Susan R. Martin
The Bronze Age is the second of the generalised three part division of prehistory into Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. I say generalised because different parts of the world developed bronze technology at different times(g), while some moved straight from Stone to Iron, others had a Copper Age before their Bronze Age. There is now clear evidence that tin-bronze was used at a Vinca site in Serbia as early as 4650 BC(d).
>There is now evidence that Bronze itself was used as an early form of currency, according to a recent study(r). by Maikel H. G. Kuijpers and Catalin N. Popa of Leiden University, Netherlands, who concluded that “The euros of Prehistory came in the form of bronze rings, ribs and axes. These Early Bronze Age artefacts were standardized in shape and weight and used as an early form of money.”<
However, the Bronze Age was clearly the literary if not the historical backdrop to Plato’s Atlantis narrative. In Greece this is generally accepted as the 2nd millennium BC. Plato refers to Triremes (developed around 600 BC), Chariots (Mesopotamia around 3000 BC), Horse-racing (first domesticated in Asia around 4500 BC), writing, metallurgy etc., etc. Recently, the date of the end of the Greek Bronze Age has been pushed back by approximately a century to around 1125 BC(f).
The Bronze Age in the Mediterranean region saw two periods of great political turbulence, the first around 2200 BC and the second a millennium later(h) and generally known as the Bronze Age Collapse(q).
However, when Plato twice states that Atlantis was destroyed 9,000 years before Solon’s visit to Egypt, he presents us with a serious problem, as the Bronze Age is incompatible with a 9600 BC date. Which is right or are they both wrong and consequently is the entire story a complete fiction? Alternatively, it is possible that Plato’s story is a combination of more than one story or is Plato’s narrative a combination of fact and fiction.?
In general terms, although there was copper in North America and tin in South America, it seems that they were not brought together in any meaningful way to give America a Bronze Age comparable with Europe or Asia(n).
Frank Joseph, among others, has suggested that the enormous quantities of copper mined in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan were destined for the bronze manufacturers of Europe(I). He considers this extraction and exportation to have been the work of the Atlanteans. Gavin Menzies attributes the exploitation of the Michigan mines to the Minoans.
In 2018, it was claimed in a new paper(m) that Plutarch may have referred to Greek visits to Canada in the first century AD. The authors who included Greek archaeologist Ioannis Liritzis, do admit that the claim is speculative.
The America Unearthed TV series, presented by Scott Wolter, also examined the idea of Minoans mining in Michigan (S1 E3). Jason Colavito wrote a highly critical review of the episode(j), while an even more extensive critique can be found on the archyfantasies.com website(k).
It is interesting that this mining appears to have ceased around 1200 BC or approximately at the same time that the Bronze Age came to an end in Europe. This idea of the Michigan copper mining being the work of Old World traders is hotly disputed by local archaeologists such as Susan R. Martin(b).
Recent years have seen the discovery of numerous Bronze Age mines in the British Isles and across Europe, including the vast Great Orme Mines in Wales accepted by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest Bronze Age copper mine in the world that were rediscovered again in 1987(a), a view reinforced, more recently, with research, by scientists from the University of Liverpool(o)(p). When you consider the output of these copper mines and the huge amount of tin produced in Cornwall, it is clear that Britain made a major contribution to the development of the European Bronze Age. These Welsh mines are estimated to have been abandoned around 600 BC.
Such European mines together with those found in the Near East have naturally led to a questioning of Joseph’s thesis. If copper was so widely available to the Europeans at home, what was the incentive for Atlanteans to mine copper in Michigan and ship it to Europe with the relatively primitive vessels and navigation available at that time?
It is interesting to note that the geophysicist Marc-André Gutscher who had supported Collina-Girard’s contention that Spartel Island near the Strait of Gibraltar had been the possible location of Atlantis, withdrew his support(c) for the idea following the evidence presented at the 2005 Atlantis Conference, which convincingly demonstrated the Bronze Age setting of Plato’s story. Gutscher found this incompatible with the fact that Spartel Island had been submerged about 12,000 years ago.
In spite of Gutscher’s withdrawal of support Collina-Girard continues to promote his theory, having published a book, L’Atlantide retrouvée, in support of it, in 2009.
The other half of bronze production requirements is a supply of tin. In this connection, recent research has show that the eastern Mediterranean is virtually devoid of any sources of tin(e), contrasting sharply with the western basin which had Cassiterite in Sardinia, Spain and Morocco.
