Tracing origins of Maritime Archaic copper artifacts

Lay Summary 

Dr. Derek Wilton, Honorary Research Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, is working with The Rooms' museum division to uncover a mystery thousands of years old.


He is using the CREAIT Network's Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry laboratory to study archaeological samples of native copper with the goal of determining where the copper originated.


Dr. Wilton used the machine's laser to generate fine particles from Maritime Archaic artifacts made of copper, which were then transported to its mass spectrometer for elemental and isotopic analysis. The information allows him to geochemically "fingerprint" the copper in order to compare it to samples from other North American deposits.


The copper used by ancient peoples for jewelry and tools, and traded over large areas of North America, came primarily from four areas: the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan; Copper- mine River in the North West Territories; small occurrences from the eastern North Atlantic seaboard (Nova Scotia—New England); and Seal Lake, Central Labrador.


Researchers have previously conducted analysis of the copper from three locations and on traded artifacts. But the chemistry of the native copper from Seal Lake had not yet been investigated.


Armed with information about the chemistry of the copper from Labrador and about the artifacts from The Rooms, including information previously collected from other North American copper sites, the researchers hope to trace the artifacts back to their origin. It may provide new information on trading paths, how far people travelled and more. 


More information about this project can be found here


Adapted from:

Earth Sciences
Newfoundland and Labrador
Start date 
1 Jan 2020
Support Organization 
The Rooms