Saturday, July 13, 2019

Metal Working in Ancient America – Part VI– The Olmec Not the Jaredites

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—and how Mesoamerica finally developed metallurgy long after the golden period of metallurgy in South America had come and gone.
    Otis T. Mason, in “Introduction of the Iron Age into America,” states: “Whatever opinion one may have concerning other materials and arts, it is conceded that aboriginally there was neither smelting of iron nor working by means of it in America. Hematite and perhaps other ores took their places in the Indian economy along with stone and copper to be battered, rubbed, bored, sawed and edged; but the fact remains that prior to the invasion of America form the Eastern hemisphere in historic times the native tribes manufactured no iron products and did not use iron as a metal in their industries” (The American Anthropologist, Vol IX, No.6, Washington DC, June 1896, p193)
    The early Europeans came knowing how to smelt ore, and they brought with them iron in trade, already manufactured, but never taught the natives how to smelt or to forge it. The latter worked it cold, either upon grindstones, whose use they well knew as a stone-worker, or with the most obliging and useful file. The first iron was smelted in Colonial Period near Boston 24 years after the Pilgrims landed (John H. Lienhard of the University of Houston, in “Iron in America,” Engines of our Ingenuity, Houston Public Media, Oxford University Press, 1988/1998).
Iron meteorites consist overwhelmingly of an iron–nickel alloy known as meteoric iron that usually consists kamacite and taenite, which originate from cores of planetesimals. Anciently, this was the source of iron for most peoples

In North, Central and Meso-America, the metal would have been found in nature without need for smelting techniques and shaped into the desired form using heat and cold hammering techniques without chemically altering it by alloying other metals to it. To date "no one has found evidence that points to the use of melting, smelting and casting 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, Detroit, Michigan, 1999, p136).
    However, as we have pointed out in this site many times, that while the information is true when it comes to North America, Mesoamerica, and Central America, it is not for Andean South America where melting was occurring in BC times. According to Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Director Emerita of the center for the Study of Regional Dress as the Fowler Museum, UCLA, “in South America the case is quite different. Indigenous South Americans had full metallurgy with smelting and various metals being purposely alloyed. Metallurgy in Mesoamerica and Western Mexico may have developed following contact with South America through Ecuadorian marine traders” (Patricia Rieff, “Andean Cultural Contacts between Ecuador, West Mexico, and the American Southwest Clothing Similarities,” Nawalt, Latin American Antiquity, vol.3, no.2, 1992, p121).
    Andean South American metal working developed in the region of modern Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, with gold and copper being hammered and shaped into intricate objects, particularly ornaments. Recent finds date the earliest gold work to 2155–1936 BC (M. Scattolin, et al., Una máscara de Cobre de 3000 años. Estudios arquemetalúrgicos y comparaciones regionals,” Boletín del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago de Chile, vol.15, 2010, pp25-46; Mark Aldenderfer, “Four-thousand-year-old gold artifacts from the Lake Titicaca basin, southern Peru, PNAS, vol.105, no.13, 2008, pp5002-5005).
    However, most theorists are either unaware of this all important metallurgical fact, or ignore it out of hand. Take John L. Sorenson, who wrote in his book (p285) regarding the use of iron metal in Mesoamerica, “Without even considering smelted iron, we find that peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley. These were carried to a workshop section within the site of San Jose Mogote as early as 1200 B.C. There they were crafted into mirrors by sticking the fragments onto prepared mirror backs and polishing the surface highly. These objects, clearly of high value, were traded at considerable distances.”
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy in which heat is applied to ore in order to extract a base metal. It is used to extract many metals from their ores, including silver, iron, copper, and other base metals

