Fieldwork planned for this year has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Archaeological work on HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, the two shipwrecks of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition found in Nunavut waters several years ago, will resume in 2022. This was announced by Parks Canada in a press release.
Fieldwork was originally scheduled for this summer, but has been postponed by Parks Canada and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee until the summer of 2022 to protect the people of Nunavut from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The work would have involved close contact between research staff and Nunavut communities, which would have posed some risks.
Work on the Terror and Erebus wreck site in 2022 will build on Parks Canada’s work in 2019, which included the discovery of 350 new artifacts recovered from HMS Erebus.
Under international maritime law, the wrecks are the property of the United Kingdom as Royal Navy vessels. In 1997, before any of the wrecks had been discovered, but believing that the wrecks must be in Canadian waters, the United Kingdom had entered into a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with Canada that Canada could own the wrecks. In 1999, Canada created the new Territory of Nunavut under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement with the Inuit and, as part of that agreement, transferred ownership of archaeological sites and artifacts within Nunavut’s boundaries to the Inuit.
However, after the discovery of the wrecks, there was an increased need for clarification from all parties involved regarding the wrecks. In April 2019, the UK and Canada formally agreed that the original 65 artifacts removed from the wrecks would belong to the UK, but that the wrecks themselves and other artifacts removed would belong to Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust, except for gold, which would belong to the UK, and all human remains would be repatriated to the UK. In return, Canada would not seek payment from the United Kingdom for the costs it incurred in discovering the wrecks and removing and preserving the artifacts. With respect to Inuit rights, the Government of Canada, represented by Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association are currently negotiating an agreement that will establish a visitor centre at Gjoa Haven as an extension of the existing Nattilik Heritage Centre.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal