The second Tunguska expedition

In April 1928 Kulik left Leningrad on his second expedition to the Tunguska region. He was accompanied by his assistant V. Sytin, a hunter and zoologist. Kulik did not have any experts from other disciplines of science to study the explosion site. At Vanavara he was joined by a cinematographer, N.A. Strukov, from Moscow's Sovkino Studio.

Spring floods delayed the expedition's progress and the group, including five workers, reached the explosion site in late June. Kulik set up his camp and started his investigations. He surveyed an area of 100 square kilometres and marked 150 craters with wooden stakes. He also tried to dig into two of the craters but the water and the boggy soil made digging impossible. He did not have any pumps to drain water from the holes. His primitive magnetic instruments failed to detect any metal pieces 'brighter than the blade of a knife and resembling in colour a silver coin' which some Evenkis had reported finding in the devastated forest.

After a few weeks Strukov left, accompanied by three workers. Kulik, Sytin and two workers remained. Kulik continued to collect samples of peat and other plant materials for microscopic examination back in Leningrad. By the beginning of August, Sytin and two workers were showing signs of vitamin deficiency. Kulik was also running out of funds. His prospects of finding the meteorite were dim. Kulik found himself in a dilemma. He knew if he went back without any results, his opponents in the Academy would deny him any funds for future expeditions. He worked out a strategy: he would stay behind but would send two workers to Vanavara and Sytin to Moscow to convince the Academy to approve more funding.

Sytin's arrival in Moscow coincided with the dramatic rescue of the crew of the airship Italia, which had crashed near the North Pole, by the Soviet ice-breaker Krasin. When Moscow newspapers got hold of Sytin's story of a Russian scientist who was risking his life in the wilds of Siberia to find a mysterious visitor from space, and whose exhausted and sick assistant had come to Moscow to seek funds, they had found another sensational story of adventure.

The Academy of Sciences buckled under public opinion. Funding was immediately approved for a rescue expedition and to continue investigation. Sytin arrived back at the explosion site accompanied by ethnographer Suslov and a group of journalists. Suslov had never visited the place he had written about in Mirovedeniye. Kulik was so pleased to see Suslov that he named the largest hole the 'Suslov crater'. Kulik quickly put everyone to work helping with magnetic

measurements of various holes. He started with the 50-metre Suslov crater. With the journalists watching, he hoped to make a discovery, but was disappointed not to find any trace of metal in the hole.

At the end of October the expedition returned to Vanavara. When he arrived in Leningrad at the end of November, Kulik was a national hero. He didn't need spinmeisters to spin the Tunguska meteorite story. Strukov's short film of his journey, In Search of the Tunguska Meteorite, was also a big help in advancing Kulik's cause.

Kulik's second expedition was widely reported in British and American newspapers. The London Times of 26 November 1928 noted that Professor Kulik 'has reached Krasonyars ... having tolerably recovered from the hardships of his journey'. The New York Times reported on 2 December: 'Professor Leonid Kulik, Russian geologist, is now reported to be on his way to Leningrad from the depths of North-eastern Siberia, where a relief expedition found him two months ago after he had been given for dead.' A phrase in the report's long headline also hinted at the treasures buried in meteorite craters: 'meteoric iron deposits estimated at $1,000,000'. The Literary Digest of 16 March 1929 published an account of an interview with Kulik and Sytin, which concluded with the following comment: 'The value of the metals in the Siberian find is estimated by Mr Sitin [sic] as between one hundred million and two hundred million dollars, chiefly for the iron and platinum . the chief object of further investigation of the site . is not the recovery of any valuable materials that may exist, but the obtaining of further scientific information about an event almost unique in the recorded history.' It seems that the stories of Barringer's holes in the Meteor Crater were still uppermost in people's minds.

Kulik was an excellent writer and speaker and made meteorites popular among the Soviet population. He made his Moscow audience shiver when, in a lecture, accompanied by Strukov's 'moving pictures of the appalling desolation', he remarked: 'Thus, had this meteorite fallen in central Belgium, there would have been no living creature left in the whole country; on London, none left alive south of Manchester or east of Bristol. Had it fallen on New York, Philadelphia might have escaped with only its windows shattered, and New Haven and Boston escaped too. But all life in the central area of the meteor's impact would have been blotted out instantaneously.'

There were critics as well. A few geologists continued to voice their doubts about a meteoritic origin of the Tunguska blast. They explained Kulik's 'craters' as the result of permafrost and pointed out that similar holes are often found in other parts of Siberia. Nevertheless, the Academy of Sciences approved the third expedition under the leadership of Kulik.

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