Book of Mormon Stories Unearthed

“And also that God hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons . . .”
D&C 121:12

Imagine that you are an archaeologist working in south central Mexico. You find a ruinous city on a defensive hill in the center of a lush valley. Cliffs adjoin three sides of the city; on the fourth side you discover a wall of earth and stone 50 to 60 feet wide, almost 30 feet tall, and stretching over 2 miles. As you investigate further, you learn that thousands of people suddenly left their small farming communities to build and fortify this city. You search the entire valley and discover that many sites were defended by walls and natural topography during this same time period.

“Why did these people abandon their homes and move onto hilltops?” you ask yourself as you study the ruins. “Why did they labor so intensely to build massive ridges of earth and stone around their cities? Such united efforts over an extensive area must have been initiated by a bold, charismatic and influential leader!”

If you actually did find that story in the dirt, which part of the Book of Mormon would you think of? Which Book of Mormon leader would come to your mind?

The story mentioned above was found in southern Mexico by archaeologists [1]. It dates to before the time of Christ and it marks the boundary between the cultures of Yucatan and those of central Mexico. As I read it I thought of Captain Moroni defending his lands from the Lamanites. As I researched further I found many “coincidences” in which the archaeology matched the story of Captain Moroni. A moat on the outside of the earthen wall, a large hill just south and west of the city, a wide strip of wilderness archaeologists labeled a “no man’s land” stretching between the two cultures, a highly developed culture on the “Nephite” side and peoples living in tents on the “Lamanite” side [2]. It was quite astounding. However, that wasn’t the first time I read an archaeological report and thought of the Book of Mormon. I’ll explain how it all began.

My Story

I never intended to study archaeology; I sort of stumbled upon it. It started with a quote by Joseph Smith in the “Times & Seasons”. In a commentary on the book “Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America,” Joseph Smith identified two major Book of Mormon locations. Joseph gave the place of Lehi’s first landing, stating: “Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien.” [3] He then alluded to the location of Zarahemla by quoting Stephen, prefacing the excerpt: “[it] comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus.” Stephen states: “Toltecan Indians [Mulekites] . . . under the guidance of Tanub [Mulek], their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula.” [4]

These quotes intrigued me, and I wondered where the Isthmus of Darien and Tula were located. As a teenager I resolved that someday I would find them. I trusted Joseph Smith and thought that if I could find those places, it would deepen my understanding of the scriptures. Yearslater, as a graduate student at BYU, I followed through on my resolve. As I entered the BYU library I felt overwhelmed. I was an engineering student, not an archaeology student—what were my chances of finding anything? I finally sat down at the online catalog and entered the vast realm of scholarly research in a field which was completely new to me. With surprising ease, I found that the Isthmus of Darien is the narrow neck of land near the Panama Canal. Wow, a real link!

With my confidence strengthened, I returned to the catalog in search of Tula. I found that many cities have held this name over the centuries, but the original Tula is believed to be either the Toltec city of Tula in the Valley of Mexico, slightly northwest of Mexico City, or the great city of Teotihuacan a little southeast of there [5]. Another link!

I was surprised at the ease of finding these two places, and I decided to look for more. I wanted a deeper understanding of the Book of Mormon and its people, and I knew that I had to rely on the scriptural text itself as my only true anchor, so I set out to create my own “internal model” of the Book of Mormon [6], or in other words a map based on geographical statements in the scriptural text alone— up, down, north, south, etc. — without considering any other information. I was amazed at how many references there are to geography, and how consistent they are — they made a very complete picture.

As I did this, and in subsequent readings and rereadings, I also sought to understand the people culturally and their ethnic surroundings; I looked for different cultures, political issues, demography, and the movement of people over time. I studied the influence of the major players—the heroes that the people must have adored, as well as the wicked men who caused so much pain. It was a very spiritual experience that brings great insight into our modern society and political situations.

As I studied I struck a massive iceberg. At first I was sure that it would sink me, but later it turned out to be the great key —the missing link. In Alma 22:27-34 we find a major geographical exposition hidden amidst Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni ’s mission to the Lamanites. I do not think Mormon included it just so we would know where Lamoni’s father ’s proclamation was sent, although that is the context in which it is found. Rather, it is a prime example of Mormon’s careful documentation of the geography of his people. He wanted us to be able to find Book of Mormon cities!

In those verses Mormon informs us of something that perhaps everyone except me always knew, but which somehow I had missed. That the well known narrow neck of land, which only took a day [7] or a day and a half [8] to cross, is north of Zarahemla. I was shocked! Somehow I thought it was between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, south of Zarahemla. But it was north of Zarahemla. One of the greatest and widest deserts of the Americas was sitting there on the map right between my Zarahemla [Mexico City] and my land northward. It is the great Chihuahua desert of northern Mexico, and it actually extends into Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It also happens to be bounded on each side by a chain of mountains with peaks over 12,000 feet high, and the desert itself has an average elevation of around 4,000 feet above sea level! There was no way that was the narrow neck of land! Or so I thought.

Luckily, about this time I drove to Los Angeles for a job interview. I had ten hours to look across the barren Great Basin and the scorching Mojave desert. I pondered the geologic processes which shaped that land, processes very familiar to me because of my civil engineering background. I observed that the salt basins and sanded hills of the Mojave still show the shorelines of the huge ancient lakes that filled each valley. I had an idea! Maybe, just maybe, if there also used to be huge lakes in northeast Mexico, then the shape of Mexico would have been very different in Book of Mormon times. Or maybe the ocean actually covered much of what is now eastern Mexico. Then Zarahemla could still be near Mexico City, and there really would have been a narrow neck of land north of there! Part of me said, “That’s preposterous!” But as I thought of the quote by Joseph Smith, the words of Mormon, the geology and the geography, it seemed like the only way to make it all fit.

