Archaeology In The Ice Patches

As Earth continues to warm, researchers rush to document and preserve archaeological remains melting from ice patches.

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Craig Lee (left) and his colleagues Jay Kyne and Ben Woods start to drill an ice core. This is the only invasive technique the researchers employ. Photo INSTAAR/ Jennie Borresen Lee.
Craig Lee (left) and his colleagues Jay Kyne and Ben Woods start to drill an ice core. This is the only invasive technique the researchers employ. Photo INSTAAR/ Jennie Borresen Lee.

2015: By Tamara Stewart.

 In 2007, archaeologist Craig Lee recovered an incredibly preserved, delicately carved birch spear-throwing foreshaft from a melting ice patch north of Yellowstone National Park. The 10,300-year-old shaft, which Paleo-Indian people used to hunt big game, is the oldest artifact ever recovered from a North American ice patch. Lee, a research scientist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado and at Montana State University, is a practitioner of ice patch archaeology, an emerging field that identifies and recovers evidence of past human use of ancient alpine, arctic and sub-arctic environments being exposed by global warming. He has investigated ice patches in 16 national parks and forests across western North America, and spoken at dozens of educational gatherings to raise awareness about the growing crisis of melting ice patch archaeology.

Research in alpine and sub-alpine areas in North America shows that high-altitude ice patches have been an important part of annual native subsistence cycles since ancient times. According to traditional native history, alpine zones are special places for hunting, gathering, and ceremonial practices. Attracting animal herds and the hunters that pursued them, ice patches were cool places to forage and find water in the heat of summer, and to seek relief from biting insects. (Ice patches are not to be confused with glaciers. Glaciers are constantly moving, while ice patches are stationary. Because they’re in motion, glaciers don’t accumulate and store artifacts over centuries or millennia the way some ice patches do.)

Summary. Read More in our Winter 2015 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 19 No. 3

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Even though removing artifacts from government land is a felony, it does occur, making it necessary for park officials to keep the exact locations of archaeological sites a secret.

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