Modified Pieces Of Copper

Copper showing the mark of man, but uncompleted. Modified pieces include base ingots, mini ingots, bar ingots, preforms, blanks, others ingots and other uncompleted pieces of copper. Ingots were used mostly as units of storage, trade and for later pounding into needed utilities and ornaments.

Taxonomic Class

Modified Pieces Of Copper            

The taxonomic classes of modified pieces of copper are defined and described in their finished, most common and most easily recognized state. Many of the taxonomic classes reach this finished state in stages and are occasionally found in those various stages of completion. Unfinished, they may not fit the definitions of their taxonomic classes. And failing to meet the parameters of their definition, they are not easily recognized for what they were intended to become.

(1) Un-worked Copper is unmarked by man. Native copper, especially mined copper, was characteristically rough with sharp protrusion, as well as hollows and holes. It characteristically lacks compactness. Raw copper had value, but modified copper became even more precious. Un-worked copper is rarely found in the eight zones of copper activity.

(2) Worked Copper includes all pieces that show the mark of man.

(3) Modified Copper shows the mark of man, but is not completed.

(4) Impure Copper is mined or scavenged float copper not scoured by man. If the marks of man are found on impure copper, it was caused in the course of mining, freeing copper from its matrix. Scouring, if it had occurred, was incidental to extracting it from the earth or caused by glacial activity. Impure copper often retains matrix residue. It has two classes, mined copper and float copper. Each class can be divided into 4 groups. The first group contains matrix residue, the second group is pure or nearly pure raw copper. The other two groups are divided between those showing the marks of man and those that do not. Impure copper is rarely found among artifact finds. Scouring immediately followed pulling it from its matrix. Nearly all pieces were scoured and pounded into base ingots before it was transported from mining sites to village workshops. Figure 1 exhibits both stone and silver impurities. The middle piece in Figure 2 is an example of pure raw copper.

(5) Scoured Copper : As copper was pulled from the ground or mined or found as float copper, it was scraped and pounded free of its matrix and other impurities (scoured). Some of its edges may be found folded down and it may have received an initial annealing, both the marks of man. If the ancient miner's work was, by chance, interrupted before he crafted the more numerous base ingots, scoured copper survived in its rough scoured form, see examples in figures 1 and 2. Scoured copper is recovered in various sizes and is somewhat flattened and smoothed with often rounded edges, commonly exhibiting pockets or pits, evidence of stone removal. See figures 1 and 2. Scoured pieces lack the compactness and well-worked look exhibited by most base ingots. Extensions or arms often remain extended, while cavities and even holes are frequent. Annealing was sometimes a part of the scouring process, but scoured copper is often difficult to distinguish from impure and un-worked copper. It is only identified with certainty when it is recovered, together with more advanced stages of modified copper, and a close examination reveals the mark of man. This rare taxonomic class of modified copper is the first step in crafting copper. The second step is the base ingot taxonomic class.

(6) Embryonic Ingots: Embryonic Ingots are the initial rudimentary stages of ingot construction. Scouring was completed; rough edges were smoothed up and initial folding begun. Most lap lines were not yet fused together and compacting was unfinished. Embryonic Ingots are irregular in shape, usually longer than wide and fairly flat. See Fig. 00. Most were later pounded into base ingots, but some were destined to become Bar Ingots. The next step for many may have been Cache Ingots, another pre-Base Ingot category.

(7) Cache Ingots:   Cache ingots are partially compacted, usually uniformly small (.01-2 oz.), coarse and often fractured. Rough edges and extensions have been folded in and pounded down, but the ingots are not as dense or malleable as finished base ingots. They lack the consistency and coherence of completed base ingots and are unusable for pounding into useful objects. See Fig. 00. They were prepared for later processing and use as base ingots from which useful objects could be pounded. Not all ingots found in caches are cache ingots. Most are base ingots or mini ingots.

(8) Base Ingot : Raw copper was modified for storage and shipping. It was compacted. Sharp edges, and appendixes were folded in and pounded down. Sometimes two or more small pieces of raw copper were folded in and pounded together. Annealing aided the process and prepared the ingot for further pounding. In this second step of modification, fold marks are most characteristic and numerous. Base ingots are slightly quadrilateral in outline and cross-section. They are irregular in shape and their weight ranges from less than a tenth of an ounce to multiple pounds. Base ingots were traded or pounded into other ingot forms, preforms or bar ingots. Some scholars believe nearly all base ingots were pounded into a third step, bar ingots.

