#1 Copper: a world trade in 3000 BC?03-29-2012, 10:17 AM
Copper: a world trade in 3000 BC?
Europe’s economy between 2000 and 1000 BC stood and fell with copper, used for the creation of bronze. At the same time, large quantities of copper were mined in America, though no-one seems to know who was using it. A question of a world economy, and supply and demand?
The Bronze Age is a period in Western European history typified by the usage of… bronze. The Bronze Age may be a term used daily in schools across the world, but there is one major issue that is seldom debated: where did the required components, tin and copper, originate from?
Indeed, though it is undoubtedly the case that Europe had a “Bronze Age”, archaeologists have accepted that much more copper was used than what they have been able to attribute to European mines. So where did an extremely large part of the copper come from? The answer, as bizarre as it may sound, could be America. It is known that during the European Bronze Age, large quantities of copper were mined in North America. However, no-one is able to answer as to what became of the copper that was mined there.
If we were to add the two problems together, do we have the solution? Of course, the answer for the accepted scientific dogma is “no”, as it argues that there were no transoceanic contacts in the Bronze Age, and hence copper could not have been traded from the New to the Old World. But perhaps there is sufficient scientific evidence available that will alter the assumptions of the scientists.
The chief ingredient for bronze is copper. The era around 3000 BC saw more than 500,000 tons of copper being mined in the so-called Upper Peninsula, in the American state of Michigan. The largest mine was on Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior, near the Canadian border. Here, there are thousands of prehistoric copper pits, dug thousands of years ago by ancient peoples unknown. The Minong Belt on Isle Royale has a distance of one and three quarter miles in length and is nearly four hundred feet wide. The copper pits range ten tot thirty feet deep with connecting tunnels; one archaeologist estimated that their digging would take the equivalent of 10,000 men working for 1000 years.
After two centuries of speculation, no-one has ever satisfactorily explained where the world’s purist copper might have gone. Extraction from Isle Royal began in 5300 BC, with some even claiming that it began as early as 6000 BC. Evidence for smelting is known to exist from “only” 4000 BC onwards.
The exact size of the mined ore is perhaps never going to be exactly determined, but what is known, is that ca. 1200 BC, all mining activity was halted. But around 1000 AD, mining was restarted and lasted until 1320 AD. During this period, a moderate 2000 tons were removed.
In North America, not even 1% has been recovered. Some individual pieces weigh 34,000 pounds, which equals the weight of all bronze or copper artefacts found in the United States. Other stones, such as the Ontonagon Boulder, weigh 3700 pounds. One 5720 pound mass found near McCargo’s Cove was raised part way to the surface on cribbing in the same way others were found in other mines. The ancients were raising it, yet somehow, some of these huge stones were abandoned mid-task.
Octave DuTemple, one of the first archaeologists to investigate the site, stated that the miners left their tools behind, as if they had thought that the following morning, they would return to their quarry and continue their work.
These miners were experienced labourers. The mines were efficiently run, producing large quantities of ore that could be quickly transported to the surface. Between 1000 and 12,000 ton of material was removed from one mine, resulting in approximately fifty tons of copper. Their technique was basic, but efficient: they created large fires on the veins of the copper ore, heating the stone, then to poor water on top of it. This cracked the rock and with the aide of stone tools, the copper was removed from the rock.
About 5000 mines have been discovered, in an area that is roughly 200 kilometres long and five to ten kilometres wide. The area mined on Isle Royale measures sixty to eight kilometres. If all mines were placed in one consecutive row, it would measure eight kilometres, eight metres wide and ten metres deep.
Every mine that was opened in the past 200 years, showed some previous, prehistoric mining activity. This included mines where the copper ore did not protrude to the surface – showing evidence of the advanced knowledge which allowed the prehistoric miners to identify subterranean ores. It also worked the other way around, for sites that showed evidence of ancient mining, were in modern times considered to be good omens, as they were often the best sites to find copper – lots of copper.
How the miners knew which stones contained copper is a mystery. They obviously did, but where they learned, is not known. As it is not known who was responsible for the activity. Furthermore, if there were no transoceanic contacts, is it not highly remarkable that both continents, completely independent from each other, at the same moment in time, began to mine and use copper and tin, used it to create bronze, yet in America, did nothing “sensible” with it – apart from some artefacts that have been recovered?
