Sitka Black-Tailed Deer (?) in the Fossil Record

A skeleton of a Sitka Black-tailed deer that fell into a cave on central Prince of Wales Island some 8,700 years ago.

A skeleton of a Sitka Black-tailed deer that fell into a cave on central Prince of Wales Island some 8,700 years ago.


Piecing together their history from bones in caves and from within middens of early inhabitants.…

We are developing text for this right now…please be patient. Deer, maybe not Sitka Black-tail, maybe Columbia Black-tail were present on Haida Gwaii from at least 13,100 to 12,760 cal. BP. 

When did they become extinct?  What species were they?  What appears to be Sitka Blacktail show up on Heceta Island in cave sediments and a cultural midden at about 9,200 to 9,100 cal BP. They seem to have survived ever since.  It would be great to do paleo genetics on these samples. 

Where were the deer in this region between 12,760 and 9,200? From about 12,900 to 11,500 cal BP, the global warming was interrupted by the global cooling event known as the Younger Dryas.  Was this cooling enough to cause their extinction on Haida Gwaii? Did Sitka Black-tail survive on the mainland or retreat to the south and have to spread north after 11,500 cal BP? Did it take them 2,300 years to repopulate the mainland and finally spread to the islands of southeastern Alaska?  With rising sea level was Haida Gwaii too far removed for them to repopulate? Was the expansion after 11,500 what separated Sitka Black-tail from Columbia Black-tail?

For More Reading:

Baichtal, J.F. 2019 Excel Spread Sheet of dated deer fossils from Southeast Alaska and Haida Gwaii. Link

Fedje, D., Mackie, Q., Lacourse, T. and McLaren, D., 2011. Younger Dryas environments and archaeology on the Northwest Coast of North America. Quaternary International242(2), pp.452-462. PDF Link

Heaton, T. H., Grady, F. 2003. The Late Wisconsin vertebrate history of Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska. Chapter 2 (pp. 17-53) in Schubert, B. W., Mead, J. I., and Graham, R. W. (eds.) Ice Age Cave Faunas of North America, Indiana University Press PDF Link

Lesnek, A.J., Briner, J.P., Lindqvist, C., Baichtal, J.F. and Heaton, T.H., 2018. Deglaciation of the Pacific coastal corridor directly preceded the human colonization of the Americas. Science advances4(5), p.eaar5040. PDF Link

A special thanks to:

Susan Crockford, Pacific Identifications Inc. (, 6011 Oldfield RD, Victoria BC V9E 2J4 Link

Charlotte Lindqvist, University at Buffalo, Department of Biological Sciences, 109 Cooke Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260 Link