Soup can reopens mystery of doomed Franklin Expedition

December 15, 2009
Soup can reopens mystery of doomed Franklin Expedition
Lead levels that are 'off the scale' have been confirmed after tests were done this morning on the lid of a soup can dating back more than 150 years.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lead levels that are "off the scale" have been confirmed after tests were done this morning on the lid of a soup can dating back more than 150 years. The findings reopen the mystery surrounding the cause of death of Sir John Franklin and his doomed crew as they searched for the Northwest Passage.

Fiona McNeill, associate vice-president, Research, and a professor of medical science and applied radiation, says tests were conducted using x-ray fluorescence, a non-destructive method of analyzing artifacts. McMaster is one of two centres in Canada with this specific kind of capability.

As soon as the four-inch diameter lid from the can was scanned, says McNeill, "the numbers showed us lead levels that were pretty much off the scale. It was an instantaneous test. We had already tested the soup found in the can and found high levels of lead, so we were certain we were going to find similar levels in the sealing solder."

Franklin set sail from England in 1845 on his fourth Arctic exploration to map the final section of the . But something happened when his ships became stuck in ice, and the crew was never heard from again. The loss, considered the biggest disaster in British naval history, triggered numerous search parties. In 1988, bodies of some of the crew were found, preserved in the .

The can of soup being tested was found on Dealy Island, and though it was left behind by a search party dispatched from England in 1852 it would be virtually identical to the provisions consumed by Franklin and his crew.

With the lead levels confirmed, McMaster's Department of Anthropology will next make a batch of the ox cheek soup and can it using methods from the 1840s. Over the course of a year the cans will be opened and analyzed. Researchers will then be able to gauge how quickly lead leaches into soup rendering it lethal. Lead poisoning has long been considered a cause of death for the ill-fated explorers.

The can is part of the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum. Public fascination with the Franklin Expedition has not abated over time, says Ken Lister, curator of anthropology at the Royal Ontario Museum. "The two ships from the have never been found, and as recently as this past summer people were still out there looking for artifacts."

Fifteen years ago, McMaster University analyzed the bones from the Franklin crew and found that were higher than researchers had detected in any living human.

Explore further: Eating soup will help cut calories at meals

Related Stories

Eating soup will help cut calories at meals

May 1, 2007

Eating low-calorie soup before a meal can help cut back on how much food and calories you eat at the meal, a new Penn State study shows. Results show that when participants in the study ate a first course of soup before a ...

ISS Crew to Celebrate New Year

December 30, 2005

The crew onboard the International Space Station are looking forward to celebrating New Year's Day after spending a quiet Christmas 225 miles above the Earth.

Chicken dumpling soup mix is recalled

April 10, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the recall of 99 boxes of Maggie & Mary's brand chicken dumpling soup mix due to a possible health risk.

Navy to run TB tests for crew and guests

July 24, 2006

Crew members and civilians who were aboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego are being testing for tuberculosis after some crew members tested positive for TB.

Recommended for you

When should the police use confrontational tactics?

July 25, 2017

Citizens depend on police to provide public safety while maintaining the trust of the community. How can democratic societies balance these two, often conflicting, aims—given citizens' often divergent views over basic tenets ...

Bringing a 'trust but verify' model to journal peer review

July 21, 2017

Academic journals are increasingly asking authors to use transparent reporting practices to "trust, but verify" that outcomes are not being reported in a biased way and to enable other researchers to reproduce the results. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.