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The following is an excerpt from the book Nephi in the Promised Land by George Potter.
Throughout Central America and North America one can visit the ruins of mounds, pyramids, and even the remains of accurate celestial observatories. Archaeologists have labeled some these remarkable structures temples. As magnificent as these edifices once were, they appear to have had no connection with Nephi’s temples or the Book of Mormon. By drawing this conclusion, I will undoubtedly bring upon myself the disapproval of some students of the Book of Mormon who believe otherwise.
One common argument for the Book of Mormon having taken place in Mesoamerica is that it uniquely matches the book’s geographic context. Actually, the Book of Mormon contains very little geographical information from which to draw any definitive conclusion as to where the events within it took place. As a result, many other equally logical geographic models for the Book of Mormon lands have been formulated.
For example, Joseph Fielding Smith argued against the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Mesoamerica as being the Book of Mormon lands. He wrote, “Early brethren locate Cumorah in Western New York. It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York.”
For scholars or anyone else to claim that they have found a region that uniquely matches the geographical clues in the Book of Mormon, they can only do so based on very strong assumptions; that is, they complete their maps by filling in their own ideas “between the lines” in the sacred record. Furthermore, such non-contingent thinking has no place in academia and only hampers our efforts to understand where the Book of Mormon took place. As Ernest Hemingway penned, “truth at first light,” meaning that every dawning of new light requires that we redefine what we believe is truth. As time passes, new empirical evidence is discovered, shedding added light on a subject. Twenty years ago, the prevailing body of evidence suggested that Mesoamerica might be a possible contender for lands of the Book of Mormon. However, the new discoveries of the last two decades point to a stronger candidate—Peru.
One commonly held myth is that Peru could not have been the home of the Nephites because the Incas never had a written language. However, scientific researchers now believe that the Incas and their predecessors in Peru did indeed have written languages. The issue of a written language raises an interesting question. “Just what was required for a civilization to have written their religious history on golden plates?” Four technical elements would have been required for a group of people to have compiled the sacred library we now call the Book of Mormon: 1) golden plates, 2) a Semitic language, 3) a vanished written language, and 4) an historical visit in the land by Jesus Christ.
For this particular blog post we will focus on the Golden Plates.
The New World prophets etched the Book of Mormon on metal plates. The first Nephites (sixth century BC, 1 Nephi 19:1; 2 Nephi 5:15) and the earlier Jaredites (Ether 4:1; 7:9) both would have to have possessed sophisticated metallurgical skills. However, no archaeological evidence has been discovered of metalworking in Mesoamerica until the first century BC, long after the fall of the Olmec civilization (400–200 BCE), and only scant evidence exists of any metalwork in Mesoamerica before AD 900.3 That is at least 500 years after Mormon compiled the Book of Mormon, and 1,500 years after Nephi first wrote on golden plates. On the other hand, archaeologists have uncovered extensive Peruvian metalwork dating back to the dawn of the Jaredite Age.
Sorenson summarizes it in these words: Archaeologists only recently learned that metal was being worked in Peru as early as 1900 BC, and it was being traded in Ecuador before 1000 BC [ J. W. Grossman, “An Ancient Gold Worker’s Tool Kit: The Earliest Metal Technology in Peru,” Archaeology 25 (1972): 270–75; A. C. Paulsen, “Prehistoric Trade between South Coastal Ecuador and other Parts of the Andes” (Paper read at 1972 Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology). Dates given in these papers need to be corrected backward to accord with bristle-cone pine corrections.] At the same time, all Mesoamerican scholars agree that intercommunication with Peru and Ecuador occurred over a period of thousands of years. Some definitely believe that it was via these voyages that metalworking reached Mexico and Guatemala.”
A Neal A. Maxwell Institute (F. A. R. M. S.) online paper states: “Complex and sophisticated metallurgical technologies in the pre-Columbian New World, however, are presently recognized only in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Chile, where copper was smelted from rare copper arsenides, sulfates, and chlorides.”5 Metal, in particular gold, silver, and copper are mentioned throughout the Book of Mormon. Jacob wrote that the land of promise abounds in precious metals ( Jacob 2:12). One of the earliest Spanish chronicles of the Incas was written in the 1550s by Juan de Betanzos. According to his interviews with the surviving Inca nobles, the Incas needed to keep records because “some said they had livestock, others, great fields of maize, others, gold mines, others, silver mines, others, much wood.” The Inca inventories bring to mind Nephi’s account of the resources he found in the Promised Land—seeds growing exceedingly well, forests, livestock, ore, both of gold, silver, and copper (1 Nephi 18:24–25).
