Thursday, September 19, 2019

Moroni's Total War

In Mormon Chapter 8, a solitary Moroni ca. AD 400 finishes his father's record and documents widespread warfare among the Lamanites: "the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war" Mormon 8:8. A few years ago, most specialists did not believe warfare was endemic in Mesoamerica ca. AD 400. Mayanists in the previous generation thought the natives engaged in "ritualized," small-scale, token warfare until the Terminal Classic (AD 850 - 1,000) when droughts reduced the food supply. The combination of drought-induced famine and highly destructive "total war" were thought to have jointly caused the Classic era collapse.

Recent developments support Moroni's description of "total war" centuries earlier. An article by David Wahl (UC Berkeley), Lysanna Anderson (US Geological Survey), Francisco Estrada-Belli (Tulane), and Alexandre Tokovinine (Alabama) entitled "Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya" was published in Nature Human Behavior August 5, 2019. They document the near total destruction of Witzna (ancient Bahlam Jol) by fire on May 21, AD 697.
Charcoal in Sediment from Laguna Ek'Naab Adjacent to Witzna
Photo by Lysanna Anderson
Witzna was the victim of an incendiary attack launched by Naranjo, a city-state 32 air kilometers to the south. Naranjo also burned the site known  today as Buenavista del Cayo (ancient Komkom), Ucanal (ancient K'an Witznal) and the unlocated K'inchil near the same time.
Witzna, Naranjo, Buenavista del Cayo, and Ucanal in Context
Epigrapic and lake sediment core evidence indicate Witzna was invaded militarily and burned on a previous occasion, and charcoal layers point to as many as two earlier burnings. This and other evidence are the reason specialists are now saying the Maya practiced highly destructive "total warfare" through most of the Classic period (AD 250 - 900). Works espousing this new view are in a book edited by Andrew Scherer (Brown) and John Verano (Tulane) entitled Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes, (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2014).

Takeshi Inomata (Arizona), author of "War, Violence, and Society in the Maya Lowlands" in the 2014 Scherer and Verano volume, said "There is an increasing understanding that there were destructive wars throughout the Classic period." James Brady (Cal State LA) concurred "I was never convinced that warfare before the Terminal Classic was only ritualized. It must have been a fact of life from a very early time, and it often had serious consequences." Both quotations are from Tim Vernimmen, "Ancient Maya practiced 'total war' well before climate stress, National Geographic, August 5, 2019.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Volcanic Eruptions Near the Time of Christ

Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #530 "Is there evidence for great destruction in the land northward at the death of Christ?" is superb. It discusses recent scientific literature about the massive eruption of Popocatépetl very near the time of Christ's death. This is of interest, of course, because professional geologists tend to interpret the destruction described in 3 Nephi 8, 9 as a combination of volcanic, seismic, and meteorological phenomena. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Popocatépetl in the land northward.
Popocatépetl with the Great Pyramid of Cholula in the Foreground
"Popo" as the locals know it, is the second highest peak in Mexico (5,426 meters or 17,802 feet) after Orizaba. It sits between the valleys of Mexico and Puebla. It remains a very active, dangerous volcano. I have maintained a software development office in downtown Puebla since 1999, so I travel there quite often on business. In all those years, I have only flown into the Puebla airport one time. The airport is so often closed due to volcanic ash in the air that most travelers fly into Mexico City and take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puebla.

The Book of Mormon also describes great destruction in the land southward 3 Nephi 8:11. Many read the text of 3 Nephi 8, 9 and imagine multiple volcanic, seismic, and meteorological events all happening simultaneously. Evidence has recently been published that Tacaná also erupted very near the time of Christ's death. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Tacaná in the land southward. 
Tacaná with Tajumulco in the Background
Tacaná is the second highest peak in Central America (4,060 meters or 13,320 feet) after Tajumulco. It straddles the border between Chiapas, Mexico and San Marcos, Guatemala. It remains an active, dangerous volcano. The ca. AD 30 eruption is documented in José Luis Macías, et al., "Late Formative Flooding of Izapa after an Eruption of Tacaná Volcano" in Ancient Mesoamerica 29 (2018) pp. 361-371. The eruption caused mud flows upslope and massive flooding in lower elevations as stream flows were temporarily dammed by volcanic ejecta.

