An Early Archaeological Report on the Old Copper Culture

Ancient Mining on the Shores of Lake Superior

The author of this short archaeological report, Charles Whittlesey (1808-1886), was a West Point-trained scientist who conducted pioneering archaeological work in Ohio and Wisconsin. After serving in the Black Hawk War in 1832, Whittlesey practiced law in Cleveland until he was hired by the U.S. government to survey the mineral resources of Lake Superior between 1847 and 1851. While doing that work, he made notes for the monograph given here (published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1863). Modern archaeology has demonstrated that Native Americans mined copper at Lake Superior sites between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Penninsula as early as 4,000 B.C.; they are some of the oldest copper mines in the world. Whittlesey described excavations, artifacts, and tools that he recovered from the region around the Keweenaw Peninsula in Houghton Co., Michigan, but his descriptions also pertain to the Old Copper Culture sites in Wisconsin's Iron, Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties. Whittlesey's report on ancient copper ming was the most comprehensive analysis of its time and reached a wider audience of scholars than the only previous accounts (brief notices in newspapers and government documents).  His pictures and descriptions are still useful, and his dispassionate attempt to identify the ancient miners clearly reveals the values and assumptions of American archaeologists in the middle of the 19th century.

Related Topics: Early Native Peoples
Mining, Logging, and Agriculture
First Peoples
Mining in Northern Wisconsin
Creator: Whittlesey, Charles, 1808-1886
Pub Data: Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1863; Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, no. 155. Digitized from a copy in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library, call no. Q11 S68 1863 no. 155.
Citation: Whittlesey, Charles. Ancient Mining on the Shores of Lake Superior. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1863; Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, no. 155); Online facsimile at:; Visited on: 5/15/2021