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Research & Thoughts

My Copper Research "Biblio"

In all the contacts I've been making in the past month, I would hear requests for the project, and my background so I created the following.


I've been doing this for a decade, after curating at a copper burial site for three years. I've now got over 83,000 artifacts in the database, though short of the 100,000 I was hoping for. But I have decided I better get to work on the copper resource manuals because getting those all out there will take another decade! Maybe by then I'll hit 100,000.  I'm sure they're out there, it's just a matter of finding where they're accessioned and getting those museums to want to give me the data.


Right now I'm waiting for a response from Cleveland; both Knoxville and Ann Arbor have turned me down flat. Not sure why. I have a confidential column for information that I don't share with the public, such as site location and donor, and some private collectors don't want to be known, either. Some say it's because of NAGPRA that they won't share. But I don't share burial information. I need to know what was made and where it was found, not if it was buried with someone. That information I keep private.


I've got over 600 museums and private collectors contacted, and I'd say over 50% of museums had nothing. And I've been all over the country. Recently I drove four hours for a photo of two points. But there's just no other way for me to do it - at least until I get a contract on the first resource manual and can put out a national release asking to be contacted. I can't expect overworked curators to always provide the information to me, after all. But anyone who does gets value in return.


What I've learned so far - The Great Lakes copper toolers have the oldest industry in the Americas, and if we can call them a cultural group, they are older in dating than anywhere in Mexico or South America. Those early ones in South America began tooling in copper later, and may well have picked it up from those farther north, but they do have their own source of copper, so these industries could have happened independent - although there are a number of artifacts similar.


In South America, they began smelting their copper by around 1500 BCE (I'm not good on dates; check the link on my site here), but smelting never happened in the US because, for the main reason, Lake Superior copper is too pure to smelt. Mexico has the Olmecs, considered the oldest culture in the Americas, but they were relatively rather late, even compared to copper tooling in South America. Mexico's copper tooling industry didn't start until around 500 CE, or shortly before the collapse of Teotihuacan. (I'm writing an archeology novel connecting the two.) From Mexico to South America, gold was as valuable as copper, or vice versa, as they tended to blend the two metals to create tumbaga artifacts.


In the USA we've got three main copper tooler cultures - the Archaic Old Copper, as it's called because the focus is on tools of copper for hunting, creating boats and clothes, and fishing. Middle Woodland Hopewell, which got into ornamentation and designs in copper in a BIG way, and they really spread out - talk about a trade network! And Late Woodland Mississippians, who are identifiable in their artifacts because access to copper must have become scarce. Their objects were thin, still ornate, but they often covered other materials like stone or wood with copper.


The trade network is why I'm doing this. You can find more at my website, and I have three articles at Academia.edu. I put out 88 newsletters to subscribers over the last decade, but now want to focus on the resource manuals which will disseminate what kinds of trade networks they might have had based on where copper artifacts originated and where they were found. Where they originated simply means we track copper tooling sites, what was found where in the highest numbers, and travel out from there. If Montana had an I-B point, for instance, we find where I-B points were most found and follow the waterways.


Have I just told you everything you need to know? Doubtful. Watch for my new newsletter, coming soon!


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