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Good To Know

Trial by Miscommunication: The Canadian Border

There I am, sitting in a little room facing a glass screen, waiting for the immigration official. What did I do wrong? Why do I appear suspicious to them?


The whole exciting (to me) reason for coming to Thunder Bay, Ontario, was because finally I got someone to say, yes, he could use my help in logging in the copper material and coming in person would be the only way I could see what he has, because he doesn't have the help he needs to input the copper artifacts and email it to me.


Basically what I offer when I go to museums is to photograph what they have, find the locations associated, come up with a type, enter the material into my database, and then return to them a larger database of materials around where their materials were found so that they would have what they have in context with the bigger picture.


I've done this around the US without problem or issue, and now have over 66,000 (now over 85,000) copper artifacts logged in. It's taken over a decade because I don't do this exclusively. Nor do I get paid to help them out. It's all in return for logging in the material.


Seems like a no-brainer, that any museum should want this kind of help. But because I had a job, it took me a while to make the commitment to Thunder Bay, Ontario.


This was a 9.5 hour drive from where I live, but I made my reservations, checked my passport—four months from expiring, which made me nervous. But nervous or not, I was finally going to get this done.


I didn't expect to be refused entrance into Canada.


I love Lake Superior. The whole route up Minnesota from Duluth toward border crossing is heavenly—60 mph all the way, kind of like visiting Door County. I wished I could have stopped any number of places along the way, but no. Stay on target. Stuff to do in the room that night to get ready for tomorrow. I didn't have any Canadian money nor did I know even if my laptop would work on the plugs in the motel room there. Or if my phone would work. But I'd work it out.


 What was important was getting into Canada, getting that material logged in and making a video somewhere to talk about Ontario data for the documentary.


The gas prices edged up to $3, but you don't mind because you're happy to find a gas station. Two Harbors is a good place for that. And there's a lovely rest area just before there that I didn't get to stop at. I found a small beach to wander on but it appears the beach rock here isn't as nice as the south shore of Lake Superior in upper Michigan. Took a few photos of the wonderful scenery. Almost impossible to do with a cellphone I had.


And then I got to the border. Not expecting trouble crossing. It appears most people have to pull over so that their "stories" can be looked at a little closer. The people I saw ahead of me were all approved to go.  But I was sent to talk to an immigration officer who took me into a little room with a glass partition between us. Did he think I was going to hit him?


"I don't get your story? What do you mean you're going to help the museum with their collection?"


"I'm going to log in their artifacts into my database. I have a master database and they said they didn't have anyone who could compile their data so they could email it to me. So I offered to do it for them."


"So they're paying you?"


"No, I'm doing it for free."




"Well, it's how I get data from museums. I've visited over 300 so far and have 66,000 in the database. But this is my first time in Canada and I'm very excited."


"So you're cataloging their collection for them?"


"Well, I'll be giving them the data I compile. I always give back better than what I get."


"And what are you going to do with this?"


"Well, eventually, I'll put together some resource manuals."


"So you've come here to do work for this museum. I need to see the email you got from them."


So I run out to my car and got it. I waited quietly while he read it.


"Yeah, the way this reads, he would have used summer help to do this. So basically you're coming to Canada to do something that could have been done by a Canadian."


I began to tense even more than I was just sitting in this little cubicle. "No one can do what I do."


"You said you're cataloging. A summer intern can do that."


It all went downhill from there. He couldn't let me in Canada to take a job away from a summer intern. Never mind that I tried to point out it was already mid-August, nor did he care about my logic that they admitted they couldn't find any intern.


He told me my option—get the guy to rewrite the email so it doesn't sound like I'm working for him.


I would lose a night's hotel because it was too late to cancel – of course my phone didn't work at that point anyway.


I finally said, I don't know what more I can tell you. He wouldn't listen to more detail about the CAMD, didn't care. That seemed not to matter.


I left the room in tears, and went back out to wait for him to finish processing the paperwork, or so he said, so that I could be ejected from Canada.


I waited and waited, tried to stop crying, went to the bathroom. Finally asked how much longer. He waved at me and disappeared. I finally figured he wanted me back in that ugly little room.


"So what you're doing, are you working on their computer system?"


