Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies

A Copper Drill like no other

Oliver Anttila

Central States Archaeological Societies 2005 October Journal

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

A Copper Drill like no other

April 1, 2000, dawned cold but with a clear sky promising a nice late-winter day. My friend Hilary and I had been out to the lake to the Fur Trade point on March 30th with our insulated waders and metal detectors where we found some 50 meters of open water with the lake level down 2 meters from normal. We found some nice copper and stone tools (but that story can wait for another day).

Back in town, I called Leo, Russell and Terry to let them know that the shore on the north side of the bay across from my summer home was starting to break up and could be worked, so Saturday April 1st found us up there in two 4x4 trucks in order to travel the dirt roads that were still snow covered and getting muddy. We decided to first go to Skull Point where we've found hundreds of nice artifacts over the years (from Paleo to Contact- about 9500 years in our country). This point is only about five minutes from camp in summer by boat, but at this time it's about two kilometers by foot, wearing waders, carrying back packs, detectors, shovels and screen boxes through the swamp on the power line down to the beach, across the mud, over the boulders along the waters edge, through another thick mud beach, before reaching the point which divides the bay from the main lake.

Hilary, Russell and I found some nice tools. My pouch had 35 copper pieces, which included 17 tools, plus 15 lithics, and a couple of fur trade artifacts. However, Leo and Terry were both skunked and decided to leave to go to Fur Trade Point, which is just across a small finder bay (about 500 meters) from Skull Point, but at least 4 kilometers away by foot and truck.

We finally left after lunch to meet the others arriving just before two o'clock. A short 150 meter walk down a path got us to the beach, where we found both Leo and Terry in the water. They had found some copper tools, pottery shards and fur trade artifacts.

Leo called out that he had found a copper awl. Leo also discovered an Iron Trade belt axe with the maker's mark on it. I had found another 11 pieces of copper at the Rivers Mouth site as we hunted along our way home.

When we reached the trucks, we unloaded our pouches on the tail gates. I wish I had my camera to photograph the array of copper to brass to iron, from stone to pottery. We examined the finds, particularly Leo's awl, which obviously was more than that. It appeared like a modern drill bit, needing a good cleaning to remove the mud and black "hot sand" (iron) which seems to bond to copper over the centuries in our iron rich soil.

Several days later, after Leo cleaned it I went over to see it. He took it to the Archeological chapter meeting and showed it to the professionals. None had ever seen anything like it.

It is 184 millimeters long and tapers to a point which is needle-sharp; the tang is worn smooth from use. The "spade" bit is 4.5 millimeters wide and 2 to 0.6 millimeters thick. The twist in the drill starts within 7 millimeters of the tip and continues to the tang. We puzzled over the maker's method to create the twist in such perfect symmetry throughout the entire tool.

Hilary was skeptical. He pointed out that the twist of the drill was reverse to that of a modern drill bit, which we had not recognized.

I puzzled over Hilary's observation and asked Leo for its loan so that I could think about it some more. Several days later it dawned on me that this drill would have been used with a small bow for "motive" power, and it becomes quite obvious that as you pushed the bow forward, it would have turned the bit in a counter-clockwise direction and then the backstroke would re-set the bit for another cut on the next push into the wood or bone being drilled. Simple!

Ontario Regional Archaeologist Bill Ross took some photos to send out for comments from other experts. So far one telephone comment is " it is not possible for the toolmaker to twist the copper without modern tools." The proof, another ancient unique copper tool, is at hand!


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