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"Old Water Levels and Waterways During the Ancient Copper Mining Era

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  • Susan
    Old Water Levels and Waterways During the Ancient Copper Mining Era (about 3000 BC to 1000 BC) was written by Jim Scherz for audience distribution prior to
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2008
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      "Old Water Levels and Waterways During the Ancient Copper Mining Era
      (about 3000 BC to 1000 BC)" was written by Jim Scherz for
      audience distribution prior to his talk at The Peoples
      Festival in Baraga, Michigan, overlooking Lake Superior's Keweenaw
      Bay.  Anyone wanting to read the excellent 24 page report, Ancient
      American Magazine sells the booklet through their book club.  Jim said he just had a dozen copies to give to interested members here.  A continuation of this report is in progress and being done with AAPS and those of us exploring old waterways, surveying, and mapping with him.

      In part.... "OLD WATER LEVELS & WATERWAYS During the Ancient Copper Mining Era (about 3000 BC to 1000 BC)", by Dr. James P. Scherz, Prof. Emeritus, Dept. Of Civil and Environmental Engineering (Surveying and Mapping Section) University of Wisconsin. July, 1999

      (pp. 5, 6, 7, & 9)...

      p. 5 "Changing Water Levels and Changing Water Routes

      A myopic view of our surroundings would favor ancient water
      levels and water routes to be as we see them today. We are
      comfortable with things as we know them. But in reality, this is
      entirely not the case. The land in the north, especially around the
      north shores of the Great Lakes, is rising at a dramatic rate. Even
      the English fur trading port at Churchill (on Hudson's Bay), once at
      the waters edge, is today on dry land miles from the present
      shoreline. And given the best USGS models for isostatic uplift, the
      north shore of Lake Superior rises in 50 years (about one lifetime)
      approximately a foot above the shores on the south end of Lake
      Michigan. This rise in the north (and also relative subsidence in the
      south) is due to what is called isostatic rebound. This is caused by
      release of weight on the crust of the earth after melting of the mile-
      high glacier that was in the region until about 10,000 years ago.
      Figure 1 shows the so-called Hinge Line north of which ancient
      beaches have risen dramatically.

      P. 6:   The melting glacier naturally produced a large quantity of
      water, which had to somehow drain to the seas. As it melted, it
      exposed an outlet into the Ottawa River through North Bay, Ontario.
      It was through this region that the rushing torrent of glacial melt
      once ran to the Atlantic. See Figure 2. From about 8000 BC when the
      melting glacier first exposed the outlet at North Bay until about
      2000 BC when the rising earth under North Bay closed the outlet, this
      was a prime river connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic. It is
      interesting that the French fur traders following their Ottawa (he
      who trades) native guides also developed their portage routes
      precisely over the area where that old river once ran.

      It was isostatic rebound that caused the land under North Bay
      to rise, century by century. And the rising land under the outlet
      naturally caused the lake levels to the west to rise as well. The
      water levels rose until the waters of Lakes Huron, Michigan and
      Superior were confluent in one giant lake known as Lake Nipissing. At
      this stage, the water of Lake Superior was about 40 feet higher than
      present levels. The old beach lines of the Nipissing stage can be
      clearly seen on ridges and hills above present lake shores,
      especially at places such as Huron Mountain, Mich. In those days,
      large dugout canoes from any spot on that lake could move to any
      other beach (even near the ancient copper mines in Lake Superior)
      without any portaging. The rapids of the St. Marys River that the
      French found, were then far below the levels of Lake Nipissing. It
      was at this time that the first serious working of the ancient mines
      in the Copper Country began. The highest waters of the Lake Nipissing
      stage were about 3300 BC. See Figure 3.

      Naturally, a rising of Lake Nipissing could occur just so
      long before water began to spill through other outlets besides the
      rising one at North Bay. During part of the ancient copper mining
      era, three outlets drained the waters of Lake Nipissing. One was
      through North Bay, which was gradually being reduced and choked off
      due to the isostatic rise of the earth. Another outlet was a stream
      through glacial till that released water into the St. Lawrence River
      and the Atlantic. It still runs, but then carried considerably less
      water than today. It is the Niagara River. Most importantly, there
      was a lake-level opening that developed near Chicago, along what
      today is the Chicago Ship Canal. Today, the Chicago Ship Canal
      connects barge traffic (through locks) from the waters of the
      Mississippi to those of Lake Michigan. In the days of Lake Nipissing,
      no locks were required for large canoes that traveled this route.
      During the ancient copper mining era, there would have been no
      waiting as the locks opened, closed, and then filled with water. In
      those centuries, large water craft could have merely negotiated up a
      slowly moving stream into Lake Nipissing much as one can today paddle
      a canoe into any one of many placid lakes in the canoe country along
      the lake and river border between the United States and Canada.

