A small piece of cast bronze in the shape of a buckle found by archaeologists in Alaska could help confirm ancient migrations of people from East Asia to America across the Bering Strait.
Researchers at the University of Colorado - Boulder, U. of California - Davis, and University of Toronto, among others, found in August, 2011, a curious object while conducting excavations at Cape Espenberg, Alaska, as part of a study of possible human adaptations to the effects of the climate change that occurred between the years 800 and 1,400. This period called the Medieval Warm Period, affected the planet with noticeable increases in temperature resulting in significant changes in the Arctic regions. "That particular time period is thought by some to be analog to what is happening to our environment now as Earth's temperatures are rising. One of our goals is to find out how these people adapted to a changing climate trough their subsistence activities." said researcher Owen Mason (CU-Boulder) in a press release.
The excavation site is located in Cape Espenberg in the Seward Peninsula, within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The Bering Land Bridge was part of the geography of the Arctic 20,000 years ago, linking eastern Siberia with modern Alaska. Researchers believe that through this passage people from Asia would have migrated to the Americas. A study published in PLoS Genetics in 2007, led by University of Michigan and University College London Researchers, suggests that the Bering Land Bridge migration occurred 12.000 years ago and that every Native American descended directly from that same group of Eastern Siberian migrants.
Satellite photograph of the Bering Strait. East Siberia on the left; the Seaward Peninsula of Alaska at the right. In the center are Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (USA). The distance across the Strait is about 85 kilometres.
While excavating the remains of an ancient 1,000 year-old Inupiat Eskimo dwelling, Jeremy Foin, PhD student from U. of California, Davis, found in sediment at about a meter deep a strange bronze object similar to a buckle. The researcher knew immediately that it was an object of great importance: the Inupiat Eskimos who inhabited the area or other ancient cultures of the Arctic at the time, did not know metallurgy and bronze manufacturing."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."
Jeremy Foin/U. of California, Davis
The bronze artefact consists of a bar attached to an apparently broken circular ring. The top is beveled and the bottom is concave indicating that it was made in a mold. A small leather ring is attached to the bar. (Courtesy of Jeremy Foin/University of California, Davis.)
The object is about 5 centimetres long by 3 cm wide. Since radiocarbon dating can only be done in organic material, it was extremely fortunate that the object had a small ring of leather at its end. This allowed estimating the date of the object in about 1.500 years.
According to investigators, the most plausible explanation is that the piece came from Siberia, Korea, Manchuria, or even southern China, where bronze was known for thousands of years. What remains to be answered is how this small piece came to Alaska. John Hoffecker, of the U. of Colorado, head of the project, has two theories:“It conceivably could have been traded from the steppe region of southern Siberia, where people began casting bronze several thousand years ago. Alternatively, some of the earliest Inupiat Eskimos in northwest Alaska — the direct ancestors of modern Eskimos thought to have migrated into Alaska from adjacent Siberia some 1,500 years ago — might have brought the object with them from the other side of the Bering Strait.”Archaeologists believe that the piece could be an ornament or part of a horse harness. Kory Cooper, an expert on prehistoric metallurgy at the Department of Anthropology, Purdue University, will conduct a detailed study of the piece.
Other artifacts found at the site of the excavations include sealing harpoons, spears and fishing lures, slate knives, antler arrow points, a shovel made from a walrus scapula, a beaver incisor pendant, ceramics, and toy bows and harpoons.
George R. King
An Inupiat Eskimo family. Inupiat people are becoming concerned in recent years that climate change is threatening their traditional lifestyle.