Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Ancient is Metallurgy in the Americas?

In the Land of Promise there is a long history of metallurgy among both the Jaredites and the Nephites.“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)
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 we…became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war” (Jarom 1:8)
they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north” (Helaman 6:9).
    Yet, there is and has been much controversy among Land of Promise theorists, especially those of Mesoamerica where no metallurgy has been found by archaeologists for more than a hundred years of looking dating prior to about 800 A.D., despite so many comments in the scriptural record that both the Jaredites (around 2000 B.C. to 600 B.C.) and the Nephites (600 B.C. to 385 A.D.) were heavily involved in metallurgy.
Ancient metallurgy

It should be noted that one of the oldest applied sciences, whose history can be traced back to its rudimentary beginnings around 6000 B.C., is Process Metallurgy, with there currently being 86 known metals, but before the 19th century only 24 of these metals had been discovered and, of these 24 metals, 12 were discovered in the 18th century. Therefore, from the discovery of the first metals - gold and copper until the end of the 17th century, some 7700 years, only 12 metals were known. Four of these metals, arsenic, antimony , zinc and bismuth , were discovered in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, while platinum was discovered in the 16th century. The other seven metals, known as the Metals of Antiquity, were the metals upon which civilization was based. These seven metals were: gold, copper, silver, lead, tin, iron (smelted) and mercury, and were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
    Of the seven metals, five can be found in their native states, i.e., gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury. However, the occurrence of these metals was not abundant and the first two metals to be used widely were gold and copper.
    Iron oxides have been used extensively in the Americas from the Paleoindian period up to the ethnographic present, and the oldest site is that of the Andes Mountains of northern Peru and southern Ecuador. In fact, not everyone is acquainted with the literal richness of these lands, with Peru today grabbing the top 6th spot in terms of gold production in the entire world, producing 150 metric tons of gold in 2014 alone, making it the largest gold producer in all of South America. Peru, which saw the birth anciently of the Norte Chico civilization, the Cupisnique and Chavín cultures, the Paracas, Nazca, Mochica and Chimu civilizations, growing eventually from a similarly small ethnic group, the Quechuas, into what was known as the Incas in the early 1500s.
Iron mine in ancient Peru, dated to 100 B.C.

At least 3000 years before the emergence of metallurgy in Mesoamerica, the riches of the Andes was well known. Due to a recurring tectonic process known as the Andean cycle, the mountain range holds some of the world’s finest mineral deposits, of which gold, copper, silver and lead are included. As such, placer mining became fairly common during B.C. times, with gold found largely in the rivers flowing from the Andes.
    When explorer Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, a Prussian geographer, naturalist and scientist, traveled extensively through Ecuador and Peru (1799-1804), he noted how the Ecuadorian people “live poorly amid incomparable riches.”
    The land, he found, whose gold was concentrated mostly in the southern areas of the country, was rich with gold, and along with Peru, Colombia, and Chile, are today some of Latin America’s wealthiest countries in terms of mineral output, including gold, silver and copper (Peru 6th, Colombia 18th, Chile 20th, Ecuador 35th of the top 100 countries in the world; and in the Western Hemisphere, Peru is 2nd, Colombia 7th, Chile 8th, and Ecuador 10th, of 40 countries.
Vaughn working on a National Geographic funded project on prehispanic mining on the south coast of Peru, here shown at Mina Primavera, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Heinz Foundation

