Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Another Look at Metallurgy in Mesoamerica

It has long been established that metallurgy in Mesoamerica began around 900 A.D., and scores of scholarly books, papers, articles, and material have been produced to support that fact. However, to the Mesoamericanist, this is almost a death blow to their model of Mesoamerica being the Land of Promise.  
    While one might think other issues are stronger in showing the fallacy of Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, such as the compass orientation of Mesoamerica being nearly 90º off the directions described in the Book of Mormon, Mesoamericanists themselves, especially those who work in the academic world where such matters are very well understood, look to this one issue as a “deal-breaker” in their support of Mesoamerica.
Metallurgy was first utilized in the Americas in Andean Peru around 2100 B.C. and did not reach Mesoamerica until 600 A.D.
    The mainstay of Mesoamerica Land of Promise models and support, John  L. Sorenson, himself an archaeologist and head of the anthropology and archaeology department at BYU for many years and author of numerous books and works on the subject, makes it quite clear that this attack on metallurgy in Mesoamerica is ill-founded and without merit.
    As he writes on p278 of his An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985):
    “Critics of the Book of Mormon have been fond of pointing out that statements in the scripture regarding use of metals by the Nephites and Jaredites run contrary to authoritative pronouncements on the subject by experts. The position of orthodox archaeologists has long been that nowhere in Mesoamerica were metals used before about 900 A.D.
    “Until recently Latter-day Saints were not in a position to reconcile this conflict. In 1954, I published two articles that presented evidence for the existence of metal objects from Mesoamerican archaeological sites well before the accepted date of 900 A.D. Further finds would be needed, I concluded, before the question of dating could be settled.
    “Nearly twenty years later I updated the information and included much more data. Since then additional facts have come out in support of the idea that metal use was much earlier in America than had been thought. One basic lesson we learn from the experience is that the experts were quite wrong. Metals were indeed in use in Book of Mormon times in Mesoamerica.”
    The problem is, Sorenson is wrong once again, on his attempted defense of the Book of Mormon (though that venerable book requires no defense and can readily stand on its own on all subjects included within its pages as has been shown here time and again).
    The work Sorenson and others of the Mesoamerican LDS view have struggled mightily with this problem facing Mesoamerica, and though there has been an enormous amount of research done on this issue in Mesoamerica, the fact is that just about every non-LDS archaeologist and metallurgist that has ever studied this subject in the ground in Mesoamerica has concluded that there is no real evidence before 800 A.D. of smelting work being done in all of Central America, and only a very rudimentary type of metal work found in questionable evidence dating to possibly 600 A.D.
According to metallurgist, archaeologist and anthropologist Dorothy Hosler (above, left),“The concept of working with metal to fashion ornaments and tools did not originate in Mesoamerica but seems to have diffused into the region sometime in the seventh century from the south—Panama, coastal Ecuador, or Peru," she states, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeolog. She adds:  “Metal working seems to have diffused initially into West Mexico through maritime trade. These maritime traders primarily transmitted technical knowledge, although they sometimes traded artifacts, which were then copied using local materials.”
According to Hosler (left) shown teaching a class at MIT, and considered the expert on Mesoamerican metallurgy; (Right) According to her, it began in Chili and Peru as early as 2100 B.C. and moved northward, arriving in Mesoamerica at the very earliest, around 600 A.D.
    In fact, metallurgy only appears in Mesoamerica in 800 A.D. with the best evidence from west Mexico. Much like in South America long before, fine metals were seen as a material for the elite in Mesoamerica. The metal’s special qualities of color and resonance seemed to have appealed most and then led to the particular technological developments seen in the region from 800 A.D. onward.
West Mexico is the area in darker shade (red arrow), which in Sorenson's Mesoamerican Land of Promise would be the Land Northwardso even 200 years after the demise of the Nephites, when metallurgy is supposed to have shown up in Mesoamerica, it appears not in the Land Southward where the Nephites spent over 900 years of their existence, but in the Land Northward, which they moved into only after 100 B.C.—not a defensible position for Mesoamericanists 
Over time, continual contact kept the flow of ideas from that same region and later, coinciding with the development of Andean long distance maritime trade, influence from further south seems to have reached the region and led to a second period of interest between 1200-1300 A.D. according to Hosler, an expert in Mesoamerican archeology, in her 1988 work “Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy: South and Central American Origins and West Mexican Transformations" (American Anthropologist 90).
