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

In 1900, Baron Eduard von Toll led an expedition to explore the Arctic off the coast of Siberia, and to search fo rate legendary island of Sannikov. Their ship, the Zarya, faced continuous danger of being iced in. Toll and three others left the ship to spend the summer of 1902 exploring Bennet Island, which they thought could be made into a base for future explorers.  

Over three months on Bennett, the team ate their way through three bears, countless seabirds, and the island’s small herd of reindeer. Out of optimism that the Zarya would soon retrieve them, they failed to keep anything for the winter. But the Zarya remained stymied by ice for months, and by October, the window for rescue was closed. Toll realized that if they stayed on the island, they wouldn’t survive. And so, he and his team ventured south, back towards the New Siberian Islands, paddling thin-hulled kayaks into a deadly mass of rapidly freezing, razor-sharp ice. They were never seen again.

Toll’s death cemented his legendary status in Russia, which continued to sponsor searches for Sannikov into the 1930s. Toll’s widow published his diaries, and in 1959, a Russian translation meant they were devoured by a new generation of Arctic adventure-lovers.

One page detailed a food store that Toll had buried on the Taimyr Peninsula in September 1900, early in his voyage. First, he described its location: a spot five meters above sea level, marked with a wooden cross. Then he described the hole itself, dug deep through thawed clay, peat, and ice. And finally, the contents: “a box with 48 cans of cabbage soup, a sealed tin box with 15 pounds of rye rusks [dry biscuits], a sealed tin box with 15 pounds of oatmeal, a soldered box containing about four pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of chocolate, seven plates and one brick of tea.”

That passage set off a treasure hunt of sorts, as adventurous Russians tried to find the buried food. It was finally located in the mid-1970s, and taste-tested. Not only was the find a huge victory, but it set Russia on a science project to study the possibilities of harnessing the permafrost for long-term food storage. Read about the original expedition, the soup hunt, and the research at Atlas Obscura. -via Metafilter

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