Prehistoric clay disks found in northwestern Alaska

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 09, 2011 6:23 PM
Prehistoric clay disks found in northwestern Alaska

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Four decorated clay disks have been discovered at a prehistoric site in Alaska, apparently the first artifacts of their type discovered in the state, the University of Alaska Museum of the North said.

The disks were found during a summer expedition in Noatak National Preserve, at a site where archeologists have for decades been studying lakefront pit dwellings that date back 1,000 years, officials at the Fairbanks museum said.

The disks are etched, and two of them have holes in the center.

They were discovered when a team from the museum and the National Park Service traveled to the site in northwestern Alaska to make records of previously discovered prehistoric petroglyphs on boulders.

Such prehistoric rock art is extremely rare in interior and northern Alaska, though common in the southwestern part of the United States and other regions, museum and Park Service officials said.

The accidental discovery of the disks may lead to more such finds, said Scott Shirar, a research archeologist at the museum.

"One of the exciting things is that we've only opened up a really small amount of ground at the site. So the fact that we've ... found four of these items, that indicates that there's probably a lot more there and there's something really significant happening at the site," Shirar said in a video interview posted on the museum's website.

The site is located about 100 miles northeast of the Inupiat Eskimo community of Kotzebue.

The age of the disks has yet to be determined, museum officials said. The artifacts are currently held at the museum for labeling and further study, museum spokeswoman Theresa Bakker said Friday.

The archeologists will return to the lakeside site next summer, Bakker said.

The Noatak National Preserve comprises 6.5 million acres of Arctic territory on the southern slope of the Brooks Range. The preserve is known for the 400-mile Noatak River, a designated wild and scenic river.

Despite its harsh climate, the area has been inhabited for 11,000 years, according to the National Park Service.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)