I decided to look deeper, and as I studied I found more “coincidences.” There is evidence that a salt sea once covered northeast Mexico. There are ancient beaches[9], and limestone containing shells, coral, and the remains of other marine organisms. There are vast limestone caves up to 1600 feet long—a size typically found only under the ocean [10]. The animals that now live in this area are unique and evolutionarily young. [11]

I tried to reason through the events that could cause such extensive uplift. If the oceans really were such that there was a narrow neck of land in northwest Mexico, then that strip of land would have been near sea level. The “great and terrible destructions ” at the time of Christ appear to have been caused by extensive seismic and volcanic activity (3 Nephi 8:5-23), I wondered if scientists had proven uplift for the region perhaps caused by the draining of ancient inland seas or due to the addition of oceanic crust to the underside of the continents. I knew scientists believe that the continents are floating on the asthenosphere, as an iceberg floats on water. If weight is taken off the top, or if material is added to the bottom, an iceberg or in this case the continent would rise due to isostacy.

I was appeased that at least it could happen, so I moved on because my goal at the time was geography and not geology. As a point of interest, I did find my theory substantiated a few years later when I got interested in the geology of it all. Apparently in the mid-Pliocene (quite recent in geologic time and the most recent major volcanic epoch of North America) there was a short, intensely violent period of tectonic activity. It severely altered the face of North America, the greatest destruction being in the Western United States. More will be mentioned later but one of their findings is that the entire Southwestern United States was uplifted between 5000 and 10,000 feet, and it is still rising. [12]

About this time I read the following words in J. Charles Kelley’s The North Mexican Frontier: “Brand’s careful analysis of the geography of the Zape area led other workers, including the present writer (Kelley 1956) to the discovery that the Calchihuites culture had expanded northward in Durango along a very narrow and restricted ecological strip paralleling the eastern foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.” [13] Why did the Calchihuites remain constricted along a ‘very narrow strip,’ and not spread onto all the land? Furthermore, each book I would read on the cultures of Mesoamerica showed the cultures ending along these ancient beaches and along this narrow strip and when I would look at books on the cultures of the United States they would end just south of the Mexican border except along this narrow corridor. One book even labeled the area in Northeast Mexico as the uninhabited corridor. Yet mysteriously that same area is inhabited by millions of Mexicans today including Monterrey with a population of over 1,000,000 people and Torreon that has another 500,000. Obviously something has changed and its not the lifestyles of the peoples as any person familiar with the subsistence pattern of the people of these areas can attest. A little later I found the clincher: a quote by Mosiah Hancock, one of the early Mormon pioneers, in which he records that Joseph Smith, pointing on a map, identified the American Southwest and Northwest Mexico as the place the Nephites lost their power [14]. The archaeology of this point will be discussed later, but my narrow neck stumbling block was resolved.

Next I wanted to locate another Book of Mormon location. I selected the land of Nephi. Not only is it a city of major Book of Mormon significance, but Mormon provides us with keys to estimating its distance from Zarahemla. Two carefully documented trips from Zarahemla to Nephi are recorded—one by Ammon and his group of 16 strong men, and the other by Alma the elder and his converts. Ammon’s group made the trip in 40 days, apparently as explorers if you will, and definitely unfamiliar with the territory (Mosiah 7:1-6). Surprisingly, Alma’s group of 450 souls made the trip in just 21 days. This small group of converts, however, had a major advantage over Ammon’s group: they were led by the Lord. Also, it may have helped that they were fleeing for their lives and that they were able to take the journey in three steps: 8 days to Helam (Mosiah 23:1-5, 19), one quite full day from Helam to the valley of Alma (Mosiah 24:18-20), and the final leg from the valley of Alma to Zarahemla in 12 days (Mosiah 24:24-25).

I used these numbers and estimated a potential 20 miles a day [15]; then I used a modern map and a compass to draw a circle around my Zarahemla [The Valley of Mexico] with a radius of 420 miles (21 days x 20 mi/day = 420 mi). My land of Nephi would have to exist somewhere within this circle, and according to the Book of Mormon it would probably have to be in the mountains (“up” to the land of Nephi) [16], and somewhere to the south [17]. As I studied the map, the only possible place I could see was somewhere in the mountains of Chiapas.

I returned to the library, and soon realized that there are not a lot of archaeological sites in the mountains of Chiapas which date to before the time of Christ. However, BYU’s own New World Archaeological Foundation has probably done more archaeological research in the Chiapas mountains than all other schools combined. I combed the shelves and found numerous research reports on the few sites from this area, and best of all, they were the actual theses, or “digging notes,” from the students and researchers who dug the sites.

I quickly determined that Chiapa de Corzo, just a few miles southeast of the state’s capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, was the largest site of the area. As I read about it, I was surprised at how closely this site seemed to match the history of the land of Nephi: an early culture purposefully erased by the succeeding culture [18] / [19] ; a culture separate from the surrounding cultures that rebuilds the land and then becomes rich, builds a tower and a large palace then disappears [20] / [21] ; a new culture that matches the surrounding cultures which eventually begins making massive war preparations [22] / [23] ; a Zion-like culture that then turns proud [24]/ [25]. It all seemed to be there, in striking detail, though none of the dates matched. With the hypothesis that this was the land of Nephi and that somehow the scientific dates were off, I used the apparent correlations between the scriptures and the archaeology to establish a “calibrated” timeline (a timeline which is adjusted so that the scientific and scriptural dates match). Then I used my timeline and my internal model of Book of Mormon cities to find other archaeological sites that matched the Book of Mormon.

This “calibrated” timeline proved to be the key to unlocking the entire book. Culture after culture fell into place. The histories of many Book of Mormon cities were linked to exact archaeological sites. Many Book of Mormon events were laid out in the dirt, each in its proper location according to Mormon’s directions and each in its proper sequential order—only the time scale was off. As I read the archaeological reports, I was astounded. The archaeologists often used the same wording to describe what they found in the dirt that Mormon had used as a historian.

In studying archaeology and other sciences and how they relate to the Book of Mormon, I have come to realize that God gave us the Book of Mormon to increase our understanding of the secular world, as well as to increase our spirituality. I have also come to realize what a huge debt of gratitude we owe to archaeologists, historians, geologists, biologists, physicists, chemists, and all scientists who have increased our understanding of the world, and whose research, once correlated, can give us a deeper love for the scriptures and a greater understanding of scriptural peoples and God’s workings with them.

