New archeological project could save miners time and money

Yukon archeologists will be getting a new tool to help track down archeological and historic sites.

Yukon archeologists will be getting a new tool to help track down archeological and historic sites.

Thanks to a $329,100 CanNor grant, the territory’s history and prehistory hunters will start a pilot study to map the landscape, geology and terrain in the Dawson and Mayo mining districts, using graphic information systems to predict where archeological sites might be located.

“We haven’t done this kind of project in the Yukon before. Looking at the landscape and environmental aspects … and coming up with types of landscape features where you tend to find archeology sites. It’s a big project that’s going to enable us to catch up to the activity in that neck of the woods,” said Yukon archeologist Ruth Gotthardt.

As well as allowing Gotthardt and her coworkers to better understand they lay of the archeological land, the project should also help ensure that mining companies don’t inadvertently stumble across important sites, she said.

Historically, a large proportion of archeological discoveries were made by accident by miners. Ancient bones, preserved carcasses of prehistoric horses and enormous woolly mammoth tusks have all been discovered by miners.

Knowing where those buried treasures might be hiding is also very important for industry, said CanNor regional director Michael Bloor.

The information that the pilot study will provide should give mining companies some certainty on their investments because they won’t be as worried about an unexpected discovery halting production.

“What really appealed to us in the request was the whole economic development angle. One is the development side, and the other is the heritage side. It’s both. Naturally, if it was only one, we wouldn’t be considered in this request. Because there’s that economic development angle, it makes it very appealing to us,” said Bloor.

The project is a co-operative effort between the Yukon government and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Nacho Nyak Dun First Nations.

“Our heritage department staff will be working with our elders to document knowledge about our land, travel routes, old camps, traditional use and harvesting areas and other areas of significance and be a part of the field work program next summer. We look forward to this important project,” said Joella Hogan, a spokesperson for the Nacho Nyak Dun heritage department.

The first move for the project will be to look at existing map records and try to determine if enough information even exists or if they’ll have to start from scratch, said Hogan.

As mining activity picks up in the Dawson and Mayo regions, Gotthardt said it gets increasingly important to have these maps in place because miners might not notice the kinds of clues that archeologists would look for.

“Older archeological record gets more and more ephemeral – stone tools, bone chips, they’re all a little harder to spot or recognize, especially the way modern mining is done,” she said.

“They’re not likely to dig up a mammoth carcass. You can’t really miss that one, but an antler punch came out of one of the placer mines near the Klondike years ago. It was dated 12,000 years old, right at the end of the ice age,” she said, adding that small items like that can provide enormous clues about the lives of the Yukon’s early inhabitants.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com`