Ancient Bronze Artifacts in Alaska Reveals Trade with Asia Before Columbus Arrival
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. (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.
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“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. (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. (Wikimedia Commons)
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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.)