Evidence #248 | October 4, 2021

Lengthy Plates

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Scripture Central


Metal documents comparable in length to the Book of Mormon, have been discovered in India.

Book of Mormon scribes indicate that some of the plates upon which they kept records were of substantial size. The plates of Ether kept by the last Jaredite prophet and recovered by the people of King Limhi contained twenty-four plates said to have been made of gold (Mosiah 8:9; Ether 1:2). The plates of brass, which the sons of Lehi obtained from Laban at Jerusalem and carried with them to the land of promise, seem to have been of substantial size. They included the equivalent of much of our current Old Testament, as well as additional prophetic and genealogical material (1 Nephi 5:10–14; 13:23).

Reconstruction of the Brass Plates. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The larger plates of Nephi which were kept by the kings and other Nephite rulers over a period of nearly a thousand years (1 Nephi 9:2–4; 19:1–4; Jacob 1:3; 3:13; Jarom 1:14; Mormon 1:3–4; 2:17–19) may have been a sizable document (or, more likely, a set of documents). Mormon indicates that some of the records of the people who dwelt in the land northward may have included plates that were “particular and very large” (Helaman 3:13). Witnesses who described the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated indicate that the number of plates in that record were substantial, although none provides a specific number. From all of the above, we can conclude that some of the metal documents known and kept by Book of Mormon prophets must have been of significant length.

In another evidence summary, we discussed copper plate grants found in India. Some examples of such plates discovered since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 are of significant size and length.

The Larger Leiden Plates of Rajaraja I

The Larger Leiden Plates are a set of twenty-one copper plates first edited and published in 1886.1 As with many copper plate grants from India, they were held together by a copper ring and seal of the Chola dynasty. They date to the reign of Rajendra-Chola I (AD 1012–1044). The first five plates (which recount the ancestry and notable deeds of the ruler and his ancestors) are in Sanskrit, while the remaining sixteen (which contain the royal grant) are in the Tamil language. According to K. V. Subrahmanya Aiyer, “at the time the large Leiden plates were published, the account furnished in them formed the only authentic source for Chola history and served to remove some of the misconceptions and wrong conjectures regarding a few of the members of the Chola family.”

Leiden Plates. Image via madrasmusings.com.

The Tiruvalangadu Plates of Rajendra Chola I

The Tiruvalangadu plates are a set of thirty-one copper plates discovered in 1905 which contain a royal grant made during the sixth year of the reign of this king.3 The plates were attached to a copper ring and seal. The first part, written in Sanskrit, records a genealogy of the Chola king going back to mythical times and references notable deeds of ancestors in the royal line. The second part contains the grant and was written in Tamil. In total, the text consists of six-hundred and eighty-two lines.

The Karandai Sangam Plates

The Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra-Chola I are a set of 57 copper plates dating to the reign of this king and were once held together by two massive copper rings.4 The plates were first secured for study in 1950, having been discovered seventy years earlier. A translation and detailed edition by K. G. Krishnan was published in 1984.5 The set consists of three sections. The first three plates were inscribed in Sanskrit and provide a eulogistic genealogy of the king and his ancestors. The second and third sections are written in Tamil. Section two, which has twenty-two plates, describes the grant itself, while section three, which has thirty-two plates, consists of a lengthy list of 1080 Brahmin recipients of the grant, including temples and temple services that fall under their purview. No other copper-plate grant is known to describe so many beneficiaries.6 The text has a total of 2628 lines.7 The plates are not all of the same size and weight. Krishnan suggests this is because the individual plates were prepared at different times although they were all subsequently attached by the rings.8

The Tiruvindalur Plates

Statue of Rajendra Chola. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Tiruvindalur Plates are a set of 85 copper plates that were discovered in 2010 during renovation of a small temple of Siva in the village of Tiruvindalur in the Mayiladithurai Taluk district.9 R. Nagaswamy, former director of the Department of Archaeology in the state of Tamil Nadu where they were found, described the plates as the Indian “find of the century.”10 They were discovered twelve feet under the front floor of the temple buried with a set of bronze images of gods and goddesses, likely in an effort to protect them during a time of invasion.11 These once included 86 plates, but what was originally the first plate of the set is now lost. The plates, which are inscribed on both sides, are of a uniform, rectangular shape measuring 44cm. (17 inches) in length and 21 cm. (8 inches) in width. When discovered, they were held together by a large copper ring and seal. This remarkable find, made entirely of copper, weighs 150kg (330.7 pounds).

