Wednesday, 28 December 2011



Article written for the Souvenir Edition , Nipigon Historical Museum Welcome Newspaper, June 1982 by Bill Ross, Regional Archaeologist [Now Retired] Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation (1982 designation).

One is usually hesitant to use the word "unique" when describing archaeological artifacts. Because so little is known of the prehistory of North America, artifacts may be considered unique simply because such a small portion of our prehistoric past has been uncovered that similar objects may yet remain to be found.

The Nipigon Museum collection, however, has two copper artifacts that are presently "unique". These two artifacts would appear to have been used as hammers. They are the only two tools of this type known from the Lake Superior drainage basin. Both are cylindrical in shape with a flattened striking head at one end and an open socket at the other. It is thought that a wooden or bone handle was probably inserted in the socket. Both artifacts appear to have been manufactured from native copper, probably recovered from the shores of Lake Superior. In both cases a lump of copper was pounded flat and then folded over to form a cylinder, one end of which was then shaped to form a striking head while the other was left open.

The smaller of the two artifacts is 7.9 cm ( 3 inches) in length, 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter and weighs 170 grams (5.5 ounces); while the other is 15.5 cm (6 inches) in length, 3.1 cm (1.25 inches) in diameter and weighs 385 grams (10.4 ounces).

Although not certain, it would appear that these hammers were made by the Archaic peoples, as they are known to archaeologists, and probably date to a time period of five to three thousand years ago. The Archaic Indians of the Lake Superior area were accomplished craftsmen who hammered native copper, which they mined from deposits at the west end of the lake, into knives, harpoons, spear heads and fish hooks.

The exact use of these two copper tools is unknown, but they may have been used to hammer native copper into tools, or perhaps in the manufacturing of stone tools. In all likelihood, like modern hammers, they may have seen a multitude of uses. Whatever their use nothing else like them has ever been reported in the archaeological literature. [Another short one has been found in Nipigon since 1982]

These two artifacts not only show the importance of small museum collections as a source for scientific study, but also the importance of donations by people to their local museum. Both artifacts were found in the Nipigon area by local people who kindly donated them to the museum. This has allowed scientific study of the pieces and added an additional tool type that was previously unknown to the tool kit of the prehistoric population.

Bottom right is native copper tools, a pike and spear points.
Iron fish spears are more modern creations.
Right centre are the two artifacts of the write up.


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