Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pearls in the Land of Promise

In the scriptural record it is written by the Disciple Nephi and abridged by Mormon, that the people “had become exceeding rich and were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel and all manner of fine pearls” (4 Nephi 1: 24). This is the only mention of pearls in the entire scriptural record, though often the term “precious things” is used (Mosiah 11:8; Alma 1:29; Helaman 12:2; 3 Nephi 6:2; Ether 9:17). It is interesting to note that, true to the typical colors of the Mesoamericanist, the finding of pearls in the Americas has been attributed to Mesoamerica to tie in the early Jaredite and Nephite people. 
     Using Michael D. Coe and Alfonso Caso’s work (Handbook of Middle Americans 3:697, 915), Miller and Roper make a strong case for Mesoamerica being the center of the excellent pearls found in the Americas and sent to Spain under “Book of Mormon Lands,” #5, “Pearls,” by stating that the pearls “were known to be abundant off the coast of southern Mexico and were prized by Mesoamerican peoples from Pre-classic times.”
Green Arrow: Northern Mexico; White Arrow: La Paz, Baja California Sur; Red Arrow: Southern Mexico; Yellow Arrow: Peru

However, like all Mesoamericanists, they state only that part of the facts that support their point of view. In truth, according to Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols (professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Languages at Drury University and considered an expert in Venezuelan literature and culture) and Kimberly J. Morse (professor of history at Washburn University, and another expert in Venezuelan history), “New World Pearls were first found in 1499 in Venezuela” (Venezuela, Greenwood, 2010, pp26-27).
    The two biggest areas of interest to the Spaniards as they landed along the northern coast of Venezuela in 1498 was the abundance of pearls, and indigenous slaves for shipment to Hispaniola and Cuba. It is also important to note that “the conquest of indigenous empires in Mexico and Peru made those two areas the focal points of the Spanish empire in the Americas” (p28); however, when the Venezuelan pearl fisheries yield fell off in 1540, the Spaniards divided all of its American territories into two large administrative units, the Viceroyalty of New Spain (which included what is now the U.S. southwest) and the Viceroyalty of Peru, and shifted their pearl attention toward Peruvian coastal waters and the Gulf of California (Elizabeth G. Nichols and Kimberly J. Morse, Venezuela, ABC-CLIO, Oxford, England, 2010, p29).
While pearl-bearing oysters and other clams occur in both fresh and salt waters the world over, the most precious (“fine”) pearls come from tropical to sub-tropical seas. They are known to be abundant off the coasts of northern and southern Mexico, especially the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) along the coast of Baja, and have been prized by indigenous Americans for millennia, and are some of the world's rarest gems. While no precious pearls have been reported from coastal or fresh waters of the northeastern United States, the coastal waters of Peru have produced beautiful pearls as long as Mexico, and were discovered there around the same time.
    As for the fabulous pearl quality found in these two areas, the “Panamic Black-Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pinctada mazatlanica) and the ‘Rainbow-Lipped Pearl Oyster” (Pteria sterna), both of which are quite capable of producing pearls in a wide array of colors, from an opalescent white, golden-bronze, grays, greens and blues, pinkish-violet, and all the way to jet black.
In fact, by the 16th Century, the "black pearls" of the Gulf of California had earned the title of "Queen of Gems, Gem of Queens," since so many of them adorned the crowns of European Kings and Queens, as well as their clothing, necks, hands and ears—and some Pearl Specialists, like C. Denis George of Australia, and Sohei Shirai of Japan, consider these Mexico to Peru pearls to be Superior than other varieties of pearls, due in no small part to their beautiful luster and unique overtones. It should also be noted that at the time of the Spanish, the city of La Paz, in Lower California, became the black pearl center of the world—however, this is not Mesoamerica! In fact, it is approximately 1400-1500 miles north of the area of Guatemala and the claimed area of the Mesoamerican Nephites.
    Not only were coastal (salt water) pearls found all along the Peruvian coast of a specially high quality, matching those of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, but fresh water pearls were also found. In addition, conch pearls from the queen conch, S. gigas, though rare, have been collectors' items from since Victorian times. These conch pearls occur in a range of hues, including white, brown and orange, with many intermediate shades, but pink is the color most associated with the conch pearl, such that these pearls are sometimes referred to simply as "pink pearls.” 
