Native Americans Could Be the World's First Coppersmiths

Their work may even date back to around 9,500 years ago.
Fabienne Lang

A recent study points out that ancient Native Americans who lived around North America's Great Lakes thousands of years ago around the Old Copper Culture, or the Old Copper Complex, might have been some of the world's first coppersmiths.

The Old Copper Culture refers to the copper tools and artifacts that were made by the early inhabitants of the Great Lakes region over a period of several thousands of years, explains the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The new study concludes that this era, in fact, emerged and disappeared earlier than scientists had so far concluded, reported Science.

How the team figured it out

The team studied an 8,500-year-old pure copper projectile point, as well as wood or cordage found on spearpoints, charcoal, wood, or bones found at burial sites found by Eagle Lake in current-day Wisconsin, and from its observations, it concluded that the Old Copper Culture actually started around 9,500 years ago. 

Its peak was between 7,000 and 5,000 years ago, wrote David Pompeani and his team in their study published in the journal Radiocarbon. From this conclusion, Pompeani believes this to be one of the world's oldest, if not the oldest, copper-working cultures.

Why did it stop, though?

Another fascinating point Pompeani and his team make is that regional climate might have played a part in explaining why the people living in the Old Copper Culture abruptly stopped their metalwork — something that has been baffling scientists for a while. 

A vast number of copper tools have been found over the centuries around the Great Lakes, as Native Americans learned to use ore, heat, and hammering to create copper tools from the abundant pure copper deposits in the region. Up until now, it was believed that Native Americans started creating tools in this way some 6,000 years ago, and then stopped about 3,000 years ago. 

Most Popular

In Pompeani's previous work in 2015, he had already started questioning this timeline, and after observations, he concluded that copper mining in the region would have more likely started some 9,500 years ago, and ended around 5,400 years ago. 

The team highlights that the ancient Native Americans might have beat other copper-working cultures, like those in the Middle East who are speculated to have begun around 8,700 years ago, and been some of the first communities to work with copper.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron