Like a polar explorer was frozen and hungry in a Greenland cave, he smeared a black stain at the bottom of his last diary entry. More than a century later, this dark spot has revealed grim new details about the dying man’s final hours.
His name was Jørgen Brønlund; He was an Inuit born in Greenland and was part of a three-man team in the Danish expedition to the northeast coast of Greenland, conducted from 1906 to 1908 and led by Danish ethnologist Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen. Brønlund died in November 1907 and was the last of the team to perish – and the only one whose body was ever found.
He wrote down his last thoughts in a journal, and the last page had a heavy black stain on it. Researchers recently performed a thorough analysis of the stain, finding that it contained burnt rubber, oils and droppings. The traces hint at Brønlund’s desperate and unsuccessful attempts to light a life-saving oil burner before succumbing to cold and hunger, scientists wrote in a new study.
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Brønlund died when the team returned to base camp from the north coast of Greenland, while they were traveling on the inland ice. Mylius-Erichsen and Niels Peter Høeg Hagen, the cartographer of the expedition, had already died of exposure and exhaustion by the time Brønlund went to a sheltering cave near the depot, he writes in his diary.
“I have reached this place under a waning moon, and I cannot go on anymore, because of my frozen feet and the darkness. The bodies of the others are in the middle of the fjord,” the dark last entry reads. of the newspaper, according to a report published in 1908 in Scottish Geographic Magazine. Another expedition discovered Brønlund’s body and diary in March 1908; they buried him at the site of his death and the diary was added to the collection of the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
Beneath Brønlund’s signature on that last diary page was “a stuck black stain,” according to the new study. The mysterious mark was so intriguing that it prompted an anonymous researcher to surreptitiously remove it for analysis in 1993 without prior permission, said study lead author Kaare Lund Rasmussen, professor in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at University of Southern Denmark.
“The spot was immediately taken to the National Museum [of Denmark] for exam. There was no commercial or other gain for that person, “Rasmussen told Live Science in an email.” Nowadays we don’t analyze samples without written permission, but it was completely different at the time. ‘time.
At the time, experts from the National Museum’s natural science unit were unable to determine the chemical makeup of this strange place. For the new study, scientists reexamined the location using techniques that weren’t available in the 1990s – such as x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and inductive plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) – to analyze the mark at the atomic level and identify its chemical elements.
With the carbon in the charred fragment, the researchers discovered calcium, titanium and zinc. But this trio of signatures does not match any known rock formations in northeast Greenland, Rasmussen said. Further analysis of the location solved the puzzle, identifying the minerals calcite, rutile and zincite, which contained these elements. These minerals were used as fillers in rubber production, suggesting that the log stain included burnt rubber. This likely came from a charred gasket on a stove or kerosene burner that Brønlund was trying to light, the study found.
The researchers also detected three groups of organic compounds: lipids – such as vegetable oil, animal fat, and fish or whale oil – petroleum and human feces (in its severely weakened and hopeless state, Brønlund may have tried to burn his own feces to get the stove to light).
“By this time, Brønlund was starving for weeks, was fatigued beyond his ability and was freezing,” the scientists wrote. “It is likely that his hands were shaking when he used the matches in the depot to preheat and light the stove in the small cave.”
These stoves metabolize alcohol for preheating before they can be lit, and there was none in the store. Brønlund may have left the mark on his diary page after he tried – and probably failed – to preheat the stove with whatever he could find, and the presence of droppings in the mark is testament to the dire circumstances and bad conditions of its “dismal final days,” report the study’s authors.
The results were published online Nov. 16 in the journal Archaeometry.
Originally posted on Live Science.