Lenore Thompson

Lenore Thompson

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PhD Title:

Writing artefact biographies: interpreting changing procurement, production, and consumption strategies of copper use in the Pacific Northwest.


The objective of this project is to study the impacts and ramifications of cultural contact amongst and between the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest and European settlers and traders. This project explores these aims by focusing on the traditional narrative of copper artefacts, a class of First Nations material culture that holds deeply embedded meanings and histories. By focusing on the artefact biography of these objects and exploring changing individual procurement, production, and consumption strategies through the colonial period, shifts in perceptions of value, power, and object agency can be revealed.

The artefact biography framework goes beyond sequences of production and consumption, providing a way to explore the diverse and changing lives of objects through time. For example, production, exchange, ownership, and use may all have effected the way in which artefacts were used and understood. Furthermore, an object’s meaning and value can be built up, manipulated and transformed throughout its life as it changes hands, is physically altered, or comes to be used or displayed in new contexts. Thus these objects are defined by their contexts, and can be viewed as an analogy for the choices and actions taken by those who employed them (Appadurai 1986; Kopytoff 1986; Gosden and Marshall 1999; Jones 2002).

Ultimately this study will form the basis of a synthesis seeking to understand the changing role of this material culture within Northwest Coast communities subsequent to European contact, highlighting the intricate relationships developed between colliding cultures.



Possession of copper is thought to be instrumental in the development and expression of social complexity amongst First Nations prior to European contact (Acheson 2003; Drucker 1965). Regional oral histories and ethnographic accounts emphasise connections between copper, wealth, prestige, rank, and animacy (Cooper 2011; Bird-David 1999). Furthermore, procurement means and methods, along with object production and consumption practices were defined and controlled (de Laguna and McClellan 1981). For example, the predominant use and reuse of copper in practices of conspicuous consumption in order to establish and affirm social ranking, such as potlatch ceremonies, highlights the interplay amongst functional, economic, social, and symbolic contexts (Cooper 2007).

Indigenous perceptions, knowledge, and understanding of copper shifted as restrictive European laws and devastating sicknesses were introduced (Boyd 1999). As such indigenous interaction and trade became strained, resulting in European resources becoming relatively more available to First Nations, promoting interactions and establishing trade between the different cultures. Studies have suggested European contact dramatically changed hierarchies of value attached to copper objects, as availability of trade and maritime copper increasingly eclipsed indigenous copper sources (Jopling 1989). However, there appears to have been a gradual but variegated integration of European trade copper, by indigenous peoples, into the production of culturally significant objects (Cooper 2011). Thus the ‘new’ metal was given a role within pre-existing structures of value and prestige assigned to the existing material (Acheson 2003). Consequently, prescribed interactions, perceptions of materiality, and value structures were transformed by culture contact in multifaceted ways that are thus far ill-defined.



MA with Distinction in Material Culture Studies, Archaeology (University of Sheffield 2012)

BA (Hons) Anthropology and Political Science (University of British Columbia 2006)



University of Sheffield Faculty Scholarship for PhD (2013)

Recent Conferences

Recent Conferences:

Graduate Archaeology Oxford, Interdisciplinarity in Archaeology, 2014, Oxford, UK
Presentation: ‘Changing value and prestige of copper artefacts among Northwest Coast communities’
L. Thompson, R. Doonan, Z. McGreevy

International Symposium on Archaeometry, 2012, Leuven, Belgium
Poster: ‘Evolving Complexity? A Comparative Analysis of Smelting Copper Oxide and Sulphide Minerals in a Bowl Hearth’
A. Case-Whitton, L. Thompson, R. Doonan