"Heavens no. I don't have that kind of time. I'm entering his data into my database, my spreadsheet, and then I give him a copy with his materials entered and all of Ontario, to put his material into context."


"So it'll still have to be entered into his system?"


"I suppose so."


"Well, why didn't you say so?" Finally he says, "I understand now. You can go."


"What? Into Canada? Don't you stamp my passport or give me a paper or something?"


"No, just go. You're free to go."


No apologies for the 45-minute delay or working me into such a frenzy.  Just go. So I left. Watching my back for miles, thinking I might have misunderstood.


Because no one said Welcome to Canada.

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A "Copper Conundrum" Solved

Response to David Malakoff article in American Archaeology, Spring 2021, that the magazine editor refused to print to correct the fallacies contained there.


The pre-contact copper industry is the Americas' oldest metal industry. Unlike what many scholars believe, it did not disappear, but it's true that it did change and evolve, in part as a response to the growing trade network.


I'm from Wisconsin and well aware of Bill Reardon's two radiocarbon dated points dating to 6500 BCE. The oldest copper industry may well date back to the Late Paleo period, if the late Dr. Jack Steinbring's research on the I-K point is validated. There was also a very early awl dated in Illinois to around 7,000 BCE. Float copper was their first source of copper, and it would make more sense for the Illinois people to have started working copper found on the ground, left behind by the glaciers, before anyone farther north.


Float copper was used first, before mining, left laying on the ground for anyone to pick up. Malakoff failed to mention this.


"When humans learn to do something, they usually keep doing it." This comment is not logical. Humans experiment, they adapt, they are continually striving to make something better.


In the article was a discuss of whether copper made a better tool than stone, to see if maybe that's why it was abandoned. But what they fail to recognize is that copper can be re-made into something else. If a point breaks, you can repair it, unlike with stone. Copper is a recyclable and malleable material, unlike stone.


Personally, I think the technology for creating copper tools delighted them and they continued to experiment throughout the centuries. This would be the reason that some designs are found in more numbers than others. If you were to look at the Wittry typology (I keep it updated at my website) you would see the variety of copper tools and ornaments is amazing. They did not stagnate in this industry, nor are the artifacts produced of inferior designs that were tossed.


Instead, copper tools were often handed down through the centuries. We find some with hash marks, indicating ownership, or, as some think, how many generations of ownership it had. One is even shown with has marks, without note, in the article.


So copper tooling did not disappear. I had this argument with a state archaeologist here in Wisconsin who also said tooling stopped between the Hopewell and the Mississippian periods. But the CAMD demonstrated that this is simply not true. The points created changed, such as those found in numbers at the Riverside site in Michigan. Then points got small when the bow and arrow came into the region as early as 500 CE.


It is nice to see the article attempt to validate the age of the Oconto copper burial artifacts. I was curator at that museum for three years, and continually suggested that the oldest could be valid as well as the dates of not so old pieces, because the site could have had longevity, being used over thousands of years.


More efficient forms did replace less efficient ones. I see no reason to believe otherwise. The conical point was used for a very long time, for hunting and fishing. The common celt form was used in a number of different ways, depending on size. The true celt form went south while the crescent form stayed more northerly, and eventually, the celt form took on some crescent features down in Mexico. These people evolved their copper use as needed, and continued to use forms where they worked for them.


I do agree that by the Late Archaic, with mining well underway, certain groups likely gained control of the mines as part of a trade network. The Hopewells were big miners, if we believe some of that data that was uncovered around Lake Superior. They created, as noted in the article, many wonderfully intricate copper pieces. Beads became valuable in the Late Archaic, and remained that way. Ear spools that were full copper for the Hopewell became copper-covered in the Mississippian, indicating the growing scarcity of copper.


Once float copper was used up, mining was the only way to get copper, and if you don't have control of the mines around Lake Superior, you needed another source; they found one in the Appalachians, which wasn't quite as pure. They might have had a harder time working it. But mining around Lake Superior didn't stop until they got out all the workable pieces with the technology they had.


I am working on a series of copper resource manuals to make the CAMD available to the public. I was glad to see this article because I feel the copper industry in the Americas has long been neglected, which was why I started the CAMD after leaving the Oconto Copper Burial Museum.


But fallacies are still being spread about the pre-contact copper industry.

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