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Journal of World Prehistory

, 22:213 | Cite as

Copper Working Technologies, Contexts of Use, and Social Complexity in the Eastern Woodlands of Native North America

  • Kathleen L. Ehrhardt
Original Paper

Abstract

The creative ways in which native North American peoples of the Eastern Woodlands utilized copper throughout prehistory present provocative contrasts to models of Old World metallurgical development. Archaeological approaches that incorporate laboratory methods into investigations of indigenous metalworking practice have brought new insights and raised new questions about the development and use of techniques, sources of materials, and the social dynamics of copper consumption. This paper integrates the results of these studies into a discussion of copper use in Old Copper, Hopewellian, and Mississippian traditions that focuses on illuminating the complex relations among levels of technological sophistication in the manipulation of the material itself, the often elaborate and meaning-laden contexts in which artifacts were used, and the relative social complexity of the cultures that supported copper procurement, transformation, and use. It is suggested that ‘technological style’ approaches will assist archaeologists in efforts to flesh out culture-specific aspects of its consumption.

Keywords

Native copper Eastern North America Prehistoric copper working Anthropology of technology Archaeometry Technological style Mississippian Old Copper Complex Hopewell 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank sincerely Ben Roberts and Chris Thornton for inviting me to join the symposium, and for their support throughout the presentation and publication processes. Dorothy Hosler’s comments are much appreciated. I also thank John Halsey, Greg Lattanzi, Lisa Anselmi, and Matt McKnight for sharing their ideas and their soon-to-be published work with me, and Tom Pleger for technical advice on Old Copper. I am also indebted to Robert Sharp of the Art Institute of Chicago, Jamie Kelly of the Field Museum, Terry Martin of the Illinois State Museum, Dawn Scher Thomae of the Milwaukee Public Museum, and Stacy Park of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum for their help with the images, and to all of the institutions and photographers who allowed their photographs to be reproduced here. Larry Grantham helped with the maps. Tim Taylor’s and Sarah Wright’s editorial and organizational assistance is gratefully acknowledged.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Illinois State MuseumSpringfieldUSA
  2. 2.ColumbiaUSA

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