The Quest to Find a Lost Arctic Explorer’s Buried Soup

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This fascinating piece from Gastro Obscura reads like an adventure story, and will (against all odds) make you ecstatic about the recovery of tins of cabbage soup.

In 1886, the renowned geologist, zoologist, and explorer Baron Eduard von Toll stood on the coast of the largest of the New Siberian Islands, gazing north into the Russian Arctic Ocean. He was sure he saw it in the distance: Sannikov Land, a mythic island that had bewitched and eluded explorers for a century. To his guide, he wondered aloud if he’d ever make it there. His guide’s response matched Toll’s own determination: “Once I set foot there, I can die.”

In 1900, after years of persuasion, the Russian Academy of Sciences finally agreed to sponsor Toll’s expedition to find Sannikov. Aboard the ship Zarya, Toll set sail into the Arctic. But from the start, the expedition was buffeted by trouble: navigational confusion, coal shortages, scurvy, a power struggle between Toll and the captain, the death of the doctor, erratic winds, flooded decks, brutal snowstorms, starving sled dogs, and a raging polar bear. Worst of all was the constant threat of encroaching ice, which could entrap the ship and constrict around its wooden hull like a vise.

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