4-year-old discovers prehistoric arrow point

Artifact consistent with 1,500-year-old Athabascan culture

Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Archaeologists are crediting a small child with finding a prehistoric arrow point at Denali National Park and Preserve.

The barbed arrow point was found last month by a 4-year-old boy who was playing on a gravel bar along the Teklanika River.

Archaeologists believe the 12-inch point was made of caribou antler.

Park archaeologist Jeremy Karchut said the point is significantly worn, but still has characteristics that indicate it was man-made and what it was used for.

The point has at least 15 barbs appearing as small, worn bumps on one side.

The artifact - only the second barbed point found at Denali - is archived in the park museum.

Karchut said the point was found near a prehistoric hunting site dating back thousands of years.

Artifacts from two earlier cultures - the Paleo-Arctic and Northern Archaic - have been found in the same area, but this is the first one that can be assigned to the Athabascan culture, which dates back about 1,500 years in Alaska.

"Now that we have found this we know the Athabascans used this same site," Karchut said. "We now have evidence from all three cultural traditions represented in Interior Alaska."

The cone-shaped end of the point was fashioned to fit into the shaft of the arrow, Karchut said.

The tip of the end was broken off, but it may have been carved into a sharp point or fitted with something harder, such as copper. The arrows were designed to break apart after striking an animal.

Karchut said the arrow point is similar to other Athabascan artifacts found in the Interior and Yukon Territory that have been radiocarbon dated to be 100 to 1,100 years old. A sample of the new find will be submitted for radiocarbon testing.

The arrow point was found by the son of a park employee, according to park spokeswoman Kris Fister. The boy's mother initially thought it was a rib bone from an animal, but she showed it to some other park employees who encouraged her to turn it in.

It is normally illegal to pick up artifacts in the park. The woman, however, feared the piece would be washed down the river so she collected it and reported it to the cultural resources program manager, Amy Craver, who turned it over to Karchut.

The piece might have been buried in the river bank and swept to where it was found, Karchut said.

"It's very rare that we find organic artifacts like that on the surface." he said.

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