(9) Mini Ingot : Mini ingots are similar to base ingots but differ in size and occasionally in shape. By definition they weigh less than two tenths of an ounce and are composed of nymph-like miniatures of the much larger base ingots, bar ingots, preforms and blanks. There are two groups of mini ingots. It is thought that larger mini ingots were used to craft miniature objects, while two or more smaller mini ingots were folded and pounded together to create larger bar ingots and base ingots from which larger ornaments and implements were crafted. Mini ingots were created from waste fragments or from tiny nuggets of un-worked copper. They are classified as base ingots, bar ingots, preforms and blanks, but with a mini prefix. Most mini ingots are miniature base ingots and some caches of mini ingots consist entirely or almost entirely of miniature base ingots. Others consist of cache ingots.

A. Miniature Objects : The first group consists of the largest mini ingots (nearly .2 oz) - base ingots, bar ingots, preforms and blanks, destined to become miniature, usable implements and ornaments.

B. Symbolic Objects : The second group, often seen as too small for practical use, may have included toys and votives, or some may be actual implements, but so far unrecognized as such.   There is another cultural explanation for this group. Taboos may have required craftsmen to fashion some tiny scraps into the classic forms of modified copper. Perhaps these tiny scraps had to appear or rest as nymph-like base ingots, bar ingots, preforms or blanks, before they could be fused into larger masses for later practical uses.

(10) Fluffs: Copper is dense and heavy, yet some tiny cache ingots are light and aerated, yet to be collapsed under the blows of the coppersmith's hammer. Although fluffs are most likely natural nuggets, they are found among and counted with their cache mates. Fluffs, like cache ingots, are also found singularly or mixed with other modified taxonomic classes of copper. Fluffs are most likely a phenomenon of natural aeration.

(11) Bar Ingot : Bar ingots are roughly quadrangular in shape and in cross-section, with two or more parallel horizontal lines and two or more plano-like surfaces. Bars appear rectangular-like or occasionally oval-like in outline. Some examples exhibit shorter vertical lines and a few approximate a rectangle or a square in cross section. Bar ends are normally rounded or irregular. Rarely one or both ends are squared off. Angles between top and sides may be rounded or irregular.

One or more base ingots or raw nuggets were pounded into copper bars and large bar ingots were probably divided to create smaller objects. Their shape made them ideal for storage and export. They range in size from less than .1 oz. to at least 13 pounds. Bar ingots were often pounded into a fourth step, preforms. The bar shape is ideal for storage and shipment. Some students of copper believe every copper artifact was created from a bar ingot, yet bar ingots are far more rare than mini ingots, base ingots, preforms and blanks.  

(12) Preforms: Preforms were created from base ingots, bar ingots, or from un-worked copper and were an advanced step toward creating a completed object.   Initial shaping occurred and a menu of objects was associated with each preform. There are three stages of completion associated with preforms. The step following stage three is the taxonomic class, blank.


Stage One Preform : Stage one preforms are too indistinct to identify and classify by the taxonomic class - kind. Stage one preforms are associated with a menu of kinds.

Stage Two preform : Stage two preforms can be identified and classified by kind, weapon kind or ornament kind, for example, but not by division, i.e., projectile point division or knife division. Stage two preforms are associated with a menu of divisions.

Stage Three preform ; Stage three preforms can be identified and classified by division, projectile point division or knife division, for example, but not by genre, i.e., spear point or arrow point types. Stage three preforms are associated with a menu of genres.

(13) Blank : A blank is a step advanced beyond a preform and the final step before completion. It is associated with one specific item, and in appearance it suggests the genre or type the craftsman intended it to become, i.e., point, knife, axe, etc. It can, therefore, be called an unfinished, object. The blank step consists of two stages, the genre stage and the type stage.

