In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Weights and Measures from the Old World to the New

"Laws of Eshnunna" tablets found at
(Tell Harmal) Baghdad, Iraq.
The early stages of the Nephite civilization began with a population of more or less around 50 people.  It is assumed that due to the difficult process and circumstances the time allotted in getting from the old world to the new that this would be enough to deculturalize this small group of refugees.  If that was indeed the case by the time they arrived from Jerusalem to what has been assumed was somewhere in Mesoamerica (possibly southwestern Guatemala) shortly after 600BC than within a few hundred years they had become a very cultured civilization through mixing with the indigenous population.  By 82 BC they had established a form of government consisting of judges and a court system with laws and regulations for the Nephite civilization.  This same level of sophistication was incorporated all the way down to a monetary system of weights and measures of goods designed for barter and daily wages.  It states in Alma chapter 11 the names of the different weights and measurements of gold, silver, barley and other grains and how they coincide for daily use.  These names and measurements were established by the Nephite king at the time named Mosiah.

Other old world ancient civilizations appear to have used a similar code of conduct for their wages and barter system.  This can be seen in the "Laws of Eshnunna" which consists of two tablets found at Shaduppum (Tell Harmal) Baghdad, Iraq.  They were unearthed in 1945 and 1947 and are copies of an older source that dates back to 1930 BC. Similar to the barter system established among the Nephites the Laws of Eshnunna allowed people to deal confidently with barley, silver, oil, lard, wool, salt, bitumen and different forms of copper.  Both appear to have been instituted by kings and established daily wage value as well as penalties. 

Because the Laws of Eshnunna predate the Book of Mormon by over 1300 years some antagonists would be quick to call for more evidence like this dating to Book of Mormon timeframes (600BC-400AD).  Although less than 2% of all known ruin sites in Mesoamerica have been excavated we do have some promising leads of archaeological evidence especially in the area of a site known as El Zotz.  El Zotz is a Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala just west of Tikal.  In 2010 Stephen Houston of Brown University led the excavation of a tomb that roughly dated between 350-400 AD.  According to partially deciphered hieroglyphics on the tombs walls the occupants name translates into "Red Turtle" or "Great Turtle".  Inside the tomb were found many relics and objects.  Of particular interest was a pile of 15 hematite cubes or ingots precious pigment.  Kristina Cheung, in her peer review of the findings entitled, "Inferring Ancient technology and Practices of the Elite Maya Kingship Through the Application of Materials Engineering Characterization Modalities" states the following,

Hematite Ingots found in tomb at El Zots Guatemala
(top right hand corner)
"The specular hematite ingots (15 of them) found at this archaeological site are the first of this quantity and form to be recorded in the Maya region.  The pigment is not indigenous to the area, which confirms that these ingots must have been imported from other parts of the Maya area such as central Mexico.  The scarcity of the pigment ingots is the most likely due to their status as valued trade objects."

Stephen Houston himself stated, "I would also note what came as a great surprise to me was the presence of balls of basically cubes of precious imported pigment which was remarkably uniform in height and these appear to be literally a kind of trade ingot of a precious substance that's been heaped like so much gold in a Swiss Bank vault in the corner of the tomb.  And it's some of the first evidence we have ever seen of systems of measurement used by traders in the Maya lowlands."

So these precious hematite uniformed sized ingots appear to be some of the first evidences we have of a uniform system of measurement that would have been used by traders throughout the area when dealing with specific materials.  Future excavations throughout the area will hopefully be able to support these findings.  This would line up great with the claims quoted above by King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon  and would have been something that would have been considered ridiculous by naysayers of the Book of Mormon at the time of its translation in the early 1800's.  It goes to show that with a little time and patience things that at one point may have seemed outlandish such as a civilization in the new world that was on a level of sophistication that it would allow for it's own monetary system, may not be as absurd as once thought.  In fact it seems to be logically right on target with the original suggestion of the Book of Mormon.   


  1. First time I have seen this and Houston is a reliable source of information in my experience, as well. Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year, JL!

  2. Thanks Mark. Happy New Year to you too!