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24 June 2014
Melting Yukon ices reveals prehistoric treasures

Climate change is eating away at the edges of mountain ice patches in Yukon (Canada), revealing droppings left by caribou herds thousands of years ago - and tools lost by the hunters who had once pursued them. According to Greg Hare, a veteran archeologist with the Yukon government, climate conditions on about two dozen Yukon mountains have proven to be almost uniquely suited to preserving organic material.
     Unlike glaciers that move, slowly grinding down any artifacts trapped in them, the Yukon ice patches tend to remain stable. Or at least they did, until gradual warming over the past several decades began to shrink them and reveal treasures. Among the finds: wooden darts as old as nearly 9,000 years, some complete with stone points, sinew bindings, bits of feather and traces of ochre decoration.
     The ice patch archeology project was organized around annual helicopter trips into the mountains. The window of opportunity is limited: sometimes there is only one week every August. First Nations were partners from the outset, and Aboriginal field assistants often made key finds. But last summer's search was cancelled entirely, when Yukon Native groups went to court to block a routine archeological permit. Rather than engage in a legal battle, the Yukon government withdrew the application. Neither the archeologists nor the First Nations leaders involved would explain the clash, with both sides saying they're close to finalizing a new memorandum of understanding.
     Diane Strand, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations' heritage director and a key negotiator in the dispute, says she looks forward to bringing elders and young people from her community to work again with the archeologists this summer.

Edited from Maclean's (17 June 2014)

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