Coffee beans, pencils: Sailors’ lives revealed via Franklin expedition artifacts

It was as if the past literally reached out and touched him.

Parks Canada archaeologist Marc-Andre Bernier spent last summer diving into the wreck of the HMS Erebus, the flagship of the Franklin expedition, which sank about 1848 while searching for the Northwest Passage in the waters of what is now Nunavut.

That day, he and his colleagues swam into the pantry of Captain John Franklin.

There on a counter, under a coat of sediment, was a block of sealing wax, the mark of its London maker still legible. On the end, where you would snuff the flame after dripping closed a letter, was a thumbprint — the lingering mark of an individual seaman, dead for 170 years.

“It’s what the work of an archaeologist is about,” said Bernier.

“We get to touch history and touch individuals. You’re down there and you remove things, uncover the sediments, and they slowly appear. To see this unfold before your eyes, it is quite the charge.”

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