What is archeology?
Archeology is the study of humans in the past. Archeologists use the objects, or artifacts, historic and prehistoric people left behind to understand how they lived and interacted with one another. Some archeologists study people who lived thousands of years ago, and others study those who lived in the recent past. Sometimes, the way the past has shaped the present is obvious. Large stone and brick buildings, crumbling foundations, and poor rock piles around the Keweenaw are some of the physical evidence left behind by the copper mining industry in Michigan. However, there is always more to the story than meets the eye! Archeologists use history, chemistry, geology, art, and many other fields to interpret the past.
What is industrial archeology?
Industrial archeology is the study of the people, equipment, and buildings that were once used in industry. At Keweenaw National Historical Park, we preserve and interpret the history of the copper mining industry in Michigan through rehabilitating and restoring historic landscapes and buildings, and also with the help of artifacts like the Western Federation of Miners pin. In addition to copper mining, logging, agriculture, shipping, and smaller commercial enterprises, like brewing, were important in shaping the landscapes and communities we see today.
Leave what you find
An artifact is any historic object that was modified by a person or cultural practice. Seeds, bone, metal, wood, stone, dolls, photographs, and even shoes can be artifacts! For this reason, even the small pieces of pottery, copper, and other metal you see when walking around the industrial core of Keweenaw National Historical Park are artifacts, and should be left in place. While it is tempting to pick up or even collect artifacts it is important to leave them where you find them. Once an artifact is removed from its original location, it is very difficult to learn anything beyond what the physical object can tell us. It is very important not to collect artifacts and take them home because then others will not be able to enjoy and learn from them. Artifacts are evidence of past activity, and professional archeologists are like crime scene investigators. Just as you wouldn’t tamper with a crime scene, so that police can learn as much as they can to solve the crime, you shouldn’t tamper with archeological artifacts. Leaving items in place helps archeologists to learn as much as they can about the object, and the people that used it.
Archeology at Keweenaw National Historical Park
Copper was first mined in the Keweenaw 7,000 years ago by Native peoples living in the Great Lakes region. They left behind tools used to mine the copper, like hammerstones, as well as the mines themselves. These objects and places are important to archeology, and are used by professional archeologists to learn about the past and share their knowledge with everyone.
Thousands of years after copper was first mined in the Keweenaw, Europeans attempted to profit from the large deposits of native copper. They were unsuccessful at first, but by the 1840s the copper mining industry on the Keweenaw Peninsula was picking up. The last of these copper mines closed in1996 . Evidence of the more recent, industrial copper mining industry can be seen all over the Peninsula. Remember, you don’t have to be an archeologist to appreciate archeology and artifacts! Visitors and researchers at the park are able to experience the copper mining story by visiting buildings and poor rock piles, looking at photographs and written records, and by walking around the same spaces that people in the past did. They provide a unique sense of place and identity for the people who live in the Keweenaw.
Archeologists have conducted several projects within the park to learn about the history of the C&H and Quincy mining companies. More projects will be underway in the coming years. The park’s museum staff works hard to preserve many of the artifacts that have been recovered during these projects, artifacts that teach us about the copper mining communities in the Keweenaw’s past. The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the national park system “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
Check out some artifacts in our museum collections.
Learn about the Midwest Archeological Center.