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|Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 26 April 2004
Vitus Jonassen Bering was one of the world's most famous explorers.
Vitus Jonassen Bering was born in Horsens, Denmark in 1681. He went to sea as a young man and began a long career as a seaman. In 1703, Bering enlisted in the Russian navy. He moved to Russia, where he got married and had children. Apart from a single visit to Copenhagen in 1715, Bering never saw Denmark again.
The First Kamchatka Expedition (1725-1730)
In 1725 he was selected by Peter I to explore far North-Eestern Siberia. Having finally moved men and supplies across Siberia, Bering in 1728 sailed North through Bering Strait but sighted no land and did not recognise the importance of the strait.
Later in 1728, setting out from Kamchatka, he was driven from his course and came around the southern route near Kamchatka, discovering that on August 13th 1728, Asia and America were two separate continents. He returned to St. Petersburg, arriving in 1730, but was criticised for not having actually seen the American coast.
The Second Kamchatka Expedition (1733-1741)
The second Kamchatka Expedition, also called Great Nordic Expedition, was the largest expedition the world ever saw, it included 10,000 men. As leader and overall organiser, it was also Bering's task to find and then map the west coast of Siberia and America. He also headed an expedition across the sea to Alaska.
In 1741 he commanded the St. Peter while Aleksey Chirikov (d.1748) commanded the St. Paul. They set out, rounded Kamchatka, founded the town of Petropavlovsk, and then sailed west, but the vessels were separated. Bering sighted the St. Elias Mts. in Alaska on July 16, and the scientist Georg Wilhelm Steller led a landing party.
Sailing West past the Aleutian Islands, the ship was wrecked on the shore of Bering Island, which they mistook for the coast of Kamchatka. On December 8th 1741, Bering died on Bering Island. The few survivors managed to reach Kamchatka in the summer of 1742.
Bering's grave is found
Although world famous, the exact look of Vitus Bering is unknown. A few portraits exist, but there are doubts about their authenticity. This was the primary reason for establishing a Russian-Danish research team which was to find and excavate Bering's grave and subsequently recreate his face from the cranium. The research team consisted of Soviet archaeologists and forensic physicians as well as archaeologists from Horsens' Museum.
In August 1991, Bering's grave and the graves of five other seamen were discovered. The remains were transported to Moscow where they were investigated by the forensic physicians who succeeded in recreating Bering's appearance.
In 1992, Vitus Bering and the other seamen were buried again on the Bering Island.