A Thousand Years of Lost Hunting Arrows: Wood Analysis of Ice Patch Remains in Northwestern Canada


  • Claire Alix
  • P. Gregory Hare
  • Thomas D. Andrews
  • Glen MacKay




archery, arrow shafts, ice patch archaeology, wood analysis, xylology, Subarctic, Arctic, Southwest Yukon, Northwest Territories


Discussions of the development of past hunting equipment generally focus on lithic and bone projectile points and foreshafts, as these are often the only elements remaining in archaeological sites. In the last 15 years, the archaeology of alpine ice patches has provided a unique opportunity to analyze hunting equipment over time and gain knowledge of the wooden elements on which the points are hafted. This paper describes the wood and morphometrical analysis of a collection of 27 arrow shafts from two ice patch regions of the western Canadian Subarctic. In both regions, two main categories of arrow shafts show the selection of specific pieces of wood, spruce (Picea sp.) on the one hand and birch (Betula sp.) on the other, with associated morphometrical characteristics. These shafts also share some characteristics that are distinct from those of Arctic and coastal arrow shafts. Shafts of pine (Pinus sp. sec. ponderosa) and hemlock (Tsuga sp.) were also identified in the southwestern Yukon Territory. The absence of correlation between the arrow shaft types and 14C dating raises the question of the significance of the arrow types and the potential for function, trade, or travel to explain the variation.