Ice Patch Research Worldwide
In northwestern North America, researchers have conducted systematic investigations of ice patches in the Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada as well as in Alaska, including Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Katmai, Lake Clark and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks as well as the Chugach National Forest and the Tangle Lakes area south of the Alaska Range. In the conterminous United States, investigations have occurred in the Colorado Front Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park, within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana and Wyoming, Olympic National Park in Oregon and in Glacier National Park, Montana.

The widespread trend toward atypical melting in alpine snow and ice patches has hastened the development of the field of ice patch archaeology since the late 1990s. Although a seemingly new phenomenon, archaeological discoveries on glaciers and perennial frozen snow and ice patches sparked public imagination–if not archaeological science–once before, during the 1920s and 1930s. Under the dual storylines, “Ice Gives up Indian Arrow” and “Remarkably Fine Specimen of Ancient Weapon Found in North is Centuries Old,” the March 15, 1925 issue of the Vancouver Province newspaper narrates the first discovery of a complete arrow with fletching, sinew lashing and a chipped stone projectile point made on a glacier in North America (British Columbia, Canada). Around the same time, complete arrows with fletching, sinew lashing and projectile points were found in the Oppdal Mountains of central Norway. These early discoveries were regarded as curiosities and not the harbingers of a soon-to-be globally relevant research frontier. The advent of ice patch archaeology in the modern era coincides with public recognition of global warming and public lands policy, including support for research and protection of the items found in ice patches.

Archaeological remains from alpine ice in western North America range in age from hundreds to 10,000+ years old and include ancient wooden dart shafts and fragments, fletched wooden arrows, antler foreshafts, baskets, numerous wooden artifacts of uncertain function, butchered animal remains, and chipped stone artifacts.

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A 10,300-year-old throwing dart discovered by University of Colorado professor Craig Lee near Yellowstone. It is it the oldest wooden foreshaft found in North America.

Ice Patch Research Projects

A Gallery of Items Found in Ice Patches in Other Areas

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Collection of organic shafts and fragments from the Yukon area (Canada) ice patches; arrow shafts appear at right and a dart shaft appears at left.
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A complete wooden foreshaft from a Yukon area (Canada) ice patch with a hafted chipped stone projectile point. Note sinew lasing at right for binding the projectile point to the foreshaft and the conical base of the foreshaft at left for insertion into a socket in the main dart shaft.
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A 1+ meter long dart shaft recovered from a Yukon Territory ice patch in Canada; the shaft underwent numerous wet dry cycles after melting free of the ice resulting in its somewhat exploded appearance.
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Detail of decoration or ownership mark carved into the base of a projectile point slotted for the insertion of microblades.
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A collection of miscellaneous shaft fragments, sinew lashing and other unidentified artifacts from a Yukon area (Canada) ice patch.
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Delicate conservation of another Yukon area (Canada) artifact revealed a remarkable leather moccasin.
Above photos were taken at the 3rd Biennial Frozen Pasts Conference. For more information, click here.
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