The Long Ago Person: Tracking the Canadian Ice Man
Kwaday Dan Ts ìnchi is the name given to the frozen remains of a man found in a melting glacier in British Columbia, Canada. In the southern Tutchone language of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, this name means ‘Long Ago Person Found’. Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi is also known as the ‘Canadian Ice Man’.
Finding Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi
Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi was discovered by three Canadian sheep hunters on August 14, 1999. Whilst hiking through the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park in British Columbia (located in the northwestern part of the province, near the Yukon), the three men noticed a walking stick, fur, and bone lying on a glacier. The authorities at the Beringia Centre, a museum in the Yukon, were notified by the sheep hunters about their discovery. The Yukon Heritage Branch, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were also informed.
Looking southeast from the discovery site area. The Long Ago Person is said to have come from this direction, and would have crossed the glacier in the distance. (Champagne & Aishihik First Nations)
As Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi was discovered in the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, its representatives were dispatched to the site, along with a site assessment archaeologist. There, they found the remains of a man, although the skeleton was incomplete. Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi’s skull, for instance, was missing, and would only be recovered in 2003.
Who Was Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi?
A co-operative partnership was established between the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the British Columbia Government in order to manage the discovery. This allowed Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi to be scientifically studied whilst ensuring that First Nations and tribal values were respected during the process.
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View of the glacial edge high in the Tatsenshini where Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi was found in 1999. (Photo credit: Al Mackie)
Based on the examinations carried out on Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi, it was established that he was a young man, who was aged between 17 and 22 at the time of his death. It is generally accepted that Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi lived around 1700 AD, but it has also been suggested that he may have died more than 300 years ago. In addition, it was determined that Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi was in good health before he died, hence the possibility that his death was an accident.
The artefacts found on Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi also provide some information about him. For example, Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi’s iron blade knife and spear thrower suggests that he was a hunter. Other personal items include a robe, which is made from the skins of around 95 gophers (a type of ground squirrel), a spruce root hat, a walking stick, and a small bag made of beaver skins.
Images of the robe analysis: A conservator looking at the construction details and for botanical remains in the fur. (top) Detail of the robe stitching. (middle) Skin side of the robe showing ochre. (bottom) (Photos: Royal BC Museum)
In 2001, the remains of Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi were given back to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. He was then cremated in a closed ceremony and returned to the glacier where he was found. Nevertheless, scientific analyses continued be carried out on Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi. One of these studies managed to identify the types of food Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi consumed prior to his death. Analysis of Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi’s digestive tract showed that he had consumed shellfish and ‘beach asparagus’. Based on these pieces of evidence, it has been suggested that his last trip had started somewhere near saltwater.
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Analysis of Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi’s body, specifically his bones, muscle, skin and hair, also helped archaeologists understand his dietary habits. Scientific study of the first three suggests that Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi ate shellfish and / or salmon for most of his life, whilst analysis of his hair shows that he had been eating lots of meat a month or two prior to his death. Therefore, it has been proposed that Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi had been raised on the coast, spent the last month or two of his life in the interior, and his last days on the coast, prior to undertaking his final journey.
Traditional weir used for trapping sockeye at Klukshu, 2003. (Photo: A.P. Mackie)
Looking to Traditional Tales
While scientific studies of Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi have provided many details about him (DNA analysis has even allowed scientists to trace 17 of his living relatives), there are many more questions that have been left unanswered.
One of these is the purpose and destination of the journey he was undertaking. It has been suggested that a clue may be found in the traditional tales of the Chilkat, the Yakutat Tlingit and the southern Tutchone. According to these stories, there were once villages that existed on the Tatshenshi River, and that it was to one of these that Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi was traveling to.
Map made by Chilkat trading chief Kohklux in 1852, which shows his Klukwan home, as well as the villages on the Tatshenshini River. The approximate location of the Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi discovery site has been added. (Champagne & Aishihik First Nations)
Top image: Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi’s spruce hat, copper bead, and knife and a sketch drawn by late 19th century traveler of Shäwshe (Neskataheen/Dalton Post) Chief Ick Ars wearing a robe and hat similar to those found with the remains. Source: Champagne & Aishihik First Nations
By Wu Mingren
Bettinger, B., 2008. Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi – "Long-Ago Person Found". [Online]
Available at: http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2008/04/27/kwday-dn-tsnchi-long-ago-person-found/
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Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/25/world/body-of-ancient-man-found-in-west-canada-glacier.html
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Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/scientists-find-17-living-relatives-of-iceman-discovered-in-b-c-glacier-1.761267
Champagne & Aishihik First Nations, 2009. Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi. [Online]
Available at: http://cafn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Kwaday_Dan_Tsinchi_Newsletter_March_2009.pdf
Hunter, T., 2000. They call him Long Ago Person Found. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ammsa.com/publications/ravens-eye/they-call-him-long-ago-person-found
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Government of British Columbia, 2016. Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi. [Online]
Available at: https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/archaeology/kwaday_dan_tsinchi/index.htm