Saturday, July 9, 2011

Golden Plates in the New World

So I've just been doing a little reading in Christopher Columbus's letters. On his second voyage to the Caribbean Columbus took along Diego Alvarez Chanca, a physician who wrote a letter describing the voyage to his hometown of Seville. Chanca--like everyone else who traveled to the New World--spends a lot of time talking about gold, and I was struck by the way in which he describes native practices of shaping the metal:

"At the time of their departure [the explorers'], he [Guacamari, the native chief] gave to each of them a jewel of gold, to each according as each seemed to merit. This gold they fashion in very thin plates" (Jane 56).

Chanca's phrase is Spanish is actually, "Este oro facian en fojas muy delgadas," which could also be translated, "this gold they fashion in very thin pages." In other words, among this group of Native Americans on the island of Hispaniola, all gold was first shaped into very thin sheets that Chanca thought resembled the pages of a book. The gold might subsequently be reshaped into masks or jewelry, but first it was formed into thin plates. I'm sure that someone at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship has already made this connection, but it seems worthwhile to point out that Native peoples living in the Americas regularly fashioned their gold into thin sheets or pages centuries before Joseph Smith saw the gold plates given him by Moroni.


Jenny said...

muy interestante!

Alana said...

I know other people follow this blog, where are all the comments? Gold plates, hummm, you don't say.