Melting ice in Yukon reveals ancient hunting artifacts

Archeologists in Yukon find ancient weapons, tools signalling oldest human habitation in territory.

Archeologists working in the Yukon's melting snow fields say they've found some of the oldest evidence of human habitation in the territory.

Last year's warm summer further melted the territory's alpine snowfields, which have become a rich source of artifacts from the territory's pre-history.

The sites have been the subject of worldwide attention since scientists discovered the snowfields were once favourite summer hunting grounds. In 1997, a sheep hunter found the first artifacts near caribou droppings that had melted out of the ice in an alpine meadow.

The ancient weapons, tools and equipment used by the hunters still litter the sites, perfectly preserved by the ice.

Yukon researcher Greg Hare keeps one of the last field season's most fragile treasures – an ornately sewn, small leather bag – in a small plastic tub. It was found frozen in a bed of rocks and muck, below one of the high mountain ice patches.

"To find worked leather, you know it's very rare to find something like this in Canadian archaeology," he says. "We just got the radio carbon dates back and it's 1,400 years old."

Another object, a 1,200-year-old carved wooden piece, has scientists stumped as to its purpose.

"We've never seen anything like it, don't know what it is, but we're pleased to have found it on a new ice patch," says Hare.

This year's prize is a wooden dart dated at just over 9,000 years old.

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"So these are very ancient artifacts and provide an insight into what the years immediately after the ice age were like," he says. "Very quickly people and caribou had moved into the alpine and established a pattern of co-existence that existed right up until the time of the gold rush."

Eighteen similar sites have now been identified across the southern Yukon.

American scientists are exploring two more sites just discovered near Alaska's Denali Park last summer.