Siberian Harness Buckle Discovered in Alaska

I got really excited and wondered if this was somehow Scythian until I realised that “ancient” here is used to refer to what a European would call “medieval” but this is still pretty fascinating.  Story from Horse Talk:

The object, about 2 inches by 1 inch and less than 1 inch thick, was found in August by a team excavating a roughly 1000-year-old house that had been dug into the side of a beach ridge by early Inupiat Eskimos at Cape Espenberg on the Seward Peninsula, which lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. … A small piece of leather found wrapped around the rectangular bar by the research team yielded a radiocarbon date of about AD 600, which does not necessarily indicate the age of the object, [John] Hoffecker [of Colorado University] said.

“I was totally astonished,” Hoffecker said of the discovery. “The object appears to be older than the house we were excavating by at least a few hundred years.” Hoffecker and his Colorado University colleague Owen Mason said the bronze object resembles a belt buckle and may have been used as part of a harness or horse ornament before its arrival in Alaska.

While they speculated the Inupiat Eskimos could have used the artifact as a clasp for human clothing or perhaps as part of a shaman’s regalia, its function on both continents still remains a puzzle, they said.  Since bronze metallurgy from Alaska is unknown, the artifact likely was produced in East Asia and reflects long-distance trade from production centres in either Korea, China, Manchuria or southern Siberia, according to Mason. It conceivably could have been traded from the steppe region of southern Siberia, said Hoffecker, where people began casting bronze several thousand years ago.