#3 How I Became Involved – 1940-88

Written by Fred Rydholm

I am a retired teacher, who for many years has been digging out little-known facts of local history about my native haunts, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In tracing its history back into prehistoric times I discovered a whole era of world-wide copper trading which is either unknown to or not accepted by contemporary scientists and historians.

For many years I have been coming across writings, all from apparently good solid sources (Scientific American, Irish-American History, etc.) which discuss Old World contacts with America in pre-Columbian times; but these works, however well-documented, seem to have been brushed aside, and are almost completely ignored.

There seems to me to be irrefutable proof that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had extensive pre-Columbian contacts. And these proofs have been on record for years.

Around the beginning of the 20th century there was a great controversy over this question. It was at this time that the so-called “Michigan Tablets” or “Soper Plates” were tried and condemned in the public newspapers. Much scientific evidence and thousands of artifacts were declared fake, and discarded. Thereafter, people were afraid to come forth with any such ideas, for fear of ridicule. And, ever since, whenever anything of this nature is found the archaeologists look on it as suspect, and the historians have bowed to the archaeologists. Pre-Columbian voyages to America were ruled out as impossible, and knowledge of this subject took a step
backwards. The re-collection of that knowledge must now start all over
again. (The same kind of controversy has been raging for years between
historians and archaeologists regarding biblical history.)

My own education along these lines came at a very early age, in the 1930s and 40s. It was in the form of discussions with Mrs. Helen L. Paul of the Marquette County Historical Society and Mr. Joseph C. Gannon, owner of the Gannon Wholesale Grocery Co., a man of many interests.

Mr. Gannon was convinced that, considering the vast amount of copper that had been mined in ancient times in the Copper Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the other end of that copper trade could only have been bronze-age Europe.

There is nowhere else on earth that has anything like the amount of free, pure, native copper that can be found in Michigan’s Copper Country. Huge amounts of it were broken free by the glaciers of the Ice Age, and deposited as free, pure, float copper in pieces ranging from the size of marbles up to several tons. They merely had to be picked up. It is still being done today, but in ancient times it must have been much easier, with little or no ground cover and no previous prospectors.

Gannon personally financed an expedition to Lake Superior’s Isle Royale (considered a part of the Copper Country). This was conducted by Dr. Roy Drier and Dr. Octave Du Temple, both instructors at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.

Thereafter, in 1956, these two men compiled a wonderful little book (Pre-historic Copper Miners of the Lake Superior District), which is a collection of writings about everything that was then known concerning these ancient mines. One of their basic conclusions was that somewhere between five hundred million and a billion and a half pounds of copper were removed from an estimated five thousand mines in ancient times. They agreed with Charles Wittlesly of the Smithsonian Institution (who had done work at the copper fields in the 1850s and ’60s) that the bulk of the mining was done between 5000 and 3000 years ago (from 3000-1000 BC) and that this early mining ceased about 1100 AD. These dates of 3000-1000 BC coincide with the Bronze Age, when the only places in the world that were using that amount of copper were North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Ancient copper mines in Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Cornwall and North Africa are insignificant as compared with the Lake Superior mines. For twenty-five years at the end of nineteenth century just one of Michigan’s mines produced 95% of all of the copper used in the world.

The second-largest deposit of copper in the world (but nonetheless small compared to Michigan’s) is in South America. But there, too, copper was not used to anything like the extent that it was during the Bronze Age in Europe.

Despite thousands of years of heavy copper mining in the Lake Superior region, it is estimated that only 4 to 9 percent of it has been removed, and better than 90% remains, most of it in a pure state. The reason there is not a bustling mining business in the Copper Country today is that it is much easier and cheaper to handle surface copper ores than it is to dig deep for solid copper, which can only be cut and handled with extreme difficulty and at great expense.

It was Joe Gannon’s belief that thousands of years ago many different peoples, from all over the world, came to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for copper.

In 1931, a book was written by Johan Baner, originally from Sweden, which told of Norsemen coming to Lake Superior for copper in 1010 AD. As a boy, he had read about the trip on a runestone in Sweden and years later he had the story confirmed by an Indian trader near Duluth, Minnesota. His remarkable story, which sold for one dollar, went unnoticed.

Another book with a different but similar story came out in 1982. This one did not go unnoticed. Bronze Age America was written by a highly-respected emeritus professor of marine biology at Harvard, Dr. Barry Fell. For years, Barry Fell has devoted himself to “epigraphy,” (the analysis and translation of texts in ancient scripts), particularly inscriptions in unexpected locations, such as Irish Ogam script in pre-Columbian North America. Barry Fell’s concentration on out-of-place inscriptions in effect created a new branch of epigraphy. He and his colleagues formed the world-wide Epigraphic Society in 1976. Fell and his associates have succeeded in deciphering and translating inscriptions in twenty-six ancient scripts; at least another hundred scripts (alphabetical and other) still remain untranslated.

In Bronze Age America Fell tells of deciphering ancient lettering on a rock surface discovered by surveyors north of Peterborough, Ontario in 1954. Dr. Fell says the inscription reports that a Norwegian King named Woden-liethe came to America in 1700 BC, to trade woven goods with the Algonquin Indians for copper ingots. The inscription includes a calendar, and the inscription says that they remained here for five months. They were neither the first nor the last to make such trips to the New World; these occurred for thousands of years, and involved many ethnic groups and many routes to the copper area. Dr. Fell’s writings (including Saga America and America B.C.) have met with wide interest and acclaim by the educated public and a handful of historians, but they have been ridiculed and completely rejected by the archaeological establishment.

Through the Epigraphic Society, Fell and his colleagues have published many inscriptions concerning overseas contacts with the Americas; the Society has uncovered a tremendous amount of evidence from their decipherments of many writings, in alphabets that many scholars don’t even believe exist or of which they are completely unaware. Fell’s work has reinvigorated and illuminated the question of pre-Columbian overseas contact with the Americas.

But after denouncing these ideas for several generations, the academic world has so rigid a mindset that new evidence rarely gets a fair hearing. (As you shall see in the pages that follow.) In all too many cases, what should be scholarly discussion degenerates into accusations of fraud and fakery, and descends further yet, to personal attacks and name-calling.

Having read very little about the history of the world’s ancient civilizations and cultures, I realized that I must study what is known of early peoples so that I could draw some intelligent conclusions on the subject. To bolster my knowledge of these early people I did much reading, and eventually joined several highly specialized organizations which for some years have been digging into ancient mysteries in all quarters. Their findings seem to fit the same patterns that I had come up with. This pattern can be summed up in one sentence: For thousands of years, people have been coming to America from Europe, Asia and Africa.

For years before I joined these groups I thought I was alone with these ideas, but suddenly I realized there were hundreds of people across the country and thousands in the world who believed the same thing.