Mosiah 8:9-10 — LeGrand Baker — rusty swords
10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust.
“Rust” implies they were made of iron – and this well before the iron age! Hugh Nibley addresses that problem in Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jarediltes (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1952), p. 210-215. It reads as follows:
A few years ago your loudest objection to the Jaredite history would most certainly have been its careless references to iron and even steel (e.g. 7:9) in an age when iron and steel were supposedly undreamed of. Today the protest must be rather feeble, even in those quarters “still under the influence of a theory of evolutionism which has been dragged so unfortunately into the study of ancient history.” Nothing better illustrates the hopelessness of trying to apply the neat, convenient, mechanical rule of progress to history than the present-day status of the metal ages. Let me refer you to Wainwright’s recent study on “The Coming of Iron.” There you will learn that the use of iron is as “primitive as that of any other metal: In using scraps of meteoric iron while still in the Chalcolithic Age the predynastic Egyptians were in no way unusual. The Eskimos did so, though otherwise only in the Bone Age, as did the neolithic Indians of Ohio. The Sumerians of Ur were at that time in the early Bronze Age though later they relapsed into the Copper Age.”” The possibility of relapse is very significan – there is no reason why other nations cannot go backwards as well as the Sumerians. But scraps of meteoric iron were not the only prehistoric source, for “it now transpires that, though not interested in it, man was able at an extremely early date to smelt his own iron from its ores and manufacture it into weapons.”‘But how can any men have made such a great discovery or perpetuated such a difficult art without being interested in it? We can only believe that there were somewhere people who were interested in it, and such people, as we shall presently see, actually dwelt in the original home of the Jaredites. Certainly there is no longer any reason for denying the Jaredites iron if they wanted it. A Mesopotamian knife blade “not of meteoric origin” and set in a handle has been dated with certainty to the twenty-eighth century B.C., iron from the Great Pyramid goes back to 2900 B.C. and “might perhaps have been smelted from an ore. ~ Yet the Egyptians, far from specializing in iron, never paid much attention to the stuff except in their primitive ritual~the last place we would expect to find it if it were a late invention. While Wainwright himself found iron beads at Gerzah in Egypt that “date to about 3,500 or earlier . . . actually Egypt was the last country of the Near East to enter the Iron Age, and then under an intensification of northern influences.” In fact by 1000 B.C. “Egypt still keeps on in the Bronze Age.”Having proved that the working of iron is as old as civilization, the Egyptians then go on to prove that civilization is perfectly free to ignore it, to the dismay of the evolutionists. It was the Asiatics who really made the most of iron. As early as 1925 B.C. a Hittite king had a throne of iron, and in Hittite temple inventories iron is the common metal, not the bronze to which one is accustomed in other lands of the Near East.”‘ If we move farther east, into the region in which the Jaredites took their rise, we find the manufacture of iron so far advanced by the Amarna period that the local monarch can send to the king of Egypt “two splendid daggers ‘whose blade is of khabalkinu’ . . . the word being usually translated as ‘steel.”‘ Though the translation is not absolutely certain, literary references to steel are very ancient. The Zend Avesta refers constantly to steel, and steel comes before iron in the four ages of Zarathustra, reminding one of the Vedic doctrine that the heaven was created out of steel and that steel was the “sky-blue metal” of the earliest Egyptians and Babylonians.” The legends of the tribes of Asia are full of iron and steel birds, arrows, and other magic articles, and the founder of the Seljuk dynasty of Iran was, as we have noted, called Iron- or Steel-Bow. The working of iron is practised in central Asia even by primitive tribes, and Marco Polo (I, 39) speaks of them as mining “steel,” rather than iron. Where “steel” may be taken to mean any form of very tough iron, the correct chemical formula for it is found in steel objects from Ras Shamra, dating back to the fourteenth century B. C.’- If we would trace the stuff back to its place and time of origin, we should in all probability find ourselves at home with the Jaredites, for theirs was the land of Tubal-cain, “the far northwest corner of Mesopotamia,” which, Wainwright observes in approving the account in Genesis 4:22, is “the oldest land where we know stores of manufactured iron were kept and distributed to the world.” It is to this region and not to Egypt that we must look for the earliest as well as the best types of ancient iron work, even though the Egyptians knew iron by 3,500 B.C. at least.
