Dying in Svalbard is hard—being buried is, in a way, much harder. While survivors tried to give these men a decent Christian burial, sufficient to last them until the Resurrection, burying bodies in permafrost doesn’t always work so well. Over the years, the annual freezing and thawing of the ground just below the surface has the curious effect of gradually raising up large objects to the surface—most notably, coffins and their contents. Over the course of centuries, these whalers’ bodies have slowly been raised up—not by Christ, but by ice.
This is most visible and striking at another whalers’ cemetery, in the nearby Magdalenafjord. There, a promontory juts out into the fjord, a low hill now known as Gravnesset: “Grave Point.” Over a hundred whalers have been buried there over the years, though their rest has hardly been undisturbed, and the point is now strewn with pieces of coffin and bits of bone. Off limits to tourists after years of molestation, what remains of these whalers are now the playthings of curious polar bears.
From The Spoil of Mariners, a lovely essay by Colin Dickey