      It is this ancient water outlet near Chicago which is vitally
      important to anyone pondering the movement of copper during the
      ancient copper mining era. It was over this route that large canoes
      or other water craft, the larger the better, could evidently have
      traveled directly from the waters of the Mississippi (without
      portaging) into the waters of Lake Nipissing and then directly to the
      shores of the Keweenaw and Isle Royale, again without any portaging
      at all. On the shores near the ancient copper mines, the canoes could
      be quickly filled with the copper nuggets, possibly in a day's time.
      Then the paddlers could head back south towards the outlet at Chicago.

      p. 9  And this opening through Chicago flowed during most of the
      ancient copper mining era, until about 1200 BC when the river near
      Chicago began to close. This was reportedly caused by the erosion of
      the Niagara River through the glacial till over which it ran, a
      process that lowered the water levels of the Great Lakes. But the
      material under the Chicago outlet was limestone bedrock which did not
      erode as easily as the material under the Niagara River. By about
      1200 BC, the Chicago outlet was a choked swamp and the North Bay
      outlet had completely closed due to isostatic uplift. This left the
      Niagara River as the sole outlet for the waters of the Great Lakes as
      it is today. With all the runoff from the Great Lakes going through
      the Niagara River, the erosion potential of this river increased
      dramatically, eventually resulting in the Niagara Falls as we know
      them, a rather recent development geographically speaking.

      A few centuries before the end of the copper mining era, say
      about 1200 BC, the Chicago outlet had closed and boats from the
      Mississippi thereafter would have had to portage this area into the
      Great Lakes, as they did during the historic fur trad era. Other
      alternate routes could have been used such as up the Rock River to
      its headwaters (including an area near Aztalan and Rock Lake) or
      through the area today known as Portage, Wisconsin, which connected
      the water routes of the Wisconsin River (a tributary of the
      Mississippi) with the waters of the Fox River which runs into Lake
      Michigan. Another portage was in Portage County, Wisconsin, between
      the waters of the Pigeon River (which runs into the Wisconsin) and
      the Tomorrow river (from "tomorrow we will be in the waters of the
      Mississippi"). And there were other avenues for portage and land
      trails between the waters of the Wisconsin and the waters of Lake
      Michigan that could have been used in ancient times as they were in
      the fur trade era. It is between the waters of Lake Michigan and the
      Wisconsin where most of the copper age artifacts have been found. See
      Figure 1.

      Although the Chicago outlet had closed by about 1200 BC, it
      is important to note that once canoes were in the waters of the
      lowering Lake Nipissing (also called the Algoma stage), they still
      could have gone directly to beaches or harbors near the ancient
      copper mines without having to portage over rapids and falls on what
      today is the St. Mary's River between Lake Michigan and Lake
      Superior. This would have been the situation at the beginning of the
      so-called Hopewell period in Ohio (beginning about 500 or 400 BC).
      The Hopewells were known to have controlled a trade network that
      included copper from Lake Superior. Large dugout canoes in those days
      could have gone from a port in say Sandusky, Ohio (on Lake Erie) to
      the copper mines┬ľagain without any portaging. But about the time of
      Christ, the rising of the land around Lake Superior created first
      rapids, then portages along the St. Mary's River. After this time,
      copper nuggets transported from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan would
      have to be carried over the portages of the St. Mary's River, much as
      the French had to do with their bundles of furs in the 1600's. By the
      time of Christ, the previously easy water routes to the copper mines
      of Lake Superior had been closed off for economical transport by
      large water craft. This situation was to continue until the United
      Stats miners in the 1800's began to again move copper nuggets, first
      by barge and locks, and later by rail...."

      (my note):   Scherz' report later discusses the southerly outlet of the
      Mississippi River, i.e., states Poverty Point is believed to have
      been constructed about 3000 to 2000 BC , evidently as an active
      ceremonial, manufacturing, and presumably a trade center throughout
      much of the ancient copper mining area, which was abandoned about
      1000 BC.

      Please see full paper for the larger perspective of this fine report with maps and
       references.   Scherz was instrumental in the founding of AAPS and one of the researchers this "Ancient Waterways Society was named after.


      M. Susan English

      connect ing people and resources along ancient Great Lake-Mississippi Riverways,
      helping us rediscover who we human beings really are...


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