Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Metal Working in Ancient America – Part III– Was There Metallurgy in North America And Mesoamerica?

Continued from the previous post, regarding the development and possession of metallurgy in early cultures, including the Jaredites and Nephites and their smelting of ore, rather than just cold hammering.
    Two traditions seem to have developed alongside each other–one in northern Peru and Ecuador; and another in the Altiplano region of southern Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile. There is evidence for smelting (applying heat to ore to melt out a base metal) of copper sulfide, in the Altiplano region around the Early horizon (900 – 200 B.C) Evidence for this comes from copper slag recovered at several sites (R. W. Keatinge Peruvian Prehistory: An Overview of Pre-Inca and Inca Society, Cambridge University Press, 1988).
Puma Punku is a suburb of Tiwanaku, where large temple complex or monument group was built and the area where numerous wharves were found in western Bolivia along the border of Peru

Extensive use of "portable" smelting kilns in the vicinity of Puma Punku, Bolivia and at three additional sites in Peru and Bolivia to manufacture, in situ (its original place), "I" beams as connectors to large stone blocks during the construction process represent a seemingly anomalous function for metal smelting—the estimated date of these pours lies between 800–500 B.C.
    However, there is no evidence that the ancient North Americans had gold or silver in Book of Mormon times. Though in North America copper was found and worked at a very early date, it was without need for smelting techniques but using heat and cold hammering without chemically altering it by alloying it (R. P. Beukens, et. al., “Radiocarbon dating of copper-preserved organics,” Radiocarbon, Vol 34, 1992, pp890–897).
Diffusion of metallurgy in Europe and Asia Minor (Middle East) where the darkest areas are the oldest, meaning Anatolia (Turkey) and Mesopotamia in Asia—the location of the Jaredites—and starting a thousand years before the Jaredites left for the promised land

While the Bronze Age was a period of alloying tin, arsenic or other metals with copper to make bronze, which was stronger and more durable than any other metals of the period, it first began in the Middle East during the middle of the third millennium B.C. It was found in South America as early as 2155 B.C., about the time the Jaredites arrived in the promised land.
    However, it was not found in North America, where their extensive copper works were with native metal (not alloyed), and shaped via cold hammering and where the Bronze Age was late in developing, probably in the A.D. period. Though the Great Lakes area was using hammered copper very early, it was not alloyed with other metals, and their copper technologies remained static for over 6,000 years (Mary Ann Levine, "Overcoming Disciplinary Solitude: The Archaeology and Geology of Native Copper in Eastern North America," Geoarchaeology Vol.22, 2007, pp49–66; see also Levine, "Determining the Provenance of native copper artifacts from Northeastern North America: evidence from instrumental neutron activation analysis," Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol.34, No.4, 2007, pp572–587).
    In fact, for a real insight into the fallacious theory of Great Lakes copper that has been erroneously promoted for 150 years, see Mary Ann Levine’s “Native Copper,” 1996 Doctoral Dissertation: “Hunter-Gatherers, and Northeastern Prehistory,” located with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and based on 10 Late Archaic sites and 9 Early Woodland sites. The University’s conclusion of her work ends with “This dissertation concludes that, under scrutiny, the assumptions traditionally made about the source of native copper recovered from archaeological sites in the Northeast is at best poorly informed and at worst specious.”
Left: Deeply embossed scrollwork relief fills the center of this small plate, and tiny repoussé figures of men and wild animals amid foliage appear in a hunting scene on the rim. This small a plate, called a salva, was not intended for regular use at the table, although it might have served as a dish for a few choice pieces of fruit. Larger dishes were used as basins with ewers (jug); Right: Close-up of repousséd exotic birds and flowers

In addition, the North American non-alloyed copper work continued to as late as 800 A.D., and between then and 1600 A.D. such Mississippian copper plates, repousséd (pushed up) plates of beaten copper (on the reverse side to create a design in low relief) were found as far afield as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee—all without alloying of other metals.
    In fact, "no one has found evidence that points to the use of melting, smelting and casting of gold or silver in prehistoric eastern North America" (S. R. Martin, Wonderful Power: The Story of Ancient Copper Working in the Lake Superior Basin. Great Lakes Books Series. Wayne State University Press, 1999, p136).
    As for Mesoamerica, there has also not been found any metalwork in the B.C. period, and actually not until around 800 A.D. in West Mexico (not in the area of the Mesoamericanists’ Land of Promise”), though some LDS theorists like to claim it was as early as 600 B.C. However, either of these dates were long after the Jaredites were destroyed, and over two hundred years after the Nephites were wiped out by the Lamanites.
    In fact, the exchange of ideas and goods with peoples from the Ecuador and Colombia region (likely via a maritime route) seems to have fueled early interest and development in West Mexico (D. Hosler, "Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy: South and Central American Origins and West Mexican Transformations," American Anthropologist, Vol.90, No.4, 1988, pp832–855).
    It should be noted that the earliest known gold artifact from the Maya area was found in a cache at the foot of Stela “H” in Copán a southern Maya area in western Honduras near the Guatemala border, and dates to 730 A.D., not long before the city suffered a major political disaster in 738 A.D. when Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil, one of the greatest kings in Copán's dynastic history, was captured and executed by his former vassal, the king of Quiriguá, an area in southeastern Guatemala (Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, Thames & Hudson, London, 2000, pp203-205).
Mayan monument called Stela “H” in Copán. The sculpting of hundreds of these stela originated around 400 B.C. and spread throughout the Maya area during the Classic Period (250-900 A.D.), and central to the ideology of Maya kingship

On the other hand, advanced and full metallurgy has been identified in Andean South America with smelting and various metals being purposely alloyed as early as 2155 B.C. In fact, copper, gold, and silver hammering techniques did not reach Central America until 700-800 A.D. (Jeffrey Quiltes & John W Hoopes, Gold and Power in Ancient Columbia, Panama and Costa Rica. Harvard Press, Dumhurton Oakes, 2003, pp220–223), though some claim as early as 600 A.D.
    In Mesoamerica, the Olmec used exposed iron mineral or Ilmenite (Manaccanite—the titanium-iron oxide mineral found in unaltered metamorphic and igneous rocks) to form small artifacts; however, they did not know how to smelt the ore into iron metal. The Ilmenites of the Olmec were only small oxide mineral crystals that form naturally.
Ilmenite, also known as Manaccanite, is the titanium-iron oxide mineral with the idealized formula FeTiO. It is a weakly magnetic black or steel-gray solid. From the commercial perspective, ilmenite is the most important ore of titanium

Why did it take so long for metalworking to be adopted in Central and Mesoamerica when it flourished in Andean South America for so many centuries? That question remains unanswered, but the decline of many Maya centers and the fall of Teotihuacán may have had an impact, cutting off trade routes. Such contact was long after the destruction of the Nephite civilization, so that cultural void may have had an impact as well. These factors could have been the driving force that opened up trade routes from south to north, allowing for the introduction of metal. Certainly, Mesoamerican metallurgy owes more to South American influences than to any group mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The archaeological record definitely supports this connection.
(See the next post, “Metal Working in Ancient America – Part IV,” regarding the development and possession of metallurgy in early cultures, including the Jaredites and Nephites and their smelting of ore)

1 comment:

  1. In the paragraph starting, “as for Mesoamerica...” you reference two dates- 800 ad and 600 bc. I think you meant to type 600 ad for the second date.