Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America – Part I

The Jaredites worked with metals and precious ores in the Land Northward between 2200 B.C. and about 600 B.C. “And they did work in all manner of ore, and they did make gold, and silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals; and they did dig it out of the earth; wherefore they did cast up mighty heaps of earth to get ore, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of copper. And they did work all manner of fine work” (Ether 10:23). “And they did work all manner of work of exceedingly curious workmanship.” (Ether 10:27).

In addition, the Land Southward was filled with precious ores: “And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper” (1 Nephi 18:25).

The Nephites worked the ores, including metals and precious ores in the Land Southward between 600 B.C. and about 421 A.D., though most of this work would have been done no later than about 350 A.D. because of the wars that ravaged the land in their last century. As Nephi wrote: “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15).

We also know that Nephi had a knowledge of steel before leaving Jerusalem: “And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food” (1 Nephi 16:18). He also knew of the steel of Laban’s sword: “And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel” (1 Nephi 4:9), which knowledge he used to make additional swords:

Archaeologists claim that people in the Americas have been using native metal from very early times, with recent finds of gold artifacts in the Andean region dated to 2155 - 1936 B.C. These metals were worked by expert smiths. However, in North America, finds of worked copper was that found in nature without need for smelting techniques and shaped into the desired form using heat and cold hammering techniques without chemically altering the metal by alloying it. To date no one has found evidence that points to the use of melting, smelting and casting in prehistoric eastern North America.

However, in South America the case is quite different. The early familiarity with metals in South America was developed into full metallurgy with smelting and various metals being purposefully alloyed. South American metal working developed in the Andean regions of modern Peru and Bolivia with gold being hammered and shaped into intricate objects, particularly ornaments, recent finds dating the earliest metal work to 2155 to 1936 B.C.

On the other hand, metallurgy in Mesoamerica developed from contacts with South America at a much later date. Archaeology shows there was a gradual spread north into Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica reaching Guatemala and Belize by A.D. 800.

Of the fact that no metal workings have been found to-date in Mesoamerica dating before 900 A.D., John L. Sorenson has said, almost apologetically, “In ‘An Ancient American Setting’ I had said, "comparative linguistics shows that metals must have been known, and presumably used, at least as early as 1500 B.C. That date extends back to the time of the Jaredites, for which so far we have not a single specimen of actual metal. Does it not seem likely that specimens are going to be found someday?"

Consequently, metallurgy has been found in very advance uses, not as found naturally in the ground as in the Great Lakes area, but having been melting and smelting ore from early B.C. times.

(See the next post, “Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America – Part II,” for more information of metal working in the Andean area that was far advanced from any found elsewhere in the Americas)

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