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7 February 2004
Ancient artifact found in Yukon mountains

Alpine melting last summer revealed the oldest artifact recovered from what is now an inventory of 18 archaeological ice patches on Yukon Territory mountains (Alaska, USA). The shaft of a hunting dart used with an atlatl - a throwing board - has been radiocarbon dated at 9,300 years old. It was on display with other artifacts recovered by scientists and students scouring the melting ice patches for clues into the way of life thousands of years ago.
     The recovery of an atlatl dart from a receding ice patch near Kusawa Lake in 1997 began what has become an archaeological success story. A team of researchers from England's Oxford University have made the ice patches and the Yukon's gold fields their special focus, as they have found the quality of preserved archaeological material is second to none, said Yukon archaeologist Greg Hare.
     Diane Strand, heritage officer for Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, said the artifacts have a profound effect on the students who have helped discover them. The oldest shaft is evidence, Hare said, that soon after the ice age ended 10,000 years ago, people had already adapted to hunting caribou high up on the ice patches. The caribou used the ice patches to escape flies in summer.
     The myriad artifacts, particularly hunting implements, can be explained simply by a hunter missing his mark and watching the hunting dart disappear into a blanket of snow cover. Unlike glaciers that grind archaeological evidence into dust, artifacts encased in ice patches remain stable and preserved, only to surface when summer heat melts away their cover. Hare said the 18 archaeological ice patches on record are in a mountainous district that stretches from the Teslin River to Kluane Lake. Most are at an elevation of 5,000 to 6,500 feet. The 9,300-year-old dart shaft was found on an ice patch west of Sekulmun Lake and north of Kluane Lake.
 
Source: Anchorage Daily News (4 February 2004)

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