The Tumbaga Pla-ates La-ay Hi-i-dden

Deep in the mountainside . . .

Okay, so the idea that the Golden Plates weren’t really made of gold, but rather out of a lighter alloy called tumbaga has now been kicking around for almost 40 years. To what effect, I wonder.

Is this a theory which you accept, constant reader? A theory which you dispute? One that you cheerfully ignore? (One that you’ve never heard of, maybe?) And are Mormons in general subscribing to the tumbaga theory? Rejecting it? Have you ever heard the word “tumbaga” used during Sunday School? (How does one pronounce it, anyway?) Used during Sacrament meeting?

And most importantly — Do you own any tumbaga kitsch jewelry? (Should you?)

26 comments for “The Tumbaga Pla-ates La-ay Hi-i-dden

  1. I think most importantly — does it matter?

    Sure, it’s plausible, and renders weight estimates of the plates more manageable. It’s fascinating for those of us who try to figure out which mountain was Cumorah and whether Judaic ritual figured into the priests of Noah abducting the daughters of the Lamanites. But does it really matter? Is anyone converted or brought closer to the Lord via tumbaga?

  2. I don’t know if this has to do with tumbaga but I remember reading that etchings on pure gold would easily rub away since gold is so malleable. Hence the supposed need for a more rigid alloy.

  3. I don’t know about tumbaga, but based on this article the Ensign has certainly changed in the last 40 years.

  4. Golden plates certainly leaves open the possibility that they were not gold plates, doesn’t it?

    And yes, I think that alternative is mostly useful as a means of defusing those anti’s who wish to get excited about how the plates must have weighed too much for anyone to carry. NOt that God couldn’t have dealt with that regardless, but it always nice to have a few alternatives.

  5. We routinely talk about 10-karat gold, etc. But that’s just an alloy that is less than half gold, right? So tumbaga and gold don’t seem to be exclusive categories. What do we alloy gold with today? Sure, the plates could easily have been made of a gold-copper-silver alloy; seems only natural.

    I thought the article was great, very matter-of-fact and detailed. Thanks for the link, Kaimi!

  6. Kaimi, I’m curious what you think of this theory. I have been working off the hypothesis that you base your beliefs on rejecting as much put forward by FARMS as possible without actually rejecting gospel doctrine. If you like the Tumbaga theory I may have to toss my hypothesis.

  7. I’d like to 2nd Ben H’s comment. Pure gold is a rarity, even in these modern times. The question isn’t whether the plates had gold in them, but what else they were composed of.

  8. Pure gold isn’t always a rarity. From what I’ve seen I think this may be a cultural thing. The jewelry worn by Asian cultures is often 99% pure. I’ve looked closely at a few items like this and they often have a small series of nines (i.e. 9999 — I’m not sure how many exactly) etched on them somewhere, to show just how pure the gold really is. Once a person becomes aware of this, it becomes much more obvious too — because the purer gold is a distinctly different color than much of the gold jewelry that is routinely sold and worn by people in the United States. The purer stuff looks much more golden in its appearance. Go to a jewelry store in Chinatown (NY, CA … anywhere else?) and you’ll find plenty of examples.

    I think part of the reason that pure gold is valued by some cultures more than others is due to the role that jewelry might play. In some cultures, a woman’s gold jewelry might be her version of an insurance policy or emergency account.

  9. Considering the problems associated with pure gold for writing (e.g. malleability) and the corresponding weight, how does one then read the passage concerning the 24 Jaredite plates in Mosiah 8:9?

    And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

  10. I’m not sure why this should matter to our testimonies — even if the golden plates were made of lead, would their words be less meaningful? We need to remember that the purpose of the Book is to bring us closer to Christ. As long as it serves that purpose, what do these questions matter??

    Just an opinion.

  11. The Book of Mormon states over and over again that the plates/records were “preserved.” That word might be loaded to a certain extent. Who knows what procedures or special treatments the prophets and record-keepers used to preserve the records? This might have involved the mix of ores/metals that were used but also how the plates were treated thereafter. I’d imagine from time to time the plates needed to be cleaned and polished. I would also imagine that when the plates were hidden and sealed up, that they were stored in the best way that was known. Most importantly, the BOM states that the records were “preserved by the hand of the Lord.”

    Here’s a link for looking up all the verses where the word “preserved” is used.

    Many of them refer to people being preserved — so one has to sift through them. But there are many references to the records themselves.

  12. “Do you own any tumbaga kitsch jewelry? (Should you?)” Of course–on both counts. My gold wedding ring was much too heavy for one man to carry so I made one out of tumbaga. I also have a beltbuckle made of it that I wear when I ride my deer, uh, I mean my horse.

  13. #12, I think it is important because all the people who handled the plates claim it weighed about 50-60 pounds. There is no way with the dimensions given by joseph smith that gold plates could have weighed 50-60 pounds.

  14. From the Improvement Era (link in Kami’s post)

    “He was put to a good deal of schooling by the messenger to insure that he would not attempt to convert them to wealth”.

    If the plates were tumbaga and not gold, why didn’t Moroni just say so? Especially since he put the effort into convincing Joseph not to melt them down for cash.

  15. Stone seeker (#16): If the plates were tumbaga and not gold, why didn’t Moroni just say so? Especially since he put the effort into convincing Joseph not to melt them down for cash.

    There more ways than one in which the plates would be valuable. They would certainly have worth as artifacts, and Joseph could have put them on display, toured with them, or even sold them to a museum.

    Regardless if they were real gold of not, what Moroni (and the Lord) was concerned about was Joseph’s desires — did he want to do the Lord’s will, or was he in it for the money?

  16. Costanza,

    I know you are joking, but I don’t know of any instance in the Book of Mormon where people rode the horses mentioned. Occasionally they were used to pull things, but ever never or rarely is riding them mentioned.

  17. And most importantly – Do you own any tumbaga kitsch jewelry? (Should you?) That’s very funny, Kaimi. I think you’ve discovered the next great Mormon fad.

  18. In typical FARMS B.S. They conviently forget to mention that tumbaga isn’t known to be in use until well after 421 AD. Thank God for google. If anybody finds any info contrary to this please post it.

  19. Forgot the “like” should read “In typical FARMS like B.S”. Which is beside the point because they are sympathetic to the theory and use it to dicredit a book in their review section.

  20. Gary: So do you just have a knee jerk reaction against anything in FARMS? Just what makes you thing FARMS published about tumgaga anyway? Actually, the dating of tumbaga artifacts is not nearly as precise as you state. Google again — you’ll see that such aritifacts made of tumbaga range from 1 A.D. to 500 A.D. as the source origin.

  21. Can you post your link or links because I havn’t been able to find tumbaga earlier than 600 ad.

  22. They found something dated 600 A.D. and you think that this shows it probably wasn’t around 350 A.D. when Mormon was writing his record? Perhaps you have an overdeveloped expectation of what archaelogy in the Americas can really say. In New World archaelogy, the argument from silence seems amazingly uncompelling.

  23. Frank, you’re right. What I meant was that I wear it when the “horses” pull my “chariot.” There, that should set things right.

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