How do paleogeologists date volcanic eruptions? They submit organic matter encased in a lava or ash strata for Carbon-14 dating just as archaeologists and paleontologists do. How expensive is one C-14 test? In the neighborhood of $500 - $650 assuming adequate sample preparation and no special handling. So, most projects can only afford a handful of C-14 tests. These are the results of C-14 tests run on the Tacaná eruption under consideration.
Tacaná Eruption Dated to ca. AD 30
Tacaná has erupted at least 11 times in the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years). The magnitude of a volcanic eruption is measured in volcanic explosivity index (VEI) numbers ranging from 1 to 8 on a logarithmic scale. The numbers represent the volume of pyroclastic material ejected by the volcano. The Popocatépetl eruption had a VEI of 6. The Tacaná eruption at about the same time had a VEI of 3. The Nephite text explicitly says there was great destruction in the land southward, but even greater devastation in the land northward 3 Nephi 8:11-12.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

President Nelson in Guatemala

This from Church News: A Living Record of the Restoration, Volume 90, Number 35, September 1, 2019:

As he arrived in "The Land of Eternal Spring" on Saturday, August 24, 2019, President Nelson said his thoughts were with the ancient civilizations whose ruins still define Guatemala.

"The lands of Central America and South America are studded with ruins - remnants - of ancient civilizations."

"One wonders what life must have been like among those people."

"Add to that the message on the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is 'written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel,' we not only learn more about those ancient inhabitants, but we learn that the Lord cares for His children in this hemisphere, both in ancient times, and in modern times."

The message seems clear. Guatemalans are Lamanites. There is a relationship between the Book of Mormon and ancient Guatemalan civilizations.

Tikal Temple IV. Photo taken by Jeffrey D. Allred on August 22, 2019,
published in
Pres. Nelson was in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala with Elder Marvin J. Ashton on October 19, 1991, when Elder Ashton offered a prayer on Guatemala and its people, re-dedicating the land for the preaching of the Gospel. Pres. Nelson also accompanied President Gordon B. Hinckley who presided at a devotional in Guatemala City on January 26, 1997.

Excerpts from the dedicatory prayer on the Guatemala City Temple offered by President Gordon B. Hinckley on December 14, 1984 where he sometimes speaks in first person representing the Guatemalan Saints:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts swell with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi, the many generations  of our fathers and mothers who suffered so greatly and who walked for so long in darkness. Thou has heard their cries and seen their tears. Now there will be opened to them the gates of salvation and eternal life."

"We thank Thee, O God, for lifting the scales of darkness which for generations clouded the vision of the descendants of Lehi...We thank Thee for the restored record of our ancestors, the record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, of Alma and Mosiah, of Benjamin and Mormon and Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice which has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Guatemala City Temple
For an interesting pattern in Pres. Hinckley's temple dedicatory prayers, see the article "Father Lehi in the Mexico City Temple" and "Lehite Temples." 

Excerpts from the very similar dedicatory prayer on the Quetzaltenango Temple offered by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on December 11, 2011:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts are filled with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Thou hast accepted their righteous sacrifices."

"We thank Thee for the sacred record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, Alma and Mosiah, Benjamin and Mormon, and of Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice that has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quetzaltenango Temple
"Quetzaltenango" is a Nahuatl name meaning "place of the Quetzal bird." Many locals call the city by its Maya name "Xela" which refers to mountains.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Captain Moroni's Towers

We read in Alma 50:4 that Captain Moroni had the Nephites build towers as part of their defensive fortification strategy. The Pacunam Lidar Initiative (PLI) has helped archaeologists identify towers as part of Maya defensive fortification strategies in the northern Peten. Dozens of defensive towers have been identified in the area around La Cuernavilla fortress.
La Cuernavilla about 20 air kilometers west of Tikal
This map shows the locations of 37 defensive towers, 7 of them built alongside ditch and wall structures just as the Book of Mormon describes. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Dozens of defensive Towers in northern Guatemala
The map is in the article "Recentering the rural: Lidar and articulated landscapes among the Maya" by Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen Houston, and Omar Alcover Firpi in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 53, March 2019, pp. 133-146. Houston will be on BYU campus on Monday, October 28, 2019 to present the inaugural John L. Sorenson Lecture.

Additional insights into Maya and possibly Nephite defensive fortifications are in the articles "Light from Guatemala," "Ground-Truthed LiDAR," and "75 BC."


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Early Settlement Sequence

I am reading a very good book entitled Pathways to Complexity: A View from the Maya Lowlands edited by M. Kathryn Brown (UT San Antonio) and George J. Bey III (Millsaps College).
New Book on Maya Origins
Published in 2018 by University Press of Florida, the volume contains 16 chapters authored by 27 specialists including Donald Forsyth of the BYU Anthropology faculty and BYU alum Richard Hansen of the University of Utah Anthropology faculty. This book contains a number of insights I find interesting and potentially relevant to the Book of Mormon. One is the order in which various areas in Mesoamerica began using ceramics.