In the pages ahead we will visit each major culture of the Book of Mormon, beginning with the Jaredites. We will even take a glimpse of Old World history from a new perspective. We will see that a myriad of archaeologists have unknowingly found in the dirt striking evidences of the scriptures. As the Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence.” [26]

This paper is a collection of interesting “coincidences” correlating archaeological findings of renowned scholars with the cultures of the Book of Mormon. First we present a little scientific background, and then we begin our journey through the Book of Mormon.

Geologic & Scientific Dating Background

Scientific findings match the Biblical account of the history of the earth. This statement may at first seem hard to believe, because some people have tried to persuade us otherwise. However, the facts speak for themselves; Biblical events are recorded in rock layers throughout the world, and the events are in sequential order according to the Bible—the only difference is in the dating: the time frames are vastly different. It is the same phenomenon we see when we compare stories found in the dirt with stories from the Book of Mormon—archaeologists have found all the major cities and peoples, but the time frames are different.

The Lord told Moses the earth began “without form, and void” (Genesis 1:2). Scientists say essentially the same thing—that the earth began as “condensing gas and dust,” or that it was a “cloud of meteorites and meteoric dust revolving around the sun.” [27] To geologists, the early continents were very mobile, slightly ductile land masses which crashed into one another and eventually formed a single supercontinent, Pangea [28] [Paleozoic]. The next geological period brought the largest mass extinction in the earth's history, followed by a unique period of erosion, sedimentation, and mountain building events [Late Triassic/Early Jurassic] [29]; findings scriptorians would expect from a global flood like Noah’s. In the next geological period we find an earth with extensive shallow inland seas spread across the continents, inundating more than 50 percent of the land areas, and great winds building massive sand dunes [Jurassic-Early Cretaceous] [30] / [31]; the scriptures agree (Genesis 8:1-3, Ether 2:5-6; 6:4-12; Alma 50:29; Helaman 3:3-4).

Coincidentally, the next major event to occur shortly after the Great Permian Extinction mentioned above, was the breaking up of Pangea into many smaller continents. Scientists say the dividing of the continents began in a short time, geologically speaking [end Triassic/Jurassic]. The Bible records the event beginning in one man’s lifetime- Peleg (Peleg lived to be 239) [32]. The sporadic dividing of the continents throughout the first millennium after the flood caused the land to be bent and folded, forming massive mountains, anticlines, synclines, swells, and domes [Triassic-Paleocene] [33].

After a period of calm, geologists teach that the latest episode of tectonic activity & mountain building occurred in the Pliocene [Miocene-Pliocene] [34], which they date to about five million years ago; according to our calibrated timeline that hits at about 34 AD. Researchers of this event say that North America was hit more severely than many other place on the planet; Central and South America were also greatly affected [35]. This coincides with the teachings of the Book of Mormon: “and there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward. But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; . . .” (3 Nephi 8:11-12). Both teach that the jolt was quick and catastrophic —the entire face of North America was changed [36] / [37].

Geologists have documented the events. The land was torn and bent. Mountains were thrust up and vast inland seas were drained, carving deep valleys and canyons. Massive lines of volcanoes erupted along the western coasts of South America, Central America, Alaska and Canada, while volcanoes, caldrons, laccoliths and immense lava flows were strewn across the Western United States [38] / [39]. The horsts and grabens of the basin and range system of Nevada and western Utah were greatly enlarged during this period as the land was stretched and twisted [40]. Death Valley collapsed [41]. Hundreds of strike-slip faults tore the Southwestern United States [42]. These huge earthquakes left most of the sandstone and limestone of the Southwest in seams and cracks. We see the fulfillment of Samuel the Lamanite’s prophesy: “the rocks. . . shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments” (Helaman 14:21-22).

During this time period, volcano after volcano rose up in Mexico and Central America [43], deforming the land and changing the course of rivers. Toward South America, the tectonic flurry created huge expanses of new oceanic crust at the Pacific/Nazca plate boundary [44]. This in turn caused the Andes mountains to begin a second stage of mountain building [45].

Central America was torn, stretched and rotated by the differential movement of the two major continents [46]. Parts of Central America were rotated 60 to 70 degrees in a counterclockwise direction [47]. Further research will likely show geology as the key to why so many pre-Christian temples and cities in Mesoamerica were built on a similar divergent axis.

Though these destructions, as reported by geologists, lasted only a small moment in geologic time, the effects were colossal. The draining of the inland seas and the fusion of tectonic plates to form new continental crust caused a huge area of North America, from central Mexico to the northern Rocky Mountains, to uplift due to isostacy [48] . During the ensuing periods leading to the present, between 5000 and 10,000 feet of uplift occurred (depending on the location) [Tertiary-Neogene/Quaternary] [49]! In the American West, the uplift, coupled with a small ice age (apparently caused by volcanic ash which blocked the sun’s rays) [50], caused the canyons and valleys to trench yet deeper [51]. In northeast Mexico the uplift caused an extension of the Gulf of Mexico to drain, leaving a vast inland desert and eventually erasing the Nephites’ narrow neck of land [52]. In Central and northwest Mexico the lowlands which had once been so productive became a high desert plateau with deep, steep-sided gullies called Barrancas cutting through to the ocean [53].

The draining of northeast Mexico created new and different habitats for animals. When new kinds of habitats are created, new kinds of animals evolve—hence the unique and evolutionarily young animals of northeast Mexico [54] (A familiar example of geologically-induced evolution is the Galapagos Islands which are also geologically new, the animals there are unique and evolutionarily young).

We can still measure the effects of those catastrophic events of 34 A.D. Utah is still rising [55], ever so slightly. The continents are still moving in the same directions [56], a few inches per year, and the rivers are still cutting. The scriptures suggest that since the time of Christ, the earth's climate and tectonic activity have been more stable than at any other point in the earth's history. God has tempered the climate, for our sake. Some people use our tempered climate as evidence to support their own theories concerning the age of the earth and suggest the scriptural timeline is inaccurate. Surely the Lord was referring to these unbelievers in D&C 121:12: “God hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons, and to blind their minds, that they may not understand his marvelous workings; that he may prove them also and take them in their own craftiness. . .”

