Piece of Beaten Copper
5.5" by 5.5" by 0.25" asymmetrical
Midwest Native Copper
Archaic and Woodland Copper Culture; Great Lakes Native Americans; Native American Metallurgy
2000 BC - AD 1600*
Historic Indian Agency House
*Likely closer to 2000 BC - AD 500
Our Artifact Ambassador journey starts many years before the first Europeans arrived on our continent. It was a time in which the individual Native tribes disappear into vast civilizations of indigenous Americans. During this era when the Greek Empire was fading and the Roman Empire was still more dream than reality, the upper Midwest was home to a culture that lived off what it could grow, gather, or create using natural resources. Their social and religious traditions gave birth to the prodigious mounds which still grace many areas of Wisconsin.
Many of us are familiar with the stone tools and weapons of this time which were readily created to fulfill many needs. What we may be less familiar with, however, is these peoples' skillful, sophisticated mining and use of the region's copper deposits. This copper culture created tools and ornaments of fine quality long before Europeans even knew of these peoples, leaving many early archaeologists dumbfounded.
This month's Artifact Ambassador is a flat, green-hued slab of beaten copper that was a product of this culture. It was procured from a pit mine and beaten into this workable form before it would have been fashioned into useful tools or decorations. Objects were readily made from these pieces of beaten copper with the tools available, but lacked the hardness of stone or the strength of iron. The copper's useful malleability paradoxically limited what the Natives could do with their copper tools. For the next few centuries, the Native American civilizations continued to use copper as one of their staple materials of craftsmanship. But that was all about to change. Stay tuned for January's second Artifact Ambassador!
Until then, take a look at the copper tools in the Milwaukee Public Museum's collection.