Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

Patrick E. Martin

Committee Member 1

Fredric L. Quivik

Committee Member 2

Don Lafreniere

Committee Member 3

Paul J. White


This dissertation examines the extractive landscape and persistent lifespan of native mass copper mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The historic native copper mining industry of Michigan lasted for over a century, though its impacts on the landscape can be broken into two distinct, though overlapping, phases of extractive practice: mass mining and disseminated lode mining. Each mined specific native copper deposits, utilized related but specialized technologies, and relied upon different sources of energy to power its practices. A first, formative phase of mass mining exploited fissures of pure metallic copper using traditional technology and organic sources of fuel. A second phase of disseminated lode mining persisted longer and produced more copper than mass mining using industrial-scale technologies powered by fossil fuel. Lode mining eclipsed then replaced mass mining, though in some cases the practices of lode mining were transferred to mass mining locations in an attempt to prolong their extractive lifespans. This dissertation uses the Cliff mine, the most successful and influential of the formative period’s mass copper mines, as a case study in three interrelated papers to explore the lifespan of these unique extractive landscapes: first as a formative landscape, then as a landscape reborn thanks to the technological changes linked to lode mining, and finally as a site for the interpretation of industrial waste residues.

The first chapter adopts a concept of workscape to illuminate the unique activities associated with the extraction of mass native copper in Michigan’s Keweenaw peninsula, 1845-c.1880. These activities mark the formative stage of what would become the Lake copper district. Mass mining workscapes were the earliest manifestations of potential for the Keweenaw, and they set the stage for lode mining’s long and fruitful success. Deciphering these early workscapes relies on the use of two dimensional maps of the period to recreate not only the envisioned potential for the Keweenaw, but how those visions were enacted upon the landscape. The second chapter focuses on twentieth century activities at the Cliff mine to expand the notion of the mining district’s lifespan by focusing on the certain, but not sudden, decline and closure of the mine. The chapter concludes that the Cliff’s extractive history was not confined to a few decades of financially significant activity in the mid-nineteenth century, but rather that extraction continued on through the twentieth and even into the twenty-first centuries. The methods and intents of that extraction changed over time, but its continued use meant the Cliff mine site endures as a living landscape. The third chapter details a survey of over 350 separate sites of native copper mining waste in Michigan’s Copper Country. This work resulted in the development of a classification and scoring rubric designed to identify waste sites of greatest historical significance, authenticity, and integrity. This chapter provides an overview of the survey and its findings, then uses the collective waste of the Cliff mine as a narrative device in the telling of its extractive history. These findings offer insight into understanding and appreciating the residues of extractive practice that in this case, due to the benign nature of the unalloyed copper mined there, pose a lesser threat to the environment compared with most hard rock mining activities.