US Army Corps of Engineers have dived on the wreckage to study it and gather information on its eventual removal. The wreck is mass of tangled iron and debris accumulated over the hundred and fifty years since it was scuttled by retreating Confederates.

The massive ship was built in Savannah with $115,000 raised by the “Ladies Gunboat Association.”  The hull was 120 feet long and its armor was made from railroad ties and a cladding of railroad iron. The 1,200 ton proved far too massive for its engines–so the Confederates was moored of Fort Jackson below Savannah as a gun platform. By the 1980s, when Archaeology Hour producer Mark Newell dived on the wreck it was a tangled mass of distorted iron and smashed lumber. “I would grade it as one of the most dangerous wreck dives in the Savannah River, “said Newell. “No wonder the Corps has waited until now to tackle it.”

The Corps will remove the wreck as part of a harbor and channel expansion project. The work will be under the supervision of Corps archaeologist Julie Morgan. Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell tells the Archaeology Hour, “We have begun to remove some pieces of the wreck and some loose material around it. The main work will take some time.” We hope to bring you an interview with Julie Morgan in the near future and will post video on our YouTube Channel.

The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (COE)
The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (Coe, Today).

Metal of the Gods


Ingots of Orichalcum Source: Daily Mail

According to Professor Sebastiano Tusa, an archaeologist at the office of the Superintendent of the Sea in Sicily, an archaeological team working on an ancient wreck off the southern coast of Sicily has raised a large number of ingots of a rare metal known as orichalcum – a substance mentioned by Plato as the legendary sacred metal used in Atlantis to sheath the walls of temples. Media reports do not quote Tusa as explaining why or how the encrusted ingots are being identified as Orichalcum.


The Italian dive team on the orichalcum wreck: Source Daily Mail.

 The find was made in little more than 10 ft of water some 1000 feet from the shoreline of the town of Gela in southern Sicily. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy of copper, zinc, lead, iron and nickel. Ancient accounts describe orichalcum as an alloy of silver gold and possibly copper–and for this reason the identification of the ingots has yet to be fully explained. The Archaeology Hour is seek an interview with Prof. Tusa and these questions may be answered then.

Osiris Tomb Excavation in October



The Spanish-Italian archaeological team working on the ‘newly’ discovered Osiris Tomb in Egypt will be returning to the site in October to begin excavation.

Irene Morfini, Assistant Director for the project told The Archaeology Hour in a recent interview: “Since this one was our second season of work, we are still inspecting, photographing, recording data, copying texts, conserving and restoring. During the next season we will hopefully start the proper excavation work.”

The Osiris tomb complex is a previously undiscovered part of a much smaller tomb that was first documented in the 19th century. A  new complex of shafts, tunnels and chambers was discovered by the Sosa-Morfini team recently. The complex forms a representation of the underworld – ruled by the god Osiris. The original occupant of the tomb is unknown but, according to Morfini, many other burials were placed in the complex over time.

Early on in its history the tomb was robbed. It is now filled with debris from falling walls and ceilings, with fragments of mummies torn apart by thieves, and the original material backfilled by the original builders.

Under the Direction of María Milagros Álvarez Sosa and Morfini the crew will excavate stratigraphically (as opposed to 10cm increments as some archaeologists do) and gradually unravel the mysteries of the Osiris Tomb.

 CTAM_Min Project_TT109_14-12-2013

Sosa and Morfini Source: The Min Project

During the summer months (when it is too hot to excavate underground in Egypt) the team will work on the data recovered during the pre-disturbance survey. Interesting facts are already emerging. The tomb complex includes a burial chamber for Min, the tutor of Amenhotep II. Min was the mayor of Thimis, and an important figure during the reign of Thutmose III, Amenhotep’s father. One of his many titles included “Overseer of the Army of the Western River.”  This implies some level of military background.

Amenhotep’s tomb was discovered many years ago and it’s walls recorded the young king’s prowess as an archer. He claimed he could shoot an arrow through a “palm’s thickness” of copper. This was long considered to be a boast and discounted by earlier Egyptologists. Now, the Sosa-Morfini team’s findings show that Amenhotep was tutored by a military leader—so perhaps the claim is not such a boast after all.

