Warming Arctic could uncover Native artifacts

ANCHORAGE — A researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is attempting to predict where higher Arctic temperatures will melt snow to uncover ancient Alaska Native artifacts.

Perennial, stationary snow patches on the Brooks Range that accumulated over thousands of years are expected to deteriorate as the Arctic warms at double the global average, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

Caribou migrations indicate hunting artifacts, clothing and tools may be beneath the snow. Snow hydrology graduate researcher Molly Tedesche is trying to predict where these fragile items will be before they decay from exposure to the elements.

“We are trying to predict which snow patches will melt soonest and picking patches that seem like humans could have climbed onto,” she said.

A mapping program, satellite images and other tools are helping Tedesche and other researchers pinpoint where warming is most likely to reveal artifacts.

Tedesche said artifacts have been discovered near the Gates of the Arctic National Park, as well as in mountain ice patches in the southern Yukon Territory.

National Parks Service archaeologist Chris Ciancibelli and Tedesche traveled by helicopter to the Brooks Range over the summer. Though no ancient items were found, she said the trip was informative.

Tedesche dug into the snow patches and took measurements.

She said she’s planning to spend the winter analyzing ice samples, applying for grants to fund future trips and continuing to evaluate satellite and aerial images.

Her research is part of the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program.

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