Swords and Spears

For over a decade I’ve been hung up on the dearth of phys­i­cal evi­dence, par­tic­u­lar­ly Iron Age arti­facts, sup­port­ing the Book of Mor­mon. Recent­ly I had a mini-enlight­en­ment in this regard: swords and spears do not grow on trees; they do nor fall as man­na from Heav­en. They are made,  by men.

With­out pre­tend­ing to know more than I do about min­ing and met­al­lur­gy, as I under­stand, iron imple­ments are the prod­uct of a com­plex, labor-inten­sive process. Their gen­e­sis lies in rock, hard rock,  hematite, mag­netite, picked, hacked, gouged, blast­ed from the earth. Now, pic­ture Pitts­burg or Gary, Indi­ana. Even at one-tenth scale it’s a big deal. Crushed iron ore is dumped into a fur­nace. At rough­ly 2282° Fahren­heit iron melts. The dross or slag is skimmed off and molten iron poured into molds or ingots. Removed from a mold, I pre­sume spear points or arrow heads would be cleaned up, sharp­ened, and fit­ted to a wood­en shaft. Swords might be formed in molds or wrought from ingots, repeat­ed­ly reheat­ed, annealed, pol­ished, sharp­ened, and fit­ted with an iron, wood, or bone han­dle.

Over five cen­turies from the Rock­ies to the Appalachi­ans, vir­tu­al­ly every square meter of earth has been denud­ed, tilled, plowed, plant­ed, and har­vest­ed hun­dreds of times over. And not just the Mid­west, Pacif­ic to Atlantic, the Gulf to the Arc­tic, land has been drilled down, dug up, built on, and paved over. While five hun­dred years of explo­ration and exploita­tion have over­run muse­ums and ware­hous­es with mil­len­ni­ums-old Stone Age arti­facts, not one from the Iron Age–Copper or Bronze Age for that matter–has turned up. Where are the mines, the mills, the fur­naces, the slag heaps? Where are the foundries, the black­smith shops, the forges, anvils, ham­mers, and tongs?

Among its myr­i­ad uses, the val­ue of met­al to an army can’t be over­stat­ed. In “Hele­man Leads an Army of 2060 Ammonite Youth” artist Arnold Friberg makes this appar­ent. At the painting’s cen­ter, amid a for­est of met­al-tipped spears point­ed sky­ward from the grip of 2060 “stripling” war­riors, com­man­der Hele­man, in pol­ished met­al hel­met and full war regalia, sits astride a steed–In Amer­i­ca before Columbus?–with a Spar­tan-like, pol­ished-met­al, head-piece.

With admi­ra­tion for Mr. Friberg’s skill and appre­ci­a­tion for artis­tic license, this work points to the immen­si­ty and com­plex­i­ty of equip­ping even one army: spears, swords, dag­gers, shields, head­gear, cloth­ing, shoes, boots by the thou­sand. Not to men­tion logis­ti­cal sup­port: work­ers, wag­ons, tents, bed­ding! Imag­ine feed­ing this gang three squares a day! What became of it: swords, spears, armor, all the sup­port equip­ment? After the bat­tle, what of the corpses? The skele­tons?

The Book of Mor­mon men­tions “sword” 157 times; “brass,” “iron,” “cop­per,” even “steel” 68 times. But no met­al implement–of war or otherwise–predating Colum­bus has ever been found in the Amer­i­c­as, not so much as one rusty pin!

Regard­ing the Book of Mor­mon, I’m com­pelled to look at the facts, the evidence–or absence there­of.

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