Ancient bronze artifact unique in Arctic Alaska archaeology

November 14, 2011 

The bronze object found in a thousand-year-old Inupiat Eskimo house.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO

Nothing like this has ever before been found in an Arctic Alaska archaeological site: a cast bronze buckle-like object, discovered in August in a 1,000-year-old Inupiat dwelling on Cape Espenberg, just south of Kotzebue on the Chukchi Sea coast. Since ancient Alaskans had no bronze culture, the object was either carried across the Bering Strait by ancestors of modern Inupiat or obtained by trade from Asia, say the University of Colorado-led scientists who discovered it. (Scroll down for a UC video on the discovery.)

From Science Daily:

The artifact consists of two parts -- a rectangular bar, connected to an apparently broken circular ring, said CU-Boulder Research Associate John Hoffecker, who is leading the excavation project. ... Both sections of the artifact are beveled on one side and concave on the other side, indicating it was manufactured in a mold, said [John] Hoffecker, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. A small piece of leather found wrapped around the rectangular bar by the research team yielded a radiocarbon date of roughly A.D. 600, which does not necessarily indicate the age of the object, he said.

"I was totally astonished," said Hoffecker. "The object appears to be older than the house we were excavating by at least a few hundred years."

Hoffecker and his CU-Boulder colleague Owen Mason said the bronze object resembles a belt buckle and may have been used as part of a harness or horse ornament prior to its arrival in Alaska. While they speculated the Inupiat Eskimos could have used the artifact as a clasp for human clothing or perhaps as part of a shaman's regalia, its function on both continents still remains a puzzle, they said.

Excavations at Cape Espenberg have produced thousands of artifacts in recent years. Read more.

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