While watching the documentary, “Buried in Ice”, about the Franklin Expedition, in class, I was absolutely amazed at the state of the bodies the scientists were examining. I could not believe that permafrost would almost perfectly preserve the bodies of those on the Franklin Expedition for over one hundred years. I thought it was really cool they found evidence of lead poisoning and could use that to draw conclusions about the crew’s demise. However, next class, I was surprised to find that there is a lot of current research disputing the fact that lead poisoning led to the explorers’ demise. In the documentary in class, the scientists seemed pretty confident that the high levels of lead found in the bodies of the mummies were due to the cans their food was kept in over the journey, and that this lead poisoning lead to the confusion that caused the crew to make the irrational decision to trek all the way across the frozen tundra. I decided to look some more into the new research that has been done on the Franklin mummies and the conclusions that can be drawn from this new research.
While scientists today are not arguing that there were high levels of lead found in the Franklin mummies, they now believe this was a result of lead accumulating in the body over a long period of time. They lead distribution was spread too evenly throughout the bodies for it to be a sudden and new occurrence, and no lead was found in areas where it should have been if it were recently ingested. Apparently, during the time of the Franklin expedition, lead pollution was common in Great Britain. These men would have most likely exposed to lead their whole life and the lead from the food cans would not have caused the high levels found in their body.
These new discoveries lead to two common theories. One is that the Franklin explorers did not have lead poisoning at all and that the lead found in their body was just part of the time they lived in. Those who believe this theory argue that with the confusion and muscle and nerve damage that comes with lead poisoning, the men would not have been able to voyage as far as they did and properly set up their camps as they did. They believe the demise of the crew was simply due to bad luck and their irrational trek across the island was simply a desperate attempt at survival. Others argue the crew did in fact have lead poisoning due to the living conditions in Britain at the time. If this is the case, the lead poisoning would have been building up in their bodies over their whole life and the effects would have began long before the voyage even set sail, meaning that the Franklin expedition would have been doomed from the very start.