Pathways Chapter 4 is entitled "The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands" authored by E. Wyllys Andrews V (PhD Tulane), George J. Bey III (PhD Tulane), and Christopher M. Gunn (PhD Kentucky). The authors summarize what is currently known of the first use of ceramics in important parts of Mesoamerica. This map shows their findings:
Dates when Ceramics First Appear in the Archaeological Record
Ceramics first appear in Oaxaca/Puebla ca. 2,000 BC, then along the Pacific coast of Chiapas and Guatemala and through El Salvador to the Mosquito Coast of NE Honduras ca. 1,900 BC. Ceramics then appear in the Olmec Heartland of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco ca. 1,500 BC followed by highland Guatemala ca. 1,200 BC. Ceramics appear in the southern Maya Lowlands ca. 1,000 BC and finally in the northern Maya Lowlands ca. 900 BC. This means that 300 years before Lehi left Jerusalem most of Mesoamerica had transitioned from mere wood, bone, stone, and fiber utensils to more sophisticated ceramic technology. The blank spot on the map in the Chiapas Highlands does not mean the Central Depression of Chiapas did not have ceramics by ca. 900 BC. The ceramic tradition was well-established in the Grijalva Basin by that time period. It simply means the authors did not consider central Chiapas as significant as the other areas in the cultural development trajectory of ceramic technology throughout the region.

This map showing settlement sequences of peoples possessing ceramics is broadly similar to our current thinking about the Jaredites. We think the Jaredites landed on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and migrated inland to the land of Nehor and upland to the land of Moron which we correlate with the valley of Oaxaca (San José Mogote). The Jaredites then built the city of Lib which we correlate with Tzutzuculi on the Pacific coast of Chiapas. The Jaredite demise at hill Ramah we correlate with the Tuxtla Mountains in the Olmec Heartland. This map includes key Jaredite correlates.
Proposed Jaredite Locations with Dates of Ceramic Attestation
Could Yucatan be part of the land Northward? We have already concluded that the land Northward likely extended to the Tonalá River area (La Venta, Tabasco). With the exciting work Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan (University of Arizona) are currently doing at Aguada Fénix (Balancán, Tabasco), our notion of what constituted the land Northward in Jaredite times may move eastward to include the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. Couple that with the work INAH is doing at Chakanbakán, Quintana Roo, and we may have to re-consider our view of the Olmec. They may have occupied much of Mesoamerica from Central Mexico to the Caribbean by ca. 400 - 300 BC.
Aguada Fénix and Chakanbakán in Context
I have not yet seen either Aguada Fénix or Chakanbakán. The article "Usumacinta Olmec" is based on reports Inomata and Trinidan made to Balancán municipal leaders in February, 2019. I know several people who have been to Chakanbakán (special permission is required from the INAH office in Chetumal, it is not yet open to the public) and they all describe Olmec-looking masks flanking the principal temple (Nohochbalam) stairway. Local news reports from Quintana Roo describe helmeted figures with a strong resemblance to the 17 Olmec colossal heads known from San Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Rancho la Cobata (Cerro El Vigía). The official INAH description of Chakanbakán mentions this unmistakable Olmec influence.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Large Bodies of Water

Alma 50:29 talks about a land which was northward covered with large bodies of water. Helaman 3:4 describes migrations from the land of Zarahemla to an exceeding great distance into the land northward which had large bodies of water. A large body of water probably refers to an inland lake. Many have suggested Teotihuacan adjacent to the very large ancient Lake Texcoco is a good candidate for the area being described in Alma 50 and Helaman 3.

I was at Cholula a few years ago and was interested to learn that it, like Teotihuacan, was built aside a large ancient lake. There is no lake near the ruins of Cholula today. It is a heavily-populated part of the state of Puebla and the local water table has been dramatically drawn down over the years through stream diversion and pumping. Ditto Lake Texcoco, The modest floating gardens of Xochimilco on the extreme south of sprawling Mexico City are all that is left of what once was a very large lake. Actually, Texcoco was five adjoining lakes: Chalco, Xochimilco, Texcoco, Xaltocan, and Zumpango, with a combined surface area of about 1,400 square kilometers. That is more than 3 times the size of Utah Lake which has a surface area of about 380  square kilometers.

