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posted Jan 2007

Copper Implements
W. M. Beauchamp
Science 17 (414): 25-27. 9 Jan 1891 (American Association for the Advancement of Science.)


Copper Implements.

    While most of the implements made of native copper by the aborigines have probably found their way to the melting-pot, when discovered in recent years, a moderate number have escaped. Could full notes be secured of those found in the State of New~ York, it would possibly appear that they form a large proportion of all those known. Besides those of which I have merely heardr I have figured about thirty-five articles, two-thirds of them from this vicinity. Since I drew some of these for Dr. Abbott's "Primitive Industries," I have met with several well worthy of notice.

    The largest of these is a long chisel, found near Oxford, Chenango County, N.Y., in 1856. Like most others, it is flattened on one side and ridged on the other, and of nearly uniform width throughout. It measures 14 3/4 inches in length by 1 3/4 in breadth, and weighs 5 1/2 pounds. This is the exact counterpart of a smaller one found here some years since. The latter is 11 1/2 inches long by 1 5/8 broad, and is 2 pounds 14 ounces in weight. Both are very fine examples.

    I have seen several copper chisels with expanded edges, a number of spear-heads, knives, gouges, tubes, and nondescript articles. In no case here have I met with an implement perforated for attachment to a handle, and very few with a socket. A figure of one with both these has been sent me, the implement having been found at Cold Spring, on the Hudson River, and closely resembling some from the West. The most remarkable one with a socket, of which I know, recently came to light here. It is a massive implement, and the raised and angularly inclined edges seem intended to receive a handle, resembling some of the figures in Foster's "Prehistoric Races," but more No. 4 of Fig. 87 in Squier's "Ancient Monuments." That was one of a number from Brockville, on the St. Lawrence River. The raised edges are at the broad end, extending about one-third of the length on either side. Between these the general surface is depressed, rising by an abrupt shoulder 3 1/4 inches from the broad end. This shoulder is a little over a quarter of an inch high, but is sufficient to prevent the handle from slipping through the socket towards the narrower end. I am inclined to think the handle was sometimes removed, and the broad end used as a gouge, the ends being about equally sharp before they were hammered by some later hand. It is 10 1/4 inches long, 2 3/4 broad at the wide end, and 1 5/8 at the narrower, weighing 3 pounds 2 ounces.

    There is a class of recent copper articles found in New York which may have interest for some. Under this, for convenience,


I place those of bronze and brass, which have no distinction in form or age, but vary in composition. Bronze rings are among these, made by the French, and usually adorned with letters or symbols. Oval and angular medals are also found of a similar character, but of a higher type. Bracelets of copper wire, earrings of the same, pendants of rolled copper, and other things, belong to the same period. Until the close of the seventeenth century this material was commonly used in Indian trade and adornment. Early in the eighteenth silver ornaments came in, and have not yet quite passed away. Wherever found, it is safe to place silver articles in the latter period.

    Among the recent copper articles found in the Iroquois district of New York, the flat and triangular arrow-heads of sheet copper may be noticed. They were probably made in the Indian towns, as shreds of this copper may still be found on New York Iroquois sites of the seventeenth century. The base is usually straight and narrow, and the two straight sides longer in proportion; but the arrow is not large, and may have a perforation or not. I mention these thus particularly, because they are precisely like those found with the Fall River remains, often termed "The Skeleton in Armor," and supposed by a few persons to be characteristic of the Northmen. The mode of attachment was the same in both cases.

    Two recent writers have referred to this skeleton, with opposite views Professor R. B. Anderson, in "America not discovered by Columbus," said this was found in 1831 (an error in date), and seems sure that the grave was that of a viking. He states that the metal and style corresponded with "old Northern armors " of the tenth century. On the other hand, Mr. J. W. Foster, in the appendix to his "Prehistoric Races " says that the skeleton "represents simply all that was mortal of a Narragansett Indian, rigged out in European trappings."

    The valuable "Bibliography of the Pre-Columbian Discoveries of America," by Mr. P. B. Watson, appended to Professor Anderson's little volume, does not include one of the best and most accessible references. In his "Life of Brant," Col. Stone not only gives the Northmen credit for their discoveries, on p. 487 of his second volume, but adds a long note on the subject (pp. li.-lvii.) in the appendix. In this he not only gives a summary of the voyages of the Northmen, but a full account of the grave in the town of Fall River, Mass., opened in 1837. The body was in a sitting posture, the head being a foot below the surface of the ground. The grave was lined with coarse bark, the body enveloped in a coarse cloth made of finer bark. On the breast was an oval "plate of brass, thirteen inches long, six broad at the upper end, and five at the lower." Below this, and reaching around the body, was a belt of brass tubes, set upright and side by side. These thin brass tubes, 4 1/2 inches long, and less than a quarter of an inch in diameter, were fastened together by sinews. Some arrows were in a bark quiver, parts of the shafts still adhering to some of the heads. "The arrows are of brass, thin, flat, and triangular in shape, with a round hole cut through near the base. The shaft was fastened to the head by inserting the latter in an opening at the end of the wood, and then tying it with a sinew through the round hole,a mode of constructing the weapon never practised by the Indians."

    Part of the flesh had been preserved by contact with the brass; and a figure of the skeleton, with the armor and arrows, was given. No surer test can be applied than to place some Onondaga or Cayuga arrows beside the latter; for like Iroquois arrows are still found, both free and attached to the shafts.

    The breast-plate may simply have been the early and plain brass gorget, small specimens of which may still be found in Onondaga County, N.Y., but which was there replaced a little later by the large and highly ornamented silver brooches, some of which covered the entire breast.

    I have seen a comparatively early Indian belt from Cayuga County which had parallel rows of very short brass tubes, though


of the same kind as those from the Fall River grave. In this case several series of perpendicular slite were made in a leather belt, and around the separated parts the brass was rolled, forming short tubes about a quarter of an inch long. Three remaining parallel rows of these were made, about the length of a tube apart. From some sites I have seen longer brass tubes, probably used as beads or pendants, though a number might easily have been arranged in a belt. The position of the body and the articles found at Fall River would place the burial there in the seventeenth century, though Longfellow's ballad has aided a different belief, not quite original with the poet.

    Mohawk sites afford many curious articles, among which are thin plates of copper, one edge delicately serrated for a fine saw. These are recent, and were used in making combs and other bone and horn articles. I have not seen these elsewhere.

W. M. Beauchamp.
Baldwinsville, N.Y., Dec. 30.