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Eurasian prehistoric metal alloys in Alaska

08 Jun 2016
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An article on phys.org from Purdue University - Old World metals traded on Alaska coast hundreds of years before contact with Europeans - reports that 2 bronze artifacts found in northwestern Alaska are the first evidence that metal from Asia reached prehistoric North America prior to contact with Europeans.

Eurasian prehistoric metal alloys in Alaska

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

H. Kory Cooper, an associate professor of anthropology who led the artifacts' metallurgical analysis, states that this is not a surprise based on oral history and other archaeological finds, and it was just a matter of time before we had a good example of Eurasian metal that had been traded. He believes these smelted alloys were made somewhere in Eurasia and traded to Siberia and then traded across the Bering Strait to ancestral Inuits people, also known as Thule culture, in Alaska. 

Locally available metal in parts of the Arctic, such as native metal, copper and meteoritic and telluric iron were used by ancient Inuit people for tools and to sometimes indicate status. Two of the Cape Espenberg items that were found - a bead and a buckle - are heavily leaded bronze artifacts. Both are from a house at the site dating to the Late Prehistoric Period, around 1100-1300 AD, which is before sustained European contact in the late 18th century.

The findings are published in Elsevier's Journal of Archaeological Science, and the research was funded by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs Arctic Social Sciences.

Evidence of Eurasian metal alloys on the Alaskan coast in prehistory
H. Kory Cooper, Owen K. Mason, Victor Mair, John F. Hoffecker & Robert J. Speakman

doi:10.1016/j.jas.2016.04.021

Abstract
Six metal and composite metal artifacts were excavated from a late prehistoric archaeological context at Cape Espenberg on the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. X-ray fluorescence identified two of these artifacts as smelted industrial alloys with large proportions of tin and lead. The presence of smelted alloys in a prehistoric Inuit context in northwest Alaska is demonstrated here for the first time and indicates the movement of Eurasian metal across the Bering Strait into North America before sustained contact with Europeans.

Small finding - Interesting implications: Cooper states that this will cause other people to think about the Arctic differently. Some have presented the Arctic and Subarctic regions as backwater areas with no technological innovation because there was a very small population at the time. That doesn't mean interesting things weren't happening, and this shows that locals were not only using locally available metals but were also obtaining metals from elsewhere.

 
Article continues below
 

The items were found on Alaska's northwest coast at Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula where the Thule people lived in houses. The field work was led by Owen K. Mason and John F. Hoffecker, both of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. From 2009-2011, their team excavated a variety of artifacts including six items with metal. Cooper coordinated the metallurgical analysis.

Visit the American Rock Art Archive:
http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/america/index.php

View the paper in Elsevier's Journal of Archaeological Science:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440316300358

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