The three members of Sledge Team-1 of the 1906-08 Danmark Expedition died in November 1907 while attempting to return to base camp at Danmarkshavn in northeast Greenland. However, while attempting to cross the 79-Fjord in their dog sleds towards a depot in Lambert’s Land, they were hampered by rough icy terrain, exhaustion and hunger.
The last casualty of the failed expedition was Jørgen Brønlund. He died of starvation and frostbite. His body was found four months later along with his diary, which contained a brief explanation on the last page of what had happened. There was a strange black mark pasted under his signature.
In November 2020, chemists at Syddansk Universitet had the opportunity to analyze a very specific part of the last page of the diary, specifically, the black stain under his signature. The results were published in the journal Archaeometry.
The analyses confirm the presence of burnt rubber, various oils, petroleum and faeces. These new findings provide a unique insight into Brønlund’s final hours, says chemistry professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at Syddansk Universitet.
According to the scientist, there is an explanation: it is now suspected that the stain came from a rubber seal. As there was no fuel left, Brønlund tried to preheat his Lux petroleum burner with various combustible materials. According to the researchers, the traces of burnt rubber probably came from a seal on the kerosene burner.
A few days before Brønlund’s death, the other two members of Dog Sled team 1 also died. Neither the bodies of expedition commander Mylius Erichsen and Niels Peter Høegh Hagen, nor their diaries have been found since.
Objective of the Danmark expedition
The Danish expedition had travelled to northeast Greenland in 1906 to explore and map the northernmost part of Greenland and also to determine whether the 50,000 square kilometre Peary Land was a peninsula or an island. Because if it were an island, it would belong to the Americans. If it were a peninsula, it would be part of the Danish territory. This was the goal of the so-called Danmark expedition, to which the six-member team under the leadership of Mylius Erichsen had set out on the ship “Danmark”. To map the coastline there, the team split into two groups of three and set off on dog sleds across the icy landscape. This adventure ended fatally for Dog Sled team-1.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal