Have you heard of the Michigan Mining Mystery? Last night on The History Channel H2 series, America Unearthed, Scott Wolter investigates the Great Lakes copper heist. Between one to 1.5 Billion pounds of copper are estimated to be missing and unaccounted for from copper mines about Lake Superior. Unless, you assume as Wolter does, that the copper may have been mined by the ancient Minoans and supplied the Bronze Age. The mystery begins in 1896 in Michigan′s Upper Peninsula when the Newberry Tablet is discovered by two miners. A stone tablet buried and wrapped in the roots of a tree bears markings that appear to be Minoan symbols. An interesting find since scientists did not rediscover the Minoan civilization until 1900.
Now, before you turn green like oxidized copper, consider this. On Wednesday night, the Detroit Public TV station, WTVS, aired a documentary, America′s Ancient Industry, which also examines the mystery of the Michigan copper mines. It turns out that there were some 10,000 prehistoric copper mines found along the shores of Lake Superior. The lake itself, in ancient times, was much larger periodically, as much as 20% more area. Also, about 3,500 years ago, there was a river that cut through what is now Wisconsin that was a branch of the Mississippi. So, one could sail a boat from the Gulf of Mexico straight up to Lake Superior. At other times, when the lake levels were lower, there had been a land bridge between the Lower Peninsula and Canada, making a journey from the east along the St. Lawrence River possible. This documentary, while focusing mainly on the domestic copper trade among various native tribes, also raises the question of not only the Minoans, but other peoples from Europe, Africa and Asia visiting Michigan to obtain copper.
Scott Wolter begins his exploration on Isle Royale, a large island and now National Park in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior. He gets a tour of some ancient copper mining pits. There are many and some are quite deep. In fact, they may be responsible for the declining wolf population, which was down to just nine wolves on the entire island. Several wolves, as well as moose, have been found dead after falling into some of these ancient mining pits. But since the island is a national park, Wolter is not allowed to take any copper samples.
Next stop is the city of Marquette in Michigan′s Upper Peninsula. Here, Wolter eyeballs the world′s largest example of ′float copper′, raw, virtually pure ore which was relocated to the area by the plowing action of glaciers as they advanced southward during the Ice Age. The rock is some 28 tons in weight. He then visits a small museum in St. Ignatius at the northern tip of Michigan′s Lower Peninsula. Wolter learns from Judy Johnson that there are still some remains of the Newberry Tablet, which he inspects. He finds several Minoan symbols on the tablet which match a photograph taken when the stone was first discovered. She also directs Scott to a rock store where he can buy samples of copper ore.
Judy also tells Wolter about the famous Copper Harbor petroglyph of a square-sailed ship. The kind generally used by the Minoans, as well as many other ancient mariners. Native legends do tell about ′fair-haired′ people visiting in ancient times. One last stop for Wolter is in Wisconsin where he meets with a local treasure hunter who claims to have found Minoan symbols on the bottom of a lake. They dive and check them out, but Wolter is not convinced as to how authentic they are. These turn out to be merely piles of rocks shaped like Minoan symbols.
Back at his laboratory, Scott Wolter tests the copper ore sample he obtained in Michigan and compared it with another sample that was discovered in a Minoan vessel. The results show a match! The purity of the copper, as well as the examples of trace elements, indicates that the Minoans may indeed have obtained copper from Michigan some 3,500 years ago. So the Great Lakes Copper Heist may have been solved on The History Channel H2 series, America Unearthed.