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Ancient Artifact Suggests Connection to Asia

Archaeologists found a bronze buckle-like artifact over the summer in an ancient Inupiat Eskimo home that could prove an early connection to Asia.
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A 1,500-year-old artifact found this summer in Alaska could prove an early connection between Asia and the Far North.

The bronze buckle-like object was found in an ancient Inupiat dwelling, it was cast from a mold and is the first of its kind to ever be found in Alaska.

“This is the first time we have seen a cast bronze piece in this part of the world in this context, in these early Inupiat Eskimo settlements,” said John Hoffecker, the University of Colorado Boulder research associate who is leading the excavation at Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula, which lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.

Owen Mason, of CU-Boulder, deduced that “since bronze metallurgy from Alaska is unknown, the artifact likely was produced in East Asia and reflects long-distance trade from production centers in either Korea, China, Manchuria or southern Siberia.”

Another theory, outlined in a news release from CU-Boulder, suggests that early Inupiat Eskimos in northwest Alaska—ancestors of modern Eskimos thought to have migrated from adjacent Siberia 1,500 years ago—brought the object with them.

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"It was possibly valuable enough so that people hung onto it for generations, passing it down through families," Mason said.

Hoffecker originally thought the object was much younger, but a small piece of leather attached to it yielded a radiocarbon date of A.D. 600, which makes the object centuries older than the house it was found in, which is not more than 1,100 years old.

The artifact was discovered by Jeremy Foin, a University of California, Davis doctoral student.

"The shape of the object immediately caught my eye," said Foin, who spotted the soil-covered artifact in an archaeological sifting screen. "After I saw that it clearly had been cast in a mold, my first thought was disbelief, quickly followed by the realization that I had found something of potentially great significance."

To read more about the excavation— part of a National Science Foundation-funded project to study human response to climate change at Cape Espenberg from A.D. 800 to A.D. 1400—and see a video, visit the University of Colorado at Boulder website.