Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ancient Hunting Weapon Discovered in Melting Ice


Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Managing Editor
LiveScience.com jeanna Bryner
livescience Managing Editor
livescience.com – Tue Jul 6, 8:10 am ET

What looked like a small branch that blew off a tree during a storm turned out to be an ancient wooden hunting weapon wielded by Paleo Indians.

The 10,000-year-old atlatl dart was discovered in a melting patch of ice high in the Rocky Mountains close to Yellowstone National Park.

The dart was made from a birch sapling and still carried personal markings from the ancient hunter. When it was shot, the 3-foot-long (0.9 meter) dart had a projectile point on one end, and a cup or dimple on the other that would have attached to a hook on throwing tool called an atlatl.

The Native American hunter would have used the atlatl, a tool about 2 feet long (0.6 m), for leverage to greater velocity, said Craig Lee, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who discovered the weapon.

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"We didn't realize until the early 2000s that there was a potential to find archaeological materials in association with melting permanent snow and ice in many areas of the globe," said Lee, who is a specialist in an emerging field called ice patch archaeology. "We're not talking about massive glaciers, we're talking about the smaller, more kinetically stable snowbanks that you might see if you go to Rocky Mountain National Park."

Icy revelations

As glaciers and ice fields continue to melt at an unprecedented rate, increasingly older and significant artifacts, along with plant material, animal carcasses and even ancient feces, are being released from the ice that has gripped them for thousands of years, Lee said. In fact, this year scientists reported a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools discovered in the Canadian High Arctic as a result of melting ice patches.

Over the past decade, Lee and his colleagues have compiled biological and physical data on ice fields that may have been used by prehistoric hunters to kill animals seeking refuge from heat and insect swarms in the summer months.


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