Abigail Yarrison ’24, Managing Editor

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In January 2021, archeologists on Punyik Point in Alaska unearthed a shocking discovery: a handful of small blue glass beads and a few metal bracelets wrapped in twine. The objects themselves may not sound earth shattering, but when they were sent for testing the beads were discovered to be from Italy, more specifically Venetian design. Upon further study the beads and the twine were found to be over 540 years old, meaning they got to Alaska around 1440-1480! Beads similar to these were previously found in the Caribbean, the eastern coast of Central America, and the Great Lakes region, but in these discoveries, the beads were dated at 1550 through 1740. Now if it wasn’t until 1492 that Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” and found America, then how on earth did these beads get to Alaska before Alaska was even discovered?

The current theory is that the beads and bangles came through Asia. The Asian merchants most likely bought the beads from the Italians and traveled with them along the Silk Road (a network of trade routes connecting Asia, Europe, and the Middle East) back towards China. From there the beads made their way up to Russia and across the Bering Strait into Alaska. In their paper, the archeologists announced that this was the first documentation of European materials in “prehistoric sites in the Western Hemisphere as the result of overland transport across the Eurasian continent.”

Discoveries like this are made more often than you would think. In December 2020, a stash of Viking jewelry dating back to AD 950 was found on the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea (between England and Ireland). This jewelry was a special discovery for two reasons. First of all, some of the items found were made of gold. In AD 950 silver was used much more frequently than gold making these gold items extremely valuable. A golden arm band found in the stash was estimated to be equal to 900 silver coins, 10 times more valuable than any silver arm band would have been. Secondly, during this time period the Isle of Man was in an important trading and economic center for the Norse, Viking, Scandinavian, and Gaelic civilizations. The items found, including a silver brooch and silver armband, are assumed to be possessions of a wealthy person. The archeologists suspect that because of they way in which they were stashed, they were most likely hidden during an invasion.

Source: Artnet

Archeology is an important way that we can discover more about our world history and ancient travel, communication, and trade processes. Findings like King Tut’s tomb in 1922, the Rosetta Stone in 1799, and most recently in 2020, Ice Age art in the Amazon, give us glimpses into what life was like during those time periods, what languages existed, and how geography has changed. Archeology allows us to bridge the gap between past and present.

Source: Artnet