The chemical analysis of the black spot in the diary sheds new light on the last hours of the legendary Polar Explorer

Sledgeteam 1 from the Danish Expedition 1906-08. Left expedition commander Mylius-Erichsen, Niels Peter Høeg Hagen and Jørgen Brønlund. All three died on the expedition. Credit: wikipedia

In 1906, the Danish Expedition began exploring the unknown Inuit area. Three members died.

The chemical analysis of the black spot in the diary sheds new light on the fate and tragic death of Jørgen Brønlund, a member of the legendary Inuit polar expedition, in Northeast Greenland in 1907.

Jørgen Brønlund was one of the participants in the legendary Mylius Erichsen’s 1906-08 Expedition to Greenland, Denmark. He died in 1907 in a small famine and freezing cave, but before that he made one last note in his diary:

“79 Fjords died after trying to return home on an iceberg. I came here in November in the dim light of the waning moon, and I couldn’t keep up with Frost on foot and in the dark.”

The Danish expedition traveled to northeastern Greenland a year ago to explore and map the northernmost Greenland, as well as to determine if the 50,000-square-kilometer Peary Land was a peninsula or an island. If there was an island, it would reach the Americans. If it were on a peninsula, it would be part of Denmark’s territory.

Peary Land

The peninsula in northeastern Greenland is named after American polar explorer RE Peary, who believes the region is an island and therefore not part of Denmark. This was refuted by the Danish Expedition and Peary Land remained in Denmark. Peary Land is uninhabited.

Three participants died

After a failed attempt to enter the Fyodor of Independence, Jørgen Brønlund and two other participants in the expedition’s ski team 1 had to give up at the end.

A few days before Brønlund’s death, two other members of the ski team 1 died: Expedition Commander Mylius Erichsen and Niels Peter Høegh Hagen. Neither their bodies nor their diaries were found.

Jørgen Brønlund’s body and diary have been found and have been kept in the Royal Library in Copenhagen almost since then.

Black Spot from Brønlund Diary

3 × 3 mm black spot from Brønlund’s diary. Credit Kaare Lund Rasmussen / SDU. Credit: Kaare Lund Rasmussen / SDU

The last page of the diary

Now chemists at the University of South Denmark have the opportunity to analyze a very precise part of the last page of the diary; more precisely, the black spot under Jørgens Brønlund’s last entry and signature.

Analyzes show that the stain consists of the following components: burnt rubber, various oils, oil and feces.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a chemistry professor at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of South Denmark, says the new information gives a unique perspective on Brønlund’s last hours.

Brønlund's Petroleum Burner

Brønlund’s oil burner was discovered in 1973. Credit: © Jørn Ladegaard

Last attempt to light the fire

He tells me how weak he is for me and how he tries to burn his nose by squeezing his dirty hands, but he fails.

As the last survivor of the 1st ski team, Brønlund reached a warehouse in Lambert’s territory and had at his disposal a LUX brand oil burner, matches and petrol. However, there was no alcohol metabolized to preheat the burner.

He had to find something else to start the furnace. You can use paper or oily cloth, but it is difficult. Kaare Lund Rasmussen says she thinks she’s experimenting with existing oils because the black spot contains traces of vegetable oil and grease that can come from fish, animal or wax candles.

Found four months later

The burnt rubber content of the stain probably comes from a gasket in the Lux burner. Conta Brønlund may have been burned long before the cave crisis, but it may also have been in his last vain attempt to start a fire.

Brønlund’s body and diary were found four months later, when spring arrived, by Johan Peter Koch and Tobias Gabrielsen, who had set out from Danmarkshavn to search for members of the missing ski team.

The diary was found at Brønlund’s feet and taken back to Denmark and is now housed in the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

Brønlund’s Lux burner was discovered in 1973 by the Danish Defense Sirius Patrol. After his reburial in 1978, Brønlund was donated to the Arctic Institute in Copenhagen.

Reference: “In the Darkest Hour: An Analysis of the Black Spot on the Last Page of the Diary of the Polar Researcher Jørgen Brønlund (b. 1907)” KL Rasmussen, T. Delbey, L. Skytte, J. La Nasa, MP Colombini, DB Ravnsbæk, B. Jørgensen, F. Kjeldsen, B. Grønnow and S. Larsen, 16 November 2020, Archaometry.
DOI: 10.1111 / arcm.12641

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