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Research has provided new ideas for the final work of polar explorers more than 100 years later



The oil burner of the Danish explorer Jørgen Brønlund was discovered in 1973. During an expedition to Greenland, Browne and two of his compatriots died in 1907.
enlarge / The oil burner of the Danish explorer Jørgen Brønlund was discovered in 1973. During an expedition to Greenland, Browne and two of his compatriots died in 1907.

Jørn Ladegaard

More than a hundred years ago, a Danish explorer named Jørgen Brønlund was killed with two explorers during an expedition in northeastern Greenland. He left a diary, describing in detail his last moments, and finally there was a black dot under his signature. According to the November paper published in the journal Archaeology, scientists have now used various techniques to analyze the spot to determine its composition, which will give off a fresh light in the last few hours of Brønlund.

Northeast Greenland is still one of the most hostile areas in the Arctic. Only the Sirius patrol of the Danish Army occasionally crosses frozen sledges on dog sledges during the coldest part of the year. As early as 1906, when the Danish expedition was launched, many areas of the region had not yet been mapped. That is the main goal of the expedition, and various scientific researches. (Alfred Wegner was one of the scientists on the expedition.)

The expedition goes by boat to Greenland SS Denmark, Landed in August 1906 and established a base camp (warehouse) named Danmarkshavn. The members were assigned to the sled team to advance north. Jørgen Brønlund and Expeditionary Commander Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen and Niels Peter Høeg Hagen are sleds Member of team 1. An important part of their mission is to discover that the so-called Peary Land (discovered by Robert Peary in 1891) is a peninsula (in this case will still be part of the Kingdom of Denmark) or an island, where In this case, the United States will claim that it is American territory.

Sledgeteam 1 from the Danish expedition from 1906-08. Commanders of the Left Expeditionary Force Mylius-Erichsen, Niels Peter Høeg Hagen and Jørgen Brønlund.All three died of expeditions
enlarge / Sledgeteam 1 from the Danish expedition from 1906-08. Commanders of the Left Expeditionary Force Mylius-Erichsen, Niels Peter Høeg Hagen and Jørgen Brønlund.All three were killed in the expedition

Public domain/Wikipedia

In March 1907, the sled convoy headed north, hindered by the buckling and cracking of the ice and damage to the sled. Mylius-Erichsen, Brønlund, and Høeg Hagen decided to follow the coastline, but because that route unexpectedly led them to the northeast, the commander became increasingly worried. As time and terms shorten, this means that there is still some distance from their ultimate goal. When he and his two sled companions entered the unmapped Danmark Fjord, it turned out to be a dead end, forcing them to retreat northeast and back to the mouth of the fjord, wasting precious time. The melting ice will make it impossible for people to return to Danmark Shafin, and they don’t want to fall into the area without enough food and supplies.

At that time, Mylius-Erichsen made the decisive decision not to return to the warship, but to head west, hoping to reach the naval cliff of the leader of the Independence Fjord. By this time, the melting of summer began, the hunting conditions were poor, and their shoes were worn out from hiking on the stone surface. In short, as Brownlund pointed out in his diary, their situation is very bad: “No food, no foot gear, hundreds of miles from the ship. Our prospects are indeed very bad.”

By September, they were forced to try to cross the frozen waters of the 79th Fjord. They only had one sled and four dogs left. Høeg Hagen died first of exhaustion on November 15, 1907, and Mylius-Erichsen died ten days later. In fact, Brønlund reached the other side of the fjord and reached one of the expedition’s existing warehouses. But the darkness and severe frostbite under his feet prevented him from moving forward. He took refuge in a cave and wrote his final diary:

During the arduous journey back to the inland iceberg in November, I was killed at 77 degrees north latitude. Due to cold feet and darkness, I arrived at this place with the moon waning and couldn’t move on. The bodies of other people are in the middle of the fjord. About ten days later, Hagen died on November 15th, Mylius-Erichsen.

In the spring of the following year, two other members of the expedition found Brownlund’s body, and his diary was safely stored on a sled under his feet. They buried him where he died, and the headland is today called Brownlund’s tomb. As for the rest of the Danish expeditions, they have achieved remarkable results, with about 51 reports published, although this success has been reported by Brønlund, Mylius-Erichsen and Hogg Hagen. (Høeg Hagen)’s tragic death was covered up.

This 172-page diary is currently stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen. Under Brender’s signature is a strange-looking black dot. In 1993, readers removed it with a knife. The author pointed out in the paper: “This was done without permission, which is of course unorthodox and illegal.” Fortunately, the sample was eventually owned by the Natural Science Department of the National Museum of Denmark, but despite the passing Many experts have reviewed, but still unable to draw conclusions about what the substance may be.

3×3mm black dot in Brønlund's diary.
enlarge / 3×3 mm black dots in Brownlund’s diary.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen / SDU

That is the starting point of the current research. As early as 2018, Kaare Lund Rasmussen and several colleagues from the University of Southern Denmark collaborated with the National Museum and the Royal Library to determine the composition of the samples. The team took a small amount of samples from the black spots and analyzed them by methods such as X-ray fluorescence, synchrotron radiation powder X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, and gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

They found that the site was composed of burning rubber, vegetable oil, fish or animal fat, petroleum and feces. There is also goethite, which is a common mineral in the environment. The scorched rubber may have come from the gasket in the Lux burner provided by Brønlund, and the explorer destined to burn may have been burned while trying to use any flammable material available to light the fire to keep warm. (The burner was recovered by Sirius Patrol in 1973.) The author speculates that Brønlund was in the cave about five to six days before his death because the sledge box was almost half empty.

Rasmussen said: “This new knowledge gives people a unique insight into Brownlund’s last few hours.” “I have seen how he became weak and shook hands with dirty hands. He tried to light the burner, but failed. He had to find other things to make the burner run. Paper or oiled fabric could be used, but we think he tried the available oil because the black spots contained traces of vegetable oil and possibly Oil from fish, animals or wax candles.”

DOI: “Archaeology”, 2020. 10.1111/ arcm.12641 (about DOI).


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