A Unique Hafting Technique of Old Copper Culture Knives
E.J. Neiburger, Waukegan, Illinois
Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.3, pg.148

Over the last 8000+ years, American natives in the Midwest utilized float and mined natural copper to fashion tools, weapons and ornaments.

Though there is some evidence of casting, most copper implements were forged (hammered) either in hot or cold states and then ground and polished as needed. One of the most useful implements were knives. As seen throughout history (Midwest and the rest of the world), there are only a few ways of designing knives: They usually have a sharp end, a cutting (sharp) blade, and some form of hafting (handle). Minor options such as size, length, thickness, serrations, curvature, etc. are seen but the main designs (point, cutting blade and handle) never change. A knife made of copper in Archaic America looks like a knife from ancient Greece, China or Persia.

Fig 2: Small Old Copper knife with bent "U" shaped tang. Top/side view.

I would like to report a unique form of hafting in Old Copper Knives from Wisconsin. The usually encountered hafting for metal knives is a straight tang (handle) which is inserted into a drilled handle of wood, bone, antler or other material. Often two pieces of wood or other handle material are placed on either side of the tang (sandwiched) and then attached by lashings, adhesives or rivets.

Fig 3: Small Old Copper knife, Side view.

The two knives reported have a "U" shaped tang, approximately 1/6th the length of the knife, which appears to be constructed so to cradle the handle material between the two sides of the "U". (Figures 2-5) This allows the handle material to be supported on three sides by the folded metal tang thus creating an exceptionally sturdy handle which can be used for hammering (butt end) and exhibits extra strength when twisting. (Figure 6).

Fig 4: Large Old Copper knife with bent tang.

The knife in Figures 2 and 3 was a surface find in Wisconsin. It is 9cm long and 1.5 cm wide. The folded portion of the tang extends forward 2 cm. The second knife (from the G. Weimer collection) was found in a mixed cultural site in central Wisconsin. It is 13 cm long, 1.5 cm wide and the bent tang also extends 2 cm forward.(Figures 4-5).

Fig 5: Large Old Copper knife: magnification of bent tang.

No dating or associated datable cultural artifacts have been established for either knife. This author has found no other examples of this design anywhere in North, South, Central America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia or Australia and associated areas.

Fig 6: Hypothetical sketch of handle construction utilizing the bent tang.  Special thanks to archaeologist Gary Weimer.

Used by permission of the publisher
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