Franklin’s Lost Expedition

The Franklin Expedition, a seemingly straightforward mission to explore the last uncharted areas of the Arctic Circle, took an extreme turn for the worse in one of the biggest lost expeditions to ever happen.  A group of 129 men set off from Britain in 1845 with the goal of finally exploring the remaining sections of the arctic circle.  Their job was to take a 1,040 mile path near the north pole and then return to Britain in a timely manner.  It seemed as if the mission would be straightforward and routine, until, however, the expedition failed to return over two years later.  The crew was led by John Franklin.  Franklin was first picked, reluctantly, by John Barrow, who was at the time the secretary of the Admiralty.  John Franklin was not his first or even second choice of candidates to lead the trip.  His top three candidates all opted out of the trip for various reasons, including being newlywed or just being plain sick of exploring the Arctic Circle.  The expedition would consist of two ships, the Erebus and the Crozier.  The expedition took off on May 19th, 1845, and the crew was seen for the last time in July of that year in Baffin Bay when they were waiting out poor weather conditions.  The ships and crew then went missing for over two years.  John Franklin’s wife, as well as members of the parliament, organized a search party afterwards.  The search party consisted of one land group and two sea groups.  One of the sea expeditions would go up through the Canadian Archipelago and the other through the Pacific side.  After all three of these groups failed to find anything, the quest was called an endless crusade, and was paused until 1850 when several more ships were sent out.  This was when the first remnants of the expedition were discovered.  It was a small camp and the graves of 3 crew members.  There was nothing else found until four years later when John Rae began surveying the Boothia Peninsula.  He spoke with some Inuit people there that spoke of a group of 35-40 white men that starved the death in the area.  The Inuit also said that they were fairly sure that cannibalism became involved towards the end of their lives.  They showed John Rae several objects that belonged to the lost ships including a lifeboat, silverware, and notes.  The notes contained things such as the dates of the expeditions, names of crew members, and other personal things.  One of the notes found stated that the ships had become stuck in ice in 1847, two years after the expedition began.  It was then concluded through all of the random evidence found, that the crew had run out of food, succumbed to diseases such as Pneumonia, and resorted to cannibalism as a last resort.  All of these factors, as well as the extremely harsh Arctic climate, would lead to the death of all 129 members of the expedition.  Most of the bodies and the actual ships would never be found.  In the midst of this tragedy, there is one positive light, however.  As Richard Cyriax said, “the loss of the expedition probably added much more [geographical] knowledge than its successful return would have done.”

The Grotte de Chauvet, the Pinnacle of Cave Art

The Grotte de Chauvet is a very famous series of chambers located in the Ardeche region of southeastern France.  They were discovered on December 18, 1994 by Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet.  When they stumbled upon the chambers, the caver explorers said that it was as if time had frozen for 10,000 years.  The cave is filled with more than 300 paintings and engravings of animals.  Some of these animals are black horses, wild oxen with twisted horns,  rhinoceroses, lions, stags, and an engraving of an owl.  Many of these animals are things that had never before been seen in cave drawings.  Along with these, there are also pictures of many predatory animals such as cave lions, panthers, bears, and cave hyenas.  As with most cave art of the era, there are no paintings of complete humans.  There are handprints throughout the cave, which were done by holding ones hand up and spitting color pigment over it.  The technique used in this cave is one that has rarely been seen.  This technique is one where the imperfections on the surface of the wall were scraped off, as well as a shading technique that gave the effect of movement.


It is apparent that the artists were masters of perspective, overlapping different figures and spreading the paint with their hands to show dimension and color tonality.  Using radiocarbon dating, the paintings were found to be from around 34,000 B.C, making them the oldest accurately dated art in the world.  There are also different areas of the cave where samples taken were from as late as 22.500B.C, showing that there was activity in the cave for over 10,000 years.  It is believed that the Grotte de Chauvet was a bear cave.  As there was many bear skulls and well as tracks found inside the cave, it was clearly a place where they hibernated during the wintertime.  Ever since the sites discovery in 1994, the cave has been closed off to the public.  The site is secluded like this because of the cave of Lascaux.  The cave was open to the public in the 20th century, and because of this, large amount of visitors actually caused the growth of mold on the walls of the cave.  This mold was damaging to the art found there, and to prevent this same thing from happening, the Grotte de Chauvet has been permantly sealed off from the public.  The cave is a monumental tribute to past art forms, and represents the most prestigious level of cave art from the late ice age era.

