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ARCHAEOLOGY

10,000-Year-Old Weapon Found Near Yellowstone

June 28: University of Colorado research associate Craig Lee holds a 10,000-year-old atlatl dart that had been frozen in an ice sheet near Yellowstone National Park. The dart was straight when it was entombed and became bowed from the melting and barely survived being snapped in half by a passing animal.Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

BOULDER, Colorado -- Researchers say they have found a 10,000-year-old hunting weapon in melting ice near Yellowstone National Park.

The University of Colorado announced the discovery Tuesday. Research associate Craig Lee said the spear-like wooden dart had been frozen in an ice sheet for 10,000 years and became bowed as the ice melted. It's made of birch and looks like a bent tree branch.

Lee says increased global temperatures are causing glaciers and ice fields to melt, releasing artifacts as well as plant material and animal carcasses.

"We didn't realize until the early 2000s that there was a potential to find archaeological materials in association with melting permanent snow and ice in many areas of the globe," Lee said. "We're not talking about massive glaciers, we're talking about the smaller, more kinetically stable snowbanks that you might see if you go to Rocky Mountain National Park."

Lee, a specialist in the emerging field of ice patch archaeology, said the dart had been frozen in the ice patch for 10 millennia. 

The dart Lee found -- an atlatl dart, part of a spear-like hunting weapon -- was from a birch sapling and still has personal markings on it from the ancient hunter, according to Lee. When it was shot, the 3-foot-long dart had a projectile point on one end, and a cup or dimple on the other end that would have attached to a hook on the atlatl. The hunter used the atlatl, a throwing tool about two feet long, for leverage to achieve greater velocity.