Skip to page content

A Journey to a New Land

Caribou Hunt
Multimedia Library

Dr. Roy Carlson

Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University


Namu probably has the longest archaeological sequence of any site in all of Canada. The earliest radiocarbon date is 10,000 years ago which in terms of calibrated dates makes it 11,000 years ago, and it goes from there right on up to the historic period. It doesn’t have too much to do with what were probably the earliest movements into the New World however. It is important in that it is one of a series of sites along the coast of BC, in the Yukon and in Alaska, in which the oldest layers contain very similar assemblages of flaked stone tools and they also lack microblade technology. These tools are spear points and knives made by flaking both faces of the artifact, (that’s one way of making tools), drills or perforators, small skin scrapers, and various types of large core scrapers that could have been used in wood working as well as for working hides.

What these similarities indicate at this time period, which would be around 12,000 - 13,000 years ago, is the presence of the same culture, from out of central Alaska through the tundra in the Yukon out onto the Northwest coast and down the coast, which was also tundra at that time period. Now why would people move out of central Alaska and the Yukon onto the coast? What I think is it was caribou that were the incentive for people. We had a tundra environment all through Alaska to the Yukon down through the mountain passes near Skagway and out onto the coast and the Queen Charlotte Islands – sea levels were a lot lower at that time. And we know that caribou are found there on the coast by 11,500 years ago, so I think this was probably the incentive. In Alaska this culture is called the Nenana complex and we know from the work up there by David Yessner and other archaeologists that this was a hunting culture. These people were adapted to the arctic environment, they had an arctic toolkit and they were hunters.