The rich ore deposits of the Andes are legendary. They include the great silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia, the vast copper deposits of northern Chile and southern Peru, and the gold mines of the Incas. After conquering Peru, Pizarro’s brother Hernando, returned to Spain to deliver the crown’s share of the initial loot (1/5 only), “carrying so much silver and gold that the ships were ballasted with these metals.
He entered Seville with all the treasures. This news excited all Spain because it rang throughout that the House of Trade was filled with golden vessels and jars and other praiseworthy pieces, and of great weight. There was talk of nothing but Peru, and many were stirring to go there.”7 Despite the great quantities of gold and silver stolen by the Spanish, large collections of Inca and pre-Inca metal works still exist. For example, the private collection of Miguel Mujica Gallo in Lima holds 10,000 pre-Columbian gold, silver, or copper artifacts.
The Lord promised Nephi that he would rule a choice land. In terms of precious metals, this definition of choice certainly applied to the Andes. Cobo wrote of the Peruvians’ mines:
Some of these mitas (labor services performed by taxpayers) provided the labor for the mines of gold, silver, and other metals; the mines that the mitayos (laborers in service of the mitas) worked for the Inca were numerous and very rich, such as those of Porco [south of Potosi], from which they extracted such rich metals that they contained 50 percent silver, but the most famous were the ones at Tarapacá, in the Diocese of Arequipa.
These mines were located in some dry sandbanks where no water is found within twelve leagues of the area and were so rich that the majority of the metal that was extracted from them was white, refined silver without a mixture of scoria. Lodes were not found in these mines, but rather pockets or isolated nuggets of pure silver that the Indians call papas (potatoes); some of them weighed from one-half to one and two arrobas, and a nugget has been found that weighed four arrobas (an arroba weighs approximately twenty-five pounds).
There is information about a lode that the Indians have covered up, and they say that it belonged to the Sun, that it was two feet wide and all of pure silver.
A particular skill the Book of Mormon people mastered was the process of hammering gold into very thin plates on which they could write. Archaeologists have discovered that the Peruvians possessed metal-hammering technology during the ages when the words of the Book of Mormon were being etched. Mann writes:
“Andean societies vastly preferred to hammer metal into thin sheets, form the sheets around molds, and solder the results. The results were remarkable by any standard—one delicate bust that [Heather] Lechtman [MIT] analyzed was less than an inch tall but made of twenty-two separate gold plates painstakingly joined.”
My research leads me to believe that both the Jaredites and the Nephites sailed from the Bronze Age port of Khor Rori (Ophir) in southern Arabia. Building a ship at Khor Rori could explain how metallurgical skills were transferred from the Old World to Peru. William R. Phillips of BYU has suggested that Nephi’s skills in metallurgy may have been “learned from the local smiths of the Dhofar [Ophir] or from the Indian traders that passed through nearby trading ports.” Recently excavated artifacts at Khor Rori (Ophir) include iron axes, iron nails, an iron knife, an iron razor, and iron melting slag; as well as bronze nails, coins, a bronze bell, and a small bronze plaque. Scholars at BYU believe that the brass plates of the Book of Mormon were actually a copper and tin alloy, that is, bronze.
During the first excavation of Khor Rori (Ophir), the American archaeologist Wendall Phillips discovered seven bronze plates with written text engraved on them. As recent as 2007, another bronze plate was discovered at Khor Rori with written text on it. It would appear that when Nephi arrived in the land of promise, he found in abundance an even softer metal on which to write. Gold is found in rich deposits in Peru.
According to Inca mythology the founder of the original Inca people, the fair-skinned man named Manco Capac, fashioned two plates of gold. As will be discussed later, Manco Capac possessed many of the characteristics that the Book of Mormon attributes to Nephi who created two sets of gold plates. The iron artifacts found at Khor Rori remind us that Nephi taught the earliest Nephites to work in iron and steel (2 Nephi 5:15).
The ancient Peruvians mined iron ore. On the other hand, iron ore is found in almost every other part of the world except in Central America.
** The following was taken from Nephi in the Promised Land. The opinions and views expressed herein belong solely to George Potter and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of Cedar Fort, Inc.