Old Copper Complex Collection

The Old Copper Complex (Culture) Collection contains native copper items made in the Great Lakes region from 3000 - 1000 B.C. The source for the copper was a Wisconsin quarry on Lake Superior; the raw copper and finished items were traded throughout the Midwest. The earliest copper items were utilitarian in nature, such as fish hooks and projectile points. Around 1500 BC, more items of personal adornment were appearing, a change thought by archaeologists to signify increased social stratification.

The Milwaukee Public Museum's Old Copper Collection consists of approximately 1,200 items, the majority of which were surface finds. Of these, 153 are rare examples of Wisconsin Old Copper artifacts from Fredrick S. Perkins, a native of Wisconsin and self-taught authority on Old Copper. Another group of 89 artifacts came from a 1945 Milwaukee Public Museum excavation of the Osceola site in southwest Wisconsin led by Curator of Anthropology Dr. Robert E. Ritzenthaler. Items from this collection can be viewed in the Second Floor Wisconsin Archaeology exhibit. Learn more about this collection here.

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