Old Copper Culture

4,000 B.C. - 1,000 B.C.

The Old Copper Culture in Manitoba is so named for the prominent use of copper for the manufacture of tools and other implements. The metal was concentrated in Lake Superior basin, along the north shore of the lake, at Keweenaw Peninsula and on the south shore, and at Isle Royale, where prehistoric mining pits have been discovered. Copper was extracted in a pure unrefined form and traded over hundreds of miles throughout the eastern prairies and forests of North America, including Manitoba.

The Native craftsman manufactured copper objects that included lanceolate spear points similar in shape to Agate Basin points, representing a style typical of the Late Plano Period.

Plano style copper point

They shaped these implements through a combination of ancient metallurgy techniques, namely coldhammering and then annealing, or heating, the metal to prevent it from becoming brittle. Spear points underwent a rapid stylistic change from socketed to tanged bases.

Socket based points

Tang based points

Other copperware included knives, awls, fish hooks, harpoons, bracelets, beads, and other objects, whose use has not yet been identified. The skill that was employed to produce these objects illustrates a burst of technological specialization and inventiveness.

Copper needles and hooks


Cresent moon shaped object that may have been used for ceremonial purposes or possibly as currency

Fifty copper points have been found in Manitoba, most of them isolated finds. However, at Nopiming Park in eastern Manitoba an Old Copper site contained unworked copper nuggets, as well as "trim bits" which suggests a work site. Stone projectile points which have been found in association with Old Copper artifacts were identified as Raddatz (named after an archaeological site in central Wisconsin) and as Osceola side-notched points also found in Wisconsin (Steinbring). The two styles are considered to have occurred at the same time. Buchner (1979) has suggested that the appearance of this culture in Manitoba may represent the western limits of a seasonal round, which included a late summer/early fall harvesting of wild rice.

Most Old Copper specimens are surface finds that can not be firmly associated with other material. The Caribou Lake Site, which contains the best evidence of Old Copper occupation in an archaeological context, also revealed a cremation pit with fragmented skeletal and tooth enamel remains, and associated red ochre. The burial was dated at 1920 B.C. and was consistent with the burial pattern of the Osceola and Reigh sites in Wisconsin.

© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
Web Development: Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Text and Graphics: Brian Schwimmer, Virginia Petch, Linda Larcombe
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