Chapter 2 – Archaeology and Yukon’s First Peoples

Yukon After the Ice Age

As the environment warmed up, approximately 14,000–10,000 years ago, glaciers melted and left behind new lakes and rivers, sea levels rose, grasslands turned to forest, and plants and animals appeared in the new environments. Many ice age mammals disappeared, but some remained, including caribou, bison, and muskox. The vegetation of Yukon was characterized by shrub tundra, which transitioned to spruce forests by 7,000 years ago. People began to populate the rest of Yukon from northern and southern areas. The people who populated Yukon between 10,000 and 4,500 years ago were hunter-gatherers (foragers or food collectors) who lived in very small groups known as bands.[1] These people moved throughout the landscape following the seasonal cycle and probably erected temporary shelters or structures. They would usually return to the same location every year to harvest local resources. People would have hunted large game, but in order to be successful, hunters would have needed specialized tools.

After 4,500 years ago, the climate became cool and humid. People continued to hunt large game but also started hunting smaller game (Ember et al. 2012:155–157). Stone net sinkers also began to appear in the archaeological record, indicating fish harvesting was occurring in rivers and lakes. Salmon runs became established on the Yukon River and its tributaries. Fishing areas became summertime gathering places for people, and some have remained in use to the present day: Fort Selkirk is one example (see next section).


  1. The term band here refers to a small, nomadic (within a particular region), local group that is politically autonomous.

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ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of Yukon's First Peoples by Victoria Elena Castillo, Christine Schreyer, and Tosh Southwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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