Archaeological Investigations of Alpine Ice Patches in the Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada


  • Thomas D. Andrews
  • Glen MacKay
  • Leon Andrew



ice patch archaeology, mountain woodland caribou, Selwyn Mountains, dart-throwing technology, bow and arrow, ground squirrel snare


Inspired by the groundbreaking investigation of ice patch archaeology in Yukon Territory, the authors began exploring the Mackenzie, Selwyn, and Richardson Mountains for ice patch archaeological sites in 2000. Through remote sensing analysis, followed by intensive field surveys in the Selwyn and Mackenzie Mountains, we documented eight ice patch sites containing well-preserved archaeological artifacts and biological specimens. Twenty additional ice patches exhibit the key indicators of ice patch archaeological sites (permanent or intermittent ice and snow lenses containing caribou fecal matter, faunal material, or both), but so far these patches have not yielded artifacts. Collections from ice patches in the Selwyn Mountains include examples of three precontact hunting technologies: throwing dart (atlatl), bow-and-arrow, and snare. Atlatl technology, represented by the distal ends of two darts dating to 2410 and 2310 14C yr BP, predates bow-and-arrow technology, represented by two complete arrows, two distal shaft fragments, and a partial bow dating between 850 and 270 14C yr BP. A ground squirrel snare dates to 970 14C yr BP. Caribou dominates the faunal remains recovered from the ice patches. These data suggest that hunting on ice patches was part of a broader-spectrum summer subsistence economy focused on a broad alpine valley, known locally as K’atieh, and that hunters tended to target ice patches close to other subsistence locations in this area.