Friday, May 15, 2015

Prehistoric Copper Oxhide Ingots manufactured on the Mississippi coast



 This is an excellent report.  It was clear that Poverty Point was the natural nexus for manufacturing export copper. after metal and ores were brought down the Mississippi.  Likely charcoal came as well to facilitate smelting.

I have written and posted on this for a decade and what this does is fill in the massive archeology that needed to exist here in particular.  It matches anything elsewhere in terms of scale.  Bimini is also mentioned as it is the natural safe port to go to in preparation for the Atlantic crossing by way of the Gulf Stream to Ireland and  the Irish Sea before sailing south to reach Gibraltar. 

It is also possible that copper out of the Rio Grande made its way to this facility as well for blending with the better metal ores.


Were Prehistoric Copper Oxhide Ingots manufactured on the Mississippi coast near the mouth of the Mississippi River?

By Jay S.Wakefield,

Copper: According to American Indian oral tradition, Michigan copper was mined in antiquity by “red haired white-skinned ‘marine men’ who came from across the sea”. Tens of thousands of pits, up to 30’ deep, were mined using fire-setting and stone hammers, with an estimated half a billion tons of pure crystalized copper removed from the glacier-exposed lava beds. From wood timbers anaerobically preserved under water in the ancient mine pits, this mining has been radiocarbon dated to between 2400 BC and 1200 BC, a period of more than a thousand years. During this same period, Europe experienced the Bronze Age, though historians and archaeologists now say they have no idea where the copper came from. One of the more interesting finds in digging out one of these old mine holes (Drier & Du Temple, Prehistoric Copper Mining in the Lake Superior Region) was a Walrus skin bag, indicating the miners had traveled over seas in the north. If people came from overseas to mine copper in Michigan during the Bronze Age, there can be little doubt they transported it back overseas for use in the manufacture of bronze.

Ancient routes for the transport of Michigan’s copper have been traced downstream from the mines on Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula, past storage pits with corroded copper in them, and beyond Beaver Island, with its ancient raised garden beds and huge 39-stone circle. In the Great Lakes, water levels fluctuated widely, as ice dams retreated, and the land rebounded from the glacial weight. Around 2300 BC there was a high water stage, called the “Nipissing Stage”. Dr. Jim Schertz, Professor Emeritus with the Ancient Earthworks Society (Old Water Levels and Waterways during the Ancient Copper Mining Era) says that when the water rose 40-50 feet above present levels, an outlet opened into the Illinois River, through the present Chicago Ship Canal. On the south bank, where the river started, stood a 3,000 pound stone block, overlooking Lake Michigan. Known as the Waubansee Stone, carved with the face of a man with a beard and holes connecting the bowl at the top to the mouth of the face. Another is said to have been on the north bank. At these stones, sacrifices may have been made prior to the perilous voyages, loaded with copper, down the rivers to Poverty Point, Louisiana.

Poverty Point: Six huge earthmounds and six enormous concentric earth rings characterize the enigmatic Archaic period town of Poverty Point, formerly accessible only by boat from the Mississippi. The site is carbon dated to 2400 BC, with the big mounds made around 1500 BC. It is one of the largest, and oldest centers of civilization on Earth. Jean Hunt, then President of the Louisiana Mounds Society, wrote in 1993 in Ancient American Magazine that “the Poverty Point archaeologist or curator talked about traces of large “spots” of copper on the surface, which he thought might have represented places where raw copper from the Michigan mines was placed while awaiting trans-shipment”. Dexter and Martin (America’s Ancient Stone Relics) report that Mitchell Hillman, Assistant Curator for the Louisiana Office of State Parks, has found spots of copper on the surface both north and south of Poverty Point, for a distance of five to fifteen miles, on both sides of the river. Researcher Daniel Wood, in another Ancient American article, “Bronze Age Michigan”, describes a 20’x50’ Torch Lake (Keweenaw) pit found to contain 20 tons of carbonate of copper, dated c.1800 BC. Other pits were discovered as far east as Sault Ste Marie, and others in southern Wisconsin. Early in 2006, a magnetic gradiometry study done at Poverty Point by Mike Hargrave and Burley Clay shows large dark spots that were described as metal “hits” (see Rocks & Rows).

