Published: March 1, 2012 By

historic buckle from alaskaWhile excavating a 1,000-year-old seaside house in Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, researchers led by CU-Boulder made a startling discovery.

Buried under three feet of dirt was a prehistoric bronze artifact made from a cast, the first of its kind found in the state. The object appears to be older than the house by several hundred years.

Because ancient bronze metallurgy was unknown in Alaska, the belt-buckle-like object may be the product of long-distance trade across the Bering Strait from Korea, China, Manchuria or Siberia around 1,500 years ago. Researchers speculate it may have been used as part of a harness or horse ornament in East Asia and as a clasp for clothing or part of a shaman’s regalia in Alaska.

“It was possibly valuable enough that people hung onto it for generations, passing it down through families,” says Owen Mason, a fellow at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers are studying human response to climate change from A.D. 800 to 1400, a critical period of cultural change in the western Arctic.

Photo courtesy Jeremy Foin/University of California, Davis