We begin America Unearthed S01E03 “Great Lakes Copper Heist” with a recreation of some woodsmen felling a tree in Michigan in 1896, filmed in dramatic “old-timey” sepia tone. (Actually, I think it was tinted in post-production from full-color digital video.) The men look at a rock covered in symbols, and we smash-cut to the opening credits.
We start at Isle Royale, Michigan, where series star Scott Wolter plans to investigate the Old Copper Culture. The area was copper rich, and Wolter asserts that the copper “disappeared.” I’ve talked about this lie before, when I reviewed Gavin Menzies’ identical claims, derived from Ignatius Donnelly, and it’s no more true today.
We hear that 1.5 billion pounds of copper were removed from the area around Lake Superior, but this number is a fraudulent exercise in extrapolation. No source is given on the show, nor could they give one because the numbers come only from alternative speculation dating back to the 1960s. As Dr. Susan R. Martin explained years ago, “The mythic calculations involve the numbers and depths of copper extraction pits, the numbers and weights of stone hammers, the percentage volume of copper per mining pit, the numbers of miners, and the years of mining duration.” It is only by combining and recombining all these assumptions (essentially by picking one’s own numbers) that alternative writers, most notably Drier and Du Temple, generated the 1.5 billion pound claim. Actual estimates of the Copper Culture’s mining are much, much less, thus eliminating the “lost” copper.
I can’t say it better than Martin (really, just read her whole page), so let’s let her tell us what’s wrong here:
The figures are made up out of thin air and can be sneezed away. That's because no one has a means to measure any of these variables accurately or with any precision. All of these figures are built on ill-constructed estimates. Let's examine the variable "percentage of copper in the trap rock" as an example. Clearly, the actual percentage of copper in rock varies from none (plain old rock) to one hundred percent (Ontonagon Boulder). Additionally, while the course of copper in trap rock is somewhat predictable, the amount of copper isn't necessarily constant or even regular. Many failed mining concerns of the nineteenth century found out this fact of geology the hard way! The counts of copper pits, the sizes of pits, and the weight of removed trap are 1) either arbitrarily-chosen numbers, or 2) variable in reality; despite this they are used as constants in the algorithm. Drier and Du Temple used a constant for copper percentage (error) and then multiply it by an estimated number of pits (error inherent) of a constant size (error), counting some and extrapolating to unknown areas (another error). Because we know that pits are not randomly but systematically located, excavated and followed, it makes no sense to extend their probable locations to unknown areas unless one is willing to accomodate [sic] enormous errors. In these algorithms, error compounds error compounds error. The resultant sums are a statement of faith, not fact; the numerologists may as well be counting angels dancing on heads of pins.
That said, the Old Copper Culture did mine copper for several thousand years, and they removed quite a bit of ore, which in turn yielded much less actual copper. Without any “missing” copper, the rest of the episode becomes irrelevant.
We talk next about an artifact that allegedly has Old World symbols. The tablet is presented as destroyed (obviously following Barry Fell and Wayne May, who claimed it had vanished), but all the better to create fake drama later on, as we shall see.
Wolter claims he will test Michigan’s copper for purity and see if Old World copper artifacts are of the same purity to “prove” they are identical. As I discussed in my review of Gavin Menzies’ version of this claim, “According to the academic literature on copper purity ... the consensus is that there is no way to distinguish between native (i.e. unrefined) copper and smelted copper because ancient smelting techniques could produce copper indistinguishable from native copper.” The chemical formulae are tiresome to review in detail, but the books I consulted all agree: smelted copper’s purity cannot be distinguished from naturally pure copper, so Wolter’s purity test is useless. Only a trace element test would have any bearing on the situation, which Wolter, as a geologist, must know since he used that same type of test in S01E01 in looking for the clay used in Mayan blue pigment.
We watch Wolter tramp around some old mine shafts, mostly to waste time; and at the halfway point of the show, I am now bored.
“Why wouldn’t” Old World people come to Michigan for copper? Wolter asks. Well, that’s because they didn’t know it existed. But we look at a petroglyph that depicts a canoe or ship with a square sail, which Wolter admits is probably less than 1,000 years old, but then tells us might well be a depiction of a Minoan vessel—despite resembling Minoan ships in no discernible way. (The size and shape of the keel are different, for example.) Probably the petroglyph is post-contact, at a time when sails had become known to Native peoples.
In a staged conversation, Wolter learns from a grizzled old geezer that the item he calls the Newberry Tablet still exists, and he goes to visit it. He claims the tablet must be legitimate because it contains “Minoan” writing and was found before the Minoan culture was “discovered” in 1900. There is no such thing as “Minoan” script, and Wolter never says what he means by it. The Minoans wrote in Linear A script, which has not been deciphered. As you can see from the pictures of the Newberry tablet and actual Linear A writing, the symbols are very different. The Newberry symbols appear to be a jumble of stylized Greek, Phoenician, and Runes, and other ancient symbols placed willy-nilly on the stone.
Ah, but Wolter is fudging here. Alternative writers often claim the tablet reflects “Cypriot Minoan,” a nonsense term for the Cypriot syllabary, a type of writing used on Cyprus from 1000-400 BCE (predominantly, though, in the 500s BCE), when it was replaced by Greek. (Other alternative writers, like David Childress, claim the stone is written in Hittite, though this can't be the case since the Hittites wrote in cuneiform characters or in Anatolian hieroglyphs. The confusion stems from the theory that Cypriot script was a simplified variant of Hittite cuneiform, proposed in the 1880s.) The Cypriot syllabary was deciphered in the nineteenth century by Assyriologist George Smith (who also discovered the Babylonian flood myth)--before the Newberry tablet was “discovered,” making it likely that this was one source used to hoax the tablet. As you can see, the Cypriot syllabary was quite similar to the Newberry symbols (as are the well-known Phoenician letters) as carved by someone who doesn’t understand them very well.
We then look at some underwater rock piles supposedly made in the shape of “Minoan” characters, though everyone involved admits with the show they’ve been altered in modern times. Even Wolter notices that the designs appear to be very recent.
The hour concludes with a PIXE analysis of the Michigan copper to try to match it to Old World copper artifacts. The results show germanium, arsenic, and other trace elements, with 99.9% copper purity in the Michigan sample. But Wolter does not compare the trace elements in the “Minoan” copper he refers to (from the same non-Minoan Bronze Age shipwreck Gavin Menzies used as false evidence of Minoans). The purity of the copper is irrelevant to the match; smelted copper can be taken to 99.9% purity, too, and Wolter purposely fails to mention any trace elements in the “Minoan” copper. Why? Because they don’t, won’t, and can’t match. This key omission lets him falsely claim a connection that simply does not exist.
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