Arctic Connections

Arctic Connections

The Arctic region is a hostile environment, where animals, plants and people have adapted in various ways in order to survive. The collections held by the University reflect this: they detail the conditions faced by explorers and fishermen, provide examples of the highly adapted flora and fauna which lives there, and give an insight into the lives of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

The University of Aberdeen Museums have over one hundred Inuit objects, coming from many different collectors. These range from arrowheads to toys, furs and carvings. This kayak was found off the coast at Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire c. 1720 with an Inuit man aboard, who died shortly afterwards.

Inuit kayak, Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire ABDUA:6013

Tin opener ABDUA:5820

The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 consisted of two ships, the Discovery and Alert, and aimed to reach the North Pole. A tin opener and Inuit knife which belonged to crew of the Discovery and a tea cup from the Alert are held by the Museums.

Captain David Gray (1825-1896), whaler and arctic naturalist, was commissioned by the British Museum to bring back a Bowhead Whale skeleton for study. This proved too difficult to transport, and Gray produced scale models instead, one of which is in the Zoology Museum.

Model of Bowhead Whale by Capt Gray. Not catalogued.

The Zoology Museum also contains specimens brought back from research trips to the Arctic. These include study skins and fluid specimens from Professor VC Wynne-Edwards’ expeditions to Baffin Island, five polar bear skulls and a Ross’s Gull egg.

image: Saxifraga oppositifoila

Arctic material in the Herbarium principally comes from student research in Greenland, but there are also specimens from Arctic Institute expeditions, expeditions to Spitzbergen and VC Wynne- Edwards’ trips to northern Canada (1932-45). There is a group of specimens collected on Spitzbergen by James Marr on the 1925 British Arctic Expedition to Franz Josef Land. Marr, an Aberdeen graduate, had been with Shackleton on his final expedition to the Antarctic only a few years before.

This Saxifraga oppositifoila was collected in West Greenland in 1968.



Image: ABDUG - Pal.1617

Sixteen rocks dating from the Silurian period give an insight into past environments in the high North. Trapped inside them are Halysites, extinct corals which would have once grown in Arctic waters but can now only be found trapped in marine rocks.

These Halysites from the Silurian period are part of the Museums' vast geological collections.

Journals such as those by George Kerr (1791) and David Hawthorn (1866-1891) provide details of conditions aboard whaling ships in Arctic waters. Dr Walker, aboard the Fox on a relief trip for the ill-fated 1857-1859 Franklin expedition, collected 52 plant specimens which he bound in a manuscript volume that is now held in the University. The Archives also have a small selection of photographs which include whaling, Inuit people, shipping and birdlife.

'Esquimaux and their toupiks'
(summer tents) MS 2407 Arctic Series
Through the Stereoscope
'Building a ingloo for Winter'

For more information on the University museum and archival collections please search the museum collections catalogue & archive collections catalogue