THE ORIGINAL HUNTER
I was Dall sheep hunting with two buddies in the most beautiful real estate I’ve ever seen, the massive Tatshenshini-alsek wilderness of northern British Columbia. We had backpacked in 55 kilometers to the head of a series of glaciers and spotted a band of rams on a distant ridge. As we were picking our way along the lower edge of a glacier, I found a stick, then another. This is rock-and-ice country, so it was unusual to see wood. Then I realized I was looking at an artifact—maybe an atlatl.
Just then one of my buddies said, “I think I found the poor fellow who lost that stuff.” It was a partial body, 30 feet above us. All we could see was a pelvis. The legs were still frozen in the glacier.
We photographed the find, and then went and killed a couple of beautiful rams. We reported our discovery when we got back to civilization, and it became a major anthropological event, the oldest organically preserved human remains in North America, estimated at 500 years old. The
First Nations called him Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, which translates to Long Ago Person Found.
We later learned the body was that of a Tlingit hunter 20 years old and in perfect physical condition when he died. With him, he had a robe made of arctic ground squirrel skins and sinew from mountain goat and blue whale, plus a smoked sockeye salmon in a pocket and a hat woven from spruce root.
The news made a splash, but despite extensive searching, archaeologists weren’t able to find the man’s head. Four years later, my buddies and I drew sheep tags again for the area, and we went back to the glacier, which had receded a good deal since our original visit. And not 100 yards from where we found the pelvis, we found the head.
How was it that we made both these finds? A lot of people have talked about the astronomical odds, but I don’t think it was coincidence. It’s taken me years to reach this conclusion, but I think we were meant to find him. He was a hunter, and it took a hunter to find a hunter. I hope if something like what happened to him— falling in a crevasse or getting lost in a midsummer storm and dying of hypothermia—happens to me, it’s another hunter who finds me 500 years later.
Bill Hanlon looks over glacier fields in the Tatshenshini-alsek Park in northwest British Columbia.