The Menomonie Indians of north Wisconsin possess a legend that speaks about the ancient mines. They described the mines as being worked by “light skinned men”, who were able to identify the mines by throwing magical stones on the ground, which made the ores that contained copper ring like a bell.
This practice closely resembles a similar practice that was used in Europe during the Bronze Age. Bronze with a high concentration of tin indeed resonates when a stone is thrown against it. The legend might have confused the start of the process with the result of the process. Even so, S.A. Barnett, the first archaeologist who studied Aztalan, a site near the mines, believed that the miners originated from Europe. His conclusion was largely based on the type of tools that had been used, tools which were not used by the local people.
It is clear that with a vast workforce – possibly as many as 10,000 people – some must have died. It is also likely that at least some labourers came with families. In short, there must have been a number of dead people, but where are the burials? The answer: nowhere. Where the dead were taken is another good question, as there is no evidence of cremation or burial near any of the sites or the Upper Peninsula in general. The only thing that was left behind, were their tools – millions of tools. And this suggests that the workforce, though not necessarily from Europe, was most likely not local either.
But that it could very well be Europe, was given a boost when in 1922, William A. Ferguson discovered a harbour on the north coast of Isle Royale. Ships could load and unload, aided by a pier that measured 500 metres in length. This suggests that the type of ships that anchored here, were large ships – and that there were many. The most likely explanation as to the purpose of this harbour was that they formed the point where the copper was loaded… to be transported to other regions. The presence of the harbour further shows that the people working the mines were not local, as the local Indians only used small canoes.
It is likely that the mines were only worked in the summer, with the workforce moving further south during the winter months – or returning home across the ocean. This could explain the absence of buildings: people living here in the winter, need buildings in order to survive, but that is not necessarily so during the summer months. As there are no such buildings, it suggests no-one lived here. Equally important is the fact that there are no signs of copper melting factories, required for their future use. This means that the copper was used elsewhere, as copper required further handling for it to be useful.
Could we find out where they went in the winter months? Though Europe is a possibility, it is also unlikely. Their most likely habitat was probably Aztalan and Rock Lake, where some years ago, buildings and a temple were discovered just below the water surface. These sites are a mere fifty kilometres south of the “snowline”, which makes them ideal places to settle down for the winter. Their winter residence and summer work site were actually connected with each other via rivers.
It is also around Rock Lake that many graves have been discovered. No less than 70 funerary hills containing the cremated remains of thousands of individuals have been discovered there. One of the better preserved graves contains the body of a man with a hammer; a similar hammer was discovered at Isle Royale.
Copper nugget at Minong mine
So, is the problem of the copper trade fully answered with the discovery of their remains around Rock Lake? Or does it still leave room for a European component to this story?
The problem is that though Rock Lake seemed to house the workforce, nowhere is there any evidence that they, or other people nearby, used the copper. So the problem of where the copper went remains. Furthermore, the copper was definitely worthy of a transoceanic voyage. The copper around Lake Superior was the best and most important copper found in the world. In the period of 1000 to 1400 BC, the copper was exported to the Mexican Toltecs – and perhaps even other civilisations further south. But who were the “buyers” several millennia earlier?
Copper mining started in 3000 BC, with already a high standard of extraction. Thousands of workmen were organised to work efficiently with tools that could move three tons of ore at one time. They also were able to dig up to a depth of twenty metres, without any problems.
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#2 The State of Our Knowledge About Ancient Copper Mining in Michigan03-31-2012, 09:42 AM
The Michigan Archaeologist 41(2-3):119-138.
Susan R. Martin 1995
Popular literature contributes to the persistence of fantasy and mythology surrounding ancient copper mining in Michigan. This paper points out some of the major elements of mis-statement and myth revealed in current popular books, and suggests why they are fallacious, using current archaeological data about copper mining as counterpoint. Michigan's prehistoric mining data are unique in the world. Their discovery, description and explanation make an exciting story, one of which the citizens of this region can be rightfully proud and of which they should all be aware. Professional archaeologists need to build a public support base through accessible and competently written accounts of the facts about Michigan prehistory. Our efforts have improved in the past ten years, but our publications still lag behind those of non-specialist authors.
