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Research & Thoughts

Updating Copper Records (the exhaustion of)

I'm getting pretty tired – for sure my hands are – of all the entering of copper artifact data, nearly 80,000 so far, but also with the way I'm being treated, or have been treated, the last ten or so years.


When I used to run the Oconto Copper Burial Site, I was often asked by visitors what kind of background I had for doing the tours and the updates that the museum needed, and I would tell them about my master's in history and my background in exploring the trade network between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. during my undergraduate work. They seemed pretty satisfied with that answer.


And I've given a number of copper presentations over the years, not always to great results or response, but one continues to bother me. It was the one where Tom Pleger said it's a great idea to have someone create master database of copper artifacts – but it needs to be the right someone.


That I didn't immediately stand and say, well, what's wrong with me, Mr. Pleger? Do you know someone else who's willing to do it? Because I've been waiting for someone to throw in with me, but no one has. I would gladly give this research to whoever could do a better job. But instead, you and others seem to have a lot more fun treating me like I'm no better than any amateur collector who finds the artifacts in the ground, destroys their context, and sells them to the highest bidder.


What's your real problem, Mr. Pleger?


Yeah, I know, he's dead now. I can't ask and I don't need to. I knew what his problem was, and it was petty. When I first started running the museum he and I appeared on the radio together to talk about copper and he thanked me for being there and doing the research to help make the copper tooling industry more accessible. He made copper his dissertation and I went to one of his presentations. It was the same presentation he gave years later when he made that 'infamous' remark. He had the nerve to denigrate me when he was no longer doing anything in the copper field.


But the real thorn in his paw was that I wouldn't listen to him when he told me that I had to remove the burial display for kids I had developed in the museum. He had the audacity to say that I was encouraging kids to dig for artifacts in graves. He wouldn't listen when I told him what I was actually doing with that display. Then he went running to John Broihahn, state archaeologist and told him and Broihahn called with the same line, that I had to shut it down. Well, the Oconto museum committee did not want to shut it down, and to this day, a decade after I left, as far as I know, it's still there. And Broihahn still refuses to talk to me.


What about public excavation opportunities? Don't they encourage the public to dig wherever they want? I was at one recently and while they gave digging sensitivity instructions, how do we know people were listening? How do we know people weren't there to get some instruction on how to go off wherever they want and dig alone? We don't. I didn't know that either. But I had kids as an audience, and it was the only way for them to understand what the museum was all about.


I'm not saying inviting the public to help excavate is wrong. But having a burial display in a museum where we show kids what excavation is all about is not wrong, either.


So yeah, I'm tried of being trounced on by archaeologists. I know I'm not trained to learn every tiny little detail about a site. But I have learned copper. I can identify a piece of copper better than anyone I know. I compile date and can provide details on what's going on in any county in the US. I can show you how the axe evolved into the money celt used in Mexico. I can help track where artifacts were traded. And I can put resource manuals together and make some guesses about what's going on, using this knowledge. I might be right. But people will always recognize by my dialog that my guesses are those of an amateur. And they will always be advised to look at the bibliography at the end of every resource manual, because most everything I share will be from professionals. I don't make up the datings, but I do apply the datings from one artifact in one location to that same type in another location. Because that's what typing is for. Readers of my manuals will be encouraged to contact every museum and talk to people there, and not take my word for anything.


If they do, well, I can't help that, either. Neither can anyone else.

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