The Northern Indigenous Copper Database

The Northern Indigenous Copper Database

Over the last 2 years I have been compiling a database of copper artifacts from across Northern North America, with a specific focus on Arctic and Subarctic contexts from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada. This dataset builds upon an already substantial database of copper artifacts from Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia that my adviser (Dr. H. Kory Cooper) and another colleague (Garett Hunt) have been compiling. Like all archaeological collections, this database will never be ‘complete’, but it is certainly a comprehensive representation of copper metallurgy across Arctic and Subarctic North America. In the Arctic, most objects date to the Thule period, although a significant subset are from the Late Dorset period, and some that are likely older still. In the Subarctic, from Alaska across to Hudson’s Bay, copper becomes incorporated into toolkits by 1000 AD. In both of these broad contexts, copper objects appear to function as utilitarian items (knives, awls, spear points, etc), although the line between utilitarian items and prestigious/ritualized items is fuzzy at best. In contrast, however, copper technology from British Columbia falls on the prestige side of the prestigious-utilitarian spectrum. Dating to roughly 2000 BP, Marpole copper objects from British Columbia are associated with elite burial contexts.

Copper Sites

The goal of my project for the Institute is to organize this broad dataset in such a way that enables our current research team, and other interested researchers now and in the future, to be able to build upon the work that has already gone into the construction of the database. This can serve as a complimentary and comparative dataset to investigations of Great Lakes copper artifacts, iron metallurgy across the arctic, and the early stages of metallurgical technology in other centers of metallurgical innovation around the world. If done correctly, the project has the potential to be integrated with these datasets as well, either through their addition into the project or through linking datasets in an open access digital forum. The project may also serve as a source of contextual information as well, including information on analytical methods, bibliographic references, and other media related to investigations of archaeometallurgy such as videos and images.

Finally, this project also serves a role of engaging with indigenous descendant communities in the interpretation and presentation of their material culture heritage. The use of copper was so ubiquitous in places that early European contact left groups with names such as the Copper Inuit and Yellowknives Dene. Several indigenous heritage organizations, as well as other heritage institutions, have shown interest in the project. Further consultation with these groups regarding the online presentation of the archaeological material will hopefully make this project a useful resource not just for archaeologists, but also for rural indigenous communities who may be hundreds or thousands of miles removed from the museums and curation facilities that house these artifacts. Ultimately, I hope that this project can serve to balance the needs and desires of both descendant communities and archaeologists in a way that allows open access to this heritage.

Copper tools

But first I have to put all of this in a gantt chart…….