In this article we propose two new dating sequences—one for geology, and one for archaeology. It is important to remember that these are two separate sequences. The calibrated timeline for geology is much different than the calibrated timeline for archaeology because scientists in these two fields use very different methods to date objects. Archaeologists primarily use carbon dating and dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) for “absolute” dating, and a myriad of relative dating methods to fill in the gaps. Geologists typically use various radiometric dating methods for “absolute” dating (such as uranium-lead dating and potassium-argon dating) and they use superposition and common sense observations for relative dating.

In order for carbon dating to give valid results, it must be assumed that the ratio of stable carbon (carbon-12) to radioactive carbon (carbon-14) has been constant throughout earth’s history. However, there are many factors which affect this ratio and geological research has shown it to vary greatly over time [58]. Carbon-14 is formed from nitrogen-14 by cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere; therefore, any change in the number of cosmic rays that reach the upper atmosphere alters the carbon ratio [59]. Factors which affect cosmic rays reaching the upper atmosphere include: the amount of solar energy produced by the sun, the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field, and the density of the earth’s cloud cover [60]. The ratio is also affected by the frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions which eject large quantities of Carbon-12 into the atmosphere and create dust clouds that block solar radiation [61]. The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 is also affected by the erosion of ancient carbonate rocks; the erosion of these rocks releases carbon-12 into the world’s oceans where it is then released into the atmosphere [62].

In our research we have found that carbon dates grow increasingly old before the time of Christ (see tables throughout paper). Following the time of Christ the trend seems to reverse. If our proposed dates are correct, then before the time of Christ there must have been less carbon-14 or more carbon-12 in the atmosphere then there is currently. For the trend to reverse following the time of Christ would require a large amount of carbon-12 to be introduced into the atmosphere between A.D. 50 and A.D. 400 and the ratio to then restabilize between A.D. 400 and the present. Supporting research is beginning to appear.

First of all, scientists have found evidence that the sun was dimmer in ancient times than it is today [63], which means less carbon-14 would have been formed anciently. Scientists also believe that the intensity of earth’s magnetic field was stronger in ancient times [64], so again, less carbon-14 would have been formed as a stronger magnetic field diverted more cosmic rays from the earth [65].

Additionally, it is possible that there was less nitrogen in the ancient atmosphere because of microscopic organisms called cyanobacteria. These organisms “fix” nitrogen, taking it out of the atmosphere by metabolizing it. They are one of the few organisms able to do so. [66] Research shows that cyanobacteria were much more numerous anciently than they are today [67].

These two factors point to a carbon-14 poor ancient atmosphere. Thus ancient organisms would contain a higher-than-normal ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in their bodies just due to their environment and not due to their great antiquity.

The reversal of dates around A.D. 50 is likely connected to the great destruction that occurred at the death of Christ. As discussed previously, these destructions involved extensive volcanism [68]. It also caused the catastrophic draining of many ancient inland seas and a subsequent small ice age which eroded immense amounts of ancient carbonate sandstones and limestones in the West [69]. Together, these events introduced huge amounts of carbon-12 into the atmosphere reversing the trend for a short period [70].

Despite the problems inherent in carbon dating, however, it is still a very good relative dating tool, and as such is extremely valuable.

Geologists use radioactive elements in order to find “absolute” dates of rocks. These dating methods, much like carbon dating, are based on fundamental assumptions which cannot be definitively proven. In fact, for the most part, geologic dating methods are completely dependant upon the theory of uniformitarianism. For instance, K/Ar and U/Pb dates are dependant upon the assumption that the earth's magnetic field has not changed sufficiently in the past to affect the decay rates of these isotopes. Likewise uniformitarian assumptions must be made about the initial ratios of these isotopes within the earth. If the composition of the earth's outer mantle has changed dramatically in the past, the dates which these methods produce would yield skewed results. The fact is that no geologic dating method can be used to date a rock of known age. Thus there is no way to scientifically prove for sure if the assumptions upon which these dating methods depend, are accurate.

Geology and dating methods could be discussed in greater detail, but that is not the main purpose of this paper. Therefore, we begin our journey through the cultures of the Book of Mormon! To clarify dates, throughout the rest of the text scriptural/historical dates are preceded by S/H; while archaeological dates, including carbon dates, are preceded by A/C. Footnotes which reference scriptures are in red; footnotes which reference archaeological sources are in black.

The Jaredite Culture

THE SCATTERING AT BABEL AND THE EARLY JAREDITE CULTURE. Archaeologists place the first modern humans in the Near East’s fertile crescent around 10,000 years ago [72], which, according to our calibrated timeline, is immediately after the Flood. From there man was “scattered . . . abroad . . . upon the face of all the earth . . .” (Genesis 11:8) [73] ; scientists following the path of homo sapiens identify a major scattering between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago when modern man spread from the Near East to Europe, the Far East, Australia, and the Americas [74]. In America, studies of hereditary traits on the first group of PaleoIndians to reach America have concluded that they consisted of no more than a handful of families (S/H: around 2100 BC; A/C: around 40,000 years ago) [75]/[76]. The two earliest major PaleoIndian cultures that developed from this handful of families, the Clovis Culture and the Folsom Culture , spread widely but sparsely from the Southwestern United States to cover most of the continental United States [77] / [78].

OMER AND HIS HOUSEHOLD. As this early period in American Prehistory was coming to a close, a small group of families left the core area and settled “by the seashore” directly east of the hill Cumorah (Ether 9:1-13) [79]. The group of sites, in and around northeastern Massachusetts, are called the Bull Brook Complex by archaeologists [80]. Clovis points found at several of the sites tie it to the Southwest [81]. Building on excavations by D.S. Byers in the mid-50’s [82], archaeological societies in the Northeast have pieced together the history of the Bull Brook Complex [83]. Their findings and subsequent analysis have shown the interactions of a system of organized, interdependent groups with specialized work force networks [84]. It is recognized as containing the highest level of social structure in America at that time [85], which would be expected in a “refugee camp” of the royal household [86].

