Ancient Native Americans were among the world's first coppersmiths | Science | AAAS

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  kavika  •  2 months ago  •  22 comments

By:   David Malakoff (Science AAAS)

Ancient Native Americans were among the world's first coppersmiths | Science | AAAS
New dates show people worked pure ore nearly 10,000 years ago around the Great Lakes

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



By David MalakoffMar. 19, 2021 , 2:00 PM

About 8500 years ago, hunter-gatherers living beside Eagle Lake in Wisconsin hammered out a conical, 10-centimeter-long projectile point made of pure copper. The finely crafted point, used to hunt big game, highlights a New World technological triumph—and a puzzle. A new study of that artifact and other traces of prehistoric mining concludes that what is known as the Old Copper Culture emerged, then mysteriously faded, far earlier than once thought.

The dates show that early Native Americans were among the first people in the world to mine metal and fashion it into tools. They also suggest a regional climate shift might help explain why, after thousands of years, the pioneering metallurgists abruptly stopped making most copper tools and largely returned to stone and bone implements.

Earth's largest and purest copper deposits are found around North America's Great Lakes. At some point, Native Americans learned to harvest the ore and heat, hammer, and grind it into tools. They left behind thousands of mines and countless copper artifacts, including lethal projectile points, hefty knives and axes, and petite fish hooks and awls. Today, it's not uncommon to meet residents of the region "who have buckets of copper artifacts [that they've found] tucked away in their basements," says David Pompeani, a geologist at Kansas State University, Manhattan, who studies ancient mining.

When researchers began to date the artifacts and mines, they saw a perplexing pattern: The dates suggested the people of the Old Copper Culture began to produce metal tools about 6000 years ago and then, for reasons that weren't clear, mostly abandoned copper implements about 3000 years ago. After that, early Native Americans used copper mostly for smaller, less utilitarian items associated with adornment, such as beads and bracelets. "The history is just so peculiar," in part because many other ancient cultures didn't abandon metal tools once they learned how to make them, Pompeani says.

About 10 years ago, Pompeani began doctoral research that cast doubt on the Old Copper timeline. He extracted sediment cores from lakes adjacent to prehistoric mines on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale and measured trace metals in the cores, including lead and titanium, that had been released by processing the ore. The analyses showed copper mining began about 9500 years ago in some areas—some 3500 years earlier than once thought. It also ended earlier, about 5400 years ago, Pompeani reported in The Holocene in 2015.

In laboratory tests, replicas of Old Copper Culture arrowheads performed about the same as stone arrowheads. That might be why Old Copper Culture people ultimately abandoned copper points after using them for thousands of years.

Michelle Bebber/Kent State University Experimental Archaeology Lab

Now, a team led by Pompeani presents new evidence for the revised timeline. The researchers used modern methods to reanalyze 53 radiocarbon dates—including eight newly collected dates—associated with the Old Copper Culture. Some came from wood or cordage still attached to spearpoints; others came from charcoal, wood, or bone found at mines and human burials. The oldest reliably dated artifact turned out to be the 8500-year-old projectile point found in Wisconsin.

This month in Radiocarbon, the team reports that the most reliable dates, combined with the sediment data, indicate the Old Copper Culture emerged at least 9500 years ago and peaked between 7000 and 5000 years ago. That makes it at least as old, and perhaps older, than copper-working cultures documented in the Middle East, where archaeologists have documented a copper pendant believed to be 8700 years old.

The older window for Old Copper's peak doesn't surprise archaeologist Michelle Bebber of Kent State University, Kent, who has studied the culture. The dates confirm "that hunter-gatherers [were] highly innovative," she says, and willing to "regularly experiment with novel materials."

But why did the ancient copper experiment abruptly end? Bebber's work replicating Old Copper-style arrowheads, knives, and awls suggests they weren't necessarily superior to the alternatives, especially after factoring in the time and effort required to produce metal implements. In controlled laboratory tests, such as shooting arrows into clay blocks that simulate meat, she found that stone and bone implements were mostly just as effective as copper. That might be because Great Lakes copper is unusually pure, which makes it soft, unlike harder natural copper alloys found elsewhere in the world, she says. Only copper awls proved superior to bone hole punchers.

Pompeani has identified another potential contributor to Old Copper's fade about 5000 years ago. Sediment cores, tree ring data, and other evidence suggest a sustained dry period struck the region around that time, he says. That could have fueled social and ecological disruptions that made it hard to devote time and resources to making copper tools. Over time, copper may have become something of a luxury item, used to signal social status.

Copper awls, however, bucked this trend: They required relatively little ore to make, Bebber notes, and the people of the Great Lakes continued to use them for thousands of years.


Tags

jrDiscussion - desc
[]
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Kavika     2 months ago

NO POLITICS....

The Ojibwe people have used copper for thousands of years per our oral and written history. 

There is a treaty between the US and Ojibwe/Anishinaabe people entitled the ''Copper Treaty'' signed at La Point WI. in 1842.

 
 
 
shona1
Freshman Participates
1.1  shona1  replied to  Kavika @1    2 months ago

Morning Kavika..this is off topic but I hope your son and his family are safe in NSW. There are floods galore up there at the moment and even parts of Sydney are now being evacuated. Last year it was bushfires this year floods...but that's Australia for you..very interesting article by the way...

