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18 May 2015
Alaska researchers turn up 12,300-year-old artwork

At the edge of a spruce forest in eastern central Alaska, archaeologists have unearthed bone pendants that might be the first examples of artwork in northern North America.
     Ice-age sites scattered throughout Interior Alaska are often hilltops or cliff sides used by hunters. Teams led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Ben Potter have expanded the Mead Site, a white spruce bench north of Delta Junction, 500 kilometres northeast of Anchorage. Within the site, researchers have found what they believe are tent outlines. Inside the oval of what 12,300 years ago was probably a hide-covered structure, a student found a tiny bone pendant with delicate crosshatching on the edge.
     "We think it might be a pendant, an ornament, maybe worn near the face," Potter says. A second pair found at the site look like tiny fish tails. At the tapered end of each are broken remainders of a round opening, like the eye of a sewing needle.
     No weapon fragments common to hunting and weapon-maintenance sites have been found within these living areas, but the team have found worked bone fragments, the size and shape of which suggest they were possibly on their way to becoming pendants. They have also found a brown bear jawbone with its pointy canine tooth removed.
     Interior Alaska is a good place to find artefacts. For thousands of years, strong glacial winds have covered campsites with loess, a fine dust that flows out of glaciers, sealing off bone and other material that would rot if exposed to acid-rich soils. The flour-like dirt created layers showing that people used the same sites again and again.
     Potter and others think that, at the time, this area of ice-age Alaska was colder and windier than today, with more poplar trees, grasses and sedges, and more game animals than are present now.
     Potter and his colleagues are also finding bird bones, and fish bones, including those of salmon.

Edited from News Miner.com (9 May 2015)

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