We will feature a live interview with Irene Morfini in the pilot program of The Archaeology Hour to be launched in a few weeks.


The young Amernhotep II on the knee of his tutor Min: Drawing by  Raffaella Carrera. Min Project.

From Gods to Witches…


A few of the coins found by Nick Davies. Source: Daily Mail UK.

“The Archaeology Hour” – the radio podcast soon to be a video podcast soon to be a cable channel program is developing well. Our pilot program being pulled to gather now will have features on a number of major discoveries around the world from Egypt to the UK.

Irene Morfi will be talking to us about a discovery at two tombs at Sheikh Abd el-Gourna near Thebes. They were discovered in the 19th century and though to be a small tomb complex. A re-examination by Morfi and her colleagues revealed an undiscovered shaft — and this led to a massive multi-layered complex. The layout of the new complex appears to have been constructed to represent the mythical tomb of Osiris, an important figure in the creation myth of the ancient Egyptian culture. We will be asking Dr. Morfi about the most recent work on the tomb complex — and why it was never discovered when early explorers entered the smaller tomb as far back as 1887.

We will also be talking to archaeologist James Drummond-Murray of Oxford Archaeology about a dig near a cemetery in Luton, Bedfordshire. The local council decided to lay a new road to improve access to the cemetery—and the work unearthed a Roman burial. Archaeologists then discovered that not only had the area had been used as a burial site from Roman times to the present — but that even Bronze age and neolithic age artifacts were present on the site. We’ll chat to Drummond-Murray about what this may mean, possibly a continuously used sacred site from very ancient times to the present.

Vincent Drost is an ancient coin expert at the British Museum in London. He will be talking to us about  more than 10,000 Roman coins found in a clay jar by metal detectorist Nick Davies (who was on his very first outing with his metal detector). We’ll talk about theories as to why the hoard was buried (almost three hundred years before Saxons and Vikings were reading Britain) and what they tell us about Roman coin production at the time.


Nick Davies and the pot. Daily Mail.

We are also working on one of my favorite topics – English witchcraft.  Researcher Brian Hoggard has made a study of methods and spells used by people to ward off the evil castings of witches (always something to watch out for). He will chat with us about recent research—and perhaps provide us with  some useful advice into the bargain.


Archaeologist Jackie Woods found a witchcraft related site in own backyard in Cornwall – that dated from the ancient past to modern times! Source: Archaeology Magazine.

Bones In Lakes


Mounted skull from Motala. Source: Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård Mälardalen

Bones in Lakes are making the news in Sweden and in India. Work on railroad construction at he edge of Lake Motala in Sweden uncovered the remains of a grisly display of skulls once posted on stakes. They represented men, women and even children. Archeologists determined that the skulls were once in the lake itself. The initial discovery was made in 2011 and archaeologists have yet to determine the true nature of the site. It may be a reburial site of venerated ancestor bones—or perhaps the sacrifice of members of an enemy tribe. The Archaeology Hour will cover the latest news with Frederik Hallgren of the Swedish heritage foundation Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård Mälardalen in an upcoming feature in its podcast.


Motala Lake Digsite Source: Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård Mälardalen

Roopkund Lake tells a very different story. The lake is high in the Indian Himalayas and at 16,000 feet it is frozen for most of the year. There is one month a year when the lake melts—and during one of those months years ago passers by discovered the bones of more than 300 people sticking above the surface as the lake dried. It was at first thought the bones belonged to Japanese soldiers. Later research determined that the bones had first been noted in the 19th century. According to India Today the bones have now been dated to approximately 850 B.C. Examination of the skulls has shown a common injury-indentations made by a round object the size of a baseball. Some have concluded that the group of people died in a severe hailstorm!  While a possible explanation, it would seem more likely that some sacrificial killing process is involved. The isolated lake is considered sacred by local tribes and is still an area of annual pilgrimage.


Bones at Roopkund Land. Source: India Times.


