Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mesoamerican Scimitars (Howlers # 19)

Part 2

Ross Hassig has identified a curved weapon portrayed in Postclassic Mesoamerican art which he calls a “short sword”  (Ross Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992, 112-13;  “Weaponry,” in Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster, eds., Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 2001, 810-11; Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, 23-24; “La Guerra en la Antigua Mesoamerica,” Arqueologia Mexicana 14/84 Marzo-Abril 2007: 36. See also Esperanza Elizabeth Jimenez Garcia, “Iconografia guerrera en la escultura de Tula, Hidalgo,” Arqueologia Mexicana 14/84 Marzo-Abril 2007: 54-59).

       It was a curved weapon designed for slashing and consisted of a flat hard wooden base approximately 50 cm. (20 inches) long into which were set obsidian blades along both edges. “It was an excellent slasher and yet the forward curve of the sword retained some aspects of a crusher when used curved end forward” (Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 113). The lightness of the short sword enabled the soldier to carry more than one weapon. “Soldiers could now provide their own covering fire with atlatls while advancing and still engage in hand-to-hand combat with short swords once their closed with the enemy” (Hassig, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest, 23-24).

This weapon or something very similar may have been used until shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in some sectors of Mesoamerica. Huastec engravings on shell show “a sort of curved club, apparently of wood and with a cutting edge” which may have been a similar weapon (Guy Stresser-Pean, “Ancient Sources on the Huasteca,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians 11 1971, 595). Hassig reported that short swords are portrayed in the hands of warriors on a Aztec monument from the ceremonial center at Tenochtitlan and took this as evidence that the weapon was either “still in use or at least remembered as a functional weapon” at that time (Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 248, note 8).  Reportedly among the weapons used by the ancestors of Guatemalan peoples were “certain scimitars they say were made of flint” (“Descripcion de la provincia de Zapotitlan y Suchitepequez,” Sociedad de Geografia e Historia de Guatemala, Anales 28 1955: 74).  Another tradition relates that the Pre-Columbian ancestral heroes of certain west Mexican tribes taught their people to make fire and “gave them also machetes or cutlasses of iron” (Robert H. Barlow, “Straw Hats,” Tlalocan 2/1 1945: 94). Interestingly, if credited, this may suggest that pieces of iron may have sometimes been used as scimitar or machete-like blades rather than obsidian. In any case, this weapon seems to be a reasonable candidate for the Book of Mormon scimitar (William J. Hamblin and A Brent Merrill first suggested this correlation in “Notes on the Cimeter (Scimitar) in the Book of Mormon,” Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 361. For a more detailed discussion see Matthew Roper, “Swords and `Cimeters’ in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 1999: 39-40, 41-43; Roper, “Mesoamerican `Cimeters’ in Book of Mormon times,” Insights: An Ancient Window 28/1 2008: 2-3).

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