In Pursuit of Prehistoric Caribou on Thandlät, Southern Yukon


  • Gerald W. Kuzyk
  • Donald E. Russell
  • Richard S. Farnell
  • Ruth M. Gotthardt
  • P. Gregory Hare
  • Erik Blake



woodland caribou, Rangifer tarandus caribou, permanent snowfield, environmental change, prehistoric dart, southern Yukon


In 1997, the first author noted a large concentration of caribou (Rangifer sp.) fecal pellets and a caribou antler on a permanent snow patch in the Kusawa Lake area of southern Yukon. Caribou are completely absent from this area today. Coring of the snow patch revealed continuous deposits of fecal pellets to depths of at least 160 cm. The proximal portion of a wooden dart or arrow shaft fragment recovered on the edge of the snow patch represents one of the few organic examples of mid-Holocene hunting technology ever found in Canada. An age of 2450 BP ± 50 years was obtained for the fecal material from approximately 1.6 m below the surface of the snow patch, and the dart was dated at 4360 BP ± 50 years. These dates indicate that aboriginal Yukon hunters have been harvesting caribou at this location for at least 4000 years. The Thandlät site offers a rare opportunity to explore a number of questions regarding the prehistoric ecology of large caribou populations, the implications of climate change for caribou populations, and human use of high-elevation hunting sites.