Old Copper Complex

Archaeometallurgy of Old Copper Complex

pictured above: native float copper patina

Summer 2021

Indigenous Peoples in the Lake Superior region have been mining and working copper dating back around 8,500 years ago. Our group is working to speak to copper artifacts and learn about the history of how they were thermally and mechanically worked using information we find in the material microstructure. We are focusing on native copper originating from the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale and the ornaments and tools created from it. These artifacts have been discovered across the Great Lakes region and beyond. As we investigate the traditional methods for copper metal working, we hope to continue to build a story about the talented people who discovered copper in this region, realized its amazing properties, and developed metal working techniques necessary to create a myriad of objects.

Student Researchers

Quinten Giglio

4th year Physics (Lawrence University) and Mechanical Engineering (Washington University) student

Jackie McShan

3rd year Physics and Math student (Lawrence University)

Related Literature:

  • D. Malakoff, Great Lakes people among first coppersmiths. Science. 371, 1299 (2021).
  • D. P. Pompeani et al., On the timing of the Old Copper Complex in North America: A comparison of radiocarbon dates from different archaeological contexts. Radiocarbon. 63, 513 (2021).
  • M. R. Bebber et al., Controlled experiments support the role of function in the evolution of the North American copper tool repertoire. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 26, 101917 (2019).
  • J. M. Pozza, Approaching a vast and varied copper collection: An analysis Of Oneota copper artifacts of the Lake Koshkonong region in southeastern Wisconsin. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 25, 632 (2019).
  • M. LaRonge, An experimental analysis of Great Lakes archaic copper smithing. North American Archaeologist. 22(4), 371 (2001).