PRE-DEARTH JAREDITE CULTURE. As Moroni attests, the next archaeological period saw the rise of a richer and more diversified culture [87] / [88]. The Plano and Early Eastern Archaic Cultures fanned across the continent (S/H: around 1600-1200 BC; A/C: around 8500-6000 BC) [89]. Scientists have found the full spectrum of plants and animals corresponding to the days of Emer. According to Moroni, during the early Pre-Dearth Jaredite time period they had “all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man.” [90] Archaeologists have found many species of American bison from this time period, which ruminants are classified by zoologists as wild cattle, oxen and cows (family Bovidae, genus Bos) [91]. Similarly, there are food remains of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats at many sites from this period [92]. Peccaries are animals from this period which are classified as swine and are in the same group as domestic pigs and hogs (sub-order Suina) [93]. The “many other kinds of animals” of Moroni’s list would include deer, elk, moose, caribou, and pronghorn [94]. Thanks to new site-investigation methods, scientists have found that fruits, grains and vegetables were part of the PaleoIndian diet [95]; the Darwinian view that the PaleoIndians were merely carnivorous stockers of megafauna is being abandoned. More careful analysis of early sites and artifacts is yielding increasing evidence of fine textiles [96], which means the people didn’t just wear rough animal hides. Moroni also mentions that horses, elephants, cureloms and cumoms were useful to man, and that elephants and cureloms and cumoms were “more especially” useful to man (Ether 9:19). Potential beasts of burden which have been found in association with PaleoIndians include horses, tapirs, mammoths, mastodons, giant bison, giant ground sloths, and camels [97]. Coincidentally, the horse and the tapir would not have been very useful as beasts of burden because the Ice Age variety existent at this time were only about the size of a dog [98]; hence, it was the elephants and cureloms and cumoms which were “more especially” useful to man.

THE GREAT DEARTH. Then the PaleoIndian culture was rocked. In the scriptures, we read of secret combinations infesting society, and then a chastening, in the form of a great dearth (Ether 9:30-35). Archaeologists attest that it was probably the worst famine in North American history. Mass extinction spread across America as the Ice Age came to a rapid and catastrophic close [99]. Excess hunting by starving people and severe environmental changes drove the megafauna to extinction [100]. Scientists have found that serpents were abundant at that time in the American Southwest (as they are today) and the closing of the Ice Age caused many varied migrations in snake species across North America [101]. The serpents and the drought divided the people in the north from the fauna, which escaped to the south [102]. When the climate finally recovered, the people instigated a revolution in agriculture [103] / [104], since they had now lost their domesticated animals.

POST-DEARTH JAREDITE CULTURE. Moroni’s next exposition on culture comes in the days of Lib (Ether 10:18-28). My corresponding period is labeled by archaeologists as the Middle and Late Archaic. Often indistinguishable from one another, these two cultural periods represent a major advancement over the preceding culture [105]. Again the culture spread across North America from coast to coast [106]. There were villages, agriculture, and widespread trade networks [107]. South of the narrow neck, in the Mexican highland and beyond, the only inhabitants we find are organized hunting parties, which “coincidentally” brought spear points of North American manufacture and style [108] / [109]. Scientists recognize metallurgy from this time period, and copper is the most common metal found [110] / [111]. Many fine textiles have also survived from this period [112] / [113]. Moroni says they made “all manner of tools to till the earth, both to plow and to sow, to reap and to hoe, and also to thrash” [114]. He also says they had, “all manner of tools with which they did work their beasts” (Ether 10:26-27). Most of the tools on this list have been found by archaeologists at sites dating to the Middle and Late Archaic [115]. New weapons were also invented and manufactured, although archaeologists currently view them only as hunting weapons [116] / [117]. Another major industry of the Jaredites was wood exploitation [118]. A huge assortment of woodworking tools has been found at Archaic period sites across the Nation [119]. Truly this was a highly-developed culture—a time of great prosperity. How tragic that they lost it all because of secret combinations! [120]

THE DESOLATION OF THE JAREDITES. The desolation of the Jaredites began in the Southwest and climaxed in New York State [121]. It is witnessed archaeologically by a widespread “cremation” burial culture [122]. Continent-wide scientists find a change in burial customs from proper burials to cremation burials and “ceremonial” burning of homes and entire villages [Shiz and his army] [123] / [124]. Archaeologists have also found evidence of large-scale “bundle burials,” which is the practice of bundling the disarticulated, defleshed bones of dead people in bags or cordages, and then either burying them or dumping them in the trash [125]. Surely it was a gruesome scene that the first Nephites to re-inhabit the desolate land northward were required to witness and clean up [126].

The Early Lehite and Mulekite Cultures

THE ARRIVAL OF THE NEPHITES AND MULEKITES. The Jaredites were the sole inhabitants of America until two small groups of sea-going travelers crossed the Pacific (S/H: 600 BC; A/C: 3000 BC). As early as 1916 scholars had identified the general location of the two landing sites. G. Elliot Smith published an article with Science titled “The Origin of the Pre-Columbian Civilization of America” in which he detailed ethnological evidence of the landings and further showed how scholars of that day had attempted to cover up the findings because they lent support to the Bible and against Darwinism [127]. In his book, Articles of Faith, James E. Talmage describes the author’s findings: “Dr. Smith presents an impressive array of evidence pointing to the Old World and specifically to Egypt, as the source of many of the customs by which the American aborigines are distinguished. The article is accompanied by a map showing . . . two landing places on the west coast, one in Mexico and another near the boundary common to Peru and Chile, from which place the immigrants spread.” [128] Archaeological evidence has further refined these findings. Most archaeologists now agree to a South American landing, putting it a little further north, specifically in modern Ecuador [129] (which “coincidentally” lies “a little south of the Isthmus of Darien” [130]). The location of the second landing spot is unknown; characteristic artifacts also point to the west coast of Mexico [131] — legend puts it at a place called “seven caverns” [132]. Both the Valdivia culture of Ecuador [the Lehites], and the Otomangue-speaking people of the Mexican highland [the Mulekites], brought the first true pottery to the Americas; in both cultures the pottery was already well-developed even at the earliest sites [133]. Both cultures are distinguished as being the first harvesters of cultigens (plants incapable of growing without human help), the most important cultigen being corn [134]. The architecture and burial customs of these two groups can easily be tied to the Old World. Square waddle and daub homes with storage pits in the floor dotted their lands [135]. Their temples and public buildings are extremely similar to those of Egypt and Israel. Subfloor burials and burial positions also match those of the Middle East [136].