    Professor Hosler’s research generally examines the extraction, processing and production of copper and copper based alloys in ancient Mesoamerica and South America and the relation of these technologies in the two areas to each other. Her primary research currently is at the site of El Manchón, Guerrero, in West Mexico, where extensive copper smelting activities took place. She and her colleagues are currently working on dating the smelting area of that site. They are also examining the production of a variety of unusual prehispanic copper-based alloy objects recently excavated in the state of Mexico. Her general interests in production also extend to rubber and pottery production in ancient Mesoamerica and to construction technologies in Mesoamerica.
Left: Detail of one of the hornos used for smelting lead aat Curamba in Apurimac, Peru; Right: A Huayrachinas, or wind furnace, used by indigenous people to smelt silver in Porco, Bolivia, South America, near Peruvian-Chilean border in pre-Columbian times—it was lit below with dried grass and dung and then charcoal. Such smelts took about 7 hours
    Considered to be the foremost authority on Mesoamerican metallurgy, Hosler’s credentials would certainly appear to trump those of Sorenson, whose research is obviously far less, and not in South America at all—Hosler was part of the her MIT class team that built oceangoing rafts and studied Pre-Colombian trade routes between South and Central America and launched in 2009 (MIT News Office).
    While that 300 years is well earlier than previous thought, it is still 200 years after the total and complete demise of the Nephite nation and people, and very likely 1200 years after the extinction of the Jaredites, it is still not a workable support of Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, no matter how much Sorenson and other Mesoamericanists struggle with this issue. After all, adding 200 to 300 years backward does not satisfy or even come close to adding the 2500-2700 years needed to show when metallurgy began among the Jaredites in Sorenson's Mesoamerica.
    While the above writing by Sorenson was published in 1985, no doubt written before that date, Dorothy Hosler in 1988 and 1995, Scott E. Simmons, David M. Pendergast, and Elizabeth Graham in 2009, dealing with Mexico and Mayan (Guatemala) metallurgy claims that “The emergence of metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica occurred relatively late in the region’s history with distinctive works of metal apparent in West Mexico by roughly 800 A.D., and perhaps as early as 600 A.D. Metallurgical techniques likely diffused northward from regions in South America and Central America via maritime trade routes; recipients of these metallurgical technologies apparently exploited a wide range of material, including alloys of copper-silver, copper-arsenic, copper-tin, and copper-arsenic-tin.”
    In fact, when it comes to pre-Columbian metallurgy in the Americas, there is a common understanding among archaeologists and metallurgists that artifacts found in the Andean region date to 2155-1936 B.C. (Mark Aldenderfer, Nathan M. Craig,Robert J. Speakman, and Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, "Four-thousand-year-old gold artifacts from the Lake Titicaca basin,southern Peru," PNAS 105(13) 2008, pp 5002-5005), which covers back to the Jaredite period in South America. Finds also show that copper in North America dates even earlier; however, that copper was found on the ground—there is no smelting or melting of metals found in North America, especially eastern North America. The earliest copper work in Andean South America is dated to 1432-1132 B.C. (Christina Scattolin, M. Fabiana Bugliani, Leticia Corters, Lucas Pereyra Domingorena y C. Marilin Calo "Una mascara de cobre de 3000 anos. Estudios arqueometalurgicos y comparaciones regionales," Boletin del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago de Chile 15, 2010, pp25-46).
    On the other hand, indigenous South Americans had full metallurgy with smelting and various metals being purposely alloyed dating to 2155 B.C. (the above is cited by some 23 individual metallurgists and archaeologists, dating as recently as 2007, 2008 and 2010, and in such works as: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Field Archaeology, Geoarchaeology: An International Journal, American Anthropologist, Radiocarbon, Journal of Archaeological Science, Cambridge University Press, Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America, Journal of the Minerals (a Mesoamerican metallurgical technologies Journal) and several museums in Latin America, specifically in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.
    The point is, and an incontestable one, metallurgy developed in Andean South America around 2100 B.C., and did not develop in Mesoamerica until after 600 A.D.

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