Eurasian Metals Discovered in Alaska from Centuries Before the Arrival of Europeans to the New World

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A new study of two bronze objects discovered in northwest Alaska shows that they provide the first known evidence of the presence of metals from Eurasia in prehistoric North America. The artifacts apparently came to the Americas several centuries before the first official contact with Europeans occurred.

“This is not a surprise, based on oral history and other archaeological finds it was just a matter of time before we had a good example of Eurasian metal that had been traded. We believe these alloys were made somewhere in Eurasia and marketed in Siberia, then crossed the Bering Strait, where they were acquired by the predecessors of the Inuit, also known as the Thule culture in Alaska.” Explained Kory H. Cooper, member of the scientific team and Purdue University, in remarks published by the new portal Noticias de la Ciencia .

The Thule were the ancestors of the Canadian Inuit who came through Alaska around 500 AD and settled in the current Canadian territory around the year 1000. In addition, a group of them populated Greenland in the 13th century. In fact, this group’s name comes from Thule (now Qaanaaq), a town located in northwest Greenland, where they found the first archaeological remains belonging to this culture.

Thule archaeological site located in Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island, Canada. ( Ansgar Walk/ CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The results of the study were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science . They show that the cylindrical piece of cord and belt buckle are made of a bronze alloy with lead. The leather belt in the buckle has been radiocarbon dated, resulting in a date of between 500 and 800 years ago, although the metal could be even older.

“Locally available metal in parts of the Arctic, such as native metal, copper and meteoritic and telluric iron were used by ancient Inuit people for tools and to sometimes indicate status.” Cooper told SCI NEWS . However, two of the artifacts found at Cape Espenberg – a cord and a buckle – are leaded bronze. Both of these were recovered from a site dated to the Late Prehistoric period, between 1100 and 1300, notably before European contact in the late 18th century.

Fragment recovered from a brass buckle of the Thule culture that still retains some of its leather strap (Credit: Jeremy Foin / University of California, Davis)

Numerous scholars have presented prehistoric subarctic regions as areas without technological innovation, based on the small population that lived there at that time. Regarding this, Cooper has stated :

“That doesn’t mean interesting things weren’t happening, and this shows that locals were not only using locally available metals but were also obtaining metals from elsewhere. The belt buckle also is considered an industrial product and is an unprecedented find for this time. It resembles a buckle used as part of a horse harness that would have been used in north-central China during the first six centuries before the Common Era.”

Top Image: Metal and metal/ivory composite artifacts from Cape Espenberg: a bone fishing lure with iron inset eyes, a piece of bone fishing tackle with a copper hook, an eyed copper needle, a small fragment of sheet copper, a cylindrical bead, and a buckle fragment. Source: H. Kory Cooper et al.

By Mariló T.A.

This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es and has been translated with permission.



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