Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Serendipity of Research

I spend a lot of time researching my books. I'm currently working on a mystery set in Nova Scotia. It will be the second in a series that begins with the release of my book MISERY BAY in May, 2016. One of the elements of this new book deals with the discovery of a bog body found in my mythical village, Misery Bay.

Bog bodies are generally found in northern European climes, from Denmark to Ireland, Scotland, Germany and so forth. Virtually no well preserved bog bodies have been found in North America. This seems hard to believe but has to do with climate, glaciation and other factors. 168 bodies were found dating back some eight thousand years in Florida. Called the Windover Skeletons, these ancient bodies are not true bog bodies for they are almost completely skeletonized, though some of the brain material has been preserved. In fact, hundreds of peat sites dating from Paleoeskimo or Archaic times up to the historic period have been found, along with many artifacts, in Newfoundland and Labrador. But preserved bog bodies are not among these treasures.

Red Bay, Labrador, a small village I visited many years ago, was considered the whaling capital of the world from A. D. 1550-1600. Many bodies were found in the Basque Whaler's cemetery at Red Bay. While most of these were buried in shallow, well-drained soil that would not lead to preservation, nearby, more bodies were found in a peat bog. These were preserved more like the bog men found in Europe, but because of shallow burials and partly aerobic conditions, the preservation of bone and soft tissue was poor.

I've continued to research bog bodies in North America and in doing so, I came across a fascinating item that illustrates the serendipitous nature of research. The researcher often comes across completely unexpected information. In 1867, a pair of loggers were trying to unearth a tree located in old peat deposits in Ontario. Attaching their team of horses to try to pull the log out, the workers pulled up a blanket of peat in the process. What they found was nothing less than Samuel de Champlain's astrolabe. The instrument, used for navigation, had the date of 1603 on it and was in remarkable condition.

While it is impossible to prove definitively that it belonged to Champlain, historians believe there is little other explanation. Champlain was the only traveler in the region at that time. The Astrolabe was found along the Ottawa River, where it is known that Champlain had portaged with his men in the year 1613.

This is the sort of thing a novelist can't resist, and I will have to figure out a way to introduce this amazing object into my current tale. The astrolabe now resides in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. I'll have to go visit it some day. Here is what it looks like (you will have to scroll down to page 7 to see it).

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