Melting Ice Patches Reveal Ancient Artifacts

Especially in the Canadian High Arctic

By on 27 Apr 2010, 08:04 GMT
Due to higher annual temperatures, more ice melts each year near the Arctic, in northern Canada. The location, which was inhabited by humans centuries ago, is currently beginning to reveal numerous artifacts and other signs of civilization, that are exposed by the melting ice patches. The tools were generally encased in large blocks of ice, but excessive melting is currently laying them bare on the ground, for researchers to collect. The ice patches on the mountains of the Canadian High Arctic have been undisturbed for thousands of years, but they are currently melting more during the summer.

“We're just like children opening Christmas presents. I kind of pinch myself,” says International Polar Year Ice Patch Study lead researcher Tom Andrews. The expert is also an archaeologist at the Yellowknife, Northern Territories, Canada-based Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center. He explains that the field of ice patch archeology is only 13 years old, having begun in Yukon back in 1997. At the time, a group of sheep hunters identified a 4,300-year-old dart shaft coming out of melting ice. Subsequent analysis of the area revealed an impressive number of well-preserved artifacts.

“We began wondering if we had the same phenomenon here,” Andrews said of what he thought when he first heard about the Yukon findings. After renting a helicopter for only four hours, the expert managed to discover a series of artifacts in just two ice patches. “Low and behold, we found a willow bow,” he says. This proved to be a great catalyst for collecting funds, which eventually allowed the team to return to the Mackenzie Mountains and conduct more thorough searches. Since, the group found 2,400-year-old spear throwing tools, in addition to bows, arrows, and a 1000-year-old ground squirrel snare.

“The implements are truly amazing. There are wooden arrows and dart shafts so fine you can't believe someone sat down with a stone and made them. I'm never surprised at the brilliance of ancient hunters anymore. I feel stupid that we didn't find this sooner,” Andrews reveals. “We realize that the ice patches are continuing to melt, and we have an ethical obligation to collect these artifacts as they are exposed,” he says. Artifacts are otherwise endangered from caribou trampling, or from the highly-acidic soils they end up on, LiveScience reports.

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Image showing a 340-year-old bow, that was reconstructed from fragments found in melted ice patches
   Image showing a 340-year-old bow, that was reconstructed from fragments found in melted ice patches