Rare 1,500-year-old arrowhead found near the Dempster Highway in Yukon

An eight-day hike near the Tombstone region led to a rare discovery for Jennifer Macgillivray — a caribou antler arrowhead, 'laying in the gravel.'

Jennifer Macgillivray was on a hiking trip when she spotted the artifact 'laying in the gravel'

'We were just coming down the ridge and I found a little patch of gravel ... and there was this arrowhead,' said Jennifer Macgillivray of Whitehorse. (Jordan Youngs)

Jennifer Macgillivray had been trying to do a back country hike in Yukon's Tombstone region for a number of years.

This year, she finally had the chance, and the trip did not disappoint. Macgillivray made a rare archeological find on the trail — an ancient and rare caribou-antler arrowhead.

She and her son, with two friends, had been flown in to begin their hike near Mayo, Yukon. Over eight days, they traversed mountain ranges, eventually making their way toward the Dempster Highway.  

"On the second-last day, we had just finished kind of a tough ridge walk," Macgillivray said.

"We were just coming down the ridge, and I found a little patch of gravel between two big blinds — kind of big snow blinds — and there was this arrowhead laying in the gravel." 

'It makes sense, especially where I found it with the two big rocks on either side. It seems like the caribou might have passed down the centre there, and someone might hide behind a rock and shoot it,' Macgillivray said. (Jordan Youngs)

When she got home, she reported her find to the Yukon government's heritage branch.

"We find lots of caribou hunting sites, but we've never found a bone or antler hunting artifact like this up in the Dempster corridor," said Christian Thomas, the government's special projects archeologist.

"It is extremely rare — it might be one of the only bone hunting artifacts we have."

Thomas says it is a unique find because hunting tools made of organic materials typically don't last long in harsh climates. Somehow, this arrowhead was preserved in ice.

Macgillivray said they saw lots of caribou on their hike. Some can be seen here on the far ridge. (Jennifer Macgillivray )

Bow-and-arrow hunting technology started showing up in Yukon around 1,500 years ago, and Macgillivray's arrowhead is believed to date from then.

The area where she found it is in the overlapping traditional territories of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in and Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nations.

Macgillivray says it looked like a perfect place to hunt a caribou, a long time ago. 

"It makes sense — especially where I found it, with the two big rocks on either side. It seems like the caribou might have passed down the centre there, and someone might hide behind a rock and shoot it. That's the story I'm telling myself," she said.

Macgillivray says they saw a lot of caribou roaming where they hiked, and "even got a little bit tired of caribou, there was just so many in that area."

'An archeology site we can investigate'

Thomas says Macgillivray did the right thing by reporting her find to the Yukon government's heritage branch. He says archeologists can now look for more artifacts nearby. 

"This object is actually quite rare and because someone found it, it is an archeology site we can investigate," he said.

'It is extremely rare — it might be one of the only bone hunting artifacts we have,' says Christian Thomas, special projects archaeologist with the Yukon government. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"Some of our best archeology projects have come from one find, that one hiker brought in." 

For example, he says the Yukon ice patches project near Carcross — where researchers have found hundreds of hunting artifacts — started with "one stick that a hunter brought in."

Thomas says Macgillivray's arrowhead will help First Nations learn about the ancient technology their ancestors used to hunt big game.

Archeologists will likely go to the area where Macgillivray found the arrowhead, to search for more artifacts. (Jennifer Macgillivray)

About the Author

Mike Rudyk

Reporter, CBC Yukon

Mike Rudyk has worked for CBC Yukon since 1999, as a reporter and videographer. He lives in Whitehorse.

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