In 1924, a land surveyor found an arrow at an elevation of 2,100 metres near Tsitsutl Peak in west-central British Columbia (map). The arrow made its way to the Royal BC Museum where it lay for over 80 years, until a timely inquiry and increased awareness of ice-patch archaeology stimulated a small research program. This research, initiated by RBCM curator Grant Keddie and reported in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology (Keddie and Nelson 2005), establishes that the arrow is about 400 years old.
Keddie and Nelson note that the arrow is made of western Yew wood (unusual) and is anomalously long for an arrow – 86 cm,but is missing an unknown portion of the nock end. They estimate the original length at closer to 1.2 metres. Combined with a larger-than-average side-notch point mounted on it, they suggest it may actually be an atlatl dart (humans need to throw things). Atlatl technology from Yukon ice patches disappears around 1200 years ago, replaced by bows and arrows, but the authors cite an account of coastal Atlatl use in historic times (1788) in the Alaskan Panhandle near Sitka:
It is not commonly recognized that the atlatl is as much a maritime hunting technology as it is a terrestrial one!
It is not out of the question that this arrow is a dart and was in the possession of a coastal person hunting inland in the 17th century. Or, perhaps such technology was in use much more recently in this area than in the Yukon. The unusual combination of attributes cited by Keddie and Nelson reinforces how little we know about the relationship between stone and organic material cultural, especially when they are combined into composite tools of which only the stone portion usually survives. So much extrapolation, so few actual specimens. And now, as I noted before, and as was forcefully put by blog commenter “BCArchaeologist”, these glaciers and ice patches are melting quickly, and there is only a small degree of archaeological action to salvage their valuable payload – and essentially no such action in British Columbia, even by BC Parks. As Keddie and Nelson demonstrate, we’ve known about frozen arrows in B.C. glaciers since 1924, and still no real action.
G Keddie, E Nelson. An Arrow from the Tsitsutl Glacier, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Archaeology/Journal canadien d’archéologie. 2005;29(1):113-23
The atlatl quote is:
Galois, Robert (ed.) 2004. A Voyage to the North West Side of America: The Journals of James Colnett, 1786–89. . Vancouver: UBC Press.