A team of researchers has discovered the first prehistoric bronze artifact made from a cast ever found in Alaska, which likely originated in East Asia, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) announced Monday in a statement.
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.
The object, about two inches by one inch and less than one inch thick, was found in August by a team excavating a roughly 1,000- year-old house that had been dug into the side of a beach ridge by early Inupiat Eskimos at Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula, which lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
Both sections of the artifact are beveled on one side and concave on the other side, indicating it was manufactured in a mold, said 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 colleagues 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.
Since bronze metallurgy from Alaska is unknown, the artifact likely was produced in East Asia and reflects long-distance trade from production centers in either Korea, China or southern Siberia, according to the researchers.