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In Photos: Arctic Shipwreck Solves 170-Year-Old Mystery

An unexpected find

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(Image credit: © Parks Canada)

Sir John Franklin and his men set out from England for the Arctic in search of a Northwest Passage aboard two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. In 1846, the two ships became entrapped in ice near King William Island, never to be heard from again. Franklin died there on June 11, 1847, according to a note found later on King William Island. Dives to the site of HMS Erebus (HMS Terror remains missing) have pulled up plenty of telling artifacts, including a medicine bottle, buttons, plates and even a cannon. Here an image of the shipwreck released by the Canadian Authorities.

An exciting discovery

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(Image credit: © Parks Canada)

Another image of HMS Erebus. Both vessels became icebound around King William Island. All 128 crewmembers plus expedition leader John Franklin died in the days, weeks and months that followed.

A shipwreck discovery

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(Image credit: © Parks Canada)

Erebus and Terror were considered technological wonders in their day. They had survived an expedition to Antarctica, but their iron-reinforced hulls proved to be no match for the Canadian Arctic.

Checking out the find

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(Image credit: © Parks Canada)

Jointly, the undiscovered wrecks of Erebus and Terror had been labeled national historical site in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the discovery "has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries."

A closer view

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(Image credit: © Parks Canada)

This sonar closeup shows the ship at the bottom of the Arctic seabed.

At sea

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(Image credit: © Theresa Nichols, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team heads out with their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) aboard the research vessel Investigator, to confirm side-scan sonar data.

Docked

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(Image credit: © Jonathan Moore, Parks Canada)

The M/V Martin Bergmann at the Cambridge Bay wharf with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier at anchor in the background.

Exploring the HMS Erebus

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(Image credit: Copyright Parks Canada)

A diver explores the wreck of the HMS Erebus in April 2015 during a 5-day expedition. The Erebus was one of two ships of the doomed Franklin expedition, which launched from England in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage. Until 2014, no one knew where the ship had come to rest.

Under the Ice

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(Image credit: Copyright Parks Canada)

Archaeologists used hot water to bore through 6.5 feet (2 meters) of ice in remote Queen Maud Gulf in order to dive to the wreck of the HMS Erebus. Canadian military support made the research expedition possible.

Recovering a Cannon

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(Image credit: Copyright Parks Canada)

In April, archaeologists pulled 14 artifacts from the HMS Erebus wreck. The largest was this 680 pound (309 kilogram) cannon. (In September 2014, the team recovered the ship's bell.) This cannon was one of three guns that sailed on the HMS Erebus and is inscribed "I&H King - 1812," revealing its date of manufacture and its makers, John and Henry King of the Royal Brass Foundary in Woolwich, England.

Receiving the cannon

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(Image credit: Copyright Parks Canada)

Archaeologists and their support team stand on the ice over one of the access holes for the HMS Erebus wreck site, hoisting one of the ship's cannons to the surface. Researchers camped out for five days on the ice, diving to the wreck from 8 in the morning to 10 at night.