Cannibalism Essay

1042 words - 4 pages

On June 25th, 1981 physical anthropologist Owen Beattie set out on a mission. Using his knowledge of forensic anthropology he wanted to uncover the time-hidden secrets of the Franklin expedition. Once and for all he hoped to substantiate or disprove the rumors of the cannibalism that allegedly the crew was forced to resort to. To do this Beattie and his company were forced to battle the "extremely low, marshy, and sandy," land and the lack of sites. Upon finally coming across a site they found some potential indications for the occurrence of cannibalism, though nothing concrete as of yet.

Their first discovery: a portion of a skull, would be one of the most telling artifacts of the expedition. The skull was, like the other bones later exposed, covered in "areas of shallow pitting and scaling on the outer surface." This giving merit to the claims by many historians that "expedition members suffered from the debilitating effects of scurvy during their final months." This would make the possibility of cannibalism much larger as the Franklin men would be subject to the "weakness, weight loss, and irritability" of scurvy. These characteristics drove their desperate need to eat at any cost. Beattie also described the piece of skull as being Caucasian after identifying such features "as the shape of the skull's frontal bone and characteristics of the eye socket."

Although it is an undisputed fact that in the times that the Franklin expedition took place scurvy was prevalent on almost all of the long voyages, a few other facts must be noted in regard to the piece of skull found. Upon first examination of the artifact, Beattie attributed its damage to "the severity of the northern climate." Later, he stated that the same damage could be attributed to vitamin C deficiency. Although historically the evidence would point to the latter prospect, it is nevertheless worth considering the climate as the cause of this damage. Another observation of Beattie's that is debatable is the validity of his quick decision that the bones were of a Caucasian man. Considering the muscle markings and limb bones the person was definitely male. Beattie's observation that he was Caucasian, however, is not definite.

Many anthropologists today now consider that the method of classifying skulls into three types according to race is questionable. These features that Beattie quickly assumed to be Caucasian may not have been. This increased in probability when considering that as noted later the face of the skeleton was missing. The skeleton might have been one of the indigenous people, the Inuit, which could explain the presence of vitamin C deficiency problems. As was the case when Beattie traveled to the North American mainland there would have been little if any vegetation. This being considered, the Inuit could have shared the same deficiencies as the Franklin crew in their bones, especially taking into account that they too would not have had...

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