Stan Larson discusses various objections (e.g., metals; animals; plants; weapons) he and Thomas Stuart Ferguson have against the Book of Mormon.

Stan Larson

Stan Larson, "Book of Mormon Archaeological Tests," in LaMar Petersen, The Creation of the Book of Mormon: A Historical Inquiry (Freethinkers Press, 1999), 169-230

Freethinker Press
Stan Larson, LaMar Petersen, Thomas Stuart Ferguson
Reading Public

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No. 3—The Metallurgy Test of the Book of Mormon

In the "Metallurgy Test" Ferguson quoted numerous passages from the Book of Mormon that refer to bellows, brass, breastplates, chains, copper, engravings, gold, hilts, iron, ore, plowshares, silver, steel, and swords, and then repeated each metal, object used in the metallurgical process, or metallic product, with the added comment that there is no evidence for that item. He then remarked:

Metallurgy does not appear in the region under discussion until about the ninth century A.D. None of the foregoing technical demands are met by the archaeology of the region proposed as Book of Mormon lands and places. I regard this as a major weakness in the armor of our proponents and friends. (It is just as troublesome to the authors of the other correlations—those [who] have gone before—including Tom Ferguson.)

I doubt that the proponents will be very convincing, if they contend that evidence of metallurgy is difficult to find and a rarity in archaeology. Where mining was practiced—as in the Old Testament world—mountains of ore and tailings have been found. Artifacts of metal have been found. Art portrays the existence of metallurgical products. Again, the score is zero. In view of the magnitude of metallurgical skills and usage in the Book of Mormon, . . . plenty of evidence should have turned up by now in the regions pointed to in the primary papers of this symposium, if our friends have things pinpointed.

William J. Hamblin, professor of history at BYU, criticized those who see "large-scale metal 'industries'" among Book of Mormon peoples, affirming that the text "claims only that certain metals were known to the Nephites." However, the Book of Mormon attributes advanced metallurgical skills to both Jaredites and Nephites. Glenna Nielsen Grimm said that "sophisticated metallurgical processes were engaged in that involved the mining and refining of both ferrous [i.e., iron] and non-ferrous ores." Consider the impressive description of metallurgical technology during the time of Kish, a Jaredite king about 1500 B.C.:

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 10:23).

One must keep in mind the important distinction between mere metalworking and true metallurgy. Metalworking means the cold hammering and shaping of metal, while metallurgy requires temperatures of 700 ° to 800 ° C and involves some or all of the following technological processes: smelting, casting, gilding, annealing, soldering, and alloying. The Book of Mormon does specify the practice of smelting among the Jaredites, for Ether explained that Shule "did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel" (Ether 7:9).

Raymond Matheny described the metallurgical technology needed to produce iron objects:

A ferrous industry is a whole system of doing something. It's just not an esoteric process that a few people are involved in, but ferrous industry—that means mining iron ores and then processing these ores and casting these ores into irons and then making steels and so forth—this is a process that's very complicated. . . In other words, society would have to be organized at a certain level before ferrous industry would be feasible.

The technology of mining is problematical for the Book of Mormon. Where do you find iron ores in sufficient quantity to create an industry? . . . No evidence has been found in the New World for a ferrous metallurgical industry dating to pre-Columbian times. And so this is a king-size kind of problem, it seems to me, for so-called Book of Mormon archaeology. This evidence is absent.

Matheny also pointed out that the extraction of iron from ore needs high temperatures and various fluxing substances which produce slag, which in turn become indestructible rock forms. In the 1920s B. H. Roberts summarized the situation, saying that "there is nothing on which the later investigators of our American antiquities are more unanimously agreed upon than the matter of the absence of the knowledge of, and hence the non-use of, iron or steel among the natives of America." This condition concerning the complete absence of iron still exists today. The metalsmiths in Peru—not Mesoamerica—developed skills in gold and silver by 1000 B.C., with copper working appearing about A.D. 500, but no pre-Columbian iron metallurgy developed anywhere in the New World.

