Central States Archaeological Societies
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Differentiating Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian Copper Artifacts

by E.J. Neiburger,

Central States Archaeological Societies 2019 April Journal

Waukegan, Illinois

The question was asked, how does one differentiate the "Old Copper" artifacts of different Midwestern archaeological periods from the other? How do we tell an Archaic period (8000-3000 BC) copper artifact from those from an Adena period (300 BC-300 AD), Hopewell (300 AD-1100 AD), Late Woodland (500 AD- 1500 AD) or Mississippian (1200 AD-1500) specimen? Answer: It's difficult.

Archaic period copper
Figure 1. Typical bulky Archaic period copper. Note the large number of mini ingots (flattened float copper nuggets), awls and conical points. From Vilas County, Wisconsin.

Archaic copper knife
Figure 2. Archaic copper knife with rows of indentations. This appears to be the high point in Archaic decoration.

This problem may be considered with the help of a scientific fiction story.

Once upon a time, maybe 1000 years or so in the future, a group of archaeologists were exploring digs in a Mid Western American state. They were trying to make sense of the artifacts found after 1000 years of floods, heat, cold and tornados not to mention the extensive decomposition forces of nature.

They were trying to classify the artifacts in a time period of around 2019 AD. They found two items alone in a sterile level of the dig. These were: a single lead musket ball, 1/2 inch in diameter and obviously cast in a hand mold (note parting lines and sprue scar in the casting). They also found a 2 inch square lump of rusted iron. When were these made? What were they used for? Who made them?

Were they made at the time represented by the horizon of the dig (level)? We shall arbitrarily call this level the “Millennial culture” (2019 AD). Were they made at a later date and intrusively buried (someone dug a deep hole and threw them in)? We shall call this later date the “Planetary culture” (2600 AD). Or were they made hundreds of years earlier during the “Colonial America culture” (1770 AD) or its predecessor, the Spanish American culture”( 1520 AD)?

Could these be....

Read the complete "Differentiating Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian Copper Artifacts" column in the Central States Archaeological Societies 2019 April Journal which can be purchased on-line after March 2020