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Michigan Copper in the Mediterranean (cont.)
By Jay Stuart Wakefield, MES & AAPF

The Miners of Michigan Copper

It is estimated that half a billion pounds (Ref.1) of copper were mined in tens of thousands of pits on Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan by ancient miners over a period of a thousand years. Carbon dating of wood timbers in the pits has dated the mining to start about 2450 BC and end abruptly at 1200 BC. Officially, no one knows where the Michigan copper went. All the “ancient copper culture” tools that have been found could have been manufactured from just one of the large boulders. A placard in London’s British Museum Bronze Age axe exhibit says: “from about 2500 BC, the use of copper, formerly limited to parts of Southern Europe, suddenly swept through the rest of the Continent”. No one seems to know where the copper in Europe came from.

Indian legends tell the mining was done by fair-haired “marine men”. Along with wooden tools, and stone hammers, a walrus-skin bag has been found (Ref.1). A huge copper boulder was found in the bottom of a deep pit raised up on solid oak timbers, still preserved in the anaerobic conditions for more than 3,000 years. Some habitation sites and garden beds have been found and studied (various ref.). It is thought that most of the miners retired to Aztalan (near Madison, Wisconsin) and other locations to the south at the onset of the hard winters on Lake Superior. The mining appears to have ended overnight, as though they had left for the day, and never came back. A petroglyph of one of their sailing ships has been found (Fig.7).


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During this thousand-year period of mining, some of the miners must have explored the continent to the west, as evidenced by strangely large skeletons in a lot of places, such as the red-haired giants who came by boat to Lovelock Cave on Lake Lahontan (Nevada), that were found in 1924 with fishnets and duck decoys (Ref.77). There is “biological tracer” evidence for foot traffic back and forth across the continent, more that three thousand years before the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Huber (Ref.27) describes the “remarkable” presence of the shrub Devil’s Club on Blake Point, the northern tip of Isle Royale, and on Passage Island, offshore, and also on small islands around Rock Harbor, on Isle Royale. Its usual habitat is the rainforest gullies of the conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest. Huber claims it appears nowhere else east of the Rocky Mountains. This plant has giant leaves, with spines underneath, and frightfully spiny woody stems. It has a history of traditional use as a medicine, to treat diabetes, tumors, and tuberculosis, with its effectiveness confirmed by modern studies. It appears likely it was carried in a medicine bag to this remote island in Lake Superior in ancient times, and the places where the Devil’s Club are found are showing us where the miners were using medicines.

Silver in the Copper

Pieces of the “native” Michigan copper sometimes have crystals of silver inclusions, mechanically enclosed but not alloyed; this is called “halfbreed copper”. In the commercial mines, the miners are said to have cut these silver nodules off with knives, and take them home. The presence of silver nodules in “Old Copper Culture” tools shows they were made by hammering, called “cold working”. These hammered weapons and tools found in Hopewell mounds sometimes “show specks of silver, found only in copper of Lake Superior” (Ref. 69). Apparently, one instance of identification by silver inclusion has occurred overseas: In this letter of December 1st, 1995, Palden Jenkins, a historian from Glastonbury, writes, “I met the farmer who owns the land on which a megalithic stone circle is, called Merry Maidens, in far west Cornwall. While clearing hedges, he discovered an arrowhead, which was sent to the British Museum for identification. The answer returned: ‘5,000 years old; source, Michigan, USA’.” (Ref.76).

Trace Element Analysis

The temperature of a wood fire is 900°C, and with charcoal above 1000°C, but forced air fires are hotter, and met the need to obtain the 1084°C melting point of copper. The melting of crystallized copper, and pouring it into oxhide molds (the shape of the skin of a flayed ox) for shipping, wherever it was done, is the first step in its contamination. Re-melting, for pouring into tool molds, can involve the use of fluxes, fuel contamination, the addition of used/broken tools, and the addition of arsenic or tin.

Since metals always contain small portions of trace elements, it was thought we could follow the copper, by looking at trace elements in copper elsewhere, to see if it matched. The six early studies reported by Griffin (Ref.25), all report native copper at 99.92% copper. Rapp and others (Ref.8,53) report that using trace element “fingerprints”, using mostly Lake Superior copper samples, probable geographic/geologic source identification can be done. The work of Hancock et al. (Ref.47) showed again that native copper, including Michigan copper, showed lower levels of tin, arsenic, gold, and especially cobalt, than “European copper” manufactured artifacts. The British Museum reported “generally low trace element content [in] our Egyptian artifacts” (Ref.2). Years ago, the author collected some European copper and bronze axes, thinking that he might do some sampling of them for some commercially-available trace element analysis. Unfortunately, sample testing is only useful for hammered copper tools, not melted/cast ones. Looking at artifacts, full of mixed contaminants in their manufacturing, has for the most part, not been helpful. We need to look at the least-disturbed samples, the ingot form in which copper was shipped.

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