Oxhides: Bronze Age raw copper was exchanged in 60 lb (one Talent) oxhide ingots shaped like a flat square, with the four corners extended like the legs of a hide taken from a real ox. These extensions made the ingots easier to carry, as illustrated by paintings upon Egyptian tomb walls. Copper oxhide ingot cargo found on ancient shipwrecks is “extraordinarily pure”, but full of slag bits, “spratzen” voids, and copper oxide inclusions, which made the oxhides brittle. This brittle copper is called “blister copper”. Researchers have reported their conclusions that the oxhides must have been manufactured by multiple pourings of melted copper into clay molds in open air, over wood fires. The big unanswered question at this point is where this was done. No site has been identified. Only one mould, in Syria, has ever been found, but that one, when tested, was found to have tiny bits of copper in it.

Gulf Sites: While it is likely that copper exchange and the manufacture of Copper Oxhide ingots occurred at Poverty Point, other sites have come to my attention, while studying the matter. Archaeologist James E. Bruseth, with the Texas Historical Commission, in his chapter in the book “The Poverty Point Culture” reports on two Late Archaic sites located on high ground, fifteen feet above the marshes at the mouth of the Pearl River of Mississippi. In Archaic times, the Mississippi River had a fast-flowing flood season, alternating with periods when a canoe could be paddled upstream. It emptied into the Gulf of Mexico to the east of where it does now, close to the Pearl River mouth. This first high ground, rising above the marshes, now called “Cedarland” and “Claiborne” would have been attractive to ancient mariners, who needed moorage, rest, and fresh water.

The site originally consisted of two large (500’ diameter) semicircular middens of ash up to six feet deep, overlooking a bayou of the Pearl River mouth. Cedarland is known to have been occupied around 2200 BC, more than four thousand years ago, and was “participating in the Poverty Point trade network” (Bruseth). Bruseth states that “radiocarbon dates have shown these two rings were occupied at the same time, but the artifacts in them were so distinctly different, it was concluded that they were inhabited by two independent, ethnically separate groups, who lived side by side”. He calls them “specialized activity areas”, inhabited by two different groups, with ethnic and language differences. The groups were strangers from each other, and different from the native sites upriver. A corroborating report by Dr. Greg Little (Atlantis Rising Sept/Oct’10) illustrates new evidence for three separate anchoring, docking, and breakwater formations underwater off the west side of Bimini: “all three have stone anchors, and show evidence of being used by a maritime culture”. We cannot identify these groups yet, despite Egyptian language remnants in some Louisiana tribes, and Egyptian and Minoan artifacts found in the Mississippi basin.

The Cedarland and Claiborne sites have suffered indiscriminate digging by relic seekers since the 1950’s, with large collections held locally. Today the sites have been substantially destroyed and damaged by the construction of a new industrial port on top of the ancient industrial port sites. Entry through the Port Benville Industrial Park is now controlled by a gatehouse and industrial fencing.

Today, huge barges carrying Saturn rockets, enourmous tanks of hydrogen and other fuels are towed past the ancient site for static testing at the NASA Stennis Space Center, further up the bayou. It is ironic that the same now remote waterway where much of the copper of the Bronze Age was shipped to Europe, is the same waterway where all the US rocket engines are tested before going to space.

Cedarland: Field inspections by the archaeologist Bruseth, during bulldozing for the new port revealed debris consisting of bone, stone, and clay artifacts… His book states: “numerous clay-lined, basin-shaped hearths have been uncovered, but few have been carefully excavated. Raw materials at the site include red jasper, black and white and grey chert, quartz crystal, various quartzites, and Great Lakes copper needles and sheet copper. The lithic materials are rare at Claiborne. Cedarland has 3 and 4 sided drills, while Claiborne posesses only bifacially-formed drills…[beautiful 3-sided points are a unique feature of the Danish neolithic at this time]. One to 2 meters of deposits indicate intensive utilization,…and re-use of hearths, but few have been carefully excavated.

