Monday, August 29, 2011

Both of Gold, and of Silver, and of Copper—Part I—Significance of Nephi’s Statement

And speaking of clues—what is the significance of Nephi’s statement: “And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper” (1 Nephi 18:25). While this has been covered before, its significance cannot be overstated.

First of all, as has been stated in earlier posts, the word “both means two,” as in “both an apple and an orange,” “Both the present and the future,” “Both the good and the bad.” While it may seem strange that Nephi wrote the word “both” and followed it with three items, we merely need to recognize that two of those items can catagorically be placed as one—precious metals. That is, gold and silver are precious metals, or one item, and copper is a non-precious metal, a second item. It is the same as saying, as Nephi does, “both men, women and children,” with men and women as adults being one category, and children being a different category.

We also need to keep in mind that ore often contains more than one metal, especially the ore of copper, which can contain gold, and it can contain gold and silver. Thus, we see that Nephi is telling us that he found abundant deposits of gold, silver and copper ore—a single ore containing all three metals.

Now, copper is not found in gold and silver ore deposits everywhere—none, as a matter of fact in the Great Lakes region, and while tumbaga (a manufactured alloy of gold and copper) was found in Central America, it was not found in the ground in that manner. So the use of tumbaga does not qualify for the manner in which Nephi describes the ore he found.

On the other hand, gold, silver and copper is found naturally in a single ore throughout the Andean area of South America. Sometimes referred to as porphyry copper ore bodies, this ore contains copper with smaller amounts of other metals such as silver, gold and molybdenum. Porphyry copper deposits currently are the largest source of copper ore. Most of the known porphyrys are concentrated in western South America, western North America and Southeast Asia and Oceana—along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The greatest concentration of the largest copper porphyrys is in Chile—and almost all mines exploiting large porphyry deposits produce from, and are mined in, open pits.

Chuquicamata, or Chuqui, is by digged volume the biggest open pit copper mine in the world (29 million tonnes of copper annually) and is located in the north of Chile, and is the second deepest open-pit mine in the world (only Bingham Canyon in Utah is deeper). In Chuquicamata, copper is known to have been mined for centuries since a mummy dated to about 550 A.D. was found in an ancient mine shaft there, suggesting the mine had been operating for some time before then. At one time over 400 copper mines were located in this area when “Red Gold Fever” struck in the 19th century. Chile was the top mine producer of copper with at least one-third world share followed by the U.S., Indonesia and Peru—thus, two out of the top four producers of copper are located in our suggested Land of Promise.

In addition, copper occurs naturally as native copper, and was discovered in the Andes around 2000 B.C., around the time of the Jaredites, and later in Chile and Peru, during the time of the Nephites, but not in Central America until around 600 A.D. The development of copper smelting in the Andes occurred independently of that in the Old World, and early on was combined with tin and/or arsenic, which is an impurity in copper ores, to obtain bronze, an alloy which is significantly harder than copper. As late as the Inca period, copper was still being alloyed with tin to make bronze.

While historians believe that it is a mystery how ancient smiths learned to produce copper/tin bronze, and that it was most likely a lucky accident, we know that Nephi was instructed by the Lord (1 Nephi 17:18), and shown where to go to get ore (1 Nephi 17:10), and how to smelt it (1 Nephi 17:11) and that he made tools from the ore (1 Nephi 17:16), and that the Lord showed him many things relating to the building of his ship and the tools required in its construction (1 Nephi 18:3) and, finally, that Nephi taught all this to his people (2 Nephi 5:15). All these things the Lord did so that the Nephites would know He was God (1 Nephi 17:14).

In Egypt, iron working was being done in 1100 B.C., and in Israel, it was being smelted in 930 B.C., but long before these, iron was smelted in Mesopotamia (original home of the Jaredites), around 2000 B.C.

While copper was abundant in the Great Lakes area, it was natural copper with no other minerals (such as gold and silver) and neither had to be mined, nor was it ever smelted—a technique never known in that area. Thus, Great Lakes copper working involved simple beating of malleable copper into the shape desired. But in the Old World and in Israel, as well as in ancient Peru, it was discovered that heating, called annealing, made copper more malleable, a process called tempering, which was then hammered after it was heated resulting in an edge on a tool or weapon that was harder and more durable. It was also smelted, which was the primitive process of extracting metallic copper from copper-bearing stones, and to remove the iron properties in the ore.

In the more complex method of the ancients, a crucible was used—a ceramic pot into which the charcoal and copper ore were placed. The crucible was then placed in a fireplace, or furnace, and a bellows, often made of goat skins, directed a draft of air to raise the fire’s temperature, resulting in a cleaner product. As Nephit wrote: “I did make a bellows wherewith to blow the fire, of the skins of beasts” (1 Nephi 17:11).

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