Other Copper Artifacts of the Mississippian Period

The Old Copper Culture began making tools as early as 6000 years ago.  The manufacture of tools continued to Historic times, but the emphasis changed from tools to decorative items some time around 1500 B.C.  The Hopewellian trade system encouraged the movement of copper artifacts away from the Great Lakes region to distant areas of the country.  The fascination with copper didn't end there, but continued into the Mississippian period with the manufacture of copper plates and other religious items connected both with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex and with other religious associations.  Mississippian people also created copper axes, knives, gorgets, beads, and fishhooks, as well as wooden beads and ear spools covered in copper.  This page will highlight items not connected with Native American religious life, but with more commonly used tools and decorative wear.


Copper ears pools from Spiro (left) with large central openings compared to those from Etowah (right).  Not all ear spools were copper plated.  For a full understanding of ear spools, see articles on decorative wear.

Copper axes or celts from Etowah that still have remains of the wooden hafting material adhering to them.

These fish hooks and knives are part of the Old Copper culture tool kit.Some knives from this period were hafted with a straight tang while others appear to have been hafted using a hooked end.Several copper covered cedar knives were found in the Great Mortuary mound at Spiro. Several matching pairs were found, although of slightly differing lengths, ranging up to 17 inches (43 cm) long. One set had Weeping eye motifs repoussed into the copper sheathing.

A variety of copper and copper covered items have been found at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Alabama, although no copper plates have been found there. Moundville copper artifacts generally consist of copper covered ear spools and tear drop shaped pendants thought to represent trophy scalps. Many of these pendents were recovered from burials where they were located along the hip area and were positioned with the base ends close together and the pointed ends spread out as if fanned, suggesting that they were used as a decoration on a garment that may have been used in celebration and dance.  The pendents measure about 3 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width.  Some pendents were so precisely identical as to have been hammered over the same template that may have been made of wood.

close up of a pendent form from Moundville

A unique copper piece was discovered at the Etowah Indian Mounds site in Georgia (top).  The reconstructed headdress appears much like one found by C.B. Moore at the Mt. Royal site in Putnam County, Florida.  The copper-covered mammal jaw bone illustration by Moore shows both sides with the exposed bone surface on the interior view (bottom)



This exceptionally rare wooden Human effigy head (1350 to 1450 AD) was carved from Red Cedar and covered with copper sheeting. The effigy is believed to be part of a headdress and is identical to one from the Malden site in Missouri. Three similar effigies are in the Gilcrease Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The effigy measures 1.75 inches wide and 2.5 inches high. It came from the Spiro Mound or the Great Mound in LeFlore County, Oklahoma. The mound is the largest of the four mounds at Spiro and measures 33 feet high and 112 feet in diameter. The Human Effigy head was purchased by Dr. C.P. Cherry of Fort Wayne, Indiana from those who were digging the Great Mound in the 1930’s. Later, Allen Brown, author of Indian Relics and Their Values (1942) purchased it from Dr. Cherry.

Mississippian period artifacts recovered at the Slack Farm Site in Union County, Kentucky by Carlos Travis. The grouping includes a shell mask, Rattlesnake gorget, and a copper snake effigy.

This small group of Ft. Ancient artifacts was found together at the Fox Field site in Macon County, Kentucky. The group included a human head effigy pipe that measured 1.25 inches in diameter, a small copper bracelet, and a 5.5 inch bone whistle.

This pipe is made from sheet hammered brass, measures 7 inches long, and is a remarkable feat in manufacturing. The stem and bowl have been tightly rolled into shape and hammered at the edges to make this calumet. It was recovered from a Historic village site that dated between 1700 and 1713 A.D. The brass was probably obtained through trade with Europeans.

This copper cache was recovered by Oliver Anttila while using his metal detector at a small secluded beach on Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It was the sixth cache he had found on the bay and contained 122 pieces including a 6 5/8 inch awl, several conical and square socketed points, two crescent knives, and over 100 hammered copper nuggets prepared as preforms for future tools.

In an article by E.J. Neiburger, the reason for the long pointed tang on Old Copper Culture knives was explained. With the help of archaeologist Gary Weimer (drawing), Neiburger demonstrated how the tang was bent around the end of a solid-core handle material before bindings were applied.

The large circular disc in the center of these Creek decorative items and points from the collection of Bruce Butts illustrates the continued love of copper among Native Americans during the Historic period.