YELLOWKNIFE, NT APRIL 2010 High in the Mackenzie Mountains, scientists are finding a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools being revealed as warming temperatures melt patches of ice that have been in place for thousands of years.
Tom Andrews, an archaeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife and lead researcher on the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study, is amazed at the implements being discovered by researchers.
"We're just like children opening Christmas presents. I kind of pinch myself," says Andrews.
Ice patches are accumulations of annual snow that, until recently, remained frozen all year. For millennia, caribou seeking relief from summer heat and insects have made their way to ice patches where they bed down until cooler temperatures prevail. Hunters noticed caribou were, in effect, marooned on these ice islands and took advantage.
"I'm never surprised at the brilliance of ancient hunters anymore. I feel stupid that we didn't find this sooner," says Andrews.
Ice patch archeology is a recent phenomenon that began in Yukon. In 1997, sheep hunters discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung that had become exposed as the ice receded. Scientists who investigated the site found layers of caribou dung buried between annual deposits of ice. They also discovered a repository of well-preserved artifacts.
Andrews first became aware of the importance of ice patches when word about the Yukon find started leaking out. "We began wondering if we had the same phenomenon here."
In 2000, he cobbled together funds to buy satellite imagery of specific areas in the Mackenzie Mountains and began to examine ice patches in the region. Five years later, he had raised enough to support a four-hour helicopter ride to investigate two ice patches. The trip proved fruitful.
"Low and behold, we found a willow bow." That discovery led to a successful applicat
|Contact: Ruth Klinkhammer|
Arctic Institute of North America