Re: earliest metalworking (was: Re: cocaine in mummys

August Matthusen (
Tue, 31 Dec 1996 09:45:56 -0800

Yuri Kuchinsky wrote:
> August Matthusen ( wrote:
> : Yuri Kuchinsky wrote:
> : > On a related note. We know that metalworking existed in N. America
> before : > anywhere else in the world (the Old Copper Culture of
> Wisconsin). Of : > course they did not smelt copper, hut used the existing
> unique "native" : > copper in the area. I just wonder if it is possible
> that those copper : > artifacts could have made it across the ocean?
> Anyone aware of any good : > evidence for this? Such theories have been
> proposed in print...
> : From what I've read, the Old Copper Culture is dated back to about
> : 5500 BP (Rapp, G. Jr, E. Henrickson, J. Allert, 1990. Native Copper
> : Sources of Artifact Copper in pre-Columbian North America; in Lasca N.P.
> : and Donahue, J. eds, Archaeological Geology of North America, Geological
> : Society of America, Centennial Special Volume 4, pp. 479-498)
> : and flourished between 5000 and 3000 BP (Vernon, W.W., 1990. New
> : Archaeometallurgical Perspectives on the Old Copper Industry of
> : North America; in Lasca N.P and Donahue, J. eds, Archaeological
> : Geology of North America, Geological Society of America,
> : Centennial Special Volume 4, pp. 499-512.)
> : Butzer (1971 _Environment and Archaeology_, p 602) indicates copper
> : tools in Mesopotamia ca. 4300-3500 BC and Egypt ca 4000 BC.
> : How does this equate with metalworking in North America before
> : anywhere else in the world?
> August,
> On the second thought, when I thought about these dates, can we really be
> so sure where the earliest metalworking began? I think that perhaps we
> should be cautious about this whole thing? (OK, _I wasn't_ in my original
> post...) The dates are pretty close, you know...

Yeah, only 500 to 800 or so years older in the old world.

> a) How sure are we that both areas have been excavated and studied
> adequately?

Frankly, I have no idea what you mean by that.

> Old World sites probably were studied better than the
> Wisconsin sites?

Why? (BTW, maybe you should read the articles: Rapp et al.
list 540 sites regarding new world copper [not just Old
Copper Culture] and Vernon et al. note that the Old Copper
Culture is spread throughout several Great Lakes states and
Canada with the main source of the copper being the Keweenaw
Peninisula in Upper Michigan.)

> b) What about the carbon dating?

Who said anything about carbon dating?

> We all know about the limitations of it. Yes?

Some people do; I wouldn't go so far as to say "all" do.

> Specifically, were any of those dates calibrated? This can change
> the dates quite a bit!

Are you suggesting that if radiocarbon dating is used, the calibration
differs in the Old World versus the New world?

Perhaps you should read the articles and the source literature.
Both Rapp et al. and Vernon et al. cite abundant sources (Rapp et al.
go so far as to provide supplemental references). As for Butzer,
that was what I happened to have on hand. Who knows, in the last
25 years or so since Butzer, more recent work may have pushed the
age of the first signs of metalworking in the Old World back further
(of course, there is also 6 or so years since the articles by Rapp
et al. and Vernon et al. for more recent work to push back the age
in the new world).

As for your suggestion of transatlantic copper, Rapp et al. have
also published some papers on trace element fingerprinting of copper
to identify source areas. If you should find some old world
copper artifacts which you suspect are new world it appears that
discrimination is possible.

August Matthusen