11,500 Year Old Ice Age Child Found in Prehistoric Alaskan Home

image 2Photo: courtesy of Ben PotterResearchers and scientists working on excavation at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska.

An archaeological dig in Alaska has resulted in a rare and surprising discovery: the cremated remains of the second youngest Ice age child ever were found. It is believed that some 11,500 years ago, one of America’s earliest families laid the remains of a three-year-old child to rest. The child was buried in an ancient fire pit inside a prehistoric home.

“This site reflects many different behaviors never before seen in this part of the world during the last Ice Age, and the preservation and lack of disturbance allows us to explore the lifeway of these ancient peoples in new ways,” said Ben Potter, the University of Alaska Fairbanks archaeologist leading the project.

Uncovered on the last day of the excavation season, this rare find is truly significant, because it affects a number of different disciplines. It sheds light on artifacts used at the time, the preservation of human remains, and climate change in Ice Age northern North America, among other things. It will also hopefully benefit science and heritage studies in a way that is respectful of traditional Athabascan culture.

image 3Photo: courtesy of Ben PotterJoshua Reuther, Ben Potter and Joel Irish excavate the burial pit at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska.

This is a breakthrough discovery for the native Athabascan people and a great contribution to North American archaeology. Joann Polston, First Chief of the Healy Lake Traditional Council – the tribal government closest to the site – said: “I felt like I was looking into someone’s grave site, and instantly felt that this little one had a lot to say.”

Though the child’s gender is yet to be determined, the tribe selected a name for the child: Xaaxaa Cheege Ts’eiin, which means “Upward Sun River Mouth Child” in the local dialect. It is also believed that this child could be related to any number of other Native American ancestors.

image 1Photo: © Maureen McCombs, University of Alaska FairbanksFragments like these are among the remains discovered at the Upward Sun River site in Alaska

The initial excavation of the site was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs. Anna Kerttula de Echave, the project’s program officer said, “This exciting, groundbreaking and multi-faceted research is in the best traditions of the social science research that NSF supports in the Arctic”.

She added: “Equally significant is that the approach taken by the researchers reflects the importance, in modern arctic science, of collaborating with Native people as full partners in discovery.”

Source: 1, and Press Release