And yet supposing this was this Irving's skeleton, one wonders: how could this be his grave? Its site, quite close to that of Ross's cairn at Victory Point, poses a difficult puzzle; since Irving is mentioned in the Victory Point note as having found Ross's cairn, we can safely presume he was fit enough to be sent on such a mission. And yet here, a stone's throw distant, lies his grave? Did Irving meet with some sudden end, so soon after the Victory Point record that the main body of the expedition had not yet moved on? It's often surmised that Irving must have for some reason been sent back later to the ships, and that this explains the gap in time. Yet a grave such as his, with its heavy stones, would almost certainly have been beyond the means of a small party of men some time after the abandonment to construct; with scurvy and exhaustion rampant, the graves the later survivors managed -- when they managed them at all -- consisted of laying out the body and covering it with a few shovels of gravel. The men who built this monument must have been fit, and the time ample, for such a substantial undertaking.
And even then, the scale of the burial seems significant. Irving, as an officer, would certainly have received a formal burial of some kind, but the heavy construction of this tomb suggests that the body was that of a very senior commander. Elsewhere in this blog, I've passed along the "Supunger" tale, in which an Inuk hunter, quite near Victory Point, discovered a stone tomb, partially filled with water. The tomb was covered with heavy slabs of stone, but Supunger and his uncle managed -- with considerable effort -- to pry one off. Inside they found part of a skeleton, along with a few rusted relics, among them a clasp knife. Other parts of the body were strewn outside, and by this, along with claw-marks at the grave's edge, Supunger deduced that a polar bear must have broken into the grave. Might not this same grave, its roof removed and its edges eroded by a decade of frost, ice, and water, be the same one later found by Schwatka and assumed to be Iriving's?
The identification by the medallion is certainly a weak one. In the case of Le Vesconte, an examination of the skull showed a tooth with a gold plug that evidently corresponded with dental work that officer was known to have had. There's no indication that Irving's bones received any such examination; they were simply delivered to his family. And indeed the math medal, according to the accounts of Schwatka and his men, was lying on the edge of the grave. It might have been left there by anyone; indeed, if we assume that this is the grave of a more senior officer, it might have been left there by Irving as a tribute to a dead friend.
I'm providing links to the complete texts of the Supunger story, as well as to that of Schwatka -- perhaps a fresh look at the evidence is in order. Many who have read Supunger's tale have come to believe that the grave could only have been that of Sir John Franklin himself -- if indeed this tomb was the same as that found by Schwatka, it could well be that Franklin's bones have, in fact, already been returned to Britain -- but simply buried in the wrong grave!