Bruseth continues: “The hearths varied in diameter from 50 to 65 cm [20-26 inches, the size of oxhide ingots], were basin shaped, and occurred on a common horizontal plane. The walls consisted of oxidized orange soil. However, the tops were found at variable depths below the surface. This factor is interpreted to be the result of digging in and around the hearths after their initial use. As neither ash nor charcoal was observed within the features, they may instead have served as earth ovens rather than hearths. Under this interpretation, the oxidized soil of the features would represent prepared clay walls that became fired from heating in the oven. Numerous amorphous fired clay lumps surround the hearths and are commonly found throughout much of the midden. The author has examined several examples for evidence of deliberate shape, but in all instances they were found to be amorphous and unintentionally formed. It was initially thought that these might be baked clay objects used in conjunction with the clay-lined hearths. However, it is probable, based on their small size and lack of clear form, that they are fragments from other clay-lined hearths. Extensive digging and reuse of the hearths evidently scattered burned clay wall fragments throughout the midden”.

Claiborne: Radiocarbon dates for Claiborne range from 2040 BC to 1150 BC. Bruseth says “Claiborne appears to have been a well-structured village throughout much of its history. A conical mound is directly east of the site. No clay-lined hearths have been found, but a huge hearth 25m x 3-5m wide was opened by successive bulldozer cuts, a feature which apparently moved upslope by accumulation from use. Smaller hearths of 4m, and 2m x 1.5m were also found. Claiborne plummets are made of magnetite and hematite, while plummets at Cedarland are only made of other materials. Bruseth describes other materials revealed that the “inhabitants of both rings were involved in long-distance exchange, but did so differently, despite being side-by-side. Of special note are the effigy forms, such as locusts, owls, and bivalves, which are not found at Cedarland. There are ceramics… fiber tempered pottery, but none at Cedarland. The two sites are distinctive in layout, feature type, and artifact content, and present a perplexing problem. …Other sites are known, which most likely represent support camps, to these ‘specialized activity areas’. These sites flourished well before the earthwork construction at Poverty Point….Perhaps the monumental earthworks [at Poverty Point] have caused us to underestimate the importance of pre-earthwork occupation.” Bruseth concludes the report of his excavation by writing that “the two sites were inhabited by two independent groups who lived side by side. Extensive surveys of sites along the Pearl River with similar projectile point types, appear occupied by different groups. We know that trade was crossing ethnic boundaries and probably crossing language boundaries. These are certainly groups of people that operate mostly unto themselves most of the time. There are strangers involved”.

Archaeologist Bruseth’s midden cross-sections of the Claiborne site show a hearth as long as a football field: 6’ deep, 300’ long, in a midden twice as long. “Numerous amorphous fired clay lumps surround the hearths, and are commonly found …A typical cluster of 86 clay objects… The author has examined several examples for evidence of deliberate shape, but in all instances they were found to be amorphous and unintentionally formed …A radiocarbon date of 1425 +/- 140 BC … the stratum seems to represent an activity area where perforated varieties of baked clay objects were being fired. This interpretation is based on the nearly total absence of complete baked objects, and the abundance of charcoal concentrations… Artifact types in the stratum are almost exclusively fragmented baked clay objects… The broken clay objects are interpreted to represent specimens that fragmented during the firing process” (Ref.24). The clay fragments were probably hammered off the copper oxhides when they cooled. Bruseth notes that “the predominant artifact categories included lithic debris and cobbles wth battered ends”. It appears these stone hammers were used to break the clay moulds off the cooled copper.

The melting of rough copper (1084°) from the mine pits into standardized 60 pound one-Talent Oxhides would have required a charcoal fire (1000°) and added forced air, because a simple wood fire is only 900°C. Multiple pourings into clay moulds in the humidity of the Gulf Coast would have made the workers sweat profusely. Perhaps the sweat and humidity, combined with green firewood floated down the Pearl River to the site, might have been enough to cause the gas voids that characterize the fragile “blister copper” oxhides. Hopefully future excavations on the remaining portion of the Claiborne site, and the study of basement collections of clay fragments will confirm the use of clay moulds for the casting of copper ingolts.

Timeline context

Time is a hard concept to comprehend, given that the United States has been a nation for only 230 years, and our lives are so short. We forget that it was a colony for 156 years before that (1620 to 1776). Between the founding of Poverty Point (2400 BC) and Columbus (1492 AD) is a period of almost 4000 years, and Poverty Point at its height (1500 BC) was 3000 years earlier than Columbus at 1492 AD. Our lack of experience with such long time spans, and what might have been acomplished in them, is one of the major stumbling blocks to our understanding of human accomplishments in prehistory.


