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October 25, 2013
Early Metallurgy in the Americas: A Recommended Download
by Jeff Lindsay

One of the most popular arguments against the Book of Mormon is that metallurgy and metal working in general was unknown in Book of Mormon times.

Previously some scholars dated the rise of metals in the Americas to around 900 A.D., way too late to account for the scattered references to metals in the Book of Mormon. That argument, though, has long been dead, as John Sorenson adequately shows in his recent tome, Mormon’s Codex, as he and others have long explained years ago.

See, for example, my LDSFAQ page on metals and the Book of Mormon.

One reference that you may wish to download and enjoy is Archaeometry of Pre-Columbian Sites and Artifacts, a collection of scholarly articles from a symposium organized by the UCLA Institute of Archaeology and the Getty Conservation Institute Los Angeles, California, March 23-27, 1992, published by the J. Paul Getty Trust, 1994. Its URL is http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/archaeometry.pdf.

One interesting article in that volume is the work of Thilo Rehren and Mathilde Temme, "Pre-Columbian Gold Processing at Putushio, South Ecuador: The Archaeometallurgical Evidence." They examine an area in Ecuador that provides evidence of significant and sophisticated ancient metal working and metallurgical activity.

Although no slag or big chunks of metal or “obvious” evidence had been found, careful scientific analysis of some bowls, soil samples, etc., proved that metallurgy was going on. One of the problems with ancient metals in the Americas or anywhere else is that modern explorers can easily miss or overlook the traces of evidence that reveal what was going on. We are fortunate that in this case, the evidence was noticed and explored in detail.

Here is an excerpt from pages 279-280 that I find especially interesting:

The metallurgical evidence, given in chronological order, presents itself as follows:

  1. The earliest relics of metallurgical significance excavated come from the Late Formative floor F 1470. They are two mold fragments, their linings sprinkled with tiny droplets of gold, apparently of natural composition, demonstrating the casting of molten metal into a well-prepared form. The related radiocarbon date is 3420 ±255 B.P. Several gold foils from other Late Formative period contexts are good evidence for the early production of very thin gold metal.

  2. The Regional Developmental period brought the alloying of substantial amounts of copper to the gold, exceeding 40% copper by weight, and the continuous use of more or less unalloyed gold for foil making. In this period falls the introduction of the bowl-shaped installations resembling metallurgical furnaces and the preparation and separate storage of special clays in the activity area. In the area excavated, the installations were built immediately after the construction of the terraces.

  3. From the Early Integration period onward, the use of the installations and the appearance of soil deposits related to them increased significantly, at least within the area excavated. The production of tumbaga went on, as did the foil making. One of the stone implements, obviously used as a tool for some type of gold processing (NQ 1 838), belongs to this period.

  4. The microanalytical investigation of the metallic remains shows that all fabricated samples are higher in copper than the native flakes and micronuggets from the excavation and the immediate vicinity. This increase in copper content is small only for the gold foils and some of the prills but becomes more explicit for some other prills and is overwhelming at the tumbaga splash. The addition of minor amounts of copper to native gold for foil production is not yet possible to prove as an intentional alloying or just the result of using scrap metal; but Shimura (1988) claims for Japanese gold foil 1% copper, an intentionally added amount to enhance color and deformability. Certainly, the tumbaga production at Putushio was a fully deliberate alloying operation to produce a material of major importance for pre-Columbian metalworking.

  5. The silver distribution becomes more complex with increasing copper content; the alloys with intermediate copper values are marked by coring with continuous silver gradients from 9 to 27%, while the most copper-rich tumbaga sample develops a eutectic structure with a silver-dominated second metallic phase.

Combining all the evidence given, one certainly can label Putushio the first undisturbed Pre-Columbian gold workshop available for archaeological investigation in all South America. Taking into account the quantity and quality of material from the small area excavated so far, its apparently unbroken gold-working tradition over a very long period of time and its diversity of techniques applied, Putushio may well add significantly to our knowledge of Pre-Columbian metalworking in terms of techniques used and alloys chosen at a given time.

From the footnotes: Period nominations are to be understood as temporal frames. Corresponding absolute dates for this context are roughly: Late Formative period 1 500-300 B.C.E.; Regional Developmental period 300 B.C.E.-800 C.E.; Integration period 800-1500 C.E. (Inca conquest).

This is clear evidence that metallurgy was underway in the Americas during Book of Mormon times. Granted, metallurgy in Ecuador does not necessarily mean that metallurgy was taking place in other locations of direct relevance to the Book of Mormon, but it certainly dispels the myth that metals were unknown in Book of Mormon times.

For today, though, this is a recommended download for your consideration. If you’re interested in the issue, there is a very large and growing body of evidence to consider as well.

Speaking of metals, as I watch our government crank out trillions of dollars in ways that hint at the madness of the Weimar Republic or, more recently, Zimbabwe, I cannot help but worry about the future of the dollar (or any other major currency, for that matter). Maybe it’s time to put a portion of your earnings into something that can preserve value like, say, precious metals, not to mention a healthy food storage. Just a thought.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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