Glass beads the size of blueberries found by archaeologists in a Brooks Range house-pit might be the first European item ever to arrive in North America, predating the arrival of Columbus by a few decades.

Made in Venice, Italy, the tiny blue beads might have traveled more than 10,000 miles in the skin pockets of aboriginal adventurers to reach Bering Strait. There, someone ferried them across the ocean to Alaska.

At least 10 of the beads survived a few centuries in the cold dirt of three locations in northern Alaska. Archaeologists recently unraveled the mystery of the beads in a paper published in the journal American Antiquity.

Mike Kunz, one of the authors, is an archaeologist with the UA Museum of the North. He retired in 2012 from the Bureau of Land Management after three decades as an expert on ancient people of Alaska north of the Arctic Circle. Working for BLM, he visited Punyik Point several times.

Punyik Point, a mile from the Continental Divide in the Brooks Range, is unoccupied today. It was a seasonal camp for generations of inland Eskimos.

Punyik Point was on ancient trade routes from the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean, and was probably a dependable place to hunt caribou as the animals moved in fall and spring, Kunz said.