The Material Record
For thousands of years, our ancestors travelled lightly on this land leaving few traces of their presence. Nonetheless, careful investigation reveals that they used many of the same fish camp sites, game look-out points and travel routes as we do today. Our people have been working with archaeologists and other scientists to learn the stories of their lives as we uncover tools of stone and bone, fireplaces, and remnants of ancient meals, and to map the outlines of more recent structures.
To the north, beyond the Tombstone Range, are signs of hunters occupying the land from as long as 10,000 years ago to the early 20th century. Their presence is marked by stone tools, quarry sites and more recently cabin remains, gravesites and crumbling caches.
The more we learn about these ancient peoples and the changing landscape and climate in which they travelled, the more we marvel at their survival abilities and their resilience in times of change.
Tr’ochëk and Ch’ëda Dëk
At two of our former fish camps at Tr’ochëk and Forty Mile or Ch’ëda Dëk (a Hän term meaning “creek of leaves”), archaeologists worked with our young people over several seasons to uncover remnants of our past. Both sites abound with relics from more recent history from the 1880s and 1890s on but far below the surface, we uncovered evidence of people who lived and worked here up to 2300 years ago. Equally significant, many of our youth learned the basics of archaeology and developed a greater appreciation for their heritage. To learn more of our work at these sites see:Tr’ochëk: The Archaeology and History of a Hän Fish Camp.
Although not available digitally, another booklet documents work at the Forty Mile site (Thomas J. Hammer and Christian D. Thomas, Archaeology at Forty Mile/Ch’ëda Dëk, 2006).
Creatures of the Ice Age
For over a century, Klondike placer miners have been excavating remains of ancient animals that roamed the land at the same time as our people. For almost as long, paleontologists from all over the world have come here to collect ancient bones. Yukon fossils have included bones from exotic creatures such as mammoths, mastodons, wapiti, small horses, camels and scimitar cats. They also include more familiar animals such as moose, caribou, mountain sheep, bison and muskox. The permanently-frozen ground has even yielded mummified remains such as a steppe horse, approximately 30,000 years old, uncovered at Last Chance Creek. The contents of its frozen stomach revealed the grasses and flowers that made up its last meal.
With more sophisticated techniques, we are now able to study soil layers, pollens, volcanic ash and other matter to learn about climate changes, changes in plant populations and volcanic activity. To learn more about paleontology in the Klondike, see the following booklets produced by the Yukon Government: Ice Age Klondike – Fossil treasures from the frozen ground and Ice Age Mammals of Yukon.
Ancient hunting blind at Seela Pass.
An excavated hearth at Tr’ochëk in 1998.