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Michigan’s ancient miners?

Douglas Houghton may have brought the world to the Copper Country to mine its rich copper deposits in the 1840s, but he may have been thousands of years late to the party on bringing Michigan copper to the world.

This claim has come about since the discovery of a cryptic tablet discovered north of the town of Newberry in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The tablet was discovered by a couple of woodsmen in 1896 when they were clearing land for farming. The unsuspecting duo uprooted a tree to find three statues and a clay tablet underneath.

The Smithsonian and University of Michigan were both contacted concerning the find, especially the 19 by 26 inch tablet, which had 140 squares in the stone displaying a letter or character. Both groups received photographs but they had never seen those kinds of characters before so neither knew how to translate the mysterious tablet, so the tablet was forgotten for the time being.

Fast-forward to 1905, when archeologists discovered a previously unknown empire in modern day Turkey. One of the secrets of the Hittite Empire as it would be called was an ancient script known as Cypriot Minoan Syllabary. Just take a guess where those symbols also turned up.

The tablet connection was not drawn immediately and in 1947 an unknown researcher who had heard about the stone took up the trail to see if he could decipher the code. Unfortunately the tablet which had never been properly preserved had previously crumbled and was therefore destroyed. With the tablet no longer intact, he contacted the Smithsonian to see if he could get his hands on the photographs sent there almost 50 years earlier. The museum, for some reason, did not cooperate, as they tried to claim they lost the photos and that the stone never even existed.

The photographs would not let this mystery remain unsolved as they resurfaced in 1988 in the Michigan Archives. The President of the Epigraphic Society Dr. Berry Fell took about the task of deciphering the tablet and was able to compare it to the Phaistos Disk that was found on the island of Crete. The message had to be read both vertically and horizontally, but it was discovered to be instructions for obtaining favorable omens from the gods for good luck.

So one mystery was solved, but a bigger question remained. What was a tablet from the island of Crete doing in Yooper country? It may have to do with having to meet the huge demands for copper that accompanied the Bronze Age in Europe since bronze can be made by combining copper and tin.

The Minoan people who just happened to inhabit Crete from 3000 BC to 1200 BC had a monopoly, historians believe, on the eastern Mediterranean copper trade as remnants of their civilization have been found throughout this region wherever copper was traded. Although there were copper reserves on Crete, the amount of copper that has been found throughout Europe from this time had to have contributions from other places.

If the Newberry Tablet is actually an artifact of Minoan society, this would support a theory that the Atlantic Ocean was not a boundary for ancient people, but a highway. Believing that almost 5000 years ago people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean may need some more evidence to sound convincing though.

The Ancient Mines of the Lake Superior region have been carbon dated to be much older than expected. Ten dates show mine production to have occurred between 2470 BC and 1050 BC. No developed cultures were present in the region at that time to use the copper and not to mention the copper is missing. There has been Native American copper artifacts found that were traceable back to these mines, but not in any quantity approaching the volume mined. It is estimated that it would have taken 1,000 years of 10,000 men working to mine the amount of copper that is reported missing.

 Copper was not the only commodity believed to be crossing the Atlantic at this time. A Cross-Continental drug trade may have also been taking place at this time as nicotine and cocaine, which are only native to the Americas, have been found in the mummies from this time period of one of the Minoan’s top trade partners, Egypt.

Another significant piece of evidence that supports this theory is the Algonquian-speaking people, who lived around the St. Lawrence Waterway and the Great Lakes, have an X-marker gene that is not found in their ancestral Asian populations. But the X-marker can be found in the eastern Mediterranean. This would imply that some contact must have existed between the two groups thousands of years ago, but had occurred after the Land Bridge had been crossed.

The Newberry Tablet and Minoan theory have received their fair share of criticism and hoax claims over the years. The whole idea of an ancient Cross-Atlantic trade may in fact just be a whole set of coincidences or have simpler explanations. But if the theory is actually true, wow! Talk about some globalization!

About Ninad Mohale


  1. Anyone interested to understand the archaeological facts about ancient copper mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula should read _Wonderful Power_ by Susan Martin of Michigan Tech. You can read it at the MTU library here:

    or order at your local bookstore or through Amazon:

  2. Aikaterini Rousaki

    Indians with Cretan DNA
    The only scientific fact that we have to support all the scenarios of colonization of the Mediterranean is the genetic study: «Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X», 2003 ( /) . In this was detected that the mtDNA haplogroup X2 that is encountered in the Cretans in a high percentage (7.2%) occurs at a similarly high rate (to 5%) in 20,000 members of the Native American tribes of the Northeast America! In such a “Eurasian conclusion” was reached also the cranial comparative study of the University of Michigan «Old World sources of the first New World human inhabitants: a comparative craniofacial view», 2001. Then, in 2008, the work of a team of researchers from universities in Greece, USA, Canada, Russia and Turkey, under the professor of the Aristotle University, Constantine Triandafyllidis turned the projector of the genetic tracing back further: he concluded -by DNA- that Minoans had settled in Crete coming from Anatolia – the same place that in the 2nd millennium BC was conquered by the Hittites.

  3. The bigger question to me about this whole idea of Minoans mining copper from Great Lakes is, without canals connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, how did they transport these high quantities? From the Atlantic all EHC way to some obscure islands int the Northern regions of the Great Lakes, the Minoans just “stumbled” upon this copper and were then able to mine it over hundreds of years leaving no trace of mining camps, and then got it back to the Atlantic? Not by ship. There were no waterways big encough back then to connect to the Atlantic. Why doesn’t anyone talk about this in all these articles and theories? Makes absolutely no sense.

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