EARLY MULEKITE CULTURE. The newly arrived Otomangue-speaking culture [Mulekites] began to spread across the Mexican highland [Zarahemla]. Although they covered a large area, they lived in small scattered villages, and archaeologists recognize very little social structure among them [137] / [138].


EARLY LEHITE CULTURE. The Valdivia culture also fanned out over a large area, stylistic pottery has been traced from Ecuador up through Columbia and Panama into Coastal areas of Guatemala and Southern Chiapas [139]. When Nephi fled from his brothers [140], it seems that he led his followers to the central depression of Chiapas and settled in the Grijalva river valley. The first cultural layers there are of a unique, tight-knit group (Zoque [early Nephite]), centered around Chiapa de Corzo [the land of Nephi], which remained separate from the surrounding cultures that were developing (Maya [Lamanite]) [141] / [142]. The Nephite culture began the seeds of civilization which later influenced all of Mesoamerica, and eventually all of North America [143]. Some of the Lamanites appear to have followed Nephi’s party; a group associated with the early Maya [Lamanites] settled further up in the Grijalva river valley [144]. Other groups remained in South America which over time developed very independent cultures [145]; apparently not associated with the history outlined in the Book of Mormon.

EARLY LAMANITE CULTURE. The Lamanites [early Maya] digressed and became a very primitive people [146] / [147]. Archaeologists label them as “hunters and gatherers,” because they stocked the forests for game, lived in tents and temporary shelters, and practiced limited agriculture [148] / [149]. They did some fishing, and they had very limited agriculture (primarily limited to picking wild fruits and edible roots) [150]. Archaeologists think it was because they did not have the technology, the scriptures teach that it was because they were lazy.

Warfare is evident as archaeologists find a large assortment of weapons, far exceeding the needs of mere hunters [151]. The early Maya [Lamanites] set up chiefdoms in each local community; at this early date they do not appear to have been a cohesive unit, but rather groups of village communities, competing and perhaps fighting with each other for resources [152] — apparently united only in their hatred toward the Nephites [153]. Laman and Lemuel seem to have taught their children the pagan practices they had learned in Jerusalem. Archaeologists find cultic artifacts associated with the worship of a fertility goddess; they also worshipped Chac, who is the Maya equivalent of Baal from the Old World [154]. In this early period we also see the beginnings of the Jaguar cult. The Maya made costumes from the coats of beasts of prey and used these costumes in religious rituals [155] / [156]. Early Mayan vices match those Enos and Jarom attributed to the Lamanites: pornography in the form of nude ceramic figurines, idleness, and drunkenness (typically chicha, an alcohol made from corn) [157] / [158].

The Formative Culture

INTRODUCTION. At the dawn of the formative period there were several major demographic shifts which set the stage for the developing cultures. First, King Mosiah I and his people left the Land of Nephi [Chiapa de Corzo] and traveled to Zarahemla [central Mexico] to join the Mulekites (S/H: around 200 BC; A/C: around 1400 BC) [159]. This is seen archaeologically as an influx of Mixe-zoquean culture brings new advances to central Mexico, and public buildings begin to appear in the larger villages [160].

THE PEOPLE OF ZENIFF. Back in Chiapa de Corzo [the land of Nephi], the surrounding culture (Maya [Lamanites]) destroyed all traces of the departing group [Nephites] [161] / [162] . Shortly, however, high culture returned to the valley [163] as Zeniff and his people arrive and begin to build anew many public buildings and restore the land [164] / [165]. The new inhabitants of Chiapa de Corzo [people of Zeniff] were an ethnically distinct group which did not mix with the surrounding Maya [Lamanites] [166] / [167]. Initially their culture was very similar to that of central Mexico (from which they had come), but the similarities decreased as time went on and they (the people of Zeniff, now led by King Noah) became extravagant in their prosperity. Lavishness dominates the architecture and material culture of this period [168] / [169]. Just before Chiapa de Corzo returned to Mayan Culture [Lamanites], the people of the Grijalva depression gave birth to one of the richest and most influential Mesoamerican cultures of the pre-Christian era—the Olmecs [Amulonites] [170] / [171].

THE AMULONITES AND THEIR INFLUENCE OVER THE LAMANITES. The Amulonite [Olmec] culture seems to have developed in the lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico. The simple farming village of San Lorenzo [probably Helam] [172] / [173] suddenly began a massive public works effort using slave labor [probably the followers of Alma] [174] / [175]. Soon a handful of great cities commenced, and Olmec influence spread to other lands [176] / [177]. Olmec art and religious themes support an Amulonite correlation: powerful, dominating priests, were-jaguar babies, female dancers, and a plethora of demi-gods and idols [178] / [179]. Throughout the Mayan lands, Olmec teachers began to train the Maya [Lamanites] in the language and learning of the Mexican highland people [the Nephites] [180] / [181]. With this new education the Maya began to prosper and make many technological advances [182] / [183]. New trade networks spread across southern Mexico, the Yucatan and Guatemala, and all roads passed through Olmec lands, which made them vastly rich and extremely influential [184]. Some archaeologists call the Olmecs the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica [185].


THE FALL OF THE AMULONITES. As prophesied by Abinadi, the Amulonites [Olmecs] were soon devastated [186] / [187]. Using a cesium magnetometer to detect buried basalt, Michael Coe, a professor of Anthropology at Yale University, and his group found mounds of monuments purposefully defaced, smashed and buried at San Lorenzo [188]. Other Olmec sites excavated in the area told the same story: seemingly the Maya [Lamanites] living among the Olmecs [Amulonites] in their gulf-coast empire revolted, defacing and smashing monuments, destroying buildings [189] / [190] , and as the Book of Mormon teaches us, massacring the ruling class [the descendants of the priests of Noah] [191]. The great Olmecs suddenly disappeared, but their influence over the Maya was seen forever afterward. The sparsely-populated Mayan lands were soon covered with huge temples and city-centers with art and architecture reminiscent of the Olmec style [192].