    In some gemological texts, non-nacreous gastropod pearls used to be referred to as "calcareous concretions" because they were "porcellaneous" (shiny and ceramic-like in appearance), rather than "nacreous" (with a pearly lustre), sometimes known as "orient." Today the term "pearl"—or, where appropriate, the more descriptive term "non-nacreous pearl"—is used when referring to such items (CIBJO “Pearl Book”. GIA Gems and Gemology Magazine News), and under Federal Trade Commission rules, various mollusc pearls may be referred to as "pearls" without qualification, thus they have always been considered pearls of a very high quality.
The value of pearls has always been extremely high. Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very rich. A jewelry item that today's working woman might take for granted, a 16-inch strand of perhaps 50 pearls, often costs between $500 and $5,000.
    At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius (left) financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings. In fact, the Egyptians and later the Romans prized pearls above all other gems. Pliny, the world’s first gemologist, writes in his famous Natural History that the two pearls were worth an estimated 60 million sestarces, about $9,375,000 with silver at $5 an ounce.
    The Arabs, perhaps, have shown the greatest love for pearls, with the depth of their affection enshrined in the Koran, especially within its description of Paradise, which reads: "The stones are pearls and jacinths; the fruits of the trees are pearls and emeralds; and each person admitted to the delights of the celestial kingdom is provided with a tent of pearls, jacinths, and emeralds; is crowned with pearls of incomparable luster, and is attended by beautiful maidens resembling hidden pearls."
    Although non-nacreous, the Peruvian surface of fine conch pearls has a unique and attractive appearance of its own. The microstructure of conch pearls comprises partly aligned bundles of microcrystalline fibres that create a shimmering, slightly iridescent effect known as "flame structure." The effect is a form of chatoyance, caused by the interaction of light rays with the microcrystals in the pearl's surface, and it somewhat resembles Moire silk.
    Obviously, then, not only were pearls a prized gem anciently among the Nephites, it is one of the natural items to be found in the land of Promise. It is interesting that in Mesoamerica, when you separate that land from the rest of Mexico, the famed pearl of the Mexican coasts is hardly found in Mesoamerica at all.
    It should also be noted that pearls were the New World's biggest export until the full development of gold and silver mines took place in Mexico and Peru. As a matter of fact, the value of the pearls imported to Spain from Mexico and Peru exceeded that of all other exports combined. For this reason, in Europe, the Americas became known as "the lands where pearls come hither."
    And, most importantly, the gold and silver mines in Mexico were, for the most part, in northern Mexico, not within the area of Mesoamerica! Out of the top 13 gold and silver mines in 2011, only two were in the very northern reaches of Mesoamerica (northern Jaredite lands), and not accessible to the Mesoamerican Nephites until the last century B.C.
It should also be noted that when the Spanish arrived, they built the third colonial church a block and a half southwest of the famed Inca center, the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, not far from the Casa Garcilaso de la Vega and the gravesite of Gonzalo Pizarro, half brother to Francisco Pizarro, between 1657 and 1680. The 51-inch tall monstrance (a vessel in which the consecrated Host is exposed to receive the veneration of the faithful), and weights 49 pounds, is encrusted with one thousand five hundred eighteen diamonds and fine gems, sixteen hundred pearls, one amethyst, one topaz, three emeralds, many dozens of rubies and some other precious stones, including the world’s second largest pearl and is shaped like a siren.
    It appears, then, that the pearls mentioned in the scriptural record were the ones found in Peru, since that is an area where the Nephites are claimed to have been whereas, in Mesoamerica, there were no pearl areas for the ones known to have existed were not within the area known as Mesoamerica.


  1. "This is the only mention of pearls in the entire scriptural record"

    Del, you should do a word search for "pearl" in the scriptures before you say that. You probably mean in the Book of Mormon, not the entire scriptural record.

    In the book of Revelation it talks of the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem, each gate being made of "one pearl". (Rev 21:21)

  2. Thanks Del. I had missed that reference to pearls. Yet another scriptural match for the land of promise in South America.

  3. Noted. Meant the Book of Mormon, which is the scriptural record we deal with here in this blog--when the Bible is meant, it is singled out as such. I will be more specific in the future.