Projects Expedition to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago
участники экспедиции на Новую Землю

Expedition to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago

During the navigation season of 2020, the ANO SI SSC employees worked as part of a complex expedition of the Northern fleet and the Russian Geographic Society, carrying out research work on the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya. The main task of the expedition was to search for traces of Russian polar explorers from the XVII-XVIII centuries to the present time.
Маршрут экспедиции к Новой Земле (2020 г.). Источник: Русское географическое общество

Already in 1594, great Dutch seafarer Willem Barentsz mentioned memorial crosses erected on Novaya Zemlya by Russian coast-dwellers, fishermen and trappers in his sailing directions. At the beginning of the 20th century, leading European countries fought to establish their national flag at the North Pole very first, sending more and more expeditions to the Arctic. The Russian Empire, with its vast maritime territories in the Arctic, was also interested in the polar region and supported conducting research expeditions. To discover, document and, if possible, preserve the traces of previous explorations – that mission was set for team No. 1, led by 2nd rank captain Sergei Zinchenko, in the summer of 2020.

Великий голландский мореход Виллем Баренц
Место зимовки экспедиции экспедиции Виллема Баренца. Ледяная гавань, Карское море

The Dutch seafarer Willem Barentsz, after whom the cold sea from the Kola Peninsula to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago was named, participated in expeditions along the western coast of Novaya Zemlya three times. On the third expedition, in the fall of 1596, his ship was blocked by ice in the Kara Sea. After ice had broken away on June 14, 1597, the winterers attempted to break free and sail back with two boats, but Captain Barentsz got the scurvy during wintering – he died on June 20 and was buried on Novaya Zemlya.

Корабль экспедиции Виллема Баренца. Гравюра из издания дневника Геррита де Веера 1598 г.

The harsh Arctic nature has preserved the remains of the great seafarer’s wintering – traces of thetimber work, a leveeing. There is a narrow hollow in the relief, where the crew made a warehouse for equipment during the construction of the hut. New archeological works in the Ice Bay may shed some light on the life of Captain Barents at the last months of his life.

В июле 1768 г. на Новую Землю направляется первая русская экспедиция под командованием Федора Розмыслова.
Фото: Сергей Катков

In July 1768, by the empress’ command, the first Russian research expedition led by Fyodor Rozmyslov was sent to Novaya Zemlya. Official instructions of the expedition were to make maps of the Matochkin Strait, measure its depths; if possible, to sail the Kara Sea to the Ob river mouth and along the strait’s coast.

«to explore thoroughly, whether there are any ores, minerals and other unusual stones, crystal, other curious things, salt lakes and so forth, and any special well springs and waters, pearl shells, and animals, birds and sea animals inhabiting the waters there, trees and grasses of exceptional and uncommon character»
From the instructions given to navigator F. Rozmaslov for the expedition to Novaya Zemlya

Our search team discovered an 18th-century copper cross and a round lead bullet at the wintering site of the Rozmyslov expedition – real evidence of the first official scientific expedition to these places. Following the description of the early 20th century mariners, we managed to find the wintering remains, wrought nails and gun bullets of the second detachment of the Rozmyslov expedition, which had not been found by the historians before.

