Lesson from the Ice Man: We are what we carry with us

Out of the Woods

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

The Ice Man found recently between Klukwan and Klukshu, northeast of Haines, has me worried. What we know about him and continue to learn is based on the things he was wearing and carrying with him. DNA testing will link him to modern people and may tell us who he was, but what he was doing and what kind of a guy he was are being surmised from his gear.

Think about what you have in your pockets on any given day or what you carry in your daypack. If you slipped into a crevasse or, perhaps more likely, one of those bottomless holes in the bog (eeew!), what would ethnologists conclude from those items 550 years later? If it were my sister and she had her handbag with her, it would be a no-brainer that she was a traveling tool salesperson. She never leaves home without enough tools to rebuild a 4-wheeler. She would be easy to place in a timeline because she also carries about a pound of coins. No wonder she fell in the bog. The bog idea is creeping me out. Let's stick with the crevasse.

What would future scientists find interesting in your daypack? Local hiker Betty carries trash bags, a doggie water bowl, postman shaped doggie treats and Balance Bars. Most likely, her dog would have sidestepped the crevasse and not be there to validate the doggie items. Betty would be presumed to be carrying her personal dish, could be a begging bowl, along with postman fetishes. The sacks could have been for delivering mail. The Balance Bars would be stolen and eaten by the discoverer, since they have a half life of about a thousand years and would still be good.

As I was hiking today, I made a quick survey of what I was wearing and carrying. My Tevas and shorts along with lots of bug repellent would place my demise in the summer. If my tie dyed tee shirt were still intact, it would be presumed to be some kind of camouflage garment. The huge first aid kit in my pack would say I'm a hypochondriac. The big handful of .45 shells I picked up would cause researchers to spend time looking for my gun. Actually, now that I think about it, the camo, first aid kit and ammo are making me look like a military person. Oh, there's my tiny plastic sword, too. I don't know why I have it, but it's been in my pack for a long time. Obviously a talisman. I guess I'll be easy to figure out.

One way scientists will have an easier time with us than they are having with the Ice Man is through electronic devices like cell phones. Mine no doubt will still be bleating its favorite and chronic complaint about a low battery when found. Palm Pilots may divulge information about us. Your cryptic memos to self will be interpreted as a journal, so you may want to clean up what you're writing. I think the real treasure, the black box of our hiking misadventures, will be GPS units. Researchers may be able to tell where we came from, where we met disaster and how far we've traveled inside the glacier.

Our lives are better documented than they were 550 years ago, but you never know. History is pretty subjective and a few objects found in your pockets or daypack could sway opinion. At the least, archaeologists will argue about Postal Woman at conferences for centuries.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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