Jun 30, 2010 - Canada, Travel, Yukon    4 Comments

Mammoths, Atlatls, and Plane Crashes

I touched a real honest to goodness fossilized mammoth bone on Tuesday. It was about 25,000 years old. And that was after seeing a mostly real honest to goodness, fully reconstructed, mammoth skeleton. I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but have you ever seen a mammoth skeleton???

So, ahem, one of the biggest and most visible attractions in Whitehorse, because it’s right off the Alaska Highway, is the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. I had no idea what Beringia is/was and thought the place was a tourist trap, so I never really thought about visiting it. But after so much time in the Yukon I’d begun to hear things about the place and it started to work at me. So, after I got in from my Kluane Country jaunt, I decided to go find out just what was this thing called Beringia.

Beringia is a lost continent, a landmass that joined Siberia and present-day Alaska during the last ice age. It was a fertile grassland known as the ‘Mammoth Steppe’ in which giant animals roamed the land.

Stories of those days have been passed down through the ages to the present native peoples of the Yukon. One archaeologist studied those legends to see if there was any realistic basis to them and was lead to the confluence of the Old Crow and Porcupine rivers where there had been a legend of a giant monster slain on those banks. That legend is now a true story, as the skeleton of the ‘giant monster’ was found thanks to this orally passed down story–it was a woolly mammoth! Talk about myth coming to life!

After watching a fifteen minute movie about Beringia we were invited to step outside to try our hand using an atlatl, commonly known as a spear thrower. I’m quite good with a bow and arrow, so I was eager to try this other ancient weapon. I did three throws and the teacher informed me that I was one of the best he’d ever seen! While the others aimed to throw their spears as far as they could, with their first throw failing miserably, I focused on my technique and struck the same target three times, each time with more force. If I’d been hunting for the first time, I would have probably made a kill with at least one of those throws. It’s no wonder I didn’t last as a vegetarian–I’m a natural born hunter! 😀

My tour of Beringia filled me with such awe and wonder. Until yesterday afternoon, the Yukon was the Klondike. Anytime that happened before was of no interest. It was like discovering that an old friend has been hiding a wonderful secret from me.

The centre isn’t very big; there are a couple of exhibits outside and in, but it’s an excellent way to spend an hour or two. You can get a combo pass for the Transportation Museum next door for $9. That’s right, $9 can get you at least two hours of entertainment in excellent museums in Whitehorse. That’s less than the cost of a movie ticket!

The transportation museum was very good; with interesting displays. My favourites were those devoted to the Chilkoot Trail and to the Helen Klaben plane crash. She and a pilot crashed in the frigid Yukon wilderness in the 1960’s and though badly wounded, lived to tell the tale. She wrote a book about the ordeal called Hey, I’m Alive, which was made into a movie.

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  • There is a dig in Ashfall, Nebraska where they have uncovered the original 3 toed horses along with rhinos. It is cool as you can stand there and talk to the people as they dig the fossils.

    I would love to see the mammoths.

  • Rhinos? In North America?!

  • Yep. Read all about it here: http://ashfall.unl.edu/

  • Fascinating; thanks for the link!

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