Historical and comparative linguistics of various Mesoamerican languages sometimes suggests the existence of a word for metal during the period from ca. 2500 B.C. to A.D. 400. Citing a study which proposed a word for metal in the reconstructed Proto-Mixtecan language, Sorenson said that "the researchers were puzzled by the fact that a word for 'metal' seemed to have existed in the protolanguage at about 1000 B.C." Sorenson misrepresented his source, since the linguists, Robert E. Longacre and René Millon, actually said:

The linguistic evaluation of a set provides the framework for its cultural evaluation, but however strong it may be linguistically this does not provide proof that the specific aspect of Proto-Mixtecan or Proto-Amuzgo-Mixtecan life it represents actually existed on that horizon. . . For example, one set, linguistically evaluated as solid, reconstructs in Proto-Mixtecan with the meaning bell or perhaps metal. . . The existence of metal or metal bells at this early date is highly improbable on the basis of existing archaeological evidence. Examination of the set suggests that the original meaning may have been rattle but it is impossible to be certain of this.

Longacre and Millon explained that greater certainty is obtained when a group of related vocabulary terms describing a specific cultural practice is reconstructed for the protolanguage. The likelihood of the same "semantic shifts" having occurred in all of the words associated with such a practice is highly improbable. Longacre and Millon discussed six strong complexes of related terms: the Maize Complex, the Maguey Complex, the Agricultural Complex, the Masa Preparation Complex, the Weaving Complex, and the Palm Complex, but they referred again to the conjectured word for "metal" in a list of six terms excluded for various reasons. This effort to determine vocabulary items in the Proto-Mixtecan language brought forth merely a conjectured word for either metal, or a bell, or a rattle, and not a group of related metallurgical terms. This certainly does not reveal names for many different kinds of metal, such as the numerous metals required by the Book of Mormon—(1) gold, (2) silver, (3) iron, (4) steel, (5) copper, (6) brass, and (7) an unknown substance named "ziff."

Sorenson suggested possible instances of early metal in Mesoamerica. The earliest copper known consists of a piece of sheeting from Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico, which according to Sorenson probably dates to about the first century B.C. However, Emil W. Haury, one of the archaeologists on the original project but not the one who actually removed the copper artifact from the ground, believed that "the Cuicuilco copper is assignable to the late period of Aztec dominance of the Valley of Mexico," as hinted by a mingling of Aztec pottery with Preclassic pottery on the mound, as well as the fact that copper sheeting and copper nails indicate later developments in metallurgy.

In his annotated bibliography on Book of Mormon metals Sorenson classified each instance of metal in one of five groups as to the certainty of the identification, analysis, and dating. These range from an "A" category, in which the item was uncovered by a professional archaeologist in a datable context, successively down to the fifth category, in which incomplete information made a reliable assessment difficult. Only two examples in Sorenson's "A" category fall within Book of Mormon times. The first find, which contains iron and copper, is described as "a metal-resembling substance, small, irregular shaped pieces." It was found at Teotihuacán and is dated from A.D. 300 to 400. The second instance is a claw-shaped bead of the gold-copper alloy known as tumbaga, which was excavated at Altun Ha in northern Belize. David M. Pendergast, archaeologist at the Royal Ontario Museum at Toronto, dated this metallic animal claw to "somewhat before A.D. 500," which would place it after the Book of Mormon, but Sorenson initially stretched this to include the hundred year period from A.D. 400 to 500, and then lowered it further to A.D. 350 to 450. Both of these examples were found outside the area which Sorenson has proposed as Book of Mormon lands.

Deanne Matheny remarked concerning Sorenson's bibliographic study on metals:

The question that has again not been considered [by Sorenson] is whether the specimens were of local manufacture or represent trade pieces from lower Central America. The majority (of the specimens date to Late Classic times falling outside of the Book of Mormon period. The few that are genuinely Early Classic or slightly earlier seem to be trade pieces not produced in the area. We are still left with virtually the entire span of time covered by Book of Mormon events with no metallurgy in the area chosen by Sorenson.

When metallurgy began in Mesoamerica during the Terminal Classic Period about the ninth century A.D., the tools and techniques were borrowed from Costa Rica and the Isthmus of Panama and ultimately from Andean South America. From the third century A.D. onwards various metal objects were imported as trade goods into Mesoamerica from this southeastern place of manufacture. There is no evidence of pre-Columbian metallurgical production in Mesoamerica before the ninth century A.D. Even though the use of metal is usually considered to be an important aspect in the growth of culture, all the civilizations in Mesoamerica developed without the use of metal. By the time metal appeared the culture was beginning to decline.

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