Internet Archaeology 11. Steptoe and Wood

E-monograph Series. No. 10

The Human Remains from HMS Pandora

D.P. Steptoe1 and W.B. Wood2

1Genomics Research Centre, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, Parklands Drive, Southport QLD 4215, Australia.
D.P. Steptoe W.B. Wood

Cite this as: Steptoe, D.P. and Wood, W.B. 2002 The Human Remains from HMS Pandora, Internet Archaeology 11.


In 1977 the wreck of HMS Pandora (the ship that was sent to re-capture the Bounty mutineers) was discovered off the north coast of Queensland. Since 1983, the Queensland Museum Maritime Archaeology section has carried out systematic excavation of the wreck.

Composite image of Pandora expedition and research

During the years 1986 and 1995-1998, more than 200 human bone and bone fragments were recovered. Osteological investigation revealed that this material represented three males. Their ages were estimated at approximately 17 +/-2 years, 22 +/-3 years and 28 +/-4 years, with statures of 168 +/-4cm, 167 +/-4cm, and 166cm +/-3cm respectively. All three individuals were probably Caucasian, although precise determination of ethnicity was not possible. In addition to poor dental hygiene, signs of chronic diseases suggestive of rickets and syphilis were observed. Evidence of spina bifida was seen on one of the skeletons, as were other skeletal anomalies. Various taphonomic processes affecting the remains were also observed and described. Compact bone was observed under the scanning electron microscope and found to be structurally coherent. Profiles of the three skeletons were compared with historical information about the 35 men lost with the ship, but no precise identification could be made. The investigation did not reveal the cause of death. Further research, such as DNA analysis, is being carried out at the time of publication.


Thanks for assistance provided by the Queensland Museum, the Museum of Tropical Queensland and the Department of Anatomical Sciences at the University of Queensland. Special thanks to the Pandora project leader and senior curator of Maritime Archaeology, Mr Peter Gesner (Museum of Tropical Queensland), Mr Ron Coleman (retired Curator of Maritime Archaeology, Queensland Museum), Associate Professor A.J. Ansford, Leo Freney and Peter Clausen (John Tonge Centre for Forensic Biology) and Dr Ann Kemp for their assistance.

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