Akhenaten, the Unorthodox King

The rule of Amenhotep IV was easily one of the most controversial periods in Egyptian history as we know it.  When he was crowned king in the temple of Karnak, he immediately moved to make huge changes within the Egyptian government.  The biggest thing he did was declare the sun God Ra and the actual sun, or “Aten” , as they called it, separate entities.  He also changed his name to Akhenaten, or servant of the Aten.  The sun was seen as a giver and protector of life.  These new views did not sit very well with the society, as it has been shown that even the lowest levels of the community did not depart from their old ways.  Only the upper echelons of society embraced the new culture.  It is believed that although the upper class conformed with the new ideals, they did not actually believe in them themselves.

Along with the change of deity, the new king also invoked a good amount of other changes.  For one, he ended up moving the capital city to an entirely new location.  The site where the new city was built was a completely new area with no past significance.  The new city that was built would be called el-Amarna.  The archaeological record indicates that the new leader did not seem to have much influence throughout Egypt at all.  The only major effect was the dismantle of the priesthood and the closing of the temples that went along with them, which would later be reestablished after the king died.

With an entirely new city also came significant changes in art style, as well as differences in power of the Queen.  This new art style had to do with the artistic perception of the royal family, with the king having an elongated head, drooping chin, and a large stomach.  Along with this, the new sun god Aten was perceived as a red disk over the king’s head.  It was drawn like this because the king claimed that only he was able to personally connect with Aten.  This clearly did not sit so well with the general population and led to the eventual fall of the Akhenaten era.  With regard to the change in the queens power, these changes brought, for the first time, a large amount of power to the queen herself.  This power appeared to be almost at the level of the king, and was seen throughout the art of the era, dominating most of the art spread throughout the temple of the Aten at Karnak.

Akhenaten’s unorthodox rule came to an abrupt end when he died what was believed to be 16 years into his rule.  The city of el-Amarna along with the Aten dynasty diminished back to the traditional methods shortly after his death, when his son, Tutankhamun, took over the royal seat in his place.  This could also help to explain why king Tut’s rule was so short and insignificant.  Akhenaten’s era was a very experimental and controversial, and because of this, created a big ripple in the Egyptian culture that is still very significant to this day.

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara

If you saw the Step Pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt, you would immediately know how it got it’s name.  This is a very unique pyramid in Egypt that was designed in a set of six steps.  It was designed this way by the pharaoh Djoser’s vizier Imhotep.  It was designed in a way that resembled tombs of king’s past stacked on top of one another in a sort of staircase to the heavens.  The steps of the pyramid form “benches” or mastaba towards the top.  Each level of the pyramid gets gradually less steep as it gets closer to the top.  The two bottom levels of the pyramid are square mastaba, a method that had never been used previously. After the first two levels, the design returns back to rectangular, which was the norm at the time.

The pyramid itself and its surroundings

The pyramid itself and its surroundings

On the outside there lies a massive wall that extends for about a mile in perimeter around the pyramid.  This wall forms a giant courtyard with the main entrance of the southeastern side.  There is a giant entrance hall facing the south side of the main pyramid where the king’s remains were buried.  Several “false entrances” were also made along the outside of the wall.  These were intended for use by the king is his afterlife.  Outside of that wall, lies a giant forty meter wide trench, which was believed to be another form of defense for the pyramid.  The only remaining actual part of the king himself was a mummified foot.

Like many tombs of that era, the infrastructure of this pyramid is a series of mazes and paths throughout.  The entrance to the inside was located on the north side of the pyramid, a tradition that was carried out for many years in ancient Egypt.  These paths through the inside lead to many remains of people of the royal family as well as many possessions and offerings .  Several of the passages were sealed off as the pyramid grew.  This, along with creating intricate mazes, were intended to differ grave-robbers from invading the tomb.  Their efforts were futile, and many new paths were created in order to plunder the tomb.  There have been many stone vases and other items found within the tomb.  The extensive use of stone in the pyramid made it much more durable than the previous buildings made of mud-brick, causing many entities of the pyramid to be preserved much better than things of the past.

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is a very distinctive landmark, and surely a must-see for anyone interested in pyramids.  It was a significant part of the Egyptian culture and redefined the way people think of pyramids with it’s unprecedented design.