Artifacts point to ancient boat in Alaska

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Pieces of an ancient umiak, part of a trove recovered 70 years ago in an archaeological dig near Barrow, Alaska – the country’s northernmost city – were recently identified as having come from the oldest skin boat assembly yet found in the circumpolar arctic.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North announced Tuesday that Jenya Anichenko, a researcher with the Anchorage Museum, had determined that several fragments from the Birnirk site belonged to the same boat. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the fragments are 1,000 years old, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Anichenko said that was 400 years older than the previously known examples.

The artifacts from the Birnirk site, owned by the Navy, were housed at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge, Mass., until last year, when they were returned to Alaska. They are now in the custody of the Museum of the North in Fairbanks.

Some 30 wooden fragments include keel, rib and bottom cross pieces. They are mostly wood, with some small pieces of baleen lashing and oval ivory inlays. The function of the inlays is not known, but Anichenko suspects they were most likely decorations, perhaps with “ritual significance.”

According to the Anchorage Daily News, the announcement quoted Scott Shirar, the museum’s research archaeologist, as saying, “The level of preservation at the Birnirk site was tremendous. Many of the organic artifacts usually not preserved in the archaeological record were preserved at this site.”

Now that the collection is in Alaska he expects more research on the items found at Birnirk to produce new discoveries.

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