The example of iron, steel, and bronze is instructive. They are not evolved by imperceptible degrees to conquer the world in steady progressive triumph through the ages, but appear fully developed to be used in one place and forbidden in another, thrive in one age and be given up in the next.The same applies to another product attributed to the Jaredites and believed until recent years to have been a relatively late invention. In Joseph Smith’s day and long after there was not a scholar who did not accept Pliny’s account of the origin of glass without question. I used to be perplexed by the fact that reference in Ether 2:33 to “windows . . . that will be dashed in pieces” can only refer to glass windows, since no other kind would be waterproof and still be windows, and they would have to be brittle to be dashed “in pieces.” Moreover, Moroni in actually referring to “transparent glass” in 3:1, is probably following Ether. This would make the invention of glass far older than anyone dreamed it was until the recent finding of such objects as Egyptian glass beads “from the end of the third millennium B.C.’and “plaques of turquoise blue glass of excellent quality” in the possession of Zer, one of the very earliest queens of Egypt. “Very little is known,” writes Newberry, “about the early history of glass,” though that history “can indeed be traced back to prehistoric times, for glass beads have been found in prehistoric graves.” We need not be surprised if the occurrences of glass objects before the sixteenth century B. C. “are few and far between,” for glass rots, like wood, and it is a wonder that any of it at all survives from remote antiquity. There is all the difference in the world, moreover, between few glass objects and none at all. One clot of ruddy dirt is all we have to show that the Mesopotamians were using iron knives at the very beginning of the third millennium B.C.-but that is all we need. Likewise the earliest dated piece of glass known comes from the time of Amenhotep I; yet under his immediate successors glass vases appear that indicate an advanced technique in glass working: “they reveal their art in a high state of proficiency, that must be the outcome of a long series of experiments,” writes Newberry.
The finding of the oldest glass and ironwork in Egypt is not a tribute to the superior civilization of the Egyptians at all, but rather to the superior preservative qualities of their dry sands. We have seen that the Egyptians cared very little for iron, which was really at home in the land of Tubal-cain. The same would seem to be true of glass. The myths and folklore of the oldest stratum of Asiatic legend (the swan-maiden and arrow-chain cycles, for example) are full of glass mountains, glass palaces, and glass windows. In one extremely archaic and widespread legend the Shamir-bird (it goes by many names), seeking to enter the chamber of the queen of the underworld, breaks his wings on the glass pane of her window when he tries to fly through it. The glass mountain of the northern legends and the glass palace of the immense Sheba cycle I have shown in another study to be variants of this. “Glaze and vitreous paste,” so close to glass that its absence in the same region comes as a surprise, were “known and widely used in Egypt and Mesopotamia from the fourth millennium B. C. onwards.” But such stuff, applied to clay objects, has a far better chance of leaving a trace of itself than does pure glass which simply disintegrates in damp soil-a process which I have often had opportunity to observe in ancient Greek trash heaps. This easily accounts for the scarcity of glass remains outside of Egypt. We now realize that the scholars who categorically deny Marco Polo’s claim to have seen colored glass windows at the court of the Grand Khan spoke too soon. A contemporary of Marco “mentions that the windows of some of the yachts or barges had plate glass,” in China, but the commentator who cites this authority adds that “the manufacure was probably European.”It is interesting that the earliest use of window glass in the Far East was for ship windows, but the fact that glass was scarce in China does not make this European glass, for it was not Europe but central Asia that excelled in glass production. A Chinese observer in central Asia in 1221 was impressed by the great native industry, which produced among other things windows of clear glass.