Monday, July 27, 2009

Swords of the Ancients or the Riddle of Steel

Sword styles have always depended upon the technology and cultural leanings of their day. For instance by the time of the Renaissance all gentlemen wore expensive fencing swords at their side as a mark of prestige, as if they were all knights from the romanticized days of yore. Of course fencing swords are not what knights of yore carried at all, they carried big heavy broadswords or hand and a half bastard swords. You had to have something like that if you expected to fight someone wearing fifty pounds of armor and let them feel it.

Fencing swords came about because the entire environment of the battlefield was different. Archers, scraped from the bottom of the barrel of the peasants could now slay heavily armored knights, wearing what cost the equivalent of an expensive home. More wealth than that peasant would ever see in his lifetime. So wearing heavy armor no longer made sense, you needed to be fast, hence the fencing blade.

Going way back when bronze weapons were the standard, you could not make long swords because bronze was too weak. Short stocky weapons was the way to go to lessen the possibility of bending or breaking your sword, which still happened often enough. You didn't get long swords until you got steel. And now the true point of my post.

The Sword of Laban was made of the finest steel. It had a hilt of gold. This is not a regular occurrence for the time frame of 600 B.C. This is a special sword. I cannot say how much I hate the representations of the Sword of Laban when it is made to look like a short roman gladius. Gladius's were the style of the day for the old world sword-makers IF they did not have steel.

By telling us that the sword was of steel, we can most assuredly know that the Sword of Laban would be a long sword. You have greater reach over your enemies and greater cutting power. Bronze weapons needed to be constantly resharpened, they cannot hold an edge with any amount of real use. I argue therefore we can know that anyone with a steel sword had a much longer sword that those of bronze.

Making steel is not so hard a thing as armchair researchers would have us believe. The ancients knew very well what different ores were and that once heating up the raw iron ores in blast furnaces they could add the necessary carbons to create steel. Trade secrets among guilds easily explains why some societies took longer than others to learn the craft of making steel.

I find it a shortsighted and faithless argument that the knowledge of steel was not known in America. It absolutely was, but steel made over 2,000 years ago doesn't last well unless kept dry and free of rust, with exquisite care or luck. For evidence that just such things were undertaken I direct you to a site documenting the existence of iron furnace pits as well as slag piles from the waste in OHIO of all places and the numerous pits in Ohio are certainly not the only ancient ones in the U.S.

Now some may argue that these ancient furnace pits are the work of pioneers, what they fail to understand is there are far too many pits to account for the relatively small numbers of settlers in the Ohio territories. A people, numerous as the sands of the sea were here at one time. They had the need and numbers for just such a far-reaching enterprise.

Numerous mounds that have been investigated contain skeletons of men with the decayed remnants of head-plates and scabbards. Long scabbards filled with nothing but rust. The swords are gone but they were there once.

My argument is for Nephite technology as mentioned with in the text of the Book of Mormon and against the premise that Nephi who made swords based upon the Sword of Laban as a model would have forgotten how to forge iron; that he just done to make a ship, and instead decided he would affix obsidian to wooden paddles. As I have stated in an earlier post (Design, Fashion and Weapons) a Maquahuitl will mess you up. The Spaniards invading Tenochtitlan said one decapitated a horse! But they are an inferior weapon in comparison to good steel.

There is no reason to A$$ume that Nephites couldn't solve the riddle of steel. They absolutely did. What I have not even touched upon yet is they were also hardening copper beyond its usual strength, a feat we still to this day have not yet been able to duplicate. I postulate on how they did that in my historical fiction novel Heroes of the Fallen. But even that is just an educated guess on my part utilizing theories I have found out in the process of sword-making. I am by no means an expert. As for the copper we at least have a vast amount to examine. It is from the upper peninsula of Michigan and was traded throughout the Americas and likely beyond by Phoenicians but that is another post.

So what do I think a Nephite long-sword would have looked like? Here is one that is a little corroded but still, its the best we have. Courtesy of Ancient Treasure Hunter, Steve Shaffer.

It's gone now. An old Indian found it and allowed a picture to be taken but then he said it belonged to the ancients and must remain in the earth beside them. He went back out into the desert and buried it where no one would find it. That's a crying shame to me. As a kid I always wanted to find one of the pits where they threw their weapons of war away swearing to never take them up again. I hope at the least I have given something to think about and opened a doorway to the possibility that there is more to the story than what we have typically been told about Ancient America


Tamara Hart Heiner said...

fascinating! you definitely know a lot about your topic!

Angie said...

That was really interesting. I hadn't ever considered that. Thank you.

Mary Gray said...

Have you heard the argument about the impossibility of finding the golden plates because... of something crazy like the dirt piling up too much? When I was a sophomore in high school I used to get that one (but that's probably just because I was living in Missouri and you could legally shoot a Mormon in that state 'til 1976!).

David J. West said...

I haven't heard about dirt piling up-so I'm not sure what that means. A gradual covering over the stone box on Cumorah? Wouldn't erosion be a bigger concern at exposing the stone box?

In any case thanks everybody for the comments. I appreciate it.

Raymond said...

Hey David, what's the story behind that sword's picture? Can you give a bit more detail about who gave you that picture and such? Are you claiming it was a relic found by indians in Ancient America? Or was he just respecting just any old dead thing?


David J. West said...

It was Steve Shaffer, author of a number of interesting books. My favorite of his is "Treasures of the Ancients" his website is chock full of interesting stuff
I first saw this pic five and half years ago at an ancient american symposium in Provo.

As Steve tells it he was out in the desert with a number of friends and an old indian that was with them found it. He never said where, but obviously the hot and dry climate was conducive to the swords not disentigrating as it would anywhere else, whether the rainy central america's or the american mid-west. I say mid-west because the mounds that have obvious warriors entombed have rust in their ruinous leather scabbards. No steel survives.

Well this indian gave Steve permission to photograph the sword but said it belonged to the old ones and should remain in the earth with them. He then took it out somewhere no one could see and buried it up again.

Now, IF this was a hoax, why bother? No one made money from it. I think it has not made the rounds on the internet at all. As far as I know I am the first to post it. It is not on Steve's site I had to ask him for it.
I am very well versed in swords as a collector and the image doesn't look like any model I have ever seen. Trust me I keep tabs on these things. It is similar in respects to any number of broadswords and yet different. The handle is full tang as it would have been forged and yet thinner, accounting for the likely leather wrapping for comfort and grip. IF this is a fake its too much work for no pay-off. Only a handful of people have seen it and we already believe in the B of M regardless. My testimony does'nt change one way or the other-its just cool.

So ultimately I admit a bias to believe it is real. I want to believe but also I don't see a good reason to say it is a fake.
I think its authentic.