Onidah, “The Place of Arms”

The Book of Mormon contains some references that seem to have significance to the book’s cultures, but which at first might not seem very helpful in identifying the lands they are associated to.  One phrase in the book that may fit this description is a place called “Onidah” which Mormon calls “the place of arms”.

There are two places in the Book of Mormon where this place called Onidah is mentioned.  The first time it is mentioned is when Mormon is telling us the story of Alma preaching to the Zoramites, which says:

“A people…had separated…from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites…Now the Zoramites had gathered…together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites. Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites…therefore Alma [and others]…went among the Zoramites, to preach…Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites;…and…[Alma and others] began to have success among the poor class of people…[after] teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah.”

This first reference to Onidah tells us that it is in a land called “Antionum” and it gives us several good references to help us know where Antionum is located in relation to Zarahemla, Jershon, the seashore, and the south wilderness which is occupied by the Lamanites.  Within our model of the lands of the Book of Mormon, the area that this constrains us to is a relatively small area near the seashore, east of the Sierra de San Francisco.

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This place reference becomes interesting when we consider the second reference to the place called “Onidah” in the text:

“Amalickiah…went forward to the place which was called Onidah…to the place of arms”

This second reference calls Onidah “the place of arms”.  The text does not elaborate on what it means by “the place of arms”, but there is only one specific area in our model where Onidah seems to fit and that place offers us an intriguing possibility for what the term “the place of arms” may mean.

We know that the circumstances around both references to Onidah in The Book of Mormon had one similarity.  In each reference the people who had gone to that place were soon to be at war.  We also know that a common technology mentioned in battles in The Book of Mormon is the use of arrows.  Assuming that although metallurgy is described among the Nephites, lithic technologies were also used among the various cultures of the book, it would make sense if “the place of arms” included a lithic quarry.

The most desirable lithic material for creating arrowheads, javelin and spear heads, knives, and other cutting implements is obsidian.  This is because obsidian is a glass and as such it does not have built-in fracture planes like other common crystalline sources used for creating implements with sharp edges.

Obsidian arrowheads and other cutting tools are common archaeological artifacts in the Baja peninsula and identifying obsidian sources is a priority for archaeologists.  Several obsidian sources have been found in the peninsula, but one stands out, not just for the Baja peninsula, but it has significance in the broader archaeology of the American Southwest:

“Valle de Azufre is a newly discovered source of high-quality obsidian in central Baja California, which exhibits the most intensive exploitation of any known source in the greater United States Southwest and Northwest Mexico”

Mass Production and Procurement at Valle del Azufre: A Unique Archaeological Obsidian Source in Baja California Sur; M. Steven Shackley, Justin R. Hyland and Maria de la Luz Gutierrez M.; American Antiquity , Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct., 1996), pp. 718-731

The scope of the work that the indigenous population of the peninsula undertook to make use of this source of obsidian is astounding when compared to the current archaeological and ethnographic knowledge of the prehistoric cultures of the peninsula.  The sites features include trenches many meters deep and mines that were dug to follow veins of the obsidian.  The tremendous amount of obsidian flakes covering the area attest to the fact that the obsidian was worked right at the site to create cutting implements in mass quantities.

When you combine the fact that the location of the hill Onidah is very well constrained to a small geographic area in our Book of Mormon geographic model with the fact that this area contains the most utilized obsidian source not just in the Baja peninsula, but in the entire American Southwest and Northwestern Mexico as well, it presents a very strong case to back up the references from the text to this precise spot in the peninsula.

 

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