Synchrotron studies of bone and teeth have led a multi-institution team of scientists to conclude that lead poisoning did not play a pivotal role in the deaths of crew members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, says a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Our findings don’t mean the crew members weren’t exposed to high levels of lead, and they don’t mean the sailors weren’t impacted. But our findings don’t lend support to massive and sustained lead poisoning that would have compromised them any more than any sailor of that era would have been compromised,” said David Cooper of the University of Saskatchewan, an author of the paper.
Data collected by the team don’t support the theory that compromised physical and/or neurological health resulting from lead poisoning prompted the stranded sailors’ fatal march southward in April 1848 to try to reach a Hudson Bay Company post, said Cooper, Canada Research Chair in Synchrotron Bone Imaging in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology at the U of S College of Medicine.
That theory arose from previous analyses of bone, hair and soft tissue samples from the frozen bodies of the sailors, which had found they had high levels of lead in their tissue.
The 11-member team includes Treena Swanston, who was a post-doctoral fellow on Cooper’s team at the U of S when the research began and is currently an assistant professor at MacEwan University. She is lead author of the paper.
Image: Sanjukta Choudhury (U of S), David Cooper (U of S), and Brian Bewer (CLS) at a CLS beamline.