Wednesday, March 11, 2020

What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part I

Anthropologists use a system called trans-cultural diffusion in order to explain the existence of cultural differences and accomplishment. It is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among people, and the process of spreading cultural traits form one region to another as conceptualized by the German scholar Leon Frobenius in his 1897-1898 publication Der westafrikanische Kulturkreis that established the theory of the spread of cultural items, such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, language, etc. Examples of such diffusion is the spread of the war chariot and iron smelting in ancient times. This theory was further expanded upon by German geographer and ethnologist Fritz Graebner.
    It was the Kulurkreis (culture circle or field), that first introduced the concept of that redirected the discipline away from the quest for an undrlu9ing, universal human nature toward a concern with the particular histories of individual societies. It was the notion of a culture complex as an entity that develops from a center of origin and becomes diffused over large areas of the world.
To counter the evolutionist’s search for selected facts to grace abstract evolutionary theories; trans-cultural anthropology is directed at going out and seeking actual evidence of human behavior among people in their natural environs, to venture into the field to gather facts and artifacts and record observable cultural processes

This, then, determines to the anthropologist and archaeologists where cultural elements were first established and how they got there. This is seen in the discoveries of coins found in the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere. As an example, ninety-two coins minted in 490 BC, 350-356 BC, 300-200 BC, 173-64 BC, 146 BC, have been found in the Americas. In addition, another 450coins minted between 41-54 AD to 364-367 AD have also been uncovered. Another 189 coins found had uncertain dates throughout this time frame.
    The table of minting dates suggests contact during many centuries. As geographer at the Johns Hopkins University, George Francis Carter has remarked, “We used to have put upon us the demand for naming the man who arrived in what year, at what port, by what boat, and precisely what species of beings did he bring or not bring to America, etc.... It was a false model, because the model that you are seeing is not a voyage at a time, but a model which says that America was reached over an enormous length of time—a very great many people who came across both the Atlantic and the Pacific, bearing boatloads of ideas, bringing great quantities of cultural material, and that is ultimately the explanation for the origin of the American Indian civilization.”
    Warren L. Cook adds that coin finds do not prove the case for ancient voyages to America, but they support other categories of evidence for such events (Warren L. Cook, Castleton State College, Castleton, Vt., Current Anthropology, vol.13 No.8, 1980, p79).
    In addition, the post-antiquity, pre-Columbian introduction of maize into Eurasia and the medieval Chinese geographers' accounts of Arab voyages to South America from Portugal or Morocco would fit the Venezuelan evidence as well as a post-Columbian deposit. On the coast of Venezuela, where the waves of the Caribbean wash the northern bulge of South America, a most unusual find was made: a jar containing several hundred Roman coins. The coins date from the reign of Augustus to about 350 A.D. and cover every intervening period. Now in the possession of Mendel Peterson of the Smithsonian Institution, the coins include many duplicates from which it has been inferred that they were not the misplaced collection of a numismatist, but were probably once a Roman trader's ready cash, carefully buried in the sand by their owner or washed ashore after a shipwreck (Jeremiah F. Epstein, “Pre- Columbian Old World Coins in America: An Examination of the Evidence,” Current Anthropology, Vol.21, No.1, The university of Chicago Press for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, February 1980, pp6,14).
Top: A silver hemiobol issued in Miletos around 525 BC; Middle: A silver tetradrachm from Athens, minted 447-413 BC; Bottom: A silver tetradrachm from Syracuse in Sicily, minted from 450-440 BC
It also should be noted, especially for those who do not believe that ancient coins date to the time of Lehi, and therefore known to the Nephites, the oldest coin available today was discovered in Efesos, an ancient Hellenic city and prosperous trading center on the coast of Asia Minor. The 1/6 Stater (which means “weight”) is more than 2,700 years old, making it one of the very earliest coins minted. The silver currency, first as ingots, and later as coins, circulated from the 8th century BC to 50 AD, with the earliest known stamped Stater (194 grains, or 12.57 grams of silver and the largest valued coin of the time and about the same value as the Phoenician shekel—the original U.S. silver dollar contained 375.64 grains) is an electrum (alloy of gold and silver) turtle coin, struck at Aegina (an island state off Greece in the Saronic Gulf, and one of the largest and greatest commercial states of Greece) that dates to about 700 BC (Samuel R. Milbank, “Numismatic Notes and Monographs,” Coinage of Aegina American Numismatic Society, ETD Publishing, San Francisco CA, 1924, New York).
    It is interesting to see that Mesoamerican theorists, because no coins of antiquity have ever been found in Mesoamerica, nor metallurgy of any kind in B.C. times, they have concluded the early people of this land had no minting or metal working capability during the first 500 years of the Nephites. This has prompted Mesoamerican scholars and theorists to come up with counter-answers since the Book of Mormon is quite clear that both the Jaredites and the Nephites had metal working capabilities from earliest times.
    Thus we find that coins would have been available in Jerusalem for about 100 years before Lehi left. We can also assume, that Lehi, Nephi, Sam and Zoram knew about coins and their purpose and values. It would not be unrealistic to imagine that such coinage carried over into the Nephite nation.
    As early as the Jaredite kingdom, precious metals were mined in the Land of Promise. As Moroni states: “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 10:12).
    Centuries later, Nephi stated: “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).
A major claim by Mesoamerican theorists, since no metal coinage of antiquity was ever found in that area, is that the Nephite monetary system was based on weights and measures and not on coins. Their claim is that because the term “coin” is not specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon, then there were no coins. As an example, a judge received wages of a senine of gold for a day’s work. This was the same as a senum of silver. Someone today might say “I will pay you twenty dollars for a four hour job” which would be the same as saying, “I will pay you five dollars per hour for four hours.” It is also the same as saying, “This double eagle gold coin is the same as these twenty silver dollars.”     The problem is that coins are not readily understood by people who call them by different names. An American “buck” is the same as an English “quid.” Dollars in the U.S. were also called “greenbacks” at one time, as well as “greenmail,” “green,” and “dead presidents.” A “single,” “buck,” “bone,” or “bean,” is $1.00; a “deuce,” “Tom,” “Jefferson,” or a “T.J.” is $2.00; a “fin,” “fiver,” or “five-spot” is $5.00; a “sawbuck,” a “ten-spot,” or “Hamilton,” is $10.00; a “double sawbuck,” “dub,” or “Jackson,” is $20.00; a “Benjamin,” “Benji,” or “Franklin,” “C-note,” “Century note,” or “bill,” is $100.00; with two bills ($200) three bills ($300) etc. And a “grand” is $1,000, with “10K” for $10000.
    Modern bills are referred to as “Big Face” or “Monopoly money,” along with general terms of “cha-chingers” and “smackers.” Did you know that U.S. coins of half-cent, 2-cent, 3-cent, half dime (not a nickel), 20-cent, Quarter Eagle, three-dollar piece (coin), Half Eagle, Eagle, Double Eagle coins were minted every year, some as early as 1792, others, like the $3-dollar gold coin from 1854 to 1889. Or that an American Platinum Eagle is the same value as a Double Eagle? Or that a Gold Eagle is the same value as a Half Eagle? Or that a Half Union is the same value as two Double Eagles and an Eagle in U.S. coins?
    At the same time, there are the Euro, Yen, Pound Sterling, Canadian Dollars, Krona, Franc, Peso, Yuan, Riel, Centavo, Balboa, Rand, Puta, and numerous other coinage around the world. In Britain, there is the schilling, pound, quid, five and ten pence, and the one pound and two pound coins—with a five-pound sterling coin the same value as twenty-five pence coin. There is also the half crown, florin, and farthing. In earlier times, two hundred and forty pennies equaled a British pound. In fact, it could be said that a British “gold sovereign” is worth the same as a “Pound Sterling.” It could also be said that one British penny equals four farthing in value. Further, a Florin is the same as two shillings. In earlier times, British coinage was produced in silver, bronze and brass. In addition, British coinage also carried names of Bob, mag, joey, tanner, two-bob bit, two-and-a-kick, tuppence, twenty-three pee, and pee-piece.
Most people do not know that U.S. gold coins included $2.50 and $3.00 values