(b) See Archive 2547
(e) See: Archive 2100
(i) See Archive 3645
Also See: Factor Ten
Copper was obviously a vital commodity for the Bronze Age Atlantis described by Plato. The source of this copper has led to frequent speculation among Atlantologists. Frank Joseph proposed that copper was the foundation for the wealth of Atlantis. He is convinced that there is evidence of enormous copper mining activities in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula around 1000 BC. He refers to these miners as Atlanteans and maintains that the extracted copper was brought to the Mediterranean, claiming that there is no trace of it in North America!
Joseph’s wild claim runs counter to the evidence offered by one of the leading mining engineers of his day, T.A. Rickard (1864-1953)(m). In 1934, Rickard published an extensive paper in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland entitled The Use of Native Copper by the Indigenes of North America (n). Rickard notes how early European colonists observed the native Americans using copper for tools and ornaments. A more recent entry(o) in Wikipedia offers further details reinforcing Rickard’s contention.>Similarly, a March 2021 article in Archaeology offers evidence that native Americans were producing artefacts from copper as early as the 7th millennium BC and were probably the world’s first coppersmiths(r).<
In another article in Atlantis Rising magazine Joseph proposed that the exploitation of the Michigan copper began in the sixth millennium BC with the arrival of the Red Paint People from Europe!(i)
J.S. Wakefield has written an extensive article(j) linking the Michigan mines with Poverty Point in Louisiana, where, he contends that, the copper was cast into oxhide ingots. In the same article he identified the Sea Peoples as the Atlanteans and their allies. In another paper(q) he presents a case for identifying the copper oxhide ingots discovered in the Late Bronze Age Uluburun shipwreck found of Turkey as originating in Michigan. He bases his claim on the unusual 99.5% purity of these copper ingots, which he claims is only to be found in the Great Lakes mines. Wakefield is co-author with Reinoud de Jonge of Rocks & Rows: Sailing Routes Across the Atlantic and the Copper Trade .
Roger Jewell has written an important book on this same historical mystery but dates the early mining to 2500 BC and estimates the quantity of copper mined at 20 million pounds. Jewell offers a range of evidence that point to Minoan traders, an idea taken up recently by Gavin Menzies, who quotes estimates of between three and five hundred million pounds, while others have suggested as much as 1.5 billion pounds have been extracted. These wild speculations have been derided by commentators such as Jason Colavito(b).
Dale Drinnon has an extensive entry on the Michigan copper mines on his wide-ranging website(c). Philip Coppens also wrote a speculative article on the possible part that Michigan’s copper plated in global trade around 3000 BC(g).
The America Unearthed TV series, presented by Scott Wolter, also examined the idea of Minoans mining in Michigan (S1 E3). Jason Colavito wrote a highly critical review of the episode(k), while an even more extensive critique can be found on the Archyfantasies.com website(l).
It is claimed that the local Indians have folk-memories of the mines being worked by ‘light-skinned’ men, suggesting a possible European or Mediterranean connection. Frank Joseph implies that these natives had little interest in copper although one of the cultures in the Great Lakes region were known as the Old Copper Indian because of their extensive use of copper for weapons, tools and ornaments(h). Furthermore as early as 1585 British settlers on Roanoke Island noted that the indigenous people there put a high value on copper.
A more conventional analysis of the Michigan copper mining mystery is presented by local archaeologists. They point out that the views of commentators such as Frank Joseph are very generous with speculation but somewhat mean with evidence. Dr. Susan R. Martin of Michigan Technological University has published a point by point refutation(a) of the many wild claims that have been made about the Michigan mines in The Michigan Archaeologist [41 (2-3) p119-138. June-September 1995].
Even more extreme was the suggestion made by Reinoud M. de Jonge in a 2009 paper(e) where he boldly claimed “that during the whole period of the (Michigan) copper trade, America was part of the Egyptian Empire” and during the Old Kingdom “this huge empire was known as Atlantis”! De Jonge expanded on this in a 2012 paper, justifying his claims with an incredibly detailed interpretation of the Phaistos Disk, which appears to be highly speculative(p).
In the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, taking its name from copper, provided much of that metal, which enabled the development of the Bronze Age there. In the central and Western Mediterranean ancient copper mines have been identified in Iberia, Morocco and Sardinia as well as sources of tin. However, an 1982 paper(f) claimed that Laurion in Attica, Greece was equally as important as Cyprus as a source of Bronze Age copper.
The earliest known metal mine in the British Isles was on Ross Island , near Killarney in Ireland. Copper was mined there from 2400 BC until 1900 BC(d) and the site is thought to have been the principal source of the metal for the two islands at that time.
Supporters of an earlier date for Atlantis can point to evidence of worked metal around 9000 BC discovered in Anatolia, Turkey. More recently there were metal beads discovered in Bulgaria tentatively dated to 6000 BC.
(a) See Archive 2547
(c) See: Archive 3597
(g) See Archive 2724
(i) See Archive 3389