Metallurgy was an important part of the Jaredite Empire as well as the Nephite Nation, and practiced from the time of Nephi, who taught his people how to use iron, steel, and metallurgy in general (2 Nephi 5:15).
So for those whose beliefs and models are founded in Mesoamerica, it might come as a shock to them that there has never been any sign of metallurgy found, uncovered, or even suggested in the entire time Mesoamerican archaeology has been conducted in Central America by both LDS and non-member archaeologists prior to 600 A.D.
According to metallurgists who have studied Mesoamerica, metallurgy began in West Mexico after 600 A.D.; this is an area Sorenson, Allen, et al., do not even include in their Land of Promise maps other than on the extreme periphery
However, iron and metallurgy was well known in the Mesopotamia area from a very early date, certainly the Jaredites would have been familiar with it as the scriptural record indicates. In Chaldaea and Assyria the initial use of iron reaches far back, to perhaps 4000 B.C. One of the earliest smelted iron artifacts known is a dagger with a smelted iron blade and a gold handle found in a Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating from before 2000 B.C. The widespread use of iron weapons which replaced bronze weapons rapidly disseminated throughout the Near East (southwest Asia) by the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C.
The Iron Age in the Ancient Near East is believed to have begun with the discovery of iron smelting and smithing techniques in Anatolias or the Caucasus and Balkans in the late 2nd millenium B.C. (1300 BC).
Modern archaeological evidence identifies the start of iron production as taking place in Anatolia around 1200 B.C., though some contemporary archaeological evidence points to earlier dates. Around 3000 B.C., iron was a scarce and precious metal in the Near East, and between 1200 B.C. and 1000 B.C., diffusion in the understanding of iron metallurgy and utilization of iron objects was fast and far-flung. In the history or ferrous metallurgy, iron smelting—the extraction of usable metal from oxidized iron ores—is more difficult than tin and copper smelting. These other metals and their alloys can be cold-worked, or melted in simple pottery kilns and cast in molds; but smelted iron requires hot-working and can be melted only in specially designed furnaces.
It is therefore not surprising that humans only mastered iron smelting after several millennia of bronze metallurgy. Yet they did so many hundreds of years before Lehi left Jerusalem and sailed to the Americas.
Lack of archaeological evidence of iron production made it seem unlikely that it had begun earlier elsewhere, and the Iron Age was seen as a case of simple diffusion of a new and superior technology from an invention point in the Near East to other regions. It is now known that meteoric iron, or iron-nickel alloy, was used by various ancient peoples thousands of years before the Iron Age. Such iron, being in its native metallic state, required no smelting of ores. By the Middle Bronze Age, increasing numbers of smelted iron objects (distinguishable from meteoric iron by the lack of nickel in the product) appeared in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.
Iron in its natural form is barely harder than bronze, and is not useful for tools unless combined with carbon to make steel. The percentage of carbon determines important characteristics of the final product: the more carbon, the harder the steel.
The systematic production and use of iron implements in Anatolia began around 2000 B.C., which would have made it available to the Middle East long before Lehi’s time and makes it clear that Nephi’s fine steel bow would have been within the time shown in the Book of Mormon.
Professor Anthony Snodgrass suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age Collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 B.C., forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. As evidence, many bronze implements were recycled into weapons during this time, and more widespread use of iron led to improved steel-making technology at lower cost. Thus, even when tin became available again, iron was cheaper, stronger, and lighter, and forged iron implements superseded cast bronze tools permanently (Anthony M. Snodgrass, "Arms and Armour of the Greeks,” Thames & Hudson, London, 1966).
Recent archaeological work has modified not only the above chronology, but also the causes of the transition from bronze to iron. New dates from India suggest that iron was being worked there as early as 1800 B,C,, and African sites are turning up dates as early as 1200 B.C., (Theodore Wertime and J. D. Muhly, eds. The Coming of the Age of Iron, New Haven, 1979), confounding the idea that there was a simple discovery and diffusion model.
An interesting fact that Celtic burial mounds, very similar to the eastern U.S. Hopewell and other burial mounds in North America, date to the northern European Iron Age as early as 8th Century B.C., though such mounds are not found in the Mesopotamia-Middle East Iron Age period
There is no definitive cultural break between the 13th and 12th century B.C. throughout the entire region, although certain new features in the hill country, Transjordan, and coastal region may suggest the appearance of the Aramean and Sea People groups. There is evidence, however, that shows strong continuity with Bronze Age culture, although as one moves later into Iron I the culture begins to diverge more significantly from that of the late 2nd millennium.
The point is, there is certainly enough significance in historical archaeology to show that iron and metallurgy were alive and well during the time of Nephi and long before, suggesting that Nephi, who taught his people how to use iron and metallurgy (2 Nephi 5:15) to such an extent that it would have been widely understood and practiced in the Land of Promise, and was from the Jaredites around 1500 B.C. to at least the Nephites, to around 350 A.D., giving plenty of room for such weapons and artifacts to have accumulated within the Jaredite and Nephite lands.
Ancient iron mine found in the Ingenio Valley of the Andes Mountains in Southern Peru, originally worked by the Nazca culture, and today called the Mina Primavera Mine
(See the next post, “Metallurgy Did Not Exist in Mesoamerica Prior to 600 A.D. – Part II,“ to see how far theorists go to try and bend the facts presented in the scriptural record to maintain their erroneous beliefs, paradigms and models)