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Archaeologists working in the 1,000-year-old house at the Rising Whale site at Cape Espenberg, Alaska.

Ancient Bronze Artifacts in Alaska Reveals Trade with Asia Before Columbus Arrival

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An incredible archaeological discovery in Alaska provided evidence that trade was occurring between Asia and the New World centuries before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. Researchers uncovered two bronze artifacts in a 1,000-year-old house in Alaska, which were manufactured in China, Korea, or Yakutia.

Live Science reports that the discovery was made at the "Rising Whale" site at Cape Espenberg, which lies on the Arctic Circle at the terminus of a 30 km long mainland attached beach ridge plain at the northern limit of Seward Peninsula, in western Alaska.

“Cape Espenberg has had an unbroken stream of cultural continuity for at least 1,000 years, the time when the Thule people and their descendants occupied the coast and adjacent interior regions of northwestern Alaska” report Darwent et al. (2013) in their paper ‘1000 Years of House Change at Cape Espenberg, Alaska’.

Barrier islands and lagoons at Cape Espenberg

Barrier islands and lagoons at Cape Espenberg. (Public domain)

Archaeologists unearthed a bronze buckle with a piece of leather attached to it that was dated to 600 AD, as well as another ancient bronze relic, which appears to have been a whistle.  Bronze-working had not been developed at this time in Alaska, so it is thought the artifacts were manufactured in China, Korea or Yakutia, before making their way to Alaska through trade routes.


“Though native copper and meteoritic iron, (i.e. naturally occurring pure metals), were hammered into a variety objects by late prehistoric inhabitants of arctic and subarctic North America, there is no evidence for the smelting, casting, or alloying of metals in the Western Hemisphere north of Mexico prior to the arrival of Europeans,” reports the research team on the website Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. “As a result, these two artifacts give the best and least ambiguous evidence to date that non-ferrous industrial smelted metals were arriving in Alaska via prehistoric trade across the Bering Strait.”

One of the bronze artifacts recovered from the 1,000-year-old Alaska house.

One of the bronze artifacts recovered from the 1,000-year-old Alaska house. (Photo by Jeremy Foin/University of California, Davis.)

The bronze artifacts are not the only evidence for trade between Alaska and other civilizations prior to the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. Researchers also found the remains of obsidian artifacts inside the house, which could be chemically traced to the Anadyr River valley in Russia.

In addition, “a number of researchers have noted similarities in design between the plate armor worn by people in Alaska and that worn in China, Korea, Japan and eastern Mongolia.”

Plate armor made of overlapping plates of ivory and bones began appearing in Alaska around 1,000 years ago.  A similar style of plate armor was also developed in several areas of East Asia, tracing back thousands of years.

Last year, archaeologists in Russia reported on the discovery of a suit of armor made entirely of bone, which belonged to an ancient Siberian knight who lived around four millennia ago. The armor consists of different plates made up of small fragments of bone that have been joined together.

Left: 4,000-year-old bone armor found in the Siberian city of Omsk (The Siberian Times). Right: Bone armor from North Alaskan at an exhibit in the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Left: 4,000-year-old bone armor found in the Siberian city of Omsk (The Siberian Times). Right: Bone armor from North Alaskan at an exhibit in the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Wikimedia Commons)


It has long been known that Christopher Columbus was not the first to ‘discover’ the New World.

“By 1,000 years ago, the Vikings had explored parts of Canada and had even established a short-lived settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland,” writes Live Science. “Research also indicates that, around this time, the Polynesians had reached South America, bringing sweet potatoes back to Polynesia and possibly bringing chickens to South America.”

A more controversial hypothesis is that China discovered the Americas 70 years before Columbus.  However, this view put forward by amateur historian Gavin Menzies has been hugely debated.

Featured image: Archaeologists working in the 1,000-year-old house at the Rising Whale site at Cape Espenberg, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Foin, UC Davis.)

By April Holloway



Rainey and Larson published and archaeological report in 1948 on the Ipiutaq site near Point Hope, Alaska. They found incredible ivory artifacts with incredible engraved designs. They included masks, goggles, swivels, harpoon heads, arrow heads, and many unknown objects. Eventually they found several ivory drills with rusty tips. When examined and tested by a metallurgist, he state that they were man made steel likely from northern China or Manchuria. All Alaskan natives from the Haida and Tlingit to the Bering Straits seemed familiar on contact in the 18th century seemed very familiar with iron and steel on contact. Native copper was very common as well. Chines glass beads long preceded the early Russian explorers. The Yupik dragon Palraiyuk is an important legend and found portrayed on masks, qayaqs, dish is, hunting implements, etc. They resemble the Chinese dragon, the Zuni, Mississippian, Aztec, Toltec, Mayan, and Peruvian plumed serpents. Steel and iron were always in short supply and used in small bits in various knives, drill bit tips, adze blades. Stone tools were often made in the same shapes when iron or metal was lacking. The main trade route today is called the Iditarod Trail and is probably over a 1,000 years old. It terminates in my neighborhood. The east coast of Siberia has a trade route that extends from Manchuria to the Chuckhee Pennisula. Chuckchees and Siberian folks used Umiaks to crossover to either the Nome or Unakleet where the traded good were conducted by Eskimo traders to Athabaskan traders who in turn carried them up and down the Yuko; up the Innoko and Shaguluk to the Kuskokwim. From there up and down the Kuskokwim to the various passes in the Alaska Range. One pass was at the head of the the Stoney River and the Lime Village Athabaskan who conducted the trade to Lake Clark & Illiamna. Another trail forked and terminated at the Hayfield area of Wasilla, Alaska. The Chinese bronze is therefore no mystery if you read the history of early European history of early contact with Alaska Natives. Vancouver, Cook, many Russian Explorers including Zagoskin's travels can support the above mentioned facts. I suggest you read them !

The new book "La Merica" covers this subject in detail.

Long before Gavin Menzes and others proposed Chinese voyages to the Americas, the brilliant amateur archaeologist and wealthy patent lawyer Henrietta Mertz proposed it in her book Pale Ink.

Somehow people seem to have forgotten her, but she wrote some very interesting books decades before others caught on to the idea that more had happened in North and South America than wandering bands of nomads.


Tom Carberry

Walakpa. Chinese coin.

Minediver208's picture

A terrific article! In the last 30 years, in particular, increasing evidence has been found which directly contradicts the 20th century grade school ‘fundamental’ that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas.  As the atricle states, “It has long been known that Christopher Columbus was not the first to ‘discover’ the New World”.  As I read through this article, I kept thinking back to the ‘fact’ that the North American continent was only theorized to exist in most European minds, most popularly by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, before the known voyages of Columbus proved the existance of the then-supposed landmass.  We now know that Viking/Norse/Northmen sailors visited and briefly colonized the NorthEast Atlantic coast of the North American continent beginning as early as the 10th century AD, although to what extent still remains in debate.  Additionally, the Menzies hypothesis has gained creedence with the discovery of Chinese shipwrecks and errata found off Vancouver BC, Oregon and California dating (approx) as early as 1400 AD (not to mention 2 probable Chinese wrecks on the East coast).  I do hope the history books begin to take these matters into account as modern archaeology provides increasingly more evidence against the Columbus ‘discovery’.  

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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