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The Gruesome Tale of the Franklin Expedition: Cannibalism in Doomed Journey Proven Real

Oct 31, 2016 04:22 AM EDT
Franklin expedition
Two ships sailed, zero returned and only a tragic tale of cannibalism drifted back to shore.
(Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Famous explorer Sir John Franklin led 129 men in an expedition that took them from their homeland in Great Britain to the Canadian Arctic in 1845. Two ships sailed, zero returned, and only a tragic tale of cannibalism drifted back to shore.

According to a report from Smithsonian, the stories of cannibalism have been around since the failed expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. The two ships -- H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror -- got stuck in the ice, as expressed in a note left in a canister in King William Island in the central part of the Canadian Arctic.

The ships contained a lot of provisions as Franklin and his crew actually expected to be frozen in for a few winters, a report from Live Science revealed. However, even the following summers brought in sea ice, so they weren't able to break free. Twenty-four men already died by the time everyone else opted to leave their ships and trek a thousand miles to the nearest Hudson's Bay trading post along the Back River that they figured would have a lot of fish to eat.

It proved to be the wrong choice as birds were few and fishing was poor. None of the crew members got to even a fifth of the way to their goal.

With their lives hanging by a thread the entire way, word of cannibalism seemed more than plausible. Tragically, none of the men ever made it back to British shores, so the stories were never confirmed or denied by any one of them. However, evidence and word of mouth both prove that Franklin's crew did indeed succumb to cannibalism in a practice that seamen call the "custom of the sea."

A report from Live Science revealed the latest study to prove the cannibalism that occurred in the Franklin expedition. The past 150 years had scientists stumble upon scattered remains of the crew, and many of them had cut marks on the bones, suggesting the flesh was sliced from them.

The real-life events actually proved to be even more desperate than the rumors painted: the starving men not only ate their deceased comrades but also cracked their bones open to get to the marrow inside. The study in the Journal of Osteoarchaeology found that the bones had signs of being broken and "pot polishing," which occurs when bones being boiled rub against the pot it's in.

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