X-Message-Number: 10270
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 09:21:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: Doug Skrecky <>
Subject: digging in the permafrost.....

From the August 17, 1998 edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper:

Frozen bodies may reveal secrets of 1918 flu virus
Canadian leads team to dig up graves in Arctic
Doug Mellgren Associated Press Longyearbyen, Norway

  Hoping to learn the secrets of one of the deadliest viruses ever known,
scientists will dig into permafrost on a desolate Arctic island to unearth
the bodies of six coal miners killed by the Spanish Flu decades ago.
  The Spanish Flu killed at least 20 million people in a 1918-19 epidemic,
and the scientists, led by Canadian medical geographer Kristy Duncan, will
begin exhuming the corpses Wednesday.
  "If we know the genetic structure of the virus, it can help us produce a
vaccine," Tom Bergan, a Norwegian physician and professor at the University
of Oslo, said yesterday.
  It is not without qualms that the 15 experts from four countries will
begin digging into the permafrost, which has preserved the bodies in graves
marked by white wooden crosses in Longyearbyen.
  The village is the main town on the largely glacier-covered Svalbard
Archipelago, a mining outpost north of mainland Norway, 966 kilometers from
the North Pole.
  "Death is a very private thing," Prof. Duncan said yesterday. "We did not
want to disturb a cemetary unless there was a good chance of learning the
secrets of the Spanish Flu."
  Prof. Duncan, from the University of Windsor, said she was moved that the
families of the men gave their permission to dig up the graves in hopes of
aiding humanity.
  The men mined  coal on these islands when they died in October, 1918.
Like many victums, they were young - aged 18 to 29 - which suggests that
older people may have built up some immunity from a similar virus years
  Victums of the Spanish Flu suffered sudden fever, chills, headache,
malaise, muscle pain, pneumonia and rapid death. It killed more people than
the fighting in the First World War.
  The research team, which also includes experts from Norway, Britain and
the United States, hopes the viral material that may have been frozen in
the bodies will permit the construction of a genetic profile of the virus.

Additional note by the poster:

  Some years ago I made some inquiries about the feasibility of permafrost
burial in Longyearbyen. It turned out the local cemetary was closed. In any
case colder cemetaries are available in Canada's arctic.

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