My topic today is the world-famous ancient copper industry of the Lake Superior Basin. Since 1961 and Griffin's seminal publication of Lake Superior Copper and the Indians we have learned a lot, archaeologically, about prehistoric copper use (Griffin 1961) and its persistence through prehistory. Today I also want to talk about the persistence of fantasy and mythology surrounding ancient copper mining. Walk into any bookstore up north these days and you'll see what I mean. Mysterious books with lurid symbols and tales of trans-oceanic contact fill people's minds with archaeo- illogical constructs (Sodders 1990; Sodders 1991). I'd like to chide the professional ranks, myself included, for failing to promote real archaeology as successfully! Competently written accounts of our passion, the study of prehistory, should be out there for public consumption! The professional ranks fail to present an effective public counterpoint to archaeo-illogic. Our efforts have improved in the past ten years, but our publications still lag behind those of non-specialist authors. Some of this is due to the nature of our data; they are fragile and require careful analysis and documentation, something that casual authors clearly can put aside, along with meeting standards of scientific evidence. Some of this is due to the reward structure of academic life, which tends to stress preaching to other specialists rather than expanding our public support base. But some of this is due to having our heads, in addition to our trowels, in the sand; this we are trying to change. I hope to help correct this shortcoming vis a vis copper in the next year or so, with accessible publications for an interested and literate readership. The Society for American Archaeology's Public Education Committee has made great strides in organizing a national campaign for archaeological literacy. There is now a growing nationwide network of archaeological information so that interested schoolchildren and others can readily find factual data (MacDonald 1994). Educational materials are available for primary and secondary students and many people, amateurs and professionals alike, are working hard to disseminate these materials to interested people in our state. Plus our state museum system and funding systems are trying hard to do their parts.
Here at home however, popular books which are widely available and by all accounts financial successes, help to perpetuate the myths that stand for the truth about Michigan prehistory. These myths are dangerous for the following reasons:
1) They detract from the pressing need to preserve archaeological sites. Some of these publications announce that the sites are already destroyed (Sodders 1990:27-28), which is absolutely false. The trouble here is that the public may be persuaded to disregard important site protection issues based on wrong information.
2) They put people's energies into false hopes of splendid and snazzy discoveries (which encourages site looting) rather than into productive activity, such as training in excavation, analysis of artifacts, and site preservation and protection.
3) They're so sensational that people are liable to devalue the facts in favor of the fantasy. Archaeology gets a bad name when it takes away people's pet myths, even if they're irrational!
4) These authors overlook the requirements of science, particularly those about testing hypotheses objectively, yet offer speculations as though they were scientific fact. This failure to distinguish fact from fiction disadvantages people in a culture such as ours that prides itself in generating literacy but also succeeds in the generation of misinformation! Telling truth from myth is an important skill for citizenship, no matter what the subject.
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03-31-2012, 10:02 AM
- Join Date
- Mar 2010
Interesting. I reiterate: I do not believe the "consensus" on North American or World history. I sincerely believe that the timelines of our folks histories, including the Bible, and our cultural memories are way off, by thousands of years.
My attitude changed completely when I saw a map of the Arctic without the ice. It was an "A ha" moment. Many things suddenly became clear to me. Why every ancient or "First Peoples" of every place on earth imagines themselves to have always been where they are. Transoceanic travel would not create such a cultural memory. People traveling short distances at a time over long periods of time would explain this. The American Indians think they have always been here, because they have in a sense. They have never all packed up and moved from one continent to another- they drifted downward as did we all. Atlantis is under ice. The cradle of civilization is under ice. Our ancestors didn't originally cross the Atlantic in ships, they crossed the Arctic in small boats and on foot.
It has never made sense to me that primitive human beings would migrate into the ice zone, following herds or whatever. Humans don't like ice, we like to be warm. Clearly a great deal has changed over time. I am particularly intrigued by the Orange Peel Theory, ie the idea that the crust of the earth or the earth itself shifted rapidly, changing climates almost over night and causing great migrations. Part and parcel to this theory is that the ruins found in parts of the Americas are not 4000 years old, but 40,000 years old, made not by visiting Egyptians, but by the ancestors of the Egyptians.
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