My new favorite show is Scott Wolter’s American Unearthed. His show takes a scientific approach to controversial topics.
Today, I’m commenting on the Michigan copper episode, where Scott investigates the idea that Minoans mined copper and tin in Michigan 5000 years ago.
I’m not an expert in the techniques used by either the mainstream academics or alternative theorists, but I attempt to use my science and math training to evaluate both sides.
This episode of Unearthed begins with the uncovering of the Newberry Tablet.
As you can see it is engraved with a grid of odd symbols. These symbols turn out to be Minoan-Hittite. The tablet was found in Michigan BEFORE the Minoan culture was identified in Crete and supposedly before anyone even knew these symbols existed. This makes a hoax, unless done by a clairvoyant, nearly impossible, but the Smithsonian did label it a hoax, largely because they had never seen the symbols before.
Here are my observations about the tablet:
1. The stone tablet has deteriorated very rapidly since it was discovered 100+ years ago, so how did it survive in near pristine shape in an open field for 5000 years? This is a major problem for me, and discredits the proposed age of the tablet unless some explanation can be produced.
2. It is interesting that the tablet seems to be an array of symbols, like a tool for teaching a,b, c’s, not a text or message. One website says it translates into a pray to the gods for luck.
Next Scott shows us a rock engraving of a sailing boat [NOTE: the linked article is a detailed study of the Michigan copper by Jay Stuart Wakefield].
It could be Viking, Minoan, or Greek or almost anything. I’ve never seen a Native American boat with a sail, so I’m going to assume that it doesn’t represent an American boat. However, it is rather important to know if the engraving is 50 years old or 5000 years old.
Two important factors in this puzzle are the amount of the Michigan copper removed and its purity.
Volume of copper removed from Michigan: It is accepted knowledge that copper was mined in Michigan 5000 years ago. It has also been mined in historical times as well. I think it is pretty clear that the Native Americans used very little copper for weapons or art [This article contends that Native Americans mined the copper and supports it with information about an emerging copper culture among the natives]. The statements in the previously linked article aside, I believe it is possible to determine, with sufficient degree of accuracy, how much unaccounted for copper was mined in ancient times.
Estimate total volume of copper removed: Done by sampling the extent of the mining, the ore content of historically mined copper, and then extrapolating to a total volume. This idea is said to be unscientific at other websites, but such estimations were used continually by Enrico Fermi. The Drake Equation is an example of it. For starters, classify mines into several types, use historical records to estimate average return across mines by type, use forensics and historical record to separate ancient from modern mines, etc. You do not have to get an exact amount of ancient copper removed, but only an order of magnitude. If the mines were used by Europeans, you only need to show that 10 times or more the projected use by natives was recovered. If your estimates imply a smaller amount, then they don’t support the European theory.
Estimate and subtract total volume done in historical times: This should be possible from historical records.
Estimate the amount of copper used by Native Americans: Native Americans probably had other sources of copper that should be considered, e.g. the Southwestern sources like Santa Rita, Bisbee, and other modern copper mines. Estimate the total use of copper by Americans from the archeological record, extrapolate to cover undiscovered sites.
From the above a good estimate of the “missing” copper can be made. We know it had to go somewhere.
Purity of Michigan copper: Scott points out that the purity surpasses sources in Europe and matches the purity found in Minoan ingots of the Uluburun shipwreck. At first I thought this was bogus, being that all smelted copper would be highly pure. I though the amount and type of impurities in Michigan copper should be matched to the impurities in the Minoan shipwreck copper. However, I learned that ingots prepared for shipping are not highly refined and normally contain large amounts of impurities, so a highly pure ingot is significant. It turns out that the Minoan ingots have Michigan levels of purity. I still think other aspects of both Michigan and Minoan copper need to be compared to firm up the analysis.
The argument that the Minoans did not have the ships to navigate the rough Atlantic: Professor Cemal Pulak from Texas A & M Nautical Archeology says that the Minoan ships were not seaworthy for the Atlantic. From the start, he is an expert and I’m not—but I must point out that Vikings roamed the North Atlantic in boats about the same size and that skimmed the water like a leaf. Some claim they only drafted six inches. Furthermore, ancient sailors could hug the coast of Europe hopping from port to port. They could hop across the North Atlantic from island to island. Thus a one way trip could take two or more warm seasons. It the cargo were valuable enough, certainly they might tolerate wintering over once or twice along the way.
Lastly, I researched Richard the Lionhearted for my third book, Seekers of the Scroll. Of particular interest was the moving of troops across the Mediterranean during the crusades. The Mediterranean is far from a benign sea, and in crusader days, ports were closed for winter season from about October through April. The fact that Crete gets snow on its mountains is an indicator of this. So if Minoan ships could negotiate the Mediterranean, could they not also negotiate the Atlantic, particularly if a coast hugging, port hopping route were taken?
I don’t discount the idea that Minoans came to Michigan, but neither do I believe it has been solidly proven with the limited information given on the show. However, if a good estimate of the volume of copper mined in ancient times plus a more thorough qualitative comparison of the copper and impurities would solidify the theory for me. Also a discovery of Minoan ports along the Atlantic coast of Europe would go a long way toward proving the point.
A wild card alternative would be that the copper was mined by the Atlantians. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. There recently was a scientific search for Atlantis and a likely site was found on the coast of Spain. It is believed plausible that the Minoan culture was the fabled Atlantis, and that Santorini was its capital. What if the Spanish site were an outpost of the Minoan culture and indeed Atlantians and Minoans were the same people?
Link to one more essay on this subject