The Ojibwa were hesitant to reveal the locations of "Miskwabik," their word for copper, because of the spirits who inhabited it. In 1666 the Jesuit priest Claude Allouez reported: "One often finds at the bottom of the water [of lake Superior] pieces of pure copper, of ten and twenty livres' weight. I have several times seen such pieces in the Savages' hands; and , since they are superstitious, they keep them as so many divinities, or as presents which the gods dwelling beneath the water have given them, and on which their welfare is to depend. For this reason they preserve these pieces of copper, wrapped up, among their most precious possessions".
Late prehistoric (protohistoric) archaeological sites have revealed how copper was used just before the arrival of Europeans. The Dumaw Creek site in western Michigan has produced copper beads, tinkling cones and long rolled sheet copper beads worn in the hair called hair pipes.
The remarkable history of Michigan Copper
Copper occurs in deposits called lodes. Comprised of tiny specks or in masses of over four hundred tons. Copper originated 1.3 billion years ago in solution in the superheated waters found with molten rock deep below what is now Michigan. The molten copper was deposited in gas bubble cavities in cooled igneous rocks, in the open areas in conglomerate rock structures and in cracks at the cut across rock layers.
The last ice age revealed some of these lodes on the surface of the ground. Glaciers also ripped some of the copper from the parent rock and carried individual masses of varying sizes, known as "float" copper, as far away as southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Large masses of copper, were particularly frustrating to the ancient miners who had only stone tools to peck away at the surface edges. Some copper boulders found by modern prospectors have a "gnawed-on" appearance caused by generations of Indians attempting to remove every possible vestige of copper.
Copper was first utilized in what archaeologists call late Archaic period. The Archaic period began with the final retreat of the glaciers from Michigan and the establishment of a spruce-fir forest environment. By the Late Archaic, Michigan's forests had evolved into basically the same composition that was seen by the first Euro-American settlers.
The Great Lakes basin has an ancient tradition as the source of copper trading extensively among our prehistoric ancestors. Archeological evidence of copper mining sites in the Keweenaw peninsula and on Isle Royale have been carbon dated to 3000BC. The location and success of modern commercial copper mining in Michigan can be traced back to prehistoric copper miners. In fact, every single Michigan commercial copper mine of the 1800's was built on ancient mining sites discovered by prehistoric man. The copper found in the Keewanaw peninsula is distinctive for its exceptional purity (99.8% pure) and was traded extensively throughout the eastern half of North America. Native copper is soft like gold and silver, and it is malleable, that is , it can be hammered out into thin sheets. Tools and ornaments made with Great Lakes Copper have been found as far south as Mexico and as far North as the Bering Strait.