by E.J. Neiburger, Waukegan, Illinois
Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.1, pg.36
The Old Copper Culture began around 8,000 years ago (YBP) in the upper Midwest. The local natives gathered and mined widespread deposits of float copper which were left after the glaciers receded. Among the varied tools, weapons and ornaments made from this 99.9% pure metal was the rat tail point (Figure 1).
This copper design consisted of a pointed leaf-shaped blade and a rounded tail shaft which tapered to a point; like the tail of a rat. The blade and shaft were of varying lengths relative to each other. Most rat tails had a shaft 1.5 to 2 times the length of the blade (Figure 2). The shaft attached to a handle (knife) or a harpoon-spear pole. Some may have had a dual purpose in the case of the awl-knife; a cutting blade and a protruding pointed awl on the opposite side of the tools handle. What is unique about the rat tail design is that it is aesthetically pleasing; in many cases, beautiful. The design is smooth, balanced and "cool" looking to the human mind.
Though greatly promoted as North American, the rat tail is in fact, a universal, world wide design. Not only is it pretty to see but its design is quite practical and efficient ergonomically. It is a great metal tool and many ancient cultures discovered and used the design.
Figure 1. Four rat tails from the upper Midwest. Old Copper Culture, USA. Circa 4000 BCE.
Figure 2: Numberous Midwestern rat tail and other spear points with a variety of size and tail lengths. From the Field Museum, Chicago. Est 4000-500 BCE.
Figure 3: A rat tail (top) and other cast copper points from an ancient Egyptian tomb. 2000 BCE.
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