Archaeological Documentation of Wood Caribou Fences Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Very High-resolution Satellite Imagery in the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories

Jurjen van der Sluijs
Glen Mackay
Leon Andrew
Naomi Smethurst
Thomas Andrews
Resource Date:


Indigenous peoples of Canada’s North have long made use of boreal forest products, with wooden drift fences to direct caribou movement towards kill sites as unique examples. Caribou fences are of archaeological and ecological significance, yet sparsely distributed and increasingly at risk to wildfire. Costly remote field logistics requires efficient prior fence verification and rapid on-site documentation of structure and landscape context. Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and very high-resolution (VHR) satellite imagery were used for detailed site recording and detection of coarse woody debris (CWD) objects under challenging Subarctic alpine woodlands conditions. UAVs enabled discovery of previously unknown wooden structures and revealed extensive use of CWD (n = 1745, total length = 2682 m, total volume = 16.7 m3). The methodology detected CWD objects much smaller than previously reported in remote sensing literature (mean 1.5 m long, 0.09 m wide), substantiating a high spatial resolution requirement for detection. Structurally, the fences were not uniformly left on the landscape. Permafrost patterned ground combined with small CWD contributions at the pixel level complicated identification through VHR data sets. UAV outputs significantly enriched field techniques and supported a deeper understanding of caribou fences as a hunting technology, and they will aid ongoing archaeological interpretation and time-series comparisons of change agents.