Archive for Isle Royale

The Lost Gods and Tablet of Prehistoric Michigan

By, Henriette Mertz

 

 

Originally published in Ancient American Magazine.

Reprinted with permission from The Midwestern Epigraphic Society Journal, Beverley Moseley

 

The Newberry tablet no longer exists. Found on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it represented only one of thousands of inscribed artifacts recovered from mounds dotting the state from roughly 1890 to 1920, most of which were destroyed. The enormity of such a loss to history and inscribed artifacts were sacrificed to the hypothesis that no ancient peoples, other than the historic Indian, ever arrived in America. The tragic disappearance of priceless, irreplaceable material must be born by University of Michigan officials, whose responsibility it was to preserve these matters.

The prehistory of the Copper Country, long haunted by tales of a bygone race has yet to be told. Few Americans are even aware of the extensive mining activity that took place on Isle Royale in Lake Superior or along the Trap Range of the Upper Peninsula where approximately 500,000 tons of pure copper were mined out sometime between 1800 and 1200 B.C.

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Were Prehistoric Copper Oxhide Ingots manufactured on the Mississippi coast near the mouth of the Mississippi River?

By,

Jay S.Wakefield, jswakefield@comcast.net

 

Copper: According to American Indian oral tradition, Michigan copper was mined in antiquity by “red haired white-skinned ‘marine men’ who came from across the sea”. Tens of thousands of pits, up to 30’ deep, were mined using fire-setting and stone hammers, with an estimated half a billion tons of pure crystalized copper removed from the glacier-exposed lava beds. From wood timbers anaerobically preserved under water in the ancient mine pits, this mining has been radiocarbon dated to between 2400 BC and 1200 BC, a period of more than a thousand years. During this same period, Europe experienced the Bronze Age, though historians and archaeologists now say they have no idea where the copper came from. One of the more interesting finds in digging out one of these old mine holes (Drier & Du Temple, Prehistoric Copper Mining in the Lake Superior Region) was a Walrus skin bag, indicating the miners had traveled over seas in the north. If people came from overseas to mine copper in Michigan during the Bronze Age, there can be little doubt they transported it back overseas for use in the manufacture of bronze.

 

Ancient routes for the transport of Michigan’s copper have been traced downstream from the mines on Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula, past storage pits with corroded copper in them, and beyond Beaver Island, with its ancient raised garden beds and huge 39-stone circle. In the Great Lakes, water levels fluctuated widely, as ice dams retreated, and the land rebounded from the glacial weight. Around 2300 BC there was a high water stage, called the “Nipissing Stage”. Dr. Jim Schertz, Professor Emeritus with the Ancient Earthworks Society (Old Water Levels and Waterways during the Ancient Copper Mining Era) says that when the water rose 40-50 feet above present levels, an outlet opened into the Illinois River, through the present Chicago Ship Canal. On the south bank, where the river started, stood a 3,000 pound stone block, overlooking Lake Michigan. Known as the Waubansee Stone, carved with the face of a man with a beard and holes connecting the bowl at the top to the mouth of the face. Another is said to have been on the north bank. At these stones, sacrifices may have been made prior to the perilous voyages, loaded with copper, down the rivers to Poverty Point, Louisiana.

 

Poverty Point: Six huge earthmounds and six enormous concentric earth rings characterize the enigmatic Archaic period town of Poverty Point, formerly accessible only by boat from the Mississippi. The site is carbon dated to 2400 BC, with the big mounds made around 1500 BC. It is one of the largest, and oldest centers of civilization on Earth. Jean Hunt, then President of the Louisiana Mounds Society, wrote in 1993 in Ancient American Magazine that “the Poverty Point archaeologist or curator talked about traces of large “spots” of copper on the surface, which he thought might have represented places where raw copper from the Michigan mines was placed while awaiting trans-shipment”. Dexter and Martin (America’s Ancient Stone Relics) report that Mitchell Hillman, Assistant Curator for the Louisiana Office of State Parks, has found spots of copper on the surface both north and south of Poverty Point, for a distance of five to fifteen miles, on both sides of the river. Researcher Daniel Wood, in another Ancient American article, “Bronze Age Michigan”, describes a 20’x50’ Torch Lake (Keweenaw) pit found to contain 20 tons of carbonate of copper, dated c.1800 BC. Other pits were discovered as far east as Sault Ste Marie, and others in southern Wisconsin. Early in 2006, a magnetic gradiometry study done at Poverty Point by Mike Hargrave and Burley Clay shows large dark spots that were described as metal “hits” (see Rocks & Rows).

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Composition Analysis of Michigan Copper

Michigan Copper in the Mediterranean,

The Shipping of Michigan Copper across the Atlantic in the Bronze Age

 

(Isle Royale and Keweenaw Peninsula, c. 2400BC-1200 BC)

J.S. Wakefield, jayswakefield@yahoo.com

 

Photos coming soon for the article. Apologies from the AA staff.

 

Summary

Recent scientific literature has come to the conclusion that the major source of the copper that swept through the European Bronze Age after 2500 BC is unknown. However, these studies claim that the 10 tons of copper oxhide ingots recovered from the late Bronze Age (1300 BC) Uluburun shipwreck off the coast of Turkey was “extraordinarily pure” (more than 99.5% pure), and that it was not the product of smelting from ore. The oxhides are all brittle “blister copper”, with voids, slag bits, and oxides, created when the oxhides were made in multiple pourings outdoors over wood fires. Only Michigan Copper is of this purity, and it is known to have been mined in enormous quantities during the Bronze Age.

 

The Geology of Copper

Copper is said to be the most common metal on the face of the Earth with the exception of iron. However, most of it is in the form of low-grade ores that require a sequence of concentration mechanisms to upgrade it to exploitable ore through a series of proto-ores. Copper ores of the “oxidized type”, including the oxide cuprite, and carbonates (malachite) are generally green or blue, and reducible to copper metal by simple heating with charcoal. Ores of the “reduced type” are sulfides or sulfosalts (chalcocite, chalcopyrite, tetrahedrite), and are not readily identified in outcrops as ores; they require roasting to convert them to oxides, then reduction of the oxides to produce metal. There are a number of places in the world where copper can be found in small deposits in the pure state, but it is usually embedded in a rock matrix, from which it must be freed by intensive labor, or, today, crushed in huge volumes, and treated to obtain the metal.

 

The Unique Geology of Michigan Copper

Early in Earth’s history, there were huge volcanic outflows over the Great Lakes area. As new sediments overlaid these flows, copper solutions were crystallizing in the Precambrian flood basalts of the lava layers. The copper had been crystallized in nodules and irregular masses along fracture zones a few inches, to many feet wide. After a billion years, about a quarter of the age of the Earth, four major glaciations ground upon the edges of the old layered basalt lava beds, and exposed some of the embedded copper (Fig.2, top drawing). Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula remained high ridges of volcanic basalt. The scraping and digging by the glaciers, followed by surface exposure of the hardest material, the metal, was followed by sluicing of the land by glacial meltwaters. This left many mineral nodules of all sizes on the surface, in the huge pine forests. This was called “float copper”, as it appeared that it had “floated” to the surface. Nodules of copper were discovered shining in the surf along the shores of Isle Royale. The prolonged crystallization, followed by glacial exposure, was a unique sequence of events. When exploited, it took man from the stone age to an industrial world. The half billion pounds mined in prehistory were followed by six and a half billion pounds mined in the “industrial age” in America, starting in the late 1800s

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