Bones Prove Stranded Sailors Turned to Cannibalism

cannibal sailors

December 21, 2013 / Comments (2)


Scientists claim to have found proof desperate sailors turned to cannibalism after their ships became trapped in the ice during an Arctic expedition 170 years ago.

Researchers say evidence of ‘pot polish' on some of the doomed sailors' bones reveals they were boiled for their marrow by their former shipmates.


It is further proof of cannibalism on the expedition to the Canadian Arctic, which set off from Greenhithe in Kent in May 1845, adding weight to contemporary Inuit claims that they saw the Englishmen eating each other in a bid to survive.

The doomed 1845 voyage, led by John Franklin, became stuck in ice off King William Island, Canada, in September 1846, just over a year after they had left England.

The crew were never seen again, but notes left behind reveal a number of them survived for another two years – with some even setting out to walk across Canada to find help.

But their final resting place remained unclear until Owen Beattie, of the University of Alberta, led a team which first found the bones of the explorers on King William Island in the 1980s and 90s.

These bones showed evidence of knife marks, which, according to Forbes' Kristina Killgrove, indicated ‘early stage' cannibalism.

Now, the discovery of ‘pot polish' by Beattie and bioarchaeologist Simon Mays, of Historic England, suggests there was ‘end stage' cannibalism as well.

A summary for an article in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology explained: ‘Survival cannibalism generally follows a sequence in which meat is initially cut from an intact corpse, but if further calories are required successively greater effort is put into corpse processing.


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