On June 29, 2019, I spent time with Mexican historian Diego Velazquez near his home in Lerma east of Toluca. I asked about Lake Lerma south of the city. He said anciently it was considerably larger, covering much of the Toluca Valley, with settlement sites around the shores. Its ancient name was "Chignahuapan" which means "place of nine lakes." There were also shallow lakes called Chimaliapan and Chicnahuapan. So, Mexico City, Toluca over the mountains to the west, and Cholula over the mountains to the east, were all once part of a land northward with large bodies of water.

Further research has shown that Tlaxcala, too, once had sizable lakes along the upper course of the Zahuapan River. Cantona, a site closely affiliated with Teotihuacan, had two ancient lakes nearby, Tepeyahualco and Totoncingo. Lake Zacapu, 50 kilometers NW of Morelia, Michoacan, is now dry but once covered 350 square kilometers. Remnants remain of what was once a band of lakes through Central Mexico from Lake Chapala, the largest inland lake in Mexico today at 1,100 square kilometers, to lovely Lake Catemaco in the Tuxtla Mountains of Veracruz (72 square kilometers).
Region in Central Mexico that Anciently had Many Large Lakes
This region, through central Jalisco, northern Michoacan, southern Guanajuato, the state of Mexico, Mexico City, southern Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, central Puebla and south central Veracruz could reasonably have been described anciently as a land far northward with large bodies of water.

This band of ancient lakes roughly corresponds to the area Mexican geographers call the "Cinturón Volcánico Transmexicano" or CVT.

Monday, June 10, 2019

1921 Book of Mormon Geography Hearings

In April, 1928 General Conference, Pres. Anthony W. Ivins (1852 - 1934) of the First Presidency discussed Hill Cumorah. The Church had just purchased Hill Cumorah from the Pliny T. Sexton (1840 - 1924) estate a few weeks before. Pres. Ivins reported on that land acquisition and then waxed poetic about the ancient battles that supposedly had been fought on and around that hill. In 1928, practically every Latter-day Saint in the world thought the final Jaredite and Nephite battles took place on the same glacial drumlin in western New York where Moroni buried the plates. An alternative view with a battle site in Mexico and Moroni traveling during his 35 years of solitude was beginning to take root in Reorganization circles following the 1917 publication of Louis Edward Hills’ influential Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 BC to 421 AD in Independence, MO. A similar discussion would not take place among Latter-day Saint scholars until Hugh W. Nibley (1910 - 2005), M. Wells Jakeman (1910-1998), Thomas Stuart Ferguson (1915 - 1983), and Milton R. Hunter (1902-1975) met at Berkeley in the 1930’s. So, Pres. Ivins in 1928 was voicing what essentially everyone in the Church believed at that time.
Pres. Anthony W. Ivins from Washington County Historical Society
But, where did Pres. Ivins think most of the Book of Mormon took place? On Monday, January 24, 1921, then Apostle Anthony W. Ivins reported to the “Book of Mormon committee” chaired by fellow Apostle James E. Talmage (1862-1933). The Book of Mormon committee had overseen the successful publication of the 1920 edition and due to great interest around the Church, decided to convene a series of Book of Mormon geography hearings. Those hearings were held on Friday, January 21 through Monday, January 24, 1921. Three people presented their views:
  • Joel E. Ricks (1858 - 1944), author of maps and booklets popular throughout the Church, advocated for the land southward in northern South America and the land northward in Central America. A college professor in Logan, he had spent many summers travelling throughout Latin America.
  • Willard Young (1852 - 1936), Brigham’s son who attended West Point, favored a location in Honduras and Guatemala. He was an engineer who had worked on construction projects in Mexico and Central America.
  • Anthony W. Ivins of the Quorum of the Twelve thought the setting was Mexico and Yucatan. He served his second mission in Mexico City and helped establish the Mormon colonies in northern Chihuahua. His son, Antoine R. Ivins (1881 - 1967), presided over the Mexico Mission and was a member of the Seventy.  
That was it. Those were the only three theories considered by the Book of Mormon committee in January, 1921. No official conclusion was reached. Some of the best minds in the Church in that era envisioned Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica with the final battles in upstate New York. It would be a few more years before close reading of the text convinced a growing consensus of Latter-day Saint scholars that the lands being described by Mormon and Moroni could not have exceeded 1,000 kilometers in maximum extent which precludes New York in most models.

See James E. Talmage Journals, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: MSS 229, Box 6, Folder 2, Journal 24.