Used since antiquity for embroidery, jewelry and interior decoration, so-called “draft” glass beads have long served as currency between continents. The beginning of the colonial era, in particular, saw the Europeans inundating the native populations with these “junk” or “junk” devolved to barter.
Today, these artifacts – some of which were used in Africa to negotiate slaves – provide archaeologists with valuable information about ancient trade routes. Did one of them connect, over 17,000 km, Venice to North America via Siberia, at a time before the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus?
This is the surprising theory proposed by an American team after the exhumation of ten of these “rockeries” on three Inupiaq occupation sites in northwest Alaska. In Lreviewed American Antiquity, Michael Kunz and Robin Mills, archaeologists at Bureau of Land Management (Office of Land Management) in Fairbanks, Alaska tell how they established that these little blue pearls, identified as coming from the workshop of a Venetian merchant guild, were brought to the area several years before arrival of the Genoese navigator (1492). According to them, the only way to explain how, in the absence of a transatlantic link, they were able to reach this place is to consider that they traveled by land and sea through Asia and the Strait of Bering.
Between the two shores
The hypothesis seems all the more daring as it concerns a territory – northwestern Alaska – deemed to have remained untouched by any contact with Europeans until recent times. The first encounters with its inhabitants, who speak Inupiaq, date back only to 1818. The latter were not, however, isolated.
“We know that they had relations across the Bering Strait, in Siberia, with the Chukchi who sold them, in exchange for whale fat, caribou skins and, occasionally, objects from their trade. with Russian trappers settled on the American continent since the end of the 18th centurye century “, explains Claire Alix, director of the archeology of the Americas laboratory at the CNRS and the University of Paris-I.
Chukchi, or representatives of other Siberian peoples, would they have made pearl deliverers? These are all similar, suggesting that they came from a single shipment. And were discovered with various bronze, iron and copper jewelry on the sites of three ancient settlements, placed along one of the customary routes connecting, from the Bering Strait to the Beaufort Sea, two of the important centers of trade inupiaqs.
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