A. Genre Blanks : Genre blanks can be identified and classified by genre, but not by type.

B. Type Blanks : Type blanks can be identified by type. The type blank is the final stage of the final step before completion. On rare occasions, the variety can also be diagnosed at the type blank taxonomic class stage. A step found on some varieties of projectile points is one example. Many variety characteristics are added after the artifact is otherwise completed.

(14) Extemporaneous Tools are the result of modifications to base ingots, bar ingots or raw copper to create a temporary tool.   The most common extemporaneous tool is the flint knapper Mined copper has many extensions or arms, which are folded in and pounded down to create base ingots. Commonly a hardened arm was retained as a handy flint knapper. Other tools include gravers, hammers, anvils and possibly scrapers and awls. Extemporaneous tools were temporary. Copper's malleability lent itself, more than did other raw materials, to temporary make-use tools. Lacking full knowledge of ancient craftsmen's tasks, tools, and products, we are unable to recognize many extemporaneous tools.

(15) Sheet Copper : Sheet copper is a form of a base ingot, bar ingot, preform or blank. Ingots or nuggets were pounded and rolled between two stones to form a desired gauge. Sheets were created in various uniform thicknesses, and ranged from less than an inch wide to more than a foot across. Copper implements and ornaments were traced onto sheets and chiseled or cut out. Sheets were also folded in, pounded down and fused together for thicker objects.   Some coppersmiths used chipped stone wedges to chisel copper objects from manmade or natural sheets (Workman 1976).

In nature copper sheets of various thicknesses were created between layers of slate and other stone. Some cultures crafted very thin sheets of copper (tin foil-like) to cover ear spools and other objects. In historic times all trade or scavenged copper pounded by Indians is classified as 'sheet copper' and divided into two subclasses 'kettle copper' and 'coin copper.' Modified pieces of sheet copper are classified as base ingots, bar ingots, preforms and blanks, but with a prefix, sheet copper.  

(16) Waste Fragments :In crafting artifacts waste was sometimes formed. Damages and used up objects became waste and occasional inclusions were pounded out of artifacts to become waste. Most waste was recycled into new artifacts.

A. Creation Waste : New objects were finished by cutting, shaving, trimming, etc. The scraps created in manufacturing implements and ornaments are classified as creation waste.

B. Ravage Waste : Occasionally, we recover worn out or damaged pieces of copper fused together, or folded up single pieces not yet pounded into base ingots. Worn out or damaged pieces destined to be pounded into base ingots are classified as ravage waste.

C. Inclusive Waste : Occasionally craftsmen found inclusions in their work and pounded it out as waste. If some mineralized inclusion could not be pounded out the whole piece became waste. It is not known how efficiently inclusive waste was purified and reused. Recycleability gave copper a phoenix-like rebirth quality that no doubt enhanced its spirituality.   

(17) Copper boulders: Many pure copper boulders have been found with the mark of man. The most common marks of man on boulders are gouge marks. It is believed that early miners chiseled off copper masses' extensions, removing every part possible or practical. During periods of less intensive mining activities copper boulders may have served as copper banks. Copper was detached as needed by those who lived near by. The most famous copper boulder is the Ontonagon boulder. Removed from the Ontonagon River, it is now curated by the Smithsonian. Boulders range from fifty pounds to many tons.

(18) Unfinished Objects: for any number of reasons copper craftsmen sometimes initiated the creation of objects, only to discontinue their work before completion, never to resume their task. These objects, found in sundry stages of completion and deterioration, are hardly distinguishable from various stages of modification. It is particularly difficult to distinguish between some blanks and unfinished objects.

(19) Finished Artifact : The finished product may have experienced time in one or more of the previous steps and stages or it may have taken form in one continuous process. Finished implements and ornaments were less likely to be traded, than were modified pieces of copper. Seriously eroded finished objects or damaged artifacts may be mistaken for preforms or blanks.

(20) Damaged Objects : Many copper objects were damaged or fragmented in war, accident and use. Others were partially used up in the performance of prolonged normal tasks. Another group of copper objects were subjected to extended or repeated exposure to air and moisture. Exposure caused a significant loss of copper electrons and sometimes destroyed identifying characteristics. A final group of copper artifacts were damaged by modern farm and construction equipment. Damaged objects are often confused with the various stages of modification.



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