UVic Torch -- Spring 2004
Spring 2004,
Volume 26, Number 1

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Bear Bones Evidence of Early Life - Photgraph by Don Pierce Bear Bones Evidence of Early Life
Old bones: These remains, wonderfully preserved over thousands of years on the Queen Charlotte Islands, are being studied by UVic anthropologist Rebecca Wigen. At the top is the upper arm bone of a grizzly bear that lived 11,200 years ago. Below is the lower jaw of a 11–12,000 year-old grizzly. The other, smaller jawbone belonged to a black bear and is about 10,000 years old.
Photography by DON PIERCE


A CAVE ON THE QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS HAS PROVEN TO BE A TREASURY of old bones and the evidence of early human life on the Canadian West Coast.

Rebecca Wigen—senior lab instructor in Anthropology and a private consultant—is part of a team analyzing bones from the limestone cave known as K-1, near Gwaii Haanas National Park on Moresby Island. She has been amazed by the condition of the hundreds of bones she’s examined from the site—and their significance. “This is our only piece of early post-glacial information. I mean really early.”

Among the findings are two spear points confirmed by radiocarbon dating to be between 11,800 and 12,100 years old. The spear points, likely lodged in animals that died in the cave, represent the earliest evidence of human occupation north of California. The findings support theories that humans first migrated by water down the coast from Asia, from one ice-free refuge to the next, as glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age.

The bones also confirm the early presence of grizzly bears, 13,600 years ago, in the islands known as Haida Gwaii by the Haida First Nation. Grizzlies no longer live in the region and their remains are an indication of the rapid environmental and geographical changes that have occurred on the islands over the past 17,000 years.

Other unexpected findings have come from deer bones dating back 12,600 years. It had been thought deer, specifically black-tailed deer, were introduced to the islands by Europeans. The cave bones suggest that deer were on the island post-glacially but went extinct for some reason.

Wigen and her fellow researchers, led by Daryl Fedje of Parks Canada, are now examining a second cave, near K-1, with hopes that it too will reveal more secrets about early post-glacial life. The artifacts will be returned to the Haida and some will be displayed at the Queen Charlotte Islands Museum.

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