THE NEPHITES- ALMA THE ELDER AND KING MOSIAH II. Meanwhile, in central Mexico, Alma and his followers escaped to Zarahemla and established the church throughout the Mexican highland [193], witnessed archaeologically by new temples and synagogues built throughout the land [194]. Then, several decades later, Mosiah II founded a new democratic government [195], and each land began to build government buildings alongside the new temples (S/H: 91 BC; A/C: around 850 BC) [196]. Under the leadership of these inspired founders, the diverse societies of central Mexico integrated to become a very prosperous people [197] / [198]. Unfortunately, in many communities this prosperity led to pride, social classes, and perversions, which are all quite visible in the material culture they left behind [199] / [200].



The Pre-Classic Culture

THE NEPHITES- CAPTAIN MORONI. These two great nations, the Nephites on the Mexican Plateau and the Lamanites [Maya] in Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Yucatan, began to experience greater conflicts [201] / [202]. Foreseeing the coming challenges, Captain Moroni prepared his people and their lands [203]. First, the weak lands were fortified and the southern frontier was strengthened [204] / [205]. Hilltop fortifications began to dot southern Mexico in Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero [206] / [207] . Great urban fortresses were created [208] / [209]. For example, at Monte Alban [Manti], researchers from the University of Michigan found that some leader [Moroni] inspired the people of the valley of Oaxaca to move to the top of a nearby hill in the former “no man’s land” between two warring nations, and there build a fortress with up to 10,000 inhabitants [210]. The site has natural cliffs surrounding the city, its temples and its public buildings on three sides; on the fourth side, excavators found a two-mile long wall of earth and stone which still stands almost 30 feet tall and 50-60 feet thick [211] / [212]. No wonder Mormon venerated the leadership, courage and vision of Captain Moroni and the manner in which he prepared his people for war.

After Amalickiah’s first attack, a second phase of construction was begun in which fortified cities and hilltop fortresses were built throughout the land of Zarahemla [213] which appears to have stretched from Oaxaca to Jalisco and from southwestern Michoacan to northern Veracruz [214]. Also, the Book of Mormon records Moroni pushing the Lamanites out of the east wilderness and on the west, then building new cities in these areas in order to create a more defensible border [215]. Excavations in southern and western Oaxaca and Guerrero, as well as central Veracruz are now showing such movements of peoples and the construction of new large defensive cities and fortresses [216].

During the time that fortifications were being built in the Mexican highland, a massive weapons production industry commenced throughout Mesoamerica, both in the Mexican Highland [Zarahemla] and in Maya [Lamanite] lands [217] / [218]. To accommodate these war preparations, the peoples of the Mexican Highland [Nephites] made major breakthroughs in agriculture and built massive irrigation systems [219]. From that time forward, urbanization and trade specialization, with accompanying prosperity, enveloped the Nephite lands [220] / [221].

The great war of Moroni’s time, and the wars that followed, are seen archaeologically in demographic and cultural movements of this time period [222], and in numerous monuments depicting warriors and captives in both Highland Mexico and Maya lands [223]. The Lamanites displaced and jumbled the Nephites numerous times [224]. There was also a great cultural mixing when groups of Lamanites converted to the Nephite religion and went to live among the Nephites [225], and also when groups became captives [226]. Cities experienced occasional upheavals, but most of them changed hands without noticeable ruin [227] / [228] .

THE NEPHITES- 57 BC TO AD 33. Time brought greater prosperity [229], which led to ornamentation and extravagant housewares [230]. Robbers also infested the land during this period [231]—archaeologist have found that many of the graves of nobles and of wealthy people were broken into and the riches were stolen [232]. The Book of Mormon teaches that as wars continued numerous groups sought refuge and peace by migrating to far-away lands [233]. Archaeologists date the Adena people’s arrival in the Ohio River Valley at this time [234]. The Adena cleared the land of the carnage and waste the land’s former inhabitants [the Jaredites] had left [235] / [236] , and they brought a new culture with the advancements and technologies of their Mexican homeland [237]. Others moved to the Southwestern United States, becoming the earliest Mogollon peoples [238]. Those who arrived in North America found a land covered with lakes and rivers—a much more lush environment than the one they had left [239]. The Southwest Cultures are famous for their dwellings of stone and cement; cultures of the East for tents; both cultures also built simple homes of scrawny wood poles and thatched walls and roof [240]. In a short time the continent was covered with hamlets and villages [241] / [242] . The people soon turned to pagan and perverted practices, which spoiled their previously wholesome culture [243] / [244] . There is evidence that the first Polynesians reached the Pacific Islands around this same time period [245] / [246] .

The Early Classic Culture (Zion)

THE NEPHITES- ZION. The destruction at the time of Christ was discussed earlier. As the ash settled [247] / [248] , a new culture spread across the land [249] / [250]. In some ways, this new culture was more monolithic; in other ways it was more diverse. Throughout the Americas a new two-room temple replaced varying former styles [251]. A utopia of peace and prosperity is spoken of in legends [252] / [253] . There is no evidence of weapons being used at this time [254], and the murals, figurines, and architecture show designs of nature, lines of symmetry and harmony, and displays of pleasant animals and domestic life [255]. Gone are all signs of a military elite, governmental force, and coercion [256]. The Hopewell, the Anasazi, the Mogollon, Teotihuacan, the Maya—continent-wide, the traits are the same [257]. The great peace resulting “because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people” (4 Nephi 1:15).

The people were united in righteousness [258], yet at the same time, the culture became more diverse, as the focus turned from making a profit to making quality products and upholding the ideals of family and community [259]. Local artisans replaced the mass-production and expansive trade networks of the preceding period [260]. Thus there was no need to travel extensively “on business,” so people could spend more time with their families. Family gardens replaced mass-produced food [261]. People ate a greater variety of food, but their food was of more local origin [262]. Analysis of skeletons shows that the people were healthier and enjoyed longer life spans than during the preceding period [263]. The arts flowered during this period [264]. The number and variety of musical instruments greatly increased [265]. Pottery and other goods became more useful and more beautiful, and less ornamental and extravagant [266]. A much greater variety of artifacts is found, but in much smaller quantities than before, and with much less waste [267]. The prosperity was great throughout all of the Americas and in all areas of human development, “because of their prosperity in Christ” (4 Nephi 1:23).

