The Haltiner Archaeology collection of approximately 10,000 items, ranging from copper culture period through the historic period, is the most significant component of the museum's science collection. Exhibited in the Peoples of Lakes and Forests Gallery, the Haltiner Archaeology collection gives insight into the culture of Northeast Michigan's earliest settlers.
Unique Copper Artifacts
The Besser Museum is home to a sizeable collection of "float" or native copper artifacts that originally came from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This copper is the only copper source of its type in the entire world. There are collections of this copper ranging all the way to Europe. It is rumored that when the borders of the United States were being drawn, Benjamin Franklin knew about the rich copper banks of Lake Superior and negotiated that the land be included in the agreement. For more information on the history of copper artifacts, please read The Michigan Historical Society's Chronicle (Winter 2015), A Border Made from Copper by John R. Halsey.
The Besser Museum houses a rare collection of prehistoric shale discs. These unique mysterious discs where first discovered by a private Alpena resident in the late 1940s. Charles E. Cleland, an archaeologist from Michigan State University noted that the symbols inscribed on some of the discs resembled those of 18th century Mide-Wi-Win birch bark scrolls. Additional study revealed a similarity with symbols in the rock art of the Canadian Shield.
Considerable interest in the unusual discs developed rapidly after an article about them, co-authored by Charles Cleland, Richard Clute and Robert E. Haltiner appeared in Volume 9, Number 2 of the scholarly publication, Mid-continental Journal of Archaeology - 1984. The article was entitled "Naub-Cow-Zo-Win Discs From Northern Michigan." Relationships with symbols and myths of historic Algonquian people, mainly the Ojibwa (Chippewa), resulted in naming the discs Naub-Cow-Zo-Win discs after the Ojibwa/Ottawa word for 'charms of personal significance'. (Haltiner, Robert E. 2002)
Immediately after the glaciers retreated, the Upper Great Lakes terrain was like the floor of a modern gravel pit. But very quickly grasses, sedges, mosses and lichens covered the land surfaces. As vegetation grew, animals moved in. Large herbivores moved across the land. These included the giant mammoth, bison, and others. Soon after the animals arrived, humans came hunting for food. Finely crafted spear points found in this area gives evidence of early human occupation. These are the definitive artifacts of the Paleo Hunters, the first human occupants of the Western Hemisphere.