Access the Yukon fossil collection

  • Access for researchers
  • Access for schools, cultural centres and community groups
  • About the fossil collection

  1. Access for researchers

    We encourage researchers to access the Yukon fossil collection. Contact the Yukon Palaeontology Program to arrange a visit.

    Email: grant.zazula@gov.yk.ca
    Phone: 867-667-8089 or toll free 1-800-661-0408 ext. 8089.
    Cellphone: 867-332-8980

    Let us know if you are unable to visit our collection but require samples of specimens for analyses, such as:

    • radiocarbon dating;
    • isotopic analyses; ancient DNA; and
    • other biomolecules.

     


  2. Access for schools, cultural centres and community groups

    Public education about Yukon’s ancient past is an important part of the Yukon Palaeontology Program. Our education activities include:

    • public presentations,
    • group tours of the fossil collection, and
    • school visits.

     

    To arrange a tour, email grant.zazula@gov.yk.ca or phone 867-667-8089 (office) or 867-332-8980 (cellular phone). You can also request a presentation from a palaeontologist, or set up a visit to your class.

    We are happy to work with museums and First Nations cultural centres. Together, we can develop exhibits on Yukon palaeontology and related topics. Specimens or casts from our fossil collections may be available for loan and for exhibits. Contact us to find out more.


  3. About the fossil collection

    All fossils collected in Yukon since 1995 have been accessioned into the Yukon Fossil Collection in Whitehorse. The collection has over 35,000 specimens of ice age bones, teeth and horns and is growing rapidly.

    Most fossils found in Yukon are bones from ice age or Pleistocene mammals. These were preserved for millennia in permafrost. The majority of these are:

    • woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius);
    • ancient horse (Equus sp.); and
    • steppe bison (Bison priscus).
       

    The collection includes rare specimens of mummified ice age carcasses that include permafrost-preserved fossil:

    • hair;
    • skin; and
    • muscle tissue.
       

    Some significant, rare species include:

    • camels (Camelops hesternus);
    • short-faced bears (Arctodus simus); and
    • lions (Panthera leo spelaea).
       

    These mammals lived in the region known as Beringia. Beringia was a largely ice-free sub-continent that stretched from Siberia to Yukon during the last ice age. You can see examples of these mammals at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

    We also have specimens of ice age plants. This includes fossil pollen, seeds, leaves and other remains. Much of the fossil plant material was collected as part of ancient nests of arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii).

    Discovering fossils through placer gold mining

    Placer mining in the Klondike uncovers many new fossil specimens each summer. The collection has tripled in size since we established the Klondike Field Station. Some days, palaeontologists collect hundreds of new fossils at mines.

    Assistance from the mining industry, First Nation governments and the Yukon public makes this collection possible.

    Find out what to do if you discover fossils at your mine.

    Scientific significance

    Most fossils in Yukon have remained frozen for tens of thousands of years in permafrost. They help us understand the evolution, adaptations and extinctions of mammals in the North.

    Specimens from the Yukon contain some of the oldest DNA ever sequenced in the world. Many international scientific collaborators visit Yukon each year to study the collections. We have a major focus on collaborating with geneticists who study ancient DNA preserved in fossil bones.

    Yukon fossils in other collections

    From the 1960s to early 1990s, Dr. Richard (Dick) Harington collected over 50,000 specimens in the Old Crow and Klondike regions. The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa keeps these specimens as part of the national collection.

    In the early 20th century, the Smithsonian Institution, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and the Paris Museum of Natural History made several expeditions to the Klondike and Old Crow regions to collect ice age fossils.

    The last major expedition by the AMNH was by Otto Geist in 1952. He collected many specimens representing 9 species. Most of these were horse, mammoth and bison. Charlie Linklater and Peter Lord, Elders from Old Crow, assisted Geist during his trip up the Old Crow River. These specimens are now housed in the Childs Frick Collection at the AMNH in New York.

    Anglican missionaries collected fossils on the Porcupine River near Old Crow as early as 1873. Some of these early collections were forwarded to the British Museum.