Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cast in Bronze

I've been reading (trying to read between income-based interruptions) my autographed copy -- thank you, Fred -- of Fred Rydholm's Michigan Copper, The Untold Story, A History of Discovery.

Fred makes the case that some ancient people mined many millions of tons of copper from Upper Michigan and from Isle Royale. Note that I didn't say he poses the argument. No, Fred makes the case quite definitively, I think. Most archeologists and historians completely discount or ignore the notion that there "was more copper used just to build the Great Pyramid than could be found in all the old world". But just how many copper chisels were turned to dust shaping over two million granite blocks? My guess is about two million.

As with anything, it boils down to: who, when, where, why

Only a couple tons of copper artifacts have been found in North America associated with indigenous peoples. Where did the rest of that ancient Michigan copper go? No, it wasn't abducted by aliens. The short answer is: Across the ocean. When did it go? A very long time ago. Who took it? Why would they take it from Michigan? I want to address each of those questions in a little more detail.

Across which ocean? Well, predominantly, the Atlantic. Fred's theory (shared by a lot of folks) is that Michigan copper was the prime source of copper for the "Bronze Age". "The Bronze Age" spanned all of Eurasia and at least the northern parts of Africa (southern Africa is generally considered as going directly from neolithic culture to iron age culture). And across the Atlantic was, seemingly, the shortest water route. But the Berring Straits is actually a much narrower body of water. It's dificult to see, however, how it would be more economical to transport all that copper overland to the shores of Alaska just to take advantage of the shorter sea voyage and then overland again all the way across Asia to power the Bronze Age in Asia, India, Europe and North Africa. And economics is what it was all about. As Fred says, copper was the Microsoft of the Bronze Age and whoever controlled it was that era's Bill Gates. And, I think, whoever transported it was that era's Intel.

When was the Bronze Age? Well, it depends on which Bronze Age you are considering. In the Near East, the Bronze Age is generally accepted as being divided into three stages:
* EBA - Early Bronze Age (c.3500-2000 BC)
* MBA - Middle Bronze Age (c.2000-1600 BC)
* LBA - Late Bronze Age (c.1600-1200 BC)

While in Scandinavia, the "Nordic Bronze Age" didn't begin until 1,500 BC and lasted until at least 500 BC.

In East Asia, bronze culture spanned 3,300 BC to 100 AD

So the "when" is a lot more telling for determining "the route."

But "the route" would be chosen by "the who". Who was the Bronze Age's Bill Gates? Or rather, who were "they" over a period spanning some 3,400 years.

Well looking at the dates, one who believes in cultural diffusion but also believes that the dates assigned to the "Bronze Age" would conclude that probably the Dynastic or late pre-Dynastic Eqyptians started it. Wrong. Thank your for playing. They merely continued after the previous board of directors met an untimely fate.

I think I can show that the transoceanic trade in copper and tin to make bronze probably goes back at least 7,000 to 10,000 bce.

We'll start with one of the most anomolous finds in copper country, in this case, Isle Royale. Thanks again to Fred for documenting it for this generation.

Imagine digging straight down through solid rock for twenty feet to retrieve a 5,000 pound copper boulder half the size of a Volkswagon. Now imagine that you had the digging done and were now raising the boulder on oak cribbing in preperation for transport. You have the boulder halfway to the surface and -- you quit and walk away.

This scenario was real. The site was on Isle Royale and we know the diggers used oak cribbing because the hewn cribbing became preserved by copper solution, in effect, becoming "petrified" -- but with copper, not stone replacing the cellular matrix of the wood. Any geologist will tell you that petrification takes tens of thousands of years. Well, I think in this case, once the abandoned pit filled with water, the process was probably accelerated by the reaction of the copper to the tannic acid in the oak. Never the less, it certainly didn't happen over night. Seven to ten thousand years may be more than required to complete the conversion, but certainly not a lot less time transpired before modern discovery of the site in the 1850's.

And while all these folks were working so diligently to extract these large copper boulders, some of there compatriots were off gathering and or growing food for them. Division of labor. Civilization. Culture. Bronze age culture.

"You have no supportive evidence". What I lack is definitive proof. There is quite a bit of evidence, actually.

The culture known as the "Red Paint People", although thought by professionals to be local to New England, Newfoundland, and Labrador, actually left their tracks all along the Atlantic coasts of Europe, the Americas, Greenland, northwest Africa, the Azores, etc. The non-Canadian sites are generally dated to seven to ten thousand bce. Only one skeleton has been associated with Red Paint sites outside of Canada and its state of preservation was not all that great. The skeleton may indeed have been insitu before the Red Paint culture occupied that particular site, since the midden is what preserved the skeleton. So we don't really know enough about them to assign a racial affiliation. Even the Canadian sites held relics that predated the burials by a thousand years.

We do know that they were truly ancient, that they practiced deep sea navigation, and they were transoceanic. No evidence of extensive metal relics have ever been associated with the Red Paint culture. They were subsistence hunters, primarily of deep sea mammals.

So what the heck does that have to do with a copper boulder on Isle Royale? Division of labor. Somebody was providing food for the diggers.

Somebody was also transporting the copper. The Red Paint culture definitely knew how to sail and probably, apparently knew how to navigate great distances. Seven thousand years ago.

More later. I have to go finish an article for Ancient American December issue.


1 comment:

Lynn said...

sadly, I have no pictures of the Egyptian caves in the Grand Canyon. And I think I read the same 1917 article that you did.
Oh well, it was a good dream while it lasted...