Contact: Kris Fister, 907-683-9583
A rare look at Denali’s prehistoric cultural past came to light when a portion of a prehistoric Athabaskan arrow was discovered by park visitors in mid-May 2009 along the gravel bar of the Teklanika River. The barbed arrow point, made of antler (probably caribou) is significantly worn, but it still has characteristics that indicate it was fashioned by human hands, and what it was used for. The cone-shaped end of the twelve inch long piece was fashioned to fit into the shaft of the arrow. The “tip” end has been broken off, but it may have been carved into a sharp point or fitted with a something harder, such as a copper tip. The arrows were designed to break apart after being shot at an animal.
Similar artifacts discovered in other areas of Interior Alaska and the Yukon have been radiocarbon dated to be 100 to 1,100 years old. Denali National Park and Preserve archeologists will submit a sample of this piece for radiocarbon testing to determine its age.
Given its unassuming size, it is remarkable that it caught the eye of a youngster who was picking up and playing with objects on the gravel bar with other children. It is extremely rare for this type of artifact to be discovered on the surface, as once they are exposed to the elements they begin to deteriorate. Typically, archaeologists only recover stone or “lithic” artifacts that are very durable. Well preserved organic items, such as this point, are seldom observed in archaeological sites, particularly in Interior Alaska.
Until this discovery, archaeologists have only recovered artifacts in the area from much earlier periods of human habitation, i.e. approximately 2,500 – 7,000 years ago. The discovery of this piece indicates that early Athabaskans used the area as well, providing concrete evidence that this site was continuously used for thousands of years.
All artifacts from public lands are protected under federal law, and can not be collected in Denali National Park and Preserve. When an artifact is discovered, it is generally best to leave it in place, as the specific location of the finding can yield even more information. If possible, take photographs and an accurate location (GPS) and report the find to a park ranger as soon as possible. In this instance the visitors felt that the artifact was in danger of being washed away by the Teklanika River, so they removed it and brought it to the park headquarters.
Additional information on the park’s cultural resources can be found at www.nps.gov/dena/historyculture/index.htm .
Last updated: April 14, 2015