The Japan Times
September 30, 1999

Canadian glacier man's clothes are 550 years old

 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) Initial testing indicates artifacts found with a man frozen in a Canadian glacier are about 550 years old, not thousands of years, as many people originally speculated, officials said Tuesday.

Archaeologists are very interested in the discovery, announced with much fanfare in August, because the remains still predate regular contact between Europeans and North American natives.

"Human remains in a frozen state dating to precontact times are extremely rare, as are the associated well-preserved artifacts made with organic materials," officials said in a news release about the preliminary radiocarbon test results.

Scientists conducted initial tests on the artifacts — including an animal fur cloak and weaved wood-fiber hat — found with the human remains, because the testing of the body is a more complicated process.

Archaeologists believe people have lived in that region of North America for at least 10,000 years, leading to widespread speculation the remains were significantly older than they appear to be.

Scientists downplayed the age issue. "We know precious little about what these people were like," said Al Mackie, an archaeologist at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

The remains were discovered in late August by three teachers who were crossing a glacier during a sheep-hunting trip in Tetchenshini-Alsek Park, near the British Columbia border with Yukon and Alaska.

Preliminary evidence indicates the remains were those of a man who may have died after falling into a glacial crevasse, which is still a danger to travelers in the rugged and sparsely populated area.

A moose found frozen in the glacier near the man's body was determined to date only to the 1960s.

Provincial archaeologists are studying the remains in conjunction with the Champagne and Aishiki groups, on whose historic territory they were found and in whose language such a corpse is called "Kwaday Dan Sinchi" ("Long-Ago Person Found"). "At this age, Kwaday Dan Sinchi has great potential for tying in with oral history of the area and with local knowledge of precontact clothing, tools and land-use patterns," said Bob Charlie, chief of the Haines Junction, a Yukon-headquartered tribe.

As do many native people in North America, the Champagne and Aishiki people kept track of their history in the form of stories passed from generation to generation. Officials have only recently begun putting the history into written form.

Europeans began significant trading with native groups in northern British Columbia in the late 1700s. The initial tests indicate the remains predate Christopher Columbus' trans-Atlantic voyages.

Ancient intact bodies have been preserved in ice in the European Alps, the Andes, Siberia and arctic Canada, but this discovery was the first of its kind in western Canadian mountains, officials said.

They stressed since the find was announced that because the man is believed to be of aboriginal origin, any research on the remains will have to be done in accordance with the cultural concerns of Indian tribes in the area.