Thursday, August 11, 2011

Additional Clues to the Land of Promise Location-Part II the Metal Ziff

Besides the Land of Promise location matching scriptural clues such as winds and currents moving Nephi’s ship that was “driven forth before the wind,” the temperature and climate needed to grow seeds from Jerusalem exceedingly and provide an abundant climate, locating ore deposits in abundance and contain gold, silver and copper in a single unit, finding two unknown animals that were as “useful to man” as the elephant, two unknown grains on a par with corn, wheat and barley, and natural herbs to cure deadly fever, roads, buildings, resorts, area of many waters, volcanoes and earthquakes, fortified walls, slings used as weapons, and coins, there are other clues in the scriptural record that also needs to be found in the Land of Promise.

One of these would be the use of an unknown metal to Joseph Smith in 1830 in which he used the untranslated word: Ziff.

An interesting comment is made in Mosiah regarding the elegant palaces and buildings King Noah constructed when he gained the kingship over the original city of Nephi after his father, Limhi, died. These buildings he ornamented with “all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper” (Mosiah 11:8).

Note that Mosiah states that “ziff,” along with other metals like gold, silver and brass, was used for ornamenting King Noah’s buildings. Thus, whatever metal ziff was to the Nephites, it served the purpose of lending grace and beauty in adorning and beautifying the elegant and spacious buildings and the lavish palace king Noah constructed in the city of Nephi.

While we do not know for certain what metal ziff might have been, it is interesting to note that archaeologists have found that the ancient Peruvians used the metal bismuth as a decoration. Bismuth (meaning “white mass”) is about twice as plentiful in the earth’s crust as gold, and was confused in early times with tin and lead because of its resemblance to those elements. It was not officially discovered until the 8th century AD by the Muslim alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan (also known as Geber). Its many properties and uses were described by Basilius Valentinus in 1450, and demonstrated to be a separate metal, distinct from lead, by Claude François Geoffroy the Younger, in 1753.

The metal is often found with copper, silver and gold, and in early times often used in a similar manner, and occurs as a native metal in Peru. Today that Andean country produces the third highest amount of bismuth annually throughout the world. In addition, bismuth was known to the Incas and used (along with the usual copper and tin) in a special bronze alloy for knives, and also as a decoration. It is also not surprising that the pre-Inca peoples knew of it and used it on ornamental items as a decoration.

In ancient times, "artificial bismuth" was commonly used in place of the actual metal. It was made by hammering tin into thin plates, and cementing them by a mixture of white tartar, saltpeter, and arsenic, stratified in a crucible over an open fire. Today, the bulk of the world’s bismuth comes from South America, both in natural form and extracted as a byproduct from the smelting of some metals. It is rather unique among the elements for having a liquid state that is more dense than its solid state, and is identified as Bi with an atomic number of 83.

Bismuth did not become well known in the United States until 1900 (70 years after Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon), when it was found that the bismuth salts used in England for various ailments of the gastrointestinal tract, could cure a deadly disease called “cholera infantum,” which claimed the life of 2 out of every 10 children in the U.S. before the age of four, leading to the development of Pepto Bismo.

Today, bismuth compounds provide the “frosty” look in cosmetics, hitting a high use in 1966—a big year for “pearlescence” in cosmetics—when manufacturers used several hundred thousand pounds of bismuth in lipstick, eye shadow, etc. It is also used for medicines, and in medical procedures and, as the toxicity of lead has become more apparent in recent years, alloy uses for bismuth metal as a replacement for lead in alloys and solder, have become an increasing part of bismuth’s commercial importance.

Ziff, of course, might have been some other metal, but the fact that the ancient Peruvians used bismuth in the same way described in King Noah’s time, as an ornamental metal, which is plentiful in Peru, and easily produced as a byproduct of the processing of other metals, like lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold, makes it a strong candidate for the Nephite ziff.

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