Q. Isn't the mention of swords in the New World another anachronism?As an update, this year I also learned about related club-like weapons further north in the Americas. For example, theNew Georgia Encyclopedia has an article about the archaeology of the ancient Indians in the Georgia area entitled "Indian Warfare." This article discusses weapons and describes "the atassa, which was actually a wooden sword shaped like a pirate's cutlass." A helpful drawing is also provided. The word "sword" in this article is not Mormon spin.
A. Many say that it is. Certainly swords were known in the ancient Old World, but the Book of Mormon speaks of swords used for centuries in the New World, where it is "common knowledge" that swords as we know them were not in use prior to the time of Columbus. But the ancient peoples in Book of Mormon lands, especially in Central American lands, definitely did use weapons that qualify as swords and were even called "swords" by Europeans who later saw them in use. These New World swords were non-metallic, incorporating obsidian blades. Examples of such swords from the Aztecs are discussed in the online article, "A Technological Mystery Resolved" by Terry Stocker at http://www.cmog.org/page.cfm?page=278.
A well known form of these pre-Columbian New World swords is the macuahuitl or the macana. Though the macuahuitl has been described as a "war club with sharp rocks embedded in it" by a Book of Mormon critic, the Spaniards that came to Central America consistently described it as a sword, not a club, as is shown by Matthew Roper in the article, "Eyewitness Descriptions of Mesoamerican Swords," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1996, pp. 150-158. Roper notes that the early Chroniclers of Mesoamerica, Durán and Clavijero, regularly called that weapon a sword. . . . [continue reading]
A related article is "Warclubs and Falcon Warriors: Martial Arts, Status, and the Belief System in Southeastern Mississippian Chiefdoms" by Wayne W. Van Horne, Kennesaw State College, paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Anthropological Society, Beloit, Wisconsin, March 20, 1993. This scholarly overview has the following passage:
During the Mississippian and early historic periods Southeastern warriors used the warclub as their primary weapon, and they were experts in using it. The wide variety of warclub types that existed is part of the evidence of their importance in warfare. Warclub types included utilitarian types that were constructed for use as actual weapons, and ceremonial types, which were clearly non-functional and were used for culturally symbolic purposes. Utilitarian warclubs can be categorized into several general types based on construction. The first type is a stick that is one to two feet in length with an inset projection at the striking end made from a flint blade, animal tooth, or bone or antler fragment. The second type is a globe-headed warclub one to two feet in length with a thin handle and a ball shaped head that sometimes has an inset projection on the striking surface. The third type is the atassa, a wooden broadsword that is one to three feet in length and is shaped like a European broadsword, or falchion, without a hilt. The atassa was the most prevalent form of warclub in use in the protohistoric period. [emphasis mine]Again we encounter the theme of wooden swords among the ancient Americans.
If the swords used by Lamanites were at least partly made from wood, then a once puzzling discussion of such swords in the Book of Mormon makes sense, as noted by Matthew Roper in "Swords and Cimeters in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999, pp. 34-43. The passage is in Alma 24:12-15, where a group of converted Lamanites make an oath to bury their swords and "stain" them no more with blood:
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.Metal swords are easily cleaned and do not stain with blood, but the wooden handles of a macuahuitl or other sword-like weapon could absorb blood and become stained. They would be difficult to clean - and would almost take a miracle to remove the stains, much as the converted Lamanites understood that it was the miracle of Christ's grace that had removed the stain of blood from their souls. I think the reference to the swords being made "bright" could be a metaphor referring to a lighter color or bleaching of the cleansed swords as a whole or to the shiny brightness of the cleaned obsidian blades.
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.
Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
In any case, I am intrigued by the richness of weapons used in the ancient New World and the possible correspondance to weapons in the Book of Mormon. This post only scratches the surface of this fascinating topic.