It should also be kept in mind that the term “coin” is rarely used in the U.S. monetary system other than to separate it from paper money. There is no difference in purchasing power between a silver dollar and a paper dollar or a gold dollar—all are $1.00. We do not say a dollar bill or a dollar coin—we simply refer to both as one dollar.
    All this suggests that any one today trying to interpret the Nephite monetary system would have no clue as to what senine, seon, shum, limnah, senum, amnor, ezrom, onti, leah, shiblum, shiblon, antion meant in terms of money any more than agora, agorot, shekel coins of Israel; the rouble, kopeks, kopeyki, polushka, denga, semishnik, altyn, pyatak, grivennik, pyatialtynny, dvugrivennypotupoltinnik, or poltina coins of Russia, which could also be described as one pyatialtynnyis worth fivealtyn; one diugrivenny is worth two grivenniks, or one polujpoltinnik is worth one-half of a poltinnik.
    Obviously, without a way to interpret the values compared with known money, the above and numerous other named coinage of other countries, is meaningless. As an example, one diugrivenny is worth two grivenniks in Russian money—but if you do not know the value of Diugrivennys or grivenniks, the information is meaningless. As in “The amount of a seon of gold was twice the value of a senine” is meaningless unless we can tie it into known currency of our day or its purchasing power.
(See the next post “What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part II” on how Mormon showed us the value of their money)

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