By Katie Woychyshyn, Contributor, Craig Kelman & Associates
On June 21, Treadstone Equipment Ltd. unearthed a mummified baby woolly mammoth within the Klondike gold fields and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory.
The discovery marks the first near-complete and best-preserved mummified woolly mammoth found in North America since a partial mammoth calf, named Effie, was found in 1948 at a gold mine in interior Alaska. Elders from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have named the newly discovered mammoth calf Nun cho ga, which means "big baby animal" in the Hän language.
Early examination of Nun cho ga indicated that she is a young female woolly mammoth that may have died when she was just over one month of age. Geological evidence at the site reveals she lived during the ice age over 30,000 years ago at a time when woolly mammoths, wild horses, steppe bison, lions, and giant short-faced bears roamed the Yukon hills.
“This is as a remarkable recovery for our First Nation, and we look forward to collaborating with the Yukon government on the next steps in the process for moving forward with these remains in a way that honours our traditions, culture, and laws,” stated Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Chief Roberta Joseph. “We are thankful for the Elders who have been guiding us so far and the name they provided. We are committed to respectfully handling Nun cho ga as she has chosen now to reveal herself to all of us.
The mammoth was found approximately 50 to 60 ft into the permafrost by first year employee Travis Delawski, who was operating an excavator with a ripping attachment. Travis, 31 years old from Alberta, with only 30 days mining experience under his belt, jumped out of his machine to take a closer look at what he thought was a skull of ancient bison – then he saw the trunk. He contacted Treadstone’s foreman and owner, Brian McCaughan, over the two-way radio, by reporting, "I found a body!"
After seeing the find, Brian quickly contacted Dr. Grant Zazula, the Yukon palaeontologist in Whitehorse.
According to the company, Dr. Grant Zazula provided Treadstone directions of how to preserve the mammoth the best they could until a field crew was able to attend. The Treadstone crew wet blankets and tarped the baby, while Jeff Bond, from the Yukon Geological Survey, responded to Zazula’s call for help to travel from Dawson City to recover the mammoth and store it in a freezer. Consequently, the baby mammoth was recovered in two pieces.
Since then, there has been a lot of activity, excitement, learning, and appreciation going on at Treadstone's mining site. There have been gatherings in Dawson City for an unveiling as well as Blessing Ceremony held at the Eureka site. The Yukon government and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation have worked together on the discovery.
“It’s amazing. It took my breath away when they removed the tarp,” said Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Elder Peggy Kormendy, who attended the scene for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in people. “We must all treat it with respect. When that happens, it is going to be powerful and we will heal. We must as a people.”
On June 28, a field crew collected samples of mud and gathered other bones previously collected from the area by Treadstone. New finds will also be monitored.
“As an ice age palaeontologist, it has been one of my life long dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth,” stated Dr. Grant Zazula, Yukon Paleontologist. “That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world.”
Treadstone states that it plans to be careful, keep its eyes open, and treat Nun Cho Ga's resting place with respect as the company works with the Yukon Government and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Brian McCaughan is thrilled to be part of the process. He states: “There will be one thing that stands out in a person’s entire life and I can guarantee you this is my one thing.”
“The Yukon has always been an internationally renowned leader for ice age and Beringia research,” stated Ranj Pillai, Minister of Tourism and Culture, in a Government of Yukon press release. “We are thrilled about this significant discovery of a mummified woolly mammoth calf: Nun cho ga. Without strong partnerships between placer miners, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and the Yukon government, discoveries like this could not happen.”
Brooke Rudolf, Executive Director of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, added: “The Klondike Placer Miners’ Association is proud to work with responsible placer miners, like the McCaughan family, that regularly contribute to the Yukon’s paleontological record through their work. We extend thanks to Brian and Sharon and the crew, as well as Yukon’s Paleontology Program and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for coming together so quickly to preserve and celebrate this rare find.”
Treadstone Equipment Inc. is a family-owned and operated Alberta-based company that specializes in construction, earth-moving, gold mining, trucking, and buying/selling of heavy equipment. The company has projects across the mid-west of Canada involving building construction, site development, buying and selling heavy equipment, and trucking. Since 2012, the company commenced placer mining in the Yukon Territory. For more information, visit www.treadstoneequipment.ca.