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7 July 2013
Hopewell use of meteoric iron

Among the exotic materials collected by the Hopewell and used by their artisans to craft ornaments of iconic beauty none are more exotic than the chunks of iron, alloyed with nickel, that originated ultimately in outer space.
     Artifacts made from meteoritic iron have been found at most of the major Hopewell mounds, and include ornamental or ceremonial objects such as copper earspools plated with meteoritic iron, earspools made entirely from meteoritic iron, cylindrical beads, buttons made from various materials covered with meteoritic iron sheeting, boat-shaped hollow objects, cones, slate cones plated with meteoritic iron sheeting, panpipes, headplates, and even a human ulna, or lower arm bone, decorated with meteroritic iron foil.
     In addition, Hopewell artisans used the iron to craft a number of apparently utilitarian objects, including adzes, axes, awls, celts, chisels, and drills. Since these were made from such an extraordinary raw material, however, it's not likely that they served entirely as ordinary tools. They may have been symbols of social status or possibly religious icons.
     The late Olaf Prufer speculated that the Hopewell might have realized that meteorites had fallen from the sky. Prufer quotes W. J. Hoffman's 19th century report of a Menominee myth about meteorites, which makes it clear that some American Indians knew where meteorites came from: "When a star falls from the sky, it leaves a fiery trail; it does not die, but its shade [spirit] goes to the place where it dropped to shine again. The Indians sometimes find the small stars in the prairie where they have fallen."
     The Hopewell had a fascination with unusual raw materials, which they made extraordinary efforts to acquire. If they understood that meteoritic iron came from the sky, artifacts made from it must have been among their most sacred regalia. Prufer points out, however, that the use and treatment of meteoritic iron was "in no way different from that of other metals." So there's no good evidence to suggest that the Hopewell knew just how special that iron really was.

Edited from Ohio Archaeology Blog (30 June 2013)

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