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Whalers to be exhumed on Svalbard

Grave, Rest in Peace WhalersGrave, Rest in Peace. Photo:


Whalers to be exhumed on Svalbard

Three coffins containing whalers are to be exhumed on Svalvard because they are in danger of being destroyed by erosion .


Ever since the early 1990s there has been imposed a restrictive exhumation of graves on Svalbard. But a decline in the permafrost and shorter periods of sea ice has in recent years caused several graves to be endangered by erosion, according to the Governor of Svalbard.

The first part of the exhumation at Smeerenburg flats in the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park starts on Saturday. Thereafter, the coffins will be shipped to the Svalbard museum, where they exhumations will be completed later this autumn. It is the local Governor who carries out the exhumations in collaboration with Svalbard museum.

Archaeological heritage

Excavations made in the 80’s on the Western European whalers from the 16th and 17th century is considered unique. Conservation due to permafrost ensures that the skeletons in the graves retain soft tissues of skin, hair and brain matter. It has provided researchers with a unique insight into the living conditions, health and equipment of European seamen in the 16th and 17th century.

Emergency exhumations that were made on Bjørnøya in 2015 and Likneset in 2016 showed that the decomposing process of the material in the graves has come a lot further than those made in the 80’s. The Governor has reason to believe that conservation conditions change as a result of a warmer climate on Svalbard.

The exhumations can thereby provide knowledge about the state of the archaeological heritage and the consequences of climate change.


© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today



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