New research from the University of Montreal in Canada shows that humans lived in Yukon’s Bluefish Caves 24,000 years ago. Humans crossed the Bering Strait from Asia to North America at Yukon’s remote Bluefish Caves, located in the Beringia Corridor.
Scientists, based on other archaeological evidence, believed that humans did not arrive in North America until just 14,000 years before present. But in the 1970s and 1980s, anthropologists uncovered a large bone bearing what appeared to be butcher marks—the earliest known archaeological evidence. Although at the time it was estimated that humans settled on the site 30,000 years ago.
However, researchers at the University of Montreal recently published a study that looked at 36,000 bone fragments to show. They point out that humans actually arrived in Yukon caves 24,000 years ago. That is 10,000 years longer than previously thought.
Human history in prehistoric times is the subject of study in anthropology and archaeology; Here is Lorien Bourgeon, a graduate student who studied the bones alongside Ariane Burke (Professor of Anthropology at the University of Montreal). They are assisted by another one who is the deputy director of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. Thomas Higham. They all also discussed the discovery and its significance for human understanding.
The Bluefish Cave site was excavated from 1977 to 1987 under the direction of Dr. Jack Sink-Mars with the assistance of the Vuntut Jihuichin First Nation. And all the collections are preserved in the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa. Their research involved identifying mammalian bone samples (i.e. taxa and anatomical components), then identifying the agents responsible for bone surface modification, i.e. human activities on fauna, etc. Meticulous study took time, as there are about 36,000 bone samples. Many of the specimens were fragmentary and quite small, but they decided to examine them all under the microscope.
What recent radiocarbon dating proves:
Radiocarbon dating of scientists looked at evidence of human activity carried on the bones. Earlier dating did not work with this type of evidence made on bones. Decided to date a horse jaw found in the cave. whereby the oldest dates estimate evidence of 23,000 to 24,000 years. There is a humerus bone and a metatarsal bone from the same species, as well as metacarpal and coxal bone fragments from caribou. Each bone is dated. Radiocarbon dating allows the human presence at the site to be dated and actually proves that humans arrived in the Yukon, Canada 24,000 years ago.
Why this study is significant:
Until then, researchers thought that humans arrived in North America about 14,000 years ago. Prior to that date, there was an ice age called the Last Glacial. It’s hard to imagine people living in Alaska and the Yukon during that time. But the researchers’ results show that humans were there at the height of the last glacial period and were genetically and geographically isolated in the Beringia region between 24,000 and 15,000 years before humans arrived in North America.
Yukon’s Ancient Past:
The history of the Yukon is a unique one, both the first and the last are particularly remarkable. The first human populations to enter the New World during the Ice Age made their homes in the Yukon—because the Yukon was the least glaciated of the northern regions. On the opposite side of history, the Yukon was one of the last territories in Canada to be colonized by Euro-Canadians and Americans. More than a century ago, the discovery of gold in the Yukon’s Dawson area and the Gold Rush of 1898, ushered in a famous written history for the Yukon.
Prior to the arrival of newcomers, the history of Yukon First Nations began to be documented through oral histories and stories of elders. Exploration of the archaeological record has contributed to an understanding of the unwritten history of First Nations, extending back to the last ice age in the Yukon.
Beringia and Ice Age Man:
During the Ice Age, a subcontinent called Beringia connected North America and Asia. Beringia was formed when massive glaciers formed in the Northern Hemisphere, trapping much of the world’s water. Global sea level dropped by 100–150 m, exposing the Bering land-bridge floor.
Beringia, which stretches between the Kolyma River in Siberia and the Mackenzie River in Canada, was ice-free during the Ice Age. Because of the dry climate, glaciers never formed here—the region was too dry to have significant glaciation. The mammoth steppe was covered by tough grasses and herbs. Beringia was home to Ice Age giants, giant short-faced bears, steppe bison and giant beavers. At the peak of the last ice age, the most successful hunters, the first humans, entered Beringia from the Siberian steppes.
Although research is still ongoing, researchers generally agree that humans entered North America via the Bering land-bridge at least 15,000 to 24,000 years ago. At least two, and possibly as many as four, stone tool technologies from that period have been established near the oceanic northwest America—suggesting that the history of human migration was fairly complex.
One of the most important Beringian sites in the Yukon is Bluefish Cave, located about 50 kilometers southwest of Old Crow in northern Yukon. Excavations at Bluefish Cave (there are actually two main caves and a small rock shelter) have yielded abundant remains of extinct Ice Age fauna, including mammoths, horses, bison, wapiti, and lions. The most significant work on the question of early man involved the identification and dating of mammoth bones, which were found to be about 24,000 years old. It is currently the oldest known site in the New World.
Northern Cordilleran Traditions:
Early human travel has been recognized at several sites in the northern Yukon, very shadowy indeed. such as at the Canyon site, in the southern Yukon; On the Ashhik River; Annie Lake and Moose Lake near White River. Archaeologists in the Yukon call the North Cordilleran (Mountain Range) heritage of these early peoples’ technology. The name comes from the mountain range in the northern Yukon, where the tools of this tradition were first recognized.
Typically, Northern Cordilleran stone tools include large lanceolate spear points with rounded bases, small tear-drop-shaped points, bladed tools (long, parallel-sided flakes), and large burins (whittling/shaving tools, probably for multitasking is used). In Alaska, archaeologists call this technology the Nenana Complex.
Late Prehistoric Period:
About 1,100 years ago, a catastrophic volcanic eruption occurred in the St. Elias Mountains on the Alaska-Yukon border. The eruption covered 250,000 square kilometers of southern and central Yukon (almost half of the territory’s area) with ash. The ash layer near the source of the eruption reached a thickness of two meters or more. However, researchers are still trying to understand the impact of this phenomenon on the flora and fauna of the region. Linguistic records suggest that the influence on some southern Yukon peoples was indeed profound. The emergence of the Athapaskan-speaking Navajo and Apache in the American Southwest resulted from the eruption of the White River hundreds of years ago.
The post-Ash Fall period in the archaeological record witnesses a number of technological innovations, which spread rapidly throughout Alaska, the Yukon, and the Mackenzie Territory. Metallurgy first emerged using float copper nuggets found in streams in the White River and tributaries of the Copper River. A major use of copper for the Inuvialuit people on the north coast of Alaska and the Yukon, bows and arrows reached a peak of popularity within the last 1,000 years, possibly due to the metal’s effectiveness in warfare.
Apparently related to the appearance of copper tools, bone and antler (deer antler) technology flourished in the late prehistoric period. Tool kits of this period were dominated by a variety of bone and antler tools, including a variety of bone and antler harpoons, spear points, arrow points, and antler points. Characteristically, the bone artefacts were decorated with a line and dot motif and concentric circles, human and animal figures.
The widespread distribution of these technological elements among Athapaskan-leaders and the Inuvieluit in Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories suggests an accelerated pace of human interaction in late prehistoric times. In addition, reactions and changes in the White River eruption contributed greatly. It probably encouraged the spread of new ideas and technological innovations of short-term movement and group boundary coordination.
The adoption of copper-working technology further promoted intergroup interaction—as increasingly extensive networks of trade and exchange developed to meet the demand for new and highly valuable raw materials.
These far-reaching trade networks were the routes along which European trade items were first brought to the Yukon through Tlingit and Inuvieluit aboriginal intermediaries.