Обнаружены медный нательный крест 18 века и круглая свинцовая пуля. Фото: Сергей Катков
In 1839, an expedition led by warrant officer of the navigators’ school Cywolka was sent to Novaya Zemlya.
Циволька Август Карлович
His vessel was trapped in ice in the Melky bay, and during harsh wintering some of the crew, along with his captain, Cywolko, died of scurvy.
На могиле экипажа установлен крест, напоминающий о подвиге и самопожертвовании арктических первопроходцев.
Фото: Сергей Катков
In addition to the discovered remains of the winter huts containing life evidence, there was a cross at the crew’s grave which reminds us of the exploits and sacrifices of the Arctic explorers.
It is empty, dead around the high rock where Cywolka’s ashes are buried. There is an inscription on the fallen cross: «The ashes of CNNCE lie here. Warrant officer Cywolka passed away on March 16, 1839 and 8 other members died in winter from the scurvy disease. The cross was set by CNS warrant officer Moiseyev»
Владимир Русанов. Статьи, лекции, письма. Изд-во Главсевморпути, 1945
In the early 1870s, Austria-Hungary organized a polar expedition led by Julius Payer and Karl Weyprecht to search for new islands to the north of Novaya Zemlya. The main objective was to find a northeast passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to North America. In case their ship was destroyed by ice, the Austrians placed a large supply store on Novaya Zemlya, called at the time «depot». The task of our detachment is to find this place.
Юлиус Пайер
Карл Вейпрехт
From Sergey Katkov’s field journal:
August 21, 2020. By midnight we anchored at the southern part of Barents Island. On its west coast we will search for the supply depot of the Weyprecht and Payer expedition in 1871-1874. The first, night attempt to land from the south-west to the warehouse location ended in failure. We could not pass the strait by boat, the moraine sediments crossed it with a broad long belt leaving a meter depth and even less in some places. We tried all night long, rubbed the bottom with our keel, got back to the ship with nothing… We stayed in the cabin till 4 am, waiting for a decision, we did not want to lose time. But in the early fifth we finally took a rest, in the morning we will try to enter from the north, from the open sea…
Высадились, спрыгнув по пояс в воду, идем к скальным выходам. Фото: Сергей Катков.
Preparation for the expedition, a reconnaissance team of the North fleet departed to that area in June 2020 brought them to the required result! Although the ice conditions did not allow them to make a shore landing, they correctly predicted that there were rocky outcrops with a hidden warehouse. And here was our second attempt to reach the shore – from the sea. We landed, jumped down into the water waist-deep and came to the rocky outcrops where we planned on conducting the search. Where in this arctic wilderness could a traveler hide a storehouse, so that bears could not dig it up in a year? Only in a rock cleft! And there were several suitable places around.
В узкой расщелине, среди глыб и щебня, виден выступающий кусочек доски. Фото: Сергей Катков
-Yes! There’s a tree! – Sergei Zinchenko, the squad leader, shouts. In a narrow cleft, among the block masses and gravel, a protruding piece of plank can be seen. Taking a closer look, we find slightly rounded fragments of planks with traces of steel hoops – it implies there were some barrels! Only after a professional photographer of the national park «Russian Arctic», Nikolay Gernet, made detailed photo and video records, we began to clear the rockslides step by step. It took several hours nonstop work of the whole team. Rock after rock is carefully passed down and put in order. Over time, the barrels crushed by boulders appear from under the rubble. Their lids have the same inscription: COGNAC. Judging by the historical description, it was exactly these cognac barrels where expedition’s bread was packed and then it turned into a black clay mass. Still, the documents also referred to crates of pea sausage!

Продовольственное депо австро-венгерской экспедиции К. Вайпрехта и Ю. Пайера. Фото: Сергей Катков


