Copper Casting In America (Trevelyan)
On Thu, 10 Jun 2004 15:36:41 -0400, Yuri Kuchinsky wrote:
Copper Casting In America (Trevelyan)
Here's a brief review of a new volume about Native American
_Miskwabik, metal of ritual: metallurgy in precontact
Eastern North America_, Amelia M. Trevelyan.
Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, c2004.
("Miskwabik" is an Ojibwa word for "copper".)
Miskwabik, Metal of Ritual examines the thousands
of beautiful and intricate ritual works of art—from
ceremonial weaponry to delicate copper pendants
and ear ornaments—created in eastern North
America before the arrival of Europeans. The first
comprehensive examination of this 3,000-year-old
metallurgical tradition, the book provides unique
insight into the motivation of the artisans and the
significance of these objects, and highlights the
brilliance and sophistication of the early
civilizations of the Americas. Comparing the ritual
architecture and metallurgy of the original
Americans with the ethnological record, Amelia M.
Trevelyan begins to unravel the mystery of the
significance of the objects as well as their special
functions within the societies that created them. The
book includes dozens of striking color and black
and white photographs.
Amelia M. Trevelyan is Professor and Chair of Art
History at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.
And here's a revealing quote from the above volume, p. 15.
"Metallurgical testing and observation indicate that native
copper was primarily cold-worked in precontact times and
forged rather than cast. However, because the temperatures
necessary for melting as well as smelting copper are
comparatively low, the latter was probably a technical
So here we see the political bias in American archaeology
laid out for all the world to see.
1. She doesn't even mention any of the available scientific
evidence indicating that, in precontact times, much copper
was cast rather than cold-worked and forged.
It may simply be plain ignorance on her part, but we
shouldn't also discount a possibility that she's
deliberately excluding any evidence that is not in accord
with her anti-Native political bias.
In any case, the name Mallory (a qualified engineer, and the
leading researcher in this area) is not mentioned in her
bibliography at all.
2. Yet she admits these things "were probably a technical
possibility". How generous of her!
So here we see the sort of an anti-Native bigotry that is
still all too common within our professional archaeological
establishment. These folks really still live in the middle
What a dark snake-pit of racism and bigotry our academic
establishment is... This never ceases to amaze me, I must
This is the Dumbing-Down Crew that is hard at work to deny
the cultural achievements of Native Americans.
Realize that casting is primarily a technique used for cheap mass
produced items. It allows relatively low skilled workers to produce
large numbers of relatively complex identical items. Cold working is
a much more challenging, and artistically unique, way to produce
intricate copper ceremonial items. The smith has to have a higher
level of skill than the foundryman to produce equally complex work.
Given that, it seems to me that your claims of bigotry by a art
historian are unfounded. If anything, the idea that the art objects
were produced by cold work makes them even more impressive
examples of the skill of the worker than if they were mere castings.
But that said, casting pure copper is a bitch. Porosity is the enemy,
even for modern copper founders. They charge a hefty premium for
low porosity castings. Alloying the copper to make bronze improves
matters *enormously*, and production of such alloys was a huge
technological leap forward for the casting industry.
*If* the Native Americans of millenia past made the technological
leap of producing bronze alloy, it would be a significant achievement
(as it was when Old World artisans did it). But I've seen no evidence
produced in this thread that the ancient Native Americans made
such a technological leap forward.
The artifacts described appear to all be relatively pure native copper.
As such, the *intelligent* way of working the material would have
been smithing rather than casting. So if the motive were to make
ancient Native Americans appear stupid, then claiming that they
used open casting techniques would be the method of choice to do
so. Now ask yourself which side of the argument is making that