A Small Piece Of Toenail Revealed The Fate Of Franklin Expedition And Its 129 Crew Members

First Posted: Dec 09, 2016 03:30 AM EST

The fate of Franklin expedition was decoded by a group of scientists that studied a piece of toenail obtained from the corpse of able seaman John Hartnell. The study was conducted under the leadership of Jennie Christensen, an environmental toxicologist. It was revealed that the crew members died of compromised immune functions rather that lead poisoning.

The toenail was selected as the appropriate study material because they grow at a very slow rate, which means that the sample took at least two to three weeks to grow toward the end of Hartnell's life. It also stores biochemical information, which can successfully depict the physiological status of the sailor.

Numerous speculations and hypotheses prevail till date regarding what actually happened to the 19th century British voyage to the Northwest Passage. The most acceptable one was that all the crew members suffered lead poisoning from eating canned food and died.

Recently, scientists studied the toenail using the laser technology and high-energy beams emitted from University of Saskatchewan's synchrotron radiation source. The results obtained showed that Hartnell did not consume meat or sea food in the last few weeks of his life. Additionally, he was facing severe zinc deficiency that significantly compromised his immune functions. Scientists are of the view that Hartnell died of life-threatening infections such as tuberculosis due to low immunity, reports CBC News.

The finding of the laser technology research study was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Co-author Laurie Chan said that, "Zinc deficiency would explain that he had a very low immune function," and "In the tough environment, he probably contracted infections and died from [tuberculosis]." Chan also added that, "Being able to have the opportunity to work on this and try to contribute to solve this puzzle is an honor."

Christensen and Chan are hopeful that they will be able to continue working on this topic and unfold unsolved mysteries of the Canadian myth related to the fate of Franklin expedition.

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