The Lake during the annual thaw. Source: India Times

Saxon Hoard-Osiris Temple-Amphipolis Bones – and more

Saxon Hoard:

The British Museum (BM) is currently cleaning and evaluating the 5200 silver pennies found by Paul Coleman in Buckinghamshire, England. According to my sources at the Bucks county museum, the BM may have an announcement to make about the coins by February 10th. That is the day the BM issues its “Annual Treasure Report,” a document that details the previous year’s finds by avocationals through the British Isles.  Included may be the final evaluation of the coins. Brett Thorn, Keeper of Archaeology at the Bucks County Museum said, ” We do know that there are just over 5200 coins, and so far, all the cleaned coins are of Ethelred II and Cnut. They are all ion very good condition, due to having been buried wrapped in a lead container. The container did not survive well, but it preserved there coins.” The mainstream media has mentioned evaluations well over $1.5 million but, according to Thorn, no official figure has been issued yet.


Photo: Daily Mail UK-the coins as discovered.


Greek Bones:

Bone fragments have been recovered from the Amphipolis tomb being excavated in Macedonia. This important development means that researchers may be able to learn the sex and age of the person buried in the once magnificent complex within Kasta Hill near Seres, Greece. There is much speculation as to the burial. It dates to the time of the death of Alexander the Great–and since he was buried in Egypt (upcoming story) it is thought the person in the Amhipolis tomb may be that of Alexander’s mother Olympias. The Archaeology Hour is seeking an interview with Katerina Peristeri, the lead archaeologist for the project and developments will be posted here. A full interview will appear in The Archaeology Hour podcast. The website for the dig reports that a geoscan of the Kasta Hill indicates that there may be other burials within the mound. This opens up the possibility of other royal tombs–perhaps not targeted by looters.


Geoscan of Kasta Hill.

The archaeology hour podcast can be found at:

The Archaeology Hour: The Pilot


Ten of the 5,200 silver coins just after being unearthed. Source: Daily Mail

“The Archaeology Hour” is a project in development that will provide a podcast and eventual video program of information and background on major archaeological projects and news around the world. It will be hosted by Mark M. Newell PhD, a British underwater and terrestrial archaeologist currently working in the United States. Newell has a distinguished record of archaeological accomplishment over the past forty years including leading the successful search for the C.S.S. Hunley in Charleston SC, discovery of the remains of the historic Santee Canal, recognized by the US Secretary of the Navy for preservation work on the U.S.S. Constitution, discovery of the Baynham pottery hoard near Edgefield, S.C. and discovery of the only known Edgefield African face jug site near Trenton S.C.  Newell has lectured at major venues throughout the US and the UK and has appeared on numerous television programs and documentaries.


I can’t think of a more exciting time in Archaeology to be involved in launching a podcast and eventual video program on new discoveries. Looking almost anywhere in the world, I find fascinating new projects and discoveries every day. Most of these are covered to some extent or another by the news media — from the mainstream press to specialist websites like Ancient Origins–but there are always more questions to ask, greater insights to develop, new views to express and that elusive ‘insider” story that rarely gets told. I will be working with CSquared Communications and The Archaeology Hour to do just this. I will bring together my background in archaeology and journalism to develop unique insights on breaking stories and present an insider’s view that the general media cannot. There is clearly a huge interest in archaeology snd history as indicated by magazines, television programs, internet sites, documentaries and even movies (ok, that’s entertainment not education).

Posts will be on a frequent if not daily basis until the first pilot podcast is launched this Spring. Projects we are looking at hint at the  range of a topics we will cover this year: the amazing Saxon silver coin hoard found in Buckinghamshire, England, a lost city discovered off the Egyptian coast by a French archaeologist, Two entirely new tombs found in Egypt, not to mention a new find at the pyramid of Giza. The Norway scientists have found a dried lake bed with a mysterious deposit of skulls once impaled on stakes. The Greek ‘find of the century’ a massive tomb at Amphipolis may turn out to be even more spectacular, a city of the dead rather than a single burial. Herod’s Palace, the place where the trial of Jesus is supposed to have occurred, has been found during a new dig. A veritable catalog of ancient ships built over a 5000 year period has been discovered in Turkey.


French diver by lost stelae Source: Christoph Gerigk, Daily Telegraph

The Archaeology Hour will cover these topics and more in the coming months. You will also find links to the project websites and other features of interest to the general public, working archaeologists, volunteer and archaeology/history tourists.

News, views & features on world archaeology