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Native copper, hunter-gatherers, and northeastern prehistory

Mary Ann Levine, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The emergence of archaeological interest in native copper in the mid-1800s developed in concert with explanations that privileged the Lake Superior area over other potential sources of native copper. It has generally been assumed that when native copper artifacts first appear in the Northeast, they arrived as finished implements or were locally made from Lake Superior raw materials. This dissertation evaluates the 150-year-old assumption that Late Archaic and Early Woodland hunter-gatherers utilized native copper exclusively from the Lake Superior area. The dominant model of native copper procurement is evaluated by a documentary analysis of the ethnohistorical record, a literature survey of the range of geological sources of native copper, an examination of the procurement of other raw materials, and trace element analysis through neutron activation analysis. This study defined 12 discrete geological sources of native copper to compare against the trace element data derived from 10 Late Archaic sites and from 9 Early Woodland sites. Taken together, these several lines of inquiry demonstrate that the dominant model should not be considered a valid, scientifically established archaeological reality. This dissertation concludes that, under scrutiny, the assumptions traditionally made about the source of native copper recovered from archaeological sites in the Northeast is at best poorly informed and at worst specious.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Levine, Mary Ann, "Native copper, hunter-gatherers, and northeastern prehistory" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709620.