A set of three blue beads has been discovered in northern Alaska. About the size of blueberries, the beads might be the first European-made goods in America.
The beads were found at a major archaeological site in Punyik Point that once sat on ancient trade routes from the Arctic Ocean to the Bering Sea. The beads were made in Venice, which operated trade routes along the legendary Silk Road. The beads were also found with plant fibers, which help scientists identify and date the beads via accelerator mass spectrometry carbon dating.
Study co-author Mike Kunz, an archeologist at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, said he was amazed by the results. "We almost fell over backwards. It came back saying (the plant was alive at) some time during the 1400s. It was like, Wow!" Kunz said in the release.
The carbon dating has shown the beads arrives sometime between 1440 and 1480, decades before Columbus. "This was the earliest that indubitably European materials show up in the New World by overland transport," said Kunz.
There are some questions about how the beads arrived. Researchers were able to pinpoint the provenance of the beads by studying the history of glass-making in Venice. From there, researchers suggest that the beads traveled along the Silk Road to eastern Russia. From there, a trader may have paddled the beads across the Bering Strait in a kayak. The researchers think they were probably taken to Shashalik, an ancient trading center, before they were carried to Punyik Point.
From the study:
...prior to and during much of the Renaissance period, Venice was a major force in trade with Asia. Venetian goods moved along various maritime and overland trade routes, including the so-called Silk Road, which connected Europe and the Middle East with India and China via Central Asia. Along such eastbound routes, these early Venetian beads found their way into the aboriginal hinterlands, with some moving to the Russian Far East and, ultimately, to the Bering Strait region and into Alaska. A growing body of evidence from the Bering Strait region indicates that the movement of non-native materials from northeast Asia to northwest Alaska has been occurring via undefined routes since the first millennium AD, if not longer.