Trade between Asia and the New World was taking place hundreds of years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, according to a new finding. Artifacts found in Alaska point to the ancient movement of goods and people over the Bering Strait between Siberia and the northernmost state.
The "Rising Whale" archaeological site at Cape Espenberg in Alaska was a home 10 centuries ago, and is now the location of a dig by researchers attempting to uncover secrets of life 1,000 years in the past. Discoveries of artifacts at the site include artifacts made of bronze and other materials.
The first discovery at the site was announced four years ago — a bronze fastener from Asia, possibly a belt buckle. Now, a new finding at the site is providing additional evidence of ancient trade between the two continents.
An obsidian flake discovered in Alaska has been analyzed, revealing it came from the Chukotka peninsula in Russia. This volcanic glass cools too quickly to crystallize, allowing geologists to determine its origin. Analysis of the object was conducted over the course of a year, eliminating any known sites in Alaska as potential sources of the natural glass. Material found in Russia is a perfect match for the obsidian flake, revealing the piece of stone took a journey over the Bering Strait long ago.
Researchers believe the flake may be the remnants of a tool that was used by the first Alaskans around the year C.E. 1000. Obsidian was highly valued by ancient people, as the material can be sharpened into tools with edges sharper than scalpels used by surgeons.
"There was a tool from Chukotka that probably passed through this site and probably passed out of it. While it was there, they did a little bit of sharpening or repair to this tool and left a little flake behind," Jeff Rasic, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, said.
Another remnant of obsidian found at the site was traced to central Alaska during a time when the region was populated by the Athabascan people. This finding suggests that the memebrs of the culture that lived in the area at the time were avid traders, exchanging goods with people to the east as well as in Asia.
"When you're looking at the site from a little ways away, it looks like a bowhead [whale] coming to the surface," said Owen Mason from the University of Colorado.
Bronze forging was unknown to people in the New World, and researchers believe the metal artifacts may have been produced by the Yakut people of Russia, or possibly by craftspeople in Manchuria or Korea.
Previous research has revealed other goods in Alaska, including armor, which investigators believe originated in Asia.
Analysis of the finds will be detailed in a talk to be delivered at an annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association.
Photo: Nationalmuseet, National Museum of Denmark | Flickr