From Sergey Katkov’s field journal:
August 22, 2020. We work from morning till 9 pm, with rare breaks. We made buckets for carrying gravel and boxes for wood laying from handy tools, found on the quay. Behind a large block mass we stumble upon two crates. They have marks of rusty tin inside, one contains a yellow stack of paper depicting medals. Gothic texts can be seen, in one place above a beautiful stamp with a queen’s image there is an inscription — LONDON 1872. Presumably it is a certificate of quality for that very «pea sausage». On the other one box lid there are remnants of a black ink inscription: POLAR EXPEDITION, 1872, WHYPRECHT & PAYER. It is s hard to believe… THIS IS A WIN!!!
We all read along the Veniamin Kaverin’s novel «Two Captains», did not we? After all, everyone has dreamed to find capitain Tatarinov and his missing expedition traces. It’s no secret that the prototype of captain Tatarinov was three actual captains, who led three different expeditions across Novaya Zemlya in 1912 and perished in the Arctic. They were lieutenant Georgy Sedov, geologist Vladimir Rusanov, and lieutenant Georgy Brusilov. All three expeditions had a dismal outcome: they disappeared into the Arctic latitudes, while many participants’ tracks are still to be found.
Георгий Седов
Владимир Русанов
Георгий Брусилов
The 2020 complex expedition took a circular course around Novaya Zemlya, following the route of the 1910 Rusanov expedition. Vladimir Alexandrovich Rusanov, a professional geologist and Arctic explorer, led several expeditions to Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya. The 1912/13 expedition became the last for him and his companions. Their main goal was to find a sea passage from Arkhangelsk to Kamchatka, later called the Northern Sea Route. Using the report published more than 100 years ago, our group searched for distinctive cliffs, mountain bluffs, and gulfs, relying on descriptions and photographs. We were so thrilled to discover each one of these locations, trapped in the picture for 110 years. One of the Rusanov expedition images shows a hut of Norwegian trappers in Nordenskiöld bay, who welcomed our Russian explorers with tea. And now, a century later, in this very spot I hold rifle casings from Tromsø, cracked bottles of the early twentieth century. These silent witnesses remember the Russian geologist Rusanov, who did not spare his life for the Arctic exploration and the discovery of the Northern Sea Route. And that is why the timbers left of this winter hut or broken crockery are so heart-stirring.
Норвежский промысловый дом. Слева фото В.А. Русанова (1910 г.), справа – экспедиции 2020 г.
Georgy Lvovich Brusilov, a lieutenant of the fleet, began his expedition in the Kara Sea, and in the fall of 1912 he and his schooner “Saint Anna” were trapped in ice with the subsequent winter drift along Novaya Zemlya to Franz Josef Land. There is no data on the fate of his crew after April 1914. Two people of the entire crew could escape death – navigator Albanov and sailor Konrad, who survived out of the whole group, headed towards the mainland on foot. Many historical moments of this expedition were used for V. Kaverin’s book «The Two Captains». The search team, which tried to find traces of the Brusilov expedition in 2016, died in a helicopter crash at Franz Josef Land.
Шхуна «Святая Анна»
Another prototype of Captain Tatarinov was Georgy Yakovlevich Sedov, who went to conquest the North Pole in the fall of 1912. By that time, two American expeditions led by Robert Peary and Frederick Cook had already announced the conquest of the northernmost point of the Earth, but they failed to provide solid evidence. Long proceedings followed – who was the first? Is the North Pole truly a conquest? The ” heart of the Arctic” point remained highly coveted in the global geographical community. The tragedy of Sedov’s expedition with its unprepared crew, inappropriate equipment and spoiled food is accurately portrayed in Veniamin Kaverin’s novel. During the wintering of 1912-1913, the winterers conducted meteorological, geological and glaciological studies, in order not to lose time in vain. Vlasyev bay of the Kara sea. That is where in March 1913 a small team of Sedov’s expedition, wintering on the Barents coast in the Ice bay, arrived. Geographer V.Yu. Wiese and topographer M.A. Pavlov with sailors P. Konoplev and V. Linnik conducted research as they crossed Novaya Zemlya on dog sledges for the first time. When they reached the Kara coast, they put a memorial cross and a cross at the astropoint. Our group’ s mission in August 2020 was to find these points. Well, Vlasyeva bay has extent no less than 15 kilometers, any camps or huts even on the detailed maps were not marked, let alone the Kara sea’s weather – fog, drizzle, low visibility . . . Once, having seen a big white bear, which smelled the motorboat scent and was busily coming towards us, we were totally frustrated. We had to go several kilometers to the south-west by sea . . . Nevertheless, fortune smiled upon us. Literally 150-200 meters away from the new landing site, among the rocky rubble of the Arctic desert, we found a cairned point – or guria, as they are called here – made of stones. And a few dozens of meters away there was a windblown cross on the ground with the inscription: «SEDOV’S EXPEDITION 1912-13». Joy overflows us, since we can hardly believe it! 10 km away from the ship, landing where we could, we were exactly on point! On the lower crossbar we can see the inscription «topographer M.A. PAVLOV», so it is the second cross, it means that we still need to look for the first cross, established by V.Y. Wiese. We found the second cross at the astropoint about an hour later. It sounded like a miracle – two crosses of Georgy Sedov’s expedition, previously unknown to science, were found!
Найдены два ранее неизвестных науке креста экспедиции Георгия Седова. Фото: Сергей Катков

Despite all the difficulties and the illness, after wintering, G.Ya.Sedov continued to move toward his stated objective – the North Pole. The Arctic took his life to the north of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, and the exact place of his burial has not yet been identified.

In 1937, Russian poet Nikolai Zabolotsky wrote a poem «Sedov», dedicated to the explorer’s exploit:

He holds constant compass in his dying hours,
Surronded by nature ice-trapped and dead blue.
And image of cave-dwelling, bright sunshine power
Was hidden in fog, can be seen only through.

Nikolai Zabolotsky. Sedov

In the Soviet time the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya was studied and frequently visited by activists of the young Soviet country. Numerous wintering places of trappers, walrus and polar fox, bear and seal hunters have been documented by us along the whole route, both in the Barents and Kara seas. Perhaps, the collection of Soviet period artifacts, from copper kettle and home-made kettle to sledges and Christmas-tree toys, displays the ambition of the Soviet people to explore these harsh lands for their country, for their descendants best of all. Many such huts are still quite habitable, and if you put a little clay on the stove in the bathhouse and put the doors on their hinges and pane the windows, it is suitable for wintering.
Многие такие избы и сейчас вполне годны для жилья. Фото: Сергей Катков
Only a group of low stone «mounds» on the cape called «Mogilny» with half-rotten crosses reminds us what price our ancestors paid for the Arctic exploration.

Текст: Сергей Катков, ЦСИ
Фото: Сергей Катков, ЦСИ; Первая фотография: Николай Гернет.

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