Saturday, July 17, 2010

Frozen in time – the tale of two amazing dogs

Dog's bones - the oldest and the coldest!
The remains of two amazing dogs, frozen in time, echo the past. One reflects the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration, the other reaches back to the hearty days of Henry VIII.

If only the bones could speak, what a tale those canine ghosts could tell!

When Henry VIII’s warship, Mary Rose, sank off the coast of Portsmouth in 1545, hundreds of sailors and soldiers, went to the bottom of the Solent with her.

The Mary Rose had been sent out with other Tudor navy vessels to engage the approaching French fleet, but without a cannon being fired, the king’s favorite warship heeled over allowing water to pour in through her open gunports. In full view of the royal party, the ship sank to the bottom of the busy roadstead. Settled in layers of silt, the Mary Rose remained there for hundreds of years until twenty years ago when a mammoth effort succeeded in lifting the remains of the near 500 year old ship.

After transporting the remains of the ship's hull to the Royal Naval Dockyard, restoration work began and today the Mary Rose is still undergoing preservation.
Amongst the artifacts collected from the wreck and only recently released for display, is the skeleton of a dog which had been aboard on that fateful day. This exhibit proved to be a star attraction at this years Cruft's Dog Show.

But who had this mongrel dog belonged to - the Captain or one of the nobles? As it was found near the hatch to the carpenter’s cabin, it has been named, Hatch. Being a terrier, it probably was kept busy catching rats as there were no cats on board. Cats were thought to bring bad luck.

During the Heroic Era of exploration in Antarctica, many of the famous explorers used huskies to pull the sledges. Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton, Mawson and others before them all used dogs. In some instances, when provisions ran out, the dogs were killed for food. But eating dogs’ liver, which contains toxic levels of vitamin A, at times proved fatal to some of the explorers.

Captain Scott refused to kill either dogs or ponies for food but in the end he and his four companions died near the South Pole during their unsuccessful attempt to return from it. Scott's unrealistic expectations of the ponies, and his attitude to the dogs, contributed to his disastrous final expedition.

Following the Madrid Protocol on protection of Antarctica, a ruling was made that dogs of any kind should not be allowed on the continent, the reason being that they had the potential to carry and transmit diseases (e.g. distemper) to the polar wildlife – namely penguins and seals.

But the fate of all the dogs which ever went to the pole is not known. Some were returned to northern Europe to work on the snow fields, some died on the Antarctic continent, their carcasses being preserved for who-knows-how long.

In 1998 the carcass of a husky was recovered from the Antarctic Plateau near Cape Denison. How long it had been buried in the snow, no one knows.

I wonder whose sledging team this dog was part of. I wonder if it died on an expedition or ran away. From all appearance of the curled up carcass, it would appear that the dog had settled itself in the snow and gone to sleep, however, its body had succumbed to the sub-zero temperatures with its carcass quickly being covered by the snow of the driving blizzards.
Today the dogs remains are regarded as a historical artifact and preserved as part of the heritage of a bye-gone era.

More to come on Antarctica and a dog sled team.

Pic of Mary Rose, by Geoff Hunt
Pic of 'Hatch' the dog with John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust.

Husky pics from Australian Antarctic Division website.

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