Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saga of the BC Iceman

Dateline: 08/25/99 (News updated July 24, 2001)

Modern hunters have discovered the remains of an ancient hunter at the edge of a remote glacier near the Yukon - British Columbia border.

The group who made the discovery are all teachers from the Nelson, British Columbia area. On August 14, they were hunting for Dall sheep in British Columbia's Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park (special permits are available for hunting in the park) when one of them, Bill Hanlon, noticed the first piece of wood they had seen for miles. It turned out to be part of a carved walking stick, and further examination of the area by Hanlon, Warren Ward and Mike Roch resulted in the discovery of other artifacts and a headless body. Following a 2-day hike out, they contacted the Beringia Centre at Whitehorse to tell of their find. Government archaeologists, of course, flew immediately to the scene.

The body and artifacts (including the walking stick, a finely-woven cedar hat, a spear-thrower called an atlatl, and a leather pouch containing edible leaves and the remains of a fish) have now been flown to Whitehorse and put into a freezer room to prevent deterioration. The removal of the body and artifacts from the glacier was accomplished by a team that included forensic anthropologist Owen Beattie of the University of Alberta, as well as Yukon government archaeologists, a glaciologist, an artifact conservator and representatives of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation (CAFN), in whose traditional territory the discovery was made.

As is so often the case with such discoveries, CAFN immediately turned the find into a political issue. Spokesman Ron Chambers stated today (Aug. 25) that the discovery proves the long-term use of the land by First Nations people (thus presumably strengthening their position on land claims). CAFN had held up official news of the find for 10 days while government representatives held discussions with CAFN elders regarding possible ways of dealing with the discovery. The elders agreed to a scientific study of the remains and have given him the title of Kwaday Dän Sinchi, meaning "long ago person found". (September 28, 1999 update - artifacts radiocarbon dated to 550 years BP).

The Aug. 25 edition of the Yukon News quotes CAFN chief Bob Charlie:

"The elders have indicated that we should use this situation, what appears to be an ancient tragedy, to learn more about this person, when he lived and how his clothes and tools were made and how he died," said Charlie. This person will have much to tell us, to help us understand our past, and the history of our homeland. We wish to see these human remains treated with dignity and respect and to see the most positive outcome of this long-ago event."

In fact, the band see the find as more than a cultural boon. It's already planning to tap into research grants that will help pay its members to study the remains.

The Yukon government has stated that an agreement to turn over artifacts (including bodies) to the First Nations would be honoured. However, the find was made in British Columbia, and the cedar hat, although possibly an item obtained in trade with coastal people, may also be an indication that the ancient hunter lived near the coast, not in the interior, so that statement may be premature. It is entirely possible that the man lived in what is now Alaska (and was just passing through BC on a hunting trip or on his way to the interior), and I expect that the Alaska government will be getting involved very soon. While this is not a case of body theft, if the man can be reasonably assumed to be Tlingit or from an even earlier coastal culture, a repatriation request will likely be forthcoming.


B.C. ice man find revisited
April 25, 2008

Above: The team of scientists at the discovery of Long Ago Person Found site in 1999. Right: Kjerstin Mackie, a textile conservator at the Royal B.C. Museum, examines the remain of a robe.

Public invited to hear summary about ‘Long Ago Person Found’

Al Mackie remembers well the moment he got the call about a discovery in the farthest reaches of Northwestern B.C.

It was Aug. 21, 1999. Initial information given to Mackie, a Victoria-based scientist with the B.C. Archaeology Branch, was that a pair of hunters out tracking sheep on a glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, had stumbled upon well-preserved human remains.

Not just any human remains, but those of an individual who was clearly from another time and quite possibly another place. Within two days, the appropriate calls had been made to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations – on whose traditional lands the remains lay – and a team of scientists were dispatched to the site to expedite the removal of the remains.

“They’re fine when they’re in the ice. But at the moment that these kind of materials thaw is the moment they start to decay,” said Mackie, who worked two years full time on the project and was a key go-between working with the other interested parties.

“There was considerable urgency to recover the remains,” he recalled. “That was the first agreement we made; get them out, put them into a freezer and then sit down and talk about what we’d do from there.”

Nearly nine years later, the research continues into the discovery of Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi, as the find became known – it means “long ago person found” in the Southern Tutchone language.
As part of this week’s Northwest Anthropological Conference at the University of Victoria, the Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi Symposium will see experts in fields ranging from forensic anthropology to cultural history to ethnobotany rehash the most minute scientific discoveries in the project, and touch on the far-reaching cross-cultural issues.


Globe and Mail, CanWest News Service: The BC Iceman (as in Brit. Columbia)

Found thawing from glacier, his genes make him family for living members of Canada’s First Nations. Nine years ago, far up in the northwest corner of British Columbia near the Yukon and Alaska borders, three hunters seeking Dall mountain sheep instead found a young man’s body emerging from a thawing glacier. He’d apparently been in the ice for several hundred years.

Soon he was dubbed the BC Iceman. The body had been sheared by glacial movement but was in fairly good shape. So were tools and clothes including a gopher skin blanket and a woven hat. More formally, he’s Kwaday Dan Ts’inchi or Long Ago Person Found in the Tutchone language.
Now a reunion of sorts is being celebrated. Canadian news outlets are carrying news, from a science conference in Victoria, that his genes indicate affinity to 17 people alive today. Fifteen of the 17, it says here, are from the Wolf Clan. They are among 240 members of native Champagne and Aishihik peoples who volunteered to be tested (the community appears to be deeply interested in archeology). All live in nearby regions of northern BC, Yukon, and Alaska.

For this first burble of news reporters tended to focus, naturally, on the delight felt by some of those who are either descendents of the fellow or of some of the members of his immediate family. It seems, from some of the background gleaned this morning (see Grist) that this story deserves a much broader treatment. That is, people have been working pretty hard to put the man’s story together. It’s a saga.



One of the research projects involved sequencing of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi’s mtDNA, which revealed that it belonged to Haplogroup A, with the polymorphisms 16111T, 16189C, 16223T, 16290T, 16319A, and 16362C.



If his Y chromosome is known, that information would be deeply appreciated.
History Chasers

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