In the early classic period the church became very wealthy [268]. The people donated their time and skills to the creation and maintenance of beautiful temples and public centers [269]. The population exploded [270], but at the same time, the cities became less dense as the communities were reorganized and the people spread out across the land [271]. Even the biggest “cities” were only lightly populated, yet they contained ceremonial centers and public buildings large enough to accommodate all the people of the surrounding villages [272]. Social classes disappeared, yet the standard of living increased everywhere [273]; And “they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17) [274].

It was beautiful. Everything Mormon said was true. Then they lost it all. The line is not clear, but little by little it all slipped away. The late pre-classic ugliness returned, and this time it was even more vile.

The Classic and Post-Classic Cultures

THE NEPHITES- PRIDE. As the people became proud, they began to flaunt the wealth they had accumulated over many years of righteousness and prosperity [275]. In the archaeological record, we begin to find much larger houses than existed in the preceding period [276], more decorated pottery [277], personal ornamentation (including pearls and elaborate clothing) [278] / [279] , extravagant burials of the dead [280], and new long-distance trade networks [281] / [282] . They painted murals showing images of power, with soldiers, weapons, kings, priests, slaves, and eventually human sacrifice [283]. They built new cities with defense in mind [284], and the existing cities became more dense, decreasing in total area despite the fact that the population was still growing [285] / [286] . We see evidence of the rise of social classes, with a new elite class and a definite peasant class [287] / [288] . The social classes are most apparent in the big cities.

Political players began to build up monuments to themselves, often showing off their accomplishments [289]. We see a cultural split, as the people broke up into different groups [290] / [291]. As displays of wealth and power emerged in society and later in government, the church was divided, as the people in every land sought to raise up their own version of Quetzalcoatl [Christ], and to join him with a new pantheon of gods and demigods [292] / [293] . In the major ceremonial centers, a priestly class began to exercise power and influence [294] / [295]. Temples and temple complexes became colossal and extravagant [296], and often the priests raised themselves to the position of gods or claimed descent from the gods [297]. Priests and government leaders began to deform the skulls of their children, and to give themselves and their children tattoos and body paint, all in an effort to separate themselves and their children from the “commoners” [298]. Gated communities were developed to protect the elite from the lower class [299].

On the eve of society’s collapse, the pride turned absolutely disgusting [300]. Most of the pottery and art became warped, lewd and pornographic [301]. Mass production fed trade networks which branched across the continent and resources were exploited on a massive scale [302] / [303]. Food production became intense, and the general health of the people correspondingly deteriorated; the incidence of disease increased significantly and life expectancies dropped drastically [304]. Body piercing became the norm [305], tobacco and drugs were used widely; smoking was done in smoke houses and in private homes, with cigarettes and with pipes [306]. Huge ball courts covered the land [307], in some places ball players rose to the state of gods [308]. The ball games became very bloody [309], and in many places they were accompanied with mass killing and human sacrificing of the winners or losers depending on the local religion [310]; in other areas the losers become the slaves of the winners’ rulers [311]. Many people wasted their income on various forms of gambling—they rooted on their favorite teams, or played games of chance with dice and bones [312]. In many areas the workmanship of the structures built during this period was poor, but it was covered with decorative plaster, and was elaborately finished [313]. Cultic symbols and status symbols are found everywhere [314].

THE NEPHITES- DESTRUCTION. Truly this society was ripe for destruction [315]. The Book of Mormon tells us that the destruction took place quickly [316]. Archaeology tells us that it occurred on a massive scale [317], larger than most probably ever imagined— although Mormon tried to help us understand [318].

The great war appears to have been started in central Yucatan by a group which archaeologists call the Putun Maya [319]. As they gained power they continued west and north, and eventually attacked the Mexican highland [320]. Great murals tell the story of their advances; they were the eagle warriors of the jaguar cult [the Lamanites], and they sought to exterminate the cult of the feathered serpent named Quetzalcoatl [the Nephites] [321]. Eventually the great city of Zarahemla [Teotihuacan] was attacked, but the invaders were pushed back [322] / [323] . Then, as Mormon relates, Zarahemla [Teotihuacan] was laid waste [324]. Archaeologists have uncovered the entire story: the great Teotihuacan was burned and looted, monuments were defaced, columns were toppled, temples were desecrated, and the luxurious palaces were left in ruin [325].

The Lamanites’ pursuit of the Nephites can be followed from Teotihuacan to Western Mexico, to sites such as Alta Vista and Chalchihuites [perhaps Angola or the Land of David] [326] / [327] and then to the seashore, to Amapa and other sites in Nayarit and southern Sinaloa [probably the land of Joshua] [328] / [329] , a land archaeologists have found was filled with robbers and Maya during this period [330] / [331]. From there the Nephites continued their flight into the “land northward” [332]. It appears that the massacre stopped when the Nephites reached Chaco Canyon [Shem], in New Mexico and were able to fortify it [333] / [334]. There the Nephites held back their pursuers and the bloodshed stopped for a season while God sent forth missionaries and prophets to give the people one last chance [335]. Archaeologists have found circular religious structures, called kivas, appearing throughout Anasazi lands during this period [336], which perhaps shows that Mormon knew some success [337], though his own testimony indicates that any success was short lived as the wickedness persisted [338].

For ten years a peace treaty was in effect [339]; archaeology shows that the Maya [Lamanites] of Yucatan and Maya Chichimec of West Mexico came together and began building the great Toltec kingdom [340]. Toltec legend speaks of the war between Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and Tezcatlipoca, the principal god of the Jaguar Cult [341]. The Toltecs boast Quetzalcoatl’s defeat and subsequent flight [342]. As the population of Tula was exploding [343], archaeologists find an abandonment of Yucatan by that area’s elite [344]. Recruits by the thousands flooded out of Yucatan to their new blood-thirsty, warrior kingdom centered in the Mexican Highland [345]. Many were also moved to the battle line in