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.1.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  shona1 @1.1    2 months ago

Evening Shona, all the kids are fine, hopefully, it will stay that way. The flooding is really bad and after the fires, there wasn't been much time to recover. 

 
 
 
Ender
PhD Principal
1.1.2  Ender  replied to  shona1 @1.1    2 months ago

I just read an article that they were having a major rat infestation and were hoping the floods would help with that.

 
 
 
shona1
Freshman Participates
1.1.3  shona1  replied to  Ender @1.1.2    2 months ago

Not quite it is a mouse plague..get them every now and then. Yes the rain in one respect is a good thing. The mice actually catch pneumonia and it wipes them out. I guess it is nature's way of stopping it. Never rains, but it pours here at times..as the saying goes.

 
 
 
shona1
Freshman Participates
1.1.4  shona1  replied to  Kavika @1.1.1    2 months ago

Good to hear.. hope it stays that way for them...

 
 
 
Ender
PhD Principal
1.1.5  Ender  replied to  shona1 @1.1.3    2 months ago

Sometimes it feels like it is just one thing after another.   Haha

 
 
 
Ender
PhD Principal
2  Ender    2 months ago

Nice article. Interesting how advanced some ancient cultures actually were.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ender @2    2 months ago
Interesting how advanced some ancient cultures actually were.

That is true, it seems that they are never given the credit that is due them.

 
 
 
Ender
PhD Principal
2.1.1  Ender  replied to  Kavika @2.1    2 months ago

I am still amazed that it took us so long to have plumping when the Romans had it.

It is like information was somehow lost at certain times (or withheld).

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Ender @2.1.1    2 months ago

Some of the indigenous nations of North, South, and Central America were highly advanced as well. Yeah, it seems strange that the information/skills were not passed on.

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Principal
3  sandy-2021492    2 months ago
That might be because Great Lakes copper is unusually pure, which makes it soft, unlike harder natural copper alloys found elsewhere in the world, she says.

When I first started reading the article, I was wondering why they stopped using copper so much.  This makes sense - tools and weapons made from stone might be just as good, if not better, than those from pure (soft) copper.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  sandy-2021492 @3    2 months ago

There are a few things that they used copper for, one being as the article mentioned was awls after the use of copper for other items was discontinued. 

The Great Lakes area is rich in copper. The treaty of 1842 was all about getting access to the copper on Ojibwe lands.

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
3.2  devangelical  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3    2 months ago
weapons made from stone might be just as good, if not better, than those from pure (soft) copper.

I'm guessing that making flint spear and arrowheads was less labor intensive and quite a bit faster. back in the 60's, my cousins and I would trade arrowheads we had found on the ranch for marbles, BB's, and candy. it worked out great until it was discovered that one of my cousins was very proficient at making a lot of them, thereby putting the authenticity of all of our genuine arrowheads into question. on a side note, I have seen copper and turquoise jewelry being sold in the southwest.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @3.2    2 months ago

LOL your cousin was a young con kid.

 
 
 
devangelical
PhD Principal
3.2.2  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @3.2.1    2 months ago

no joke. he finished up his career as a bush appointee and retired in 2009.

 
 
 
Ender
PhD Principal
3.2.3  Ender  replied to  devangelical @3.2    2 months ago

My Uncle was from Mexico. He and my Aunt loved turquoise jewelry.

If I remember correctly, people in his family made jewelry. I have an ornate watch I need to take a pic of and show, something I inherited.

When I was a teenager the most popular jewelry was turquoise and silver.

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
4  pat wilson    2 months ago

I wonder if the mining/use of copper became toxic. The article said there were traces of lead and titanium in the mines.

Interesting article and mystery.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  pat wilson @4    2 months ago
I wonder if the mining/use of copper became toxic.

I doubt if it did to the indigenous people it was cold hammered and it became easier to use stone instead of using copper which took much more effort than a stone to use. 

 
 
 
Gsquared
Sophomore Principal
5  Gsquared    2 months ago

Great, interesting article.  Of course, it is well-known that the indigenous people of the western hemisphere, particularly those situated below the Rio Grande, made abundant use of gold and silver, although I think that was primarily for decorative and ceremonial purposes.  There is evidence of the use of Asian drift iron, before European contact, that was brought by Pacific currents to North America, thought to be from Japanese shipwrecks.  There is also evidence that iron from meteorites was occasionally worked using stone anvils.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
5.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Gsquared @5    2 months ago

The use of gold and silver, I would assume was for decorative/ceremonial purposes, as you stated. I wasn't aware of the Japanese iron theory. 

 
 
 
Gsquared
Sophomore Principal
5.1.1  Gsquared  replied to  Kavika @5.1    2 months ago

The information about the Asian drift iron and iron from meteorites is derived from this book:

Emerging from the Mist -- Studies in Northwest Coast Culture History

Edited by Edited by Quentin Mackie, Gary Coupland and R.G. Matson

 
 
Loading...
Loading...

Who is online

Vic Eldred


61 visitors