Question: Did swords exist in Pre-Columbian America during the Book of Mormon time period?

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Question: Did swords exist in Pre-Columbian America during the Book of Mormon time period?

Swords clearly existed in Mesoamerica, and they were so labeled by Spanish conquistadors

Macuahuitl swords from the 15th Century Florentine Codex

Some critics have charged that no Pre-Columbian swords existed at all. This is clearly false; evidence from Pre-Columbian art supports the idea that there were swords as early as the Pre-classic.[1] Non-LDS authors have often used the term "sword" for such weapons.[2]

Scott Brian, a graduate student of Archaeology at BYU, has made several reconstructions of a macuahuitl, the ancient Mesoamerican weapon often termed a "sword"—the term the Spaniards used when they faced this fearsome weapon that could cut better than metal swords.

See photos of the modern reconstruction: Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

Macuahuitl swords from the 15th Century Florentine Codex

One chronicle described the macuahuitl's ability to decapitate a horse:

While we were at grips with this great army and their dreadful broadswords, many of the most powerful among the enemy seem to have decided to capture a horse. They began with a furious attack, and laid hands on a good mare well trained both for sport and battle. Her rider, Pedro de Moron, was a fine horseman; and as he charged with three other horsemen into enemy ranks—they had been instructed to charge together for mutual support—some of them seized his lance so that he could not use it, and others slashed at him with their broadswords, wounding him severely, Then they slashed at his mare, cutting her head at the neck so that it only hung by the skin. The mare fell dead, and if his mounted comrades had not come to Moron's rescue, he would probably have been killed also.(italics added)[3]

Book of Mormon examples

Some Book of Mormon passages make less sense if the reference to "sword" is read as a European-style, metallic sword.

For example, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi group described how the atonement of Christ had miraculous made their swords "bright" again, after being stained with the blood of murder:

Obsidian gleaming in the light. From R.Weller/Cochise College, free for non-commercial educational use. Original here.
And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren. Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.(Alma 24:11-13)

Wiping blood from a metal blade is simple—cleaning such a weapon is no miracle. However, the wooden-hafted macuhuitl would absorb the blood, making it almost impossible to clean. The "brightness" of the sword blades matches well with obsidian fragments. Obsidian was polished into mirrors, and gleamed brightly. The Spaniard Torquemada described obsidian as

a stone which might be called precious, more beautiful and brilliant than alabaster or jasper, so much so that of it are made tablets and mirrors....[4]

For other photos of how shiny obsidian can be here: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3

Notes

  1. Matthew Roper, "Swords and "Cimeters" in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 34–43. wiki
  2. Diego Durán, The History of the Indies of New Spain, trans. Doris Heyden (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 66, 76, 109, 135, 139, 150, 152–53, 171, 198, 279, 294, 323, 375, 378, 412, 428, 437, 441, 451, 519, 552–53; Diego Durán, Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar, trans. Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 124, 178–80, 234, 236; The macuahuitl "was equivalent to the sword of the Old Continent"; Francesco S. Clavijero, The History of Mexico, trans. Charles Cullen, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Budd and Bartram, 1804), 2:165. Cited in Matthew Roper, "Eyewitness Descriptions of Mesoamerican Swords," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 150–158. wiki See footnotes 4-5.
  3. Over a dozen examples are cited in Matthew Roper, "Eyewitness Descriptions of Mesoamerican Swords," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 150–158. wiki This example comes from Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J. M. Cohen (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 145.
  4. P. Marcou, "Procédé des Aztèques pour la taille par éclatement des couteaux ou rasoirs d'obsidienne," trans. by Edward B. Tylor [check spelling], Journal de la Société des Americanistas de Paris 13 (1921): 19; cited in Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords (Review of Of Cities and Swords: The Impossible Task of Mormon Apologetics)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 146–158. off-site