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Melting Yukon Ice Fields Reveal Ancient Canadian Footwear

The moccasin is the first sewn hide object found in the ice patch.
by Staff Writers
Ottawa, Canada (AFP) Feb 22, 2006
Researchers have discovered what they believe to be Canada's oldest known footwear -- a 1,400-year-old mangled leather moccasin -- in the northern Yukon territory, officials told AFP Wednesday. The ankle-high sewn leather shoe was first thought to be a hunter's bag and was kept frozen until recently when archeologists cleaned and assembled the fragile pieces.

The shoe was recovered from a melting alpine ice patch in 2003 by a team of artifact hunters scouring a region where ancient snow and ice up to 9,000 years old has recently begun melting due to global warming.

"The moccasin is really important because it represents an every day piece of footwear. It gives us some insight into their daily lives," said Yukon Conservator Valery Monahan, who spent some 240 hours gently unfurling, cleaning and reshaping the shoe.

It was caked in feces and had moss growing through it, she said.

The shoe looked to have been repaired twice with new stitching and a sole patch before being discarded, she added.

"In Canada, there are very few examples of (aboriginal) leather clothing prior to the Europeans' arrival. It doesn't survive in the soil very well unless it's frozen or in a dry cave and Canada doesn't have very many dry cave sites," Monahan said.

"As a result, little or no clothing has survived over thousands of years. What they wore is gone."

Archeologists found the first artifacts and ancient caribou dung in the region in 1997 and have since returned each year to find vast archeological riches -- over 180 tools and weapons, some more than 8,000 years old.

Caribou herds visited the area, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Whitehorse, to escape the summer heat and mosquitoes, Monahan said. Hunters followed.

The moccasin is the first sewn hide object found in the ice patch.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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