Wakefield, J.S., and R.M. De Jonge, Rocks & Rows, Sailing Routes across the Atlantic and the Copper Trade, 2010, (ISBN 978-0-917054-20-4.) See 

Gibson, J.L., The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point, Place of the Rings, University Press of Florida, 2001 (ISBN 0- 8130-2551-6), pgs 3, 82

De Jonge, R.M., and Wakefield, J.S, How the Sungod Rea­ched America c.2500 BC, A Guide to Megalithic Sites, 2002 (ISBN 0-917054-19-9). See 

Kennedy, R.G., Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization, Penguin Bks, NY 1994 (ISBN 0‑14‑02.5­527‑3) 

Wood, D.J., “Bronze Age Michigan”, Ancient American, Vol. 8, Number 51. 

Drier, R.W., Du Temple, O.J., Prehistoric Copper Mining in the Lake Superior Region, A Collection of Reference Articles, published privately, 1961, and reprinted in 2005 

Drews, R., The End of the Bronze Age, Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe c.1200 BC, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1993. (ISBN 0-691-04811-8) 
May, W., and Joseph, F., “Egyptian Mortuary Statuette Found in N. Illinois”, Ancient American, Vol.10, No.64 

Schertz, J., Old Water Levels and Waterways during the Ancient Copper Mining Era, Dept. Of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Madison, Wis, 1999

Jewell, R., Ancient Mines of Kitchi-Gummi, Cypriot/Minoan Traders in North America, Jewell Histories, Pa 2004 (ISBN 0-9678413-3-X) 

Byrd, K., The Poverty Point Culture, Local Manifestations, Subsistence Practices, and Trade Networks, incl: Bruseth, J., “Poverty Point Development as Seen at the Cedarland and Claiborne Sites, Southern Mississippi”, Geoscience Publications, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La, 1990 (ISBN 0-938909-  50-9)

Rydholm, F., Michigan Copper, The Untold Story, A History of Discovery, Winter Cabin Books, Marquette, Mich., 2006 (ISBN 0-9744679-2-8)

Byers, D., & Joseph, F., “A Minoan Pendant found in Ohio”, Ancient American, Vol 13, #83, July, 2009, p.6.

Ford, J.A., and Webb, C.H., “Poverty Point, a late Archaic Site in Louisiana” Vol.46: part 1, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, 1956

Williams, M., Archaeological Excavations at the Jackson Landing/Mulatto Bayou, Archaeological Report No. 19, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, 1987

Archaeologist Marco Giardino PhD, on the Claiborne site, pointing to areas saved under concrete slabs for future excavation. Behind him are the waterways of the Bayou, which have served both the ancient ports and the modern port. Hurricane Katrina blew 23 feet of water over the site where Marco is standing.

On the left is the west edge of the site of Claiborne, seen adjacent to barges docked in the newly dredged Port. (Port Benville Industrial Park, Mississippi; May 2010)

USGS map printed at REI from National Geographic TOPO on CD-ROM, scale 1:30,750
Approximate locations of Claiborne and Cedarland Archaeological sites, now within Port Benville Industrial Park. Mulatto Bayou Earthwork (12-18’ x 1200’), also indicated.

Google Map, satellite photo, showing overall location of sites (printed from Google Earth). The Space Center and the Industrial Park are boxed in red.

Above, the National Geographic sketch of the Uluburun ship, a trading vessel of 1300 BC, discovered wrecked off the Turkey coast. In its hold was found 10 tons of oxhide-shaped copper ingots, with half a ton of tin ingots, and other trading goods. Below the ship, left, one of the ingots from the wreck held by two ladies; in the middle, an ingot in the British Museum; to the right, some of the Uluburun ingots in the seabed. Below, an ingot found at Hagia Trihadha, Crete. Three found near Cagliari, Sardinia, were inscribed with a trident, a double axe, and an angular P. The trident was symbol for Poseidon, god of the Alanteans, who Plato says ran the metal trade in the Ocean named for them. The 3 supervised men (“Keftiu”- Minoans or Atlanteans) are carrying an oxhide and baskets of bun ingots, on the tomb wall of Rekh-Mi-Re at Thebes. The bearded Phoenician-looking man is carrying an ingot on the wall of the tomb of Huyat, also at Thebes. The two lowest ingots were found in Egypt.

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