While some early peoples learned to melt ore, which is the process of changing a solid into liquid form, they did not smelt ore in either North America or Meso and Central America, which is the process of converting a substance of ore to its purest form. While melting is done to mold a substance into a particular shape; smelting is the process of extracting metals from ores in its purest form, using chemicals as reducing agents to wash out other elements from ores into gases or slag (waste), leaving just the metal behind.
    However, both the Jaredites refined ore (Ether 10:7) as did the Nephites (Helaman 6:10), but no evidence has ever been found in North America and Mesoamerica that natives of antiquity did so. So how can Mesoamerica or North America be the Land of Promise of the Jaredites and Nephites in the period between 2100 B.C. and 400 A.D.?
    To make sure there are no questions about the meaning of refining ore, these words, smelt and refine, are defined in the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language of Joseph Smith’s day and describing the meaning of the words of his region very specifically:
• Smelt: “To melt an ore, for the purpose of separating the metal from extraneous substances.”
• Refine: “To separate the metallic substance from all other matter, whether another metal or alloy, or any earthy substance; in short, to detach the pure metal from all extraneous matter.”
    So if the Mesoamerican cultures did not smelt or refine ore, and there has never been any evidence found that they did, then Mesoamerican theorists cannot lay claim to Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise. Thus we see, that the Mesoamerican theorists and the Heartland/Great Lakes/North American theorists cannot claim their models represent the Land of Promise when neither can lay claim to one of the major factors in the scriptural record, i.e., metallurgy, which is mentioned, and specifically to the Jaredites “to refine,” and with the Nephites, “to refine” ore, which is mentioned 26 times in the scriptural record, including four times directly talking about digging it out of the ground and twice about refining it.
    In the earlier posts on this subject, we have shown that Mesoamerican and North American pre-Colombian metalsmiths, during Jaredite and Nephite times, did not smelt ore (to fuse or melt ore in order to separate the metal contained, or to obtain metal in this manner) or refine ore (remove impurities or unwanted elements from the ore, and separate the pure metal from the rock), that is specifically mentioned in the scriptural record that both the Jaredites and Nephites did.
Left: Natural copper found in its pure form; Right: Copper ore. This latter has to be refined through pyrometallurgy, or smelting, which is used on ore with copper sulfide and iron sulfide minerals. In this the concentrate is dried and fed into a furnace where the minerals are partially oxidized and melted, resulting in segregated layers. The matte layer refers to the iron-copper sulfide mixture which sinks to the bottom. The slag, which refers to the remaining impurities, floats on top of the matte

As a reminder, it should be noted that in North America during this period metalsmiths worked natural copper, meaning it had not been smelted or refined, but found as an uncombined form of copper that occurs as a natural mineral and one of the few metallic elements to occur in such native form. This natural copper is naturally a soft, malleable, and ductile metal easy to work with, hammer and mold.
    In fact, native copper was an important ore of copper in historic times and used by pre-historic peoples, such as those in the heartland and eastern North America, and especially around the Great Lakes region. As late as the 1843 and for over a hundred years, natural copper mines along the Keweenaw Peninsula near Lake Superior in upper Michigan were major copper producers and the largest deposits of native copper in the world. In fact, the first copper mine opened in 1771 by Alexander Henry, but it wasn’t until 1841 when the geologist Douglas Houghton reported on the richness of the mines that production began in earnest (“Michigan’s Copper Deposits and Mining,” Michigan History Magazine, Michigan Historical Center, 2002).
    It should be noted that native Americans of antiquity mined copper on a very small scale at such locations, and evidence exists of their trading copper along trading routes in North America among native peoples, as proven by isotopic analysis.
Copper is one of the few metals that can occur in nature in a directly usable metallic form (native copper),which led to very early human use in several regions
However, this natural copper did not require smelting or refining and was worked straight out of the ground, whereas copper ore found in cooper oxide ores and copper sulfide ores, with sulfide ore mineral chalcopyrite accounting for about fifty-percent of all copper production. In the case of copper ore, the copper is extracted from its ore by heating it with carbon through smelting and refining and alloying it with a mixture of two elements, one of which is a metal.
    It might be of interest to know that in the world today, Chile is by far the largest producer of copper at 5.75 million tons annually; with China a distant second at 1.76 tons; and Peru third at 1.38 million tons.
(See the next post, “Metal Working in Ancient America – Part VI– Did South America Give Metallurgy to Mesoamerica?)


  1. Academia accepts that versions of steel have been around since 1100 BC.


    When was steel invented?

  2. Heber C. Kimball, when he joined the Church visited Cumorah and wrote about the embankment that was still there at the time. He said he used to plow up iron. In fact, farmers in the area plowed up so much iron that a local blacksmith never had to buy iron from anyone but the farmers who brought it in after they plowed their fields.
    The native peoples, from their earliest encounters with the colonists, were not using iron for their tools or weaponry.
    So there were definitely pre-Columbian natives who were working and using iron ore for their weapons and tools.
    There have actually been discoveries of ancient iron furnaces throughout North America. While the website isn't so great, you will find that the discoveries made of many ancient iron forges in North America are legitimate. All the best to you!