Archaeologists in the Yukon find a Remarkably Intact Dart Lost by an Indigenous Hunter 1,000 Years Ago
Local belief says that the Yukon ice patches have been a preferred caribou hunting ground for the ancestors of Carcross/Tagish First Nation Citizens for at least 9000 years. Just recently, an archaeologist exploring one of these sites near Carcross came across a surprisingly well-preserved intact throwing spear dart, with feathers and all, which would have been used by an indigenous hunter some 1,000 years ago.
The Carcross/Tagish First Nation Facebook page explains that there have been caribou congregating on the ice patches during the summer for thousands of years. The animals head to the patches to escape the heat and bugs. But they have traditionally been met at their summer site by indigenous hunters.
Those hunters have left behind several artifacts providing evidence for their purpose at the ice patches and the ice has helped preserve many of the items. Some of the tools are especially fascinating for today’s archaeologists, such as the discovery of an intact dart used in an atlatl (a type of spear-thrower used in the Americas).
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The complete atlatl dart. (Carcross/Tagish First Nation)
A little over a week ago, researchers flew in helicopters to explore the Yukon ice patches. Not long after touching down, a helicopter pilot alerted his companions to take a look at what he had found. Jennifer Herkes, the Heritage Manager for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon, told CBC News about the emotions that surged through her upon discovering a complete atlatl dart:
“My heart rate started increasing, and I got goose bumps all over. I'd never seen anything like that before, it was amazing. The feathers, the sinew, the sap they would have used as, like, a glue to attach the stone point to the wood shaft — all of it is completely intact.”
According to Herkes, this is the first fully intact artifact of its kind to be found in the Yukon. The ancient dart is said be at least 1,000 years old. The complete spear measures five feet (1.52 meters) long. The most exciting part is that all the dart’s components are there for analysis. Researchers will be able to use the materials to discover more about the different resources an indigenous hunter had accessible to him 1,000 years ago.
Feather on the throwing spear used by an indigenous hunter 1,000 years ago. (Carcross/Tagish First Nation)
Herkes points out that there is also a strong non-scientific significance to the artifact as well:
"When you have a full complete spear like that, it really allows people to connect with their heritage and what their ancestors were doing on the land, thousands of years ago. Everybody gets really excited. I don't know how many times I've had to pull my phone out to show pictures to different people. It's a pretty great way to bring the community together."
The throwing spear dart is in cold storage while the First Nation and Yukon's heritage branch considers the best way to preserve it as fully intact as possible. Herkes said, “We'll do our best to keep it as fully intact as possible, because I think that's where the true value lies — in being able to have that fully intact piece of history.”
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The Yukon ice patches near Carcross have revealed other artifacts to researchers in the not so distant past. A few weeks before the atlatl dart was found, archaeologists discovered a ground stone point. That’s an unusual find because chipped-stone tools are more common in the area.
An unusual ground-stone point, found in Yukon's ice patches a few weeks before the atlatl dart was discovered. (Carcross/Tagish First Nation)
And in January CBC News reported a remarkable copper-tipped antler arrow point was also found in the ice patches near Carcross. Yukon archaeologist Greg Hare found the artifact while traveling with a documentary film crew. Hare said that radiocarbon dating confirms the copper end blade of the arrow “is one of the oldest copper elements that we ever found in the Yukon.” It has been dated to 936 years old.
The Yukon ice patches near Carcross have been flagged as a potential UNESCO world heritage site.
Top Image: Point of a throwing spear used by an indigenous hunter 1,000 years ago. It was discovered in a Yukon ice patch. Source: Carcross/Tagish First Nation