Most people are familiar with the conventional theory about how the Americas were first settled by humans: During the last glacial period about 13,000-16,000 years ago, ancient hunter/nomads traveled over a land bridge that once existed between Siberia and Alaska. But as the story goes, once this land bridge flooded over (thus creating the Bering Straight that now separates Russia and Alaska), all connection between Asia and America was lost until after Columbus re-discovered the New World in 1492.
At least, that's been the theory. But now new evidence has emerged suggesting that trade networks may have continued to exist across the Bering Straight throughout history, which means that America may never have been truly "lost" to the Old World at all, reports Live Science. It's yet another nail in the coffin to Columbus' legacy as the sole re-discoverer of the New World.
The evidence comes from new artifacts unearthed at the "Rising Whale" archaeological site at Cape Espenberg in Alaska. One of the artifacts, possibly a buckle made from bronze, was fastened with leather which was carbon dated to around A.D. 600 — well before Columbus. The reason this artifact is such an alarming discovery is that bronze-working had not been developed at this time in Alaska. Therefore, it likely arrived from either China, Korea or Yakutia (a region in Russia).
"We're seeing the interactions, indirect as they are, with these so-called 'high civilizations' of China, Korea or Yakutia," explained Owen Mason, a research associate at the University of Colorado, who is part of a team excavating the site.
Archaeologists also found some obsidian artifacts alongside the bronze ones with chemical signatures suggesting that they originated in the Anadyr River valley of Russia.
These recent discoveries add to a growing list of curious findings made over the last century hinting at ancient trade networks that existed across the Bering Straight before Columbus. For instance, in 1913, anthropologist Berthold Laufer published an analysis of texts and artifacts in the journal T'oung Pao in which he found references proving that the Chinese had a great interest in obtaining ivory from narwhals and walruses from peoples that lived in northeast Asia. Those animals mostly exist in the Bering Straight in abundance.
Other researchers have long noted similarities between the plate armor designs worn by people in Alaska and those once worn across China, Korea, Japan and eastern Mongolia. Taken together, all of this evidence clearly points to the existence of historical trade routes across the Bering Straight.
The conventional story of how the Americas were re-discovered had already been muddied by the discovery of Viking settlements in Newfoundland that existed long before Columbus' arrival. Other recent evidence even suggests that ancient Polynesian seafarers likely arrived in the New World before Columbus too.
Now that these ancient Alaskan artifacts have been discovered that likely originated in East Asia, it's perhaps time to finally put the conventional story to rest: Columbus was not the first Old World explorer to re-discover the Americas. The settlement and colonization of the Americas was a dynamic event, taking place throughout history, and through the interaction of many different ancient cultures from both the Old World and the New.
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