Archaeologists document Dene caribou fences in N.W.T

Researchers are documenting Sahtu Dene caribou fences in the Northwest Territories, marking a physical record of Indigenous history in the area.

'It's quite remarkable. It took a large group of people to build and operate this fence,' says researcher

Researcher Tom Andrews says caribou fences, like the one shown here, were used by Dene hunters to trap large numbers of caribou. (submitted by Tom Andrews)

Researchers are documenting Sahtu Dene caribou fences in the Northwest Territories, marking a physical record of Indigenous history in the area.

Tom Andrews, an archeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, is documenting a kilometre-long wooden fence believed to have been used about 100 years ago in the Sahtu region.

"It's a real smart hunting strategy that's probably been used for thousands of years," Andrews said.

Hunters used the fence to corral caribou, making it easier for them to hunt them in large numbers.

This 100-year-old caribou fence in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region is one of about 47 in the territory. (submitted by Tom Andrews)

Andrews believes the kilometre-spanning fence he's examining was used by hunters who sold meat to the Hudson's Bay Company in the late 1800s.  

"It's quite remarkable," Andrews said. "It took a large group of people to build and operate this fence and today the fence is visible as a sort of white, bleached wood. It's almost flat on the ground now."

But with the wood slowly decaying and the risk of forest fires, Andrews says he's looking to get as much of the fence photographed as possible. His team is using drones to capture high-resolution photos to do that.

Researchers hope to use core samples to create a timeline going back 500 years based on tree rings. (submitted Tom Andrews)

A university student is also helping find out more about the fence by studying ring lines in trees found near the fence. They hope to create a dating system from the treeline going back 500 years.

Those lines will be matched up with core samples from the fence to determine exactly when the fence was built.

Caribou fences are also found in the Yukon, with half a dozen located within Vuntut National Park alone.  

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