A Life on Blank Paper        5. The Vitus Bering Expedition 1991
David Sears, text and photos
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St. Peter was wrecked on the beach behind where  Horsens archæologist Søren Petersen excavates VJB.


Studying topographic maps drawn by their Russian counterparts on two previous expeditions, the crew from Horsen's Museum deduced the crew's gravesite by asking practical questions: Where was the place rhat the survivors were least likely to pass and yet still be near to their shelter? They had no strength to trudge through the deep snow. And out of respect for the dead, it would have to be a place where the survivors would never have to tread.

Their attention turned toward a narrow spit of land jutting towards the sea, just beside the site of the crew's shelters, which had been excavated on the previous Russian effort.
After just a few hours of careful digging the Danish team found the > first human bones. Three days later they confirmed Bering's remains.

Shown in the image above, only the komandorskiye's body had been laid respectfully on wood - a critically valuable commodity for the living. Therefore, of the six graves unearthed, only his remains were in relatively good condition after 250 years in the sandy soil.
Looking down on the site, shows the excavation in relation to where the crew's crude, dome-shaped shelters had been. The larger depression, left, had contained about 50 men; the smaller depression was where Bering's hytte had been in that dark, stormy Arctic winter.



After the death of their komandorskiye, the crew respectfully left his fallen shelter where it was - and this is how Prof. Andrei Stanukovich, leader of the 1985 Soviet expedition, found it under the sand and tall grasses. From the remains he reconstructed the structure below.
In the three images above, the St. Peter's respected navigator, Andreas Hesselberg, rises from the grave, ably assisted by Horsens archaeologist Orla Madsen. Note the cross imbedded on his breast.

To the right, expedition organizer Andrei Shumilov, of Adventure Club, educates rapt local residents about their historical legacy.
In the spring of 1742, the marooned men of St. Peter undertook one of history's most incredible tales of survival.
With no hope of rescue coming from the sea, the survivors set about to save themselves. Salvaging what they could of their wrecked ship, wood, sail cloth, and iron, they began construction of a 12-meter "hooker," a dinghy with a mast, to carry them back to the Russian mainland. It was a labor of unparallelled ingenuity and craftsmanship. To the right, Russian archaeologists excavate a kiln used to melt the ship's iron fittings, to reform them for use on their small craft.
Their diet also improved greatly. The sea provided a bounty of edibles, including the enormous soon-to-be-called Steller sea cow. This illustration of the now-extinct mammal was made by the St. Peter's second officer, Lt. Sven Waxell.
The crew was also fortunate to find that the stream beside their hut was a salmon habitat - a fact not lost on the intrepid Russian team 2-1/2 centuries later, who used the long dark nights to preserve roe. Mmmm, fresh salmon eggs...

The hooker St. Peter II, bearing 46 men, left the tiny island on 13 August, bearing west (it's crew detouring to chart the island group), and two weeks later beached on Kamchatka. A month after that they arrived in Petropavlovsk to a rapturous welcome - they had of course been given up for dead. And on their eventual return to St. Petersburg they all, including GW Steller and the bride of the komandorskiye, made a fortune selling fox pelts!
Don't you just love a happy ending? It gets even better.
Epilogue
The 1991 expedition of archaeological discovery
The expeditions he led
What he did, why
he is important
Intro - around a
bonfire on a
dark still night
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