The first part of the text, written in Sanskrit, contains a royal genealogy which covers both sides of the first eight plates and the first side of the ninth. The second and longest section is the grant portion of the document. It is written in the Tamil language and covers the remainder of the set. Another unique feature of the plates is that the second portion contains three distinct royal grants issued over a period of nine years (AD 1052–1061).12 The entire set of plates constitutes 3,442 lines of text. Due to its unusual length and weight, it is understandably considered “a marvel in Indian epigraphy.”13


While some knowledge of the ancient practice of writing on metal plates was known in early nineteenth century America, the size of the plates associated with the Book of Mormon has, at times, been viewed as unrealistic. Archaeological examples of metals plates of comparable size, however, are now known, as demonstrated by the samples from India highlighted above. Various factors can affect the total length of a metal document—such as the size of the plates, the number of the plates, and the size and compactness of the script—yet the Tiruvindalur Plates in particular, with their 85 plates consisting of 3,442 lines of text, seem to offer a more than adequate comparison.

The Book of Mormon and these Indian documents are similar in other ways as well. The Indian plates were all made of copper, had copper rings to keep them together, and had a seal to discourage tampering. Similarly, the Book of Mormon featured 3 rings and a seal. Although the plates of the Book of Mormon are commonly assumed to have been gold, they were most likely made of a lighter alloy which had the appearance of gold, such as the copper-gold alloy called tumbaga.14

The Indian plates are far removed in both time and place from the recordkeeping tradition in the Book of Mormon. Thus, it shouldn’t be assumed that there is any direct connection between them. Nevertheless, the Indian plates attest that a pre-modern culture familiar with metal recordkeeping practices could and did create metal documents that are comparable in length to the Book of Mormon. Importantly, these sets of plates were all discovered after the Book of Mormon’s publication in 1830, making them unknown and inaccessible to Joseph Smith.

Book of Mormon Central, “Are There Other Ancient Records Like the Book of Mormon? (Mormon 8:16),” KnoWhy 407 (February 13, 2018).

Book of Mormon Central, “What Kind of Ore did Nephi Use to Make the Plates? (1 Nephi 19:1),” KnoWhy 22 (January 29, 2016).

William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 37–54.

H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” in “By Study and Also By Faith”: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990), 273–334.

H. Curtis Wright, “Metallic Documents in Antiquity,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 10, no. 4 (1970): 457–477.

Read Putnam, “Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?Improvement Era 69, No. 9 (September 1966): 788–789, 828–831.

1 Nephi 5:10–141 Nephi 9:2–41 Nephi 13:231 Nephi 19:1–4Jacob 1:3Jacob 3:13Jarom 1:14Mosiah 8:9Helaman 3:13Mormon 1:3–4Mormon 2:17–19Ether 1:2

1 Nephi 5:10–14

1 Nephi 9:2–4

1 Nephi 13:23

1 Nephi 19:1–4

Jacob 1:3

Jacob 3:13

Jarom 1:14

Mosiah 8:9

Helaman 3:13

Mormon 1:3–4

Mormon 2:17–19

Ether 1:2

  • 1 Jas. Burgess and S. M. Natesa Sastri, “Two Copper-Plate Grants in Leiden University,” in Archaeological Survey of Southern India, Vol 4. Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions (Madras: Printed by E. Keys, at the Government Press, 1886), 204; K. V. Subrahmanya Aiyer, “The Larger Leiden Plates (Of Rajaraja I),” Epigraphia Indica 22 (1933–1934): 213–266.
  • 2 Aiyer, “The Larger Leiden Plates (Of Rajaraja I),” 214.
  • 3 Rao Sahib and H. Krishna Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” in South Indian Inscriptions, 3, Part 3 (1920): 383–439.
  • 4 N. Lakshminarayan Rao, Department of Archaeology Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy for 1949–1950 (Calcutta, India: Government of India Press, 1956), 3–5.
  • 5 K. G. Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 79 (New Dehli: Director-General, Archaeological Survey of India, 1984), 1.
  • 6 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 1–3.
  • 7 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 6.
  • 8 Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendra Chola I, 3.
  • 9 S. Sankaranarayanan, N. Marxia Gandhi, A. Padmavathy, R. Sivanantham, eds., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate (Chenai: Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology, 2011); N. Marxia Gandhi, “Thiru Indalur Copper Plate: A Critical Study,” Bulletin of the Department of Museums Chennai Tourism Lecture (Chennai: The Director of the Department of Museums, Chennai, 2016).
  • 10 P. V. Srividya, “Chola Period Plates, Icons Unearthed,” The Hindu, May 21, 2010.
  • 11 Srividya, “Chola Period Plates, Icons Unearthed.”
  • 12 Sankaranarayanan, et al., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 51.
  • 13 Sankaranarayanan, et al., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 6. See also Gandhi, “Thiru Indalur Copper Plate,” 3, 17.
  • 14 See Kirk B. Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described the ‘Gold Plates’,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 1 (2001): 16–21, 78; Warren P. Aston, “The Rings That Bound the Gold Plates Together,” Insights 26, no 3. (2006): 3–4; Jeff Lindsay, “A ‘D’ for Plausibility of the Gold Plates: The Book of Mormon in an Interesting Bind,” online at mormanity.blogspot.com; Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: The Composition of the Gold Plates,” September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
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