The story of polar exploration involves many nations and peoples, some of whom remain buried in the Arctic, Antarctica and surrounding regions. Some of these grave sites are still accessible to intrepid travelers each year.
As a passenger on today’s guided polar trips, you have a chance to retrace the steps of the first explorers. In visiting their grave sites, we can imagine what life must have been like for the determined, brave souls who ignored warnings to venture no further. These final resting places of famed and lesser-known explorers inspire us to continue on adventures and explorations.
Ancient skulls found in Greenland - Photo credit: C. King
Today, traveling to many areas of the Polar Regions is safe and comfortable, though no less an adventure. The same tranquil land and seascapes first looked upon as almost insurmountable challenges by famous explorers, like the Northwest Passage, are now within reach.
And on many expeditions, we have an opportunity to pay homage to those who went before us, paving the way for our visits today. Here are just a few fascinating polar grave sites Quark Expeditions passengers may have the opportunity to visit:
Greenland’s Mysterious Uummannaq Graves
As you travel the historical path of ancient explorers along the Northwest Passage heading towards Greenland’s Mysterious Uummannaq graves, you’ll see spectacular steep mountain walls. Eight mummified bodies, six women and two children, were found in a grave here by hunters in 1972.
The remains, buried underneath an outcrop of rock, were well preserved. This enabled researchers to study not only the clothing they were buried in, but also the distinctive tattoos on the faces and foreheads of the women. This research has led to discoveries about the lives of the people that inhabited Greenland as early as 2000 B.C.
Four of the mummies are currently on display in the Greenland National Museum.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South Georgia Resting Place
One of the idols of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration is Sir Ernest Shackleton. The stories of his perilous voyages are regarded as some of the most extraordinary examples of leadership and exploration in history. Setting out on your own expedition to South Georgia, you’ll hear the distant call of history as you sail the same waters as Shackleton, while he dreamed of traversing the Antarctic continent.
In 1915, Shackleton and his crew were forced to vacate their ship and set up camp after their vessel became imprisoned in ice. When their ship sank, the crew used three small boats to journey to Elephant Island. With little hope of being rescued from the deserted island, Shackleton and a few others defied stormy seas using a lifeboat and battled their way to South Georgia. Shackleton then treked to the Grytviken whaling station and organized a rescue mission. The group returned to Elephant Island and saved the entire crew. Not one person died, despite being stranded with limited supplies for almost two years.
Ernest Shackleton's grave in Grytviken, South Georgia
Shackleton died of a heart attack during his fourth trip to the South Pole and was buried at South Georgia. As we explore the historic Grytviken Whaling Church, we always stop to observe a ceremony for Sir Ernest Shackleton at his final resting place.
Sir John Franklin’s Crew Lie on Beechey Island
Beechey Island is a designated National Historic Site of Canada. The peninsula, located at the western end of Devon Island, was named for the famed explorer Sir William Beechey. Historically, Beechey Island was a winter station for crews looking for shelter in Canada’s High Arctic.
John Torrington's grave on Beechey Island, Nunavut
During your polar holiday you might visit to Beechey Island, hear a presentation about the expedition of Sir John Franklin, and learn details about the lives lost during his search for the Northwest Passage. The gravestones of three of Franklin’s crew were discovered by a team searching for the missing expedition, and can be observed on a serene stony beach. Pictured above is the grave marker of John Torrington, a member of Franklin's final expedition. His preserved body was exhumed in 1984, and due to the polar conditions he was buried in, it is one of the best preserved corpses ever found to date. Photos exist but are not for the faint of heart - google if you dare!
Monuments and Graves Dot the Polar Regions
The determination and fearlessness that drove men to defy the unforgiving High Arctic and the South Pole in search of wealth and recognition is difficult not to admire. Go north to explore the graves of Rudolf Island in Franz Josef Land. The grave of Norwegian Sigurd B. Myhre, who died during the Fiala expedition in 1904, is located here. Journey to the Arctic to witness the shallow graves in Spitsbergen or visit a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Depot where every year, a group of Mounties tend the graves of their fallen comrades.
Want to learn more? Check out these 4 Arctic expeditions designed for those passionate about Arctic exploration history, Indigenous cultures and untouched, ancient Arctic ruins.
Then, download a Destination Guide to explore what you can see, do and experience in the different regions of the Arctic you might visit on expedition.