Evidence of Pre-Columbus Trade in Alaska

Evidence of Pre-Columbus Trade in Alaska

Bronze artefacts discovered in a 1,000-year-old house in Alaska suggest trade was occurring between East Asia and the New World centuries before the voyages of Columbus.

Archaeologists found the artefacts at the “Rising Whale” site at Cape Espenberg.

 “When you’re looking at the site from a little ways away, it looks like a bowhead coming to the surface,” said Owen Mason, a research associate at the University of Colorado, who is part of a team excavating the site.

The new discoveries, combined with other finds made over the past 100 years, suggest trade items and ideas were reaching Alaska from East Asian civilizations well before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean Sea in 1492 archaeologists said.

“We’re seeing the interactions, indirect as they are, with these so-called ‘high civilizations’ of China, Korea or Yakutia,” a region in Russia, Mason said.

The Rising Whale discoveries include two bronze artefacts, one of which may have originally been used as a buckle or fastener. It has a piece of leather on it that radio carbonates to around A.D. 600 (more tests will take place in the future). The other bronze artefact may have been used as a whistle.

Bronze-working had not been developed at this time in Alaska, so archaeologists think the artefacts would have been manufactured in China, Korea or Yakutia, and made their way to Alaska through trade routes.

Also inside that house, researchers found the remains of obsidian artefact’s, which have a chemical signature that indicates the obsidian is from the Anadyr River valley in Russia

The recent discoveries at the Rising Whale site add to over a century of research that indicates trade routes connected the Bering Strait (including the Alaskan side) with the civilizations that flourished in East Asia before Columbus’ time.

In 1913, anthropologist Berthold Laufer published an analysis of texts and artefact’s in the journal T’oung Pao in which he found that the Chinese had a great interest in obtaining ivory from narwhals and walruses, acquiring it from people who lived to the northeast of China. Some of the walrus ivory may have come from the Bering Strait, where the animals are found in abundance.