Despite the fact that mining is an extractive industry, according to Kevin J. Vaughn, an archaeologist and Professor of anthropology at Purdue University, claims that “it destroys archaeological evidence making the finding of ancient mines rare discoveries,” yet, mines have been found in the Andean regions of South America dating to B.C. times.
    As an example, in Peru, an ancient Iron ore mine was discovered in the Andes, high in the mountains of Peru, dating back to the last century B.C. The mine, which is nearly 700 cubic meters, is in a cliffside facing a modern ochre (iron) mine, and has an estimated 3,710 metric tons extracted during more than 1,400 years of use (Journal of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, Pittsburg, PA, December 2008).
The find offers proof that an ancient people in the Andes mined hematite iron ore many centuries before the Inca Empire. In fact, the extraction occurred at an average rate of 2.65 tonnes per year, suggesting regular and extensive mining prior to Spanish conquest. Such a find demonstrates that iron ores were important to ancient Andean civilizations. Vaughn also added, “Some evidence suggests that ancient Andeans smelted metals like copper to make ‘prestige goods’ for the elite classes” (Kelly Heam, National Geographic News, 2008).
    Ion addition, anvils, gold foil, and stone hammer were found at a site in south-centeral Peru that dates to around 1400 B.C., and drops in mercury content shows as usage of metallurgy through heating and volatilization.
    In Chile, an ancient mine at San Ramón, located on the arid coast of northern Chile, is a prehistoric mine with associated tailings and mining debris exploited during the Late Archaic (2300 B.C.), representing the earliest known mining activity in the Americas. This discovery has important implications, including (1) the record of undisputed mining activity in the continent is extended by several millennia, showing the first insights into Early Archaic mining techniques and technologies; (2) the earliest inhabitants of the Pacific Coast of South America had a well-developed mining knowledge, that is, they were hunter-gatherer-fisher-miner communities; and (3) mobility patterns of early nomadic maritime adaptations in northern Chile were influenced by repeated access to iron oxide pigments used mainly for symbolic purposes.
In Colombia, mining of kaolinite and hematite strted in the period shortly after the Last Ice Age, and  ancient goldmaking dates to at least 500 B.C. with finds of hammered gold funnery masks, and Colombian metallurgists fashioned gold into some of the most visually dramatic and sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact (Ancient Colombian Golkdmaking,” South America Before European Colonization, Khan Academy, The British Museum, 2017). And copper is found mined in Colombia in the last century B.C.
    In North America, natives mined copper on the shores of Lake Superior in prehistoric times between 4,000 and 1,200 B.C. Copper jewelry and implements from Wisconsin and Upper Michigan were part of a trade network that stretched from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf Coast, giving rise to the name "Old Copper Culture," also known as the Old Copper Complex. Made up of early inhabitants of the Great Lakes region during a period that covered several thousand square miles. The most conclusive evidence suggests that native copper was utilized to produce a wide variety of tools beginning in the Middle Archaic period circa 4,000 BC. The vast majority of this evidence comes from dense concentrations of Old Copper finds in eastern Wisconsin. These copper tools cover a broad range of artifact types: axes, adzes, various forms of projectile points, knives, perforators, fishhooks and harpoons. By about 1,500 BC artifact forms began to shift from utilitarian objects to personal ornaments, which may reflect an increase in social stratification toward the Late Archaic and Early Woodland period (Pleger 2000)."
    According to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Anthropology and museum Studies website, there has been little dispute over the last century that the primary copper sources that were exploited by the Old Copper Complex manufactures came from natural ore deposits spanning 120 miles along the southern shores of Lake Superior on the Keweenaw Peninsula. This native metal has an exceptional ratio of pure copper, typically over 95%. The most heavily utilized mines were discovered at Isle Royale, Keweenaw and Ontonagon. The following is an excerpt from the turn of the last century by Mr. J.T. Reeder of the Tamarack Mining Company in Calumet, Michigan, as he describes the ore deposits in this region: “Around the Victoria location, the old Minnesota (now Michigan), the Rockland, the Mass and Adventure, and Winona, are hundreds of old Indian copper pits. To say that there are thousands would not be exaggerating. They extend from a few feet to as much as thirty feet into the gravel and solid rock" (Brown 1904:54).
The difference between metallurgy and hammering is considerble in ability and technique as well as result: Left: Top and Bottom--Copper Metallurgy; Right: Top and Bottom--Copper Hammering and Annealing 
    It should be kept in mind that this is not metallurgy per se, since it does not involve the use of iron and normal smelting procedures, but rather simply hammering and annealing.
    The first iron works in North America, called Hammersmith, began operation in 1647 A.D. in Saugus, Massachusetts. Some of the most important ironmaking regions of the country in colonial America were in eastern Pennsylvania near the Delaware River, western Pennsylvania around the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, and the Hudson River valley in New York and New Jersey. In the Great Lakes area, the Gogebic Range is an elongated area of iron ore deposits in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. It extends west from Lake Namakagon in Wisconsin to Lake Gogebic in Michigan or almost 80 miles. Though long, it is only about a half mile wide and forms a crescent concave to the southeast. Not discovered until 1848, ore was not produced until 1883.
    Thus, the earliest true metallurgy was found in South America, specifically Ecuador, Peru, Chile, etc., dating to 2155-1936 B.C. (Mark Aldenderfer, et al, “Four-thousand-year-old gold artifacts from the Lake Titicaca basin, southern Peru,” PNAS, Vol 105 (13), 2008, pp 5002-5005).


  1. This issue ALONE (metallurgy) and the Book of Mormon references to it, settles the question of where the Book of Mormon history took place. Except for those heads that resist truth -- making it like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle to convince them.

  2. It certainly does destroy the North American model. The landing sites it particular had no minerals in great abundance as South America does.

  3. Here is the link to the last reference Del used. PNAS stands for Proceedings of Natural Sciences of the USA. I found their articles to be very well done. If you search on their site for Peru there are a few interesting articles about ancient Peru. Below is another link to an article I liked about Taraco- a city on the south end of Lake Titicaca. Archaeologists have dug down and believe ancient Taraco was intentionally burned by a war enemy and after the city was burned there was a decline in culture of the city. I felt it seemed like a possible fit to the Lamanites burning cities around 379 AD per Mormon 5:5.
    Article about gold artifacts

    Article about city burned

    Mormon 5:5 But it came to pass that whatsoever lands we had passed by, and the inhabitants thereof were not gathered in, were destroyed by the Lamanites, and their towns, and villages, and cities were burned with fire; and thus three hundred and seventy and nine years passed away.