In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nephite Costly Apparel, Color Concepts with Phoenician Origins Practiced in Mayan Societies.

Ancient Phoenician and Mayan practice of using
purple Shellfish to make purple dye for clothing.
My recent studies on the Book of Mormon have lead me to John Sorenson's newest book "Mormons Codex" which has proven to be a treasure trove of parallels between the Mesoamerican civilizations and the populations of the Book of Mormon.  This blog post is going to focus on another one of the informative insights found in that book.  It is on correlations between the practice of making certain dyes originating in the Old World (Phoenicia) and the same practice being found in the New World  (Mesoamerica).  Although Sorenson talks about two colors of dyes that have Old World origins (purple and crimson) due to space and time constraints this blog post will only cover one of them.

Sorenson states, "we may presume that Nephite "costly apparel"  would have entailed dyeing, although the text says nothing about colors or techniques.  Two famous dyes were available both in the Near East /Mediterranean area and Mesoamerica.  One is purple derived from small shellfish, and the other is crimson from the cochineal scale insect.  [Wolfgang] Born is one of many observers who have described the intricate process for obtaining purple shellfish dye.  Mexican collectors entered rocky coastal waters where the shellfish are found, picked up each individual mollusk, carefully squeezed out its fluid onto a piece of cloth, and (usually) replaced the mollusk to be "milked" again later.  The purple dye is not obvious at first; the color becomes visible only slowly as the mollusk's body fluid is exposed to the air.  Great effort and endurance are required to harvest the dye; hence cloth so dyed is very expensive.  Purple was considered symbolic of fertility and royalty.  Off the Phoenician coast the exact same process was followed, and the symbolism associated with the dyed fabric was similar.  Because of the extreme unlikelihood that such an intricate combination of concepts and techniques could have arisen twice independently, numerous investigators besides Born (Carter, Jackson, Jett, Nuttall, Johnson, and Gerhard) have believed that this cultural complex represented a transfer of ideas and skills from the eastern Mediterranean (where it was known as early as 1600 BC in the area that became known as Phoenicia) to the New World."

Once again the Book of Mormon does not state anything about "dyes" but the transfer of the ideas and techniques for obtaining some of the colors associated with "costly apparel" in both the Phoenician and Mayan cultures fits well with what we are told about travel between the two continents.  Besides, Sorenson also reminds us that the "Mulekites (from the Book of Mormon) likely traveled in a Phoenician ship."

For more information on the ancient ties to the making of the crimson color please see John Sorenson's "Mormons Codex".


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