Sunday, February 5, 2017

BMAF BMC Book of Mormon Conference 2017

For 13 years, BMAF sponsored a "Book of Mormon Lands" conference. My reports of recent conferences are in the articles entitled "BMAF 2013,"and "BMAF 2014." No conference was held in 2015. The 2016 conference was held on April 16th, at which time we announced that BMAF had merged with Book of Mormon Central (BMC). Videos of BMAF 2016 are on YouTube:

BMAF BMC 2017 will be held on Saturday, March 18th at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo.
BMAF BMC Book of Mormon Conference 2017
As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.

Warren Aston (Brisbane, Australia) is world's greatest living Book of Mormon explorer. He has helped put not just one but two pins on the map - Nahom in Yemen and Nephi's Bountiful in Oman. His current passion is Ramah/Cumorah. I will spend February 19th through 25th with him in Mexico along with Javier Tovar (Hidalgo, Mexico) and Doug Christensen (Twin Falls, Idaho). A 2015 interview with Warren Aston (audio + transcript) is in the BMC Archive.

Why is North American prehistory so riddled with fraudulent artifacts? Fame and Fortune. Its the PT Barnum effect "There's a sucker born every minute" and "Every crowd has a silver lining." Richard Stamps, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Oakland University, will discuss one of the most egregious frauds in the history of archaeology, the bizarre "Michigan Relics." He will show us how to distinguish authentic antiquities from hoaxes.

Matt Roper is one of the leading Book of Mormon scholars in the Church. He is a Research Associate with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. Authors have different styles in the way they use words. Can computer programs demonstrate that the Nephite masterpiece was written by multiple authors using different writing styles? Roper will discuss the current state-of-the-art in stylometry aka wordprints.

The world of Book of Mormon Studies changed forever on the morning of Wednesday, August 16, 1967 when Jack Welch found Chiasmus in Mosiah 5:10-12 while on his mission in Regensburg, Germany. 2017 is the 50th anniversary of that momentous discovery. Jack and Jeannie Welch will receive the Father Lehi and Mother Sariah Awards for lifetime achievement in Book of Mormon Studies. Jack Welch is almost certainly the leading Book of Mormon scholar in the Church today.

As he was beginning his work of translation, Joseph Smith copied characters from the plates. Martin Harris took the sample characters and their translation to Luther Bradish in Albany, Samuel Mitchill probably in New Brunswick, NJ, and Charles Anthon in New York City. Copies of the characters exist today. Their successful translation would be a bombshell in the Book of Mormon world. Jerry Grover will discuss his noteworthy attempt at translation, beginning with the bar and dot numerals.

Book of Mormon Central began publication on January 1, 2016. What has been accomplished? What is currently being worked on? What exciting new ideas are being talked about? Neal Rappleye, BMC Operations Manager, and others of the staff will give a lively "State of the Foundation" address. We intend this recap and prospectus to be a standard feature at our annual conferences going forward.

Taylor Halverson knows Biblical Hebrew, so he reads the Book of Mormon with wonderful insights. He is a popular Deseret News and LDS Living columnist, so he communicates effectively. He is an executive at Book of Mormon Central, so he is familiar with current scriptural scholarship. Halverson will discuss literary and doctrinal patterns he sees in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon. You may want to take a Book of Mormon Cruise with Taylor in May.

Register for BMAF - BMC 2017 here. The $20 fee includes a box lunch.

Come for book signings, engaging videos, lovely music, art displays, and time to interact with some of the world's top Book of Mormon scholars. Mostly, though, come because you love the Book of Mormon, want to understand it even more profoundly, and want to help many more of God's children around the world feast upon the words of Christ it contains.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

75 BC

Takeshi Inomata from the University of Arizona is one of the top dirt archaeologists currently working in Mesoamerica. He specializes in the sites of Aguateca and Ceibal in the Petexbatun region of Guatemala. Inomata lectured at BYU on March 8, 2016. My report of his lecture is in the article entitled "Takeshi Inomata." Since 2005 the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project led by Inomata and a talented team has been working at Ceibal. They analyzed 154 radiocarbon dates, more than  we have from any other Maya site. They used Bayseian inferential statistical techniques for state-of-the-art precision. Correlating absolute dates with ceramic sequences, they created a very accurate dating sequence for Ceibal. Inomata's team just published a major article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, entitled "High-precision radiocarbon dating of political collapse and dynastic origins at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala."

Ceibal at the Great Bend of the Pasion River, Peten, Guatemala
In our January, 2016 correlation, Itzan is Noah and Ceibal is Aaron. Bob Roylance and Richard Terry correlate Ceibal with Zarahemla. Several Mesoamerican correlations include Ceibal among Nephite cities in the greater land of Zarahemla.

Here is what we learn about Ceibal from Inomata's latest article:
  • ca. 75 BC population decline, intense warfare, fortifications built
  • ca. AD 150 regional population decline
  • ca. AD 300 dramatic population decline, abandonment
  • ca. AD 400 new dynasty based on divine kingship, probably under the influence of an external power, likely Tikal which was itself under the influence of Teotihuacan
Archaeologists are now calling the period from AD 150 - AD 300 the "Preclassic collapse." El Mirador fell between AD 150 and 175. Ceibal declined from AD 125 - 175 and fell ca. AD 300. Cerros declined from AD 150 - 175 and may have fallen ca. AD 300.

Other sites where fortifications were built in the late or terminal Preclassic (100 BC - AD 100) include El Mirador, Becan, Edzna, Cerros, Muralla de Leon, Cival, Chaak Ak'al, and multiple hilltop sites along the upper Usumacinta such as Piedras Negras.
Late or Terminal Preclassic Sites with Fortifications
I recently heard John E. Clark of the BYU Anthropology faculty say that in his opinion, the presence of many fortified sites throughout the Maya lowlands in the late Preclassic is some of the strongest evidence in favor of the Usumacinta as Sidon. For additional evidence, see the article The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation.

An historically-recorded dynasty emerged at Tikal in the first century AD. San Bartolo also has epigraphic evidence of a dynasty founded by this time. Many Maya sites such as Palenque, Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, Ceibal, and Copan have historically- recorded dynasties by the fourth century AD.
Early Dynasties Attested Historically
One date stands out. When Inomata finally got enough radiocarbon dates from a single site to determine events with temporal precision, he found that ca. 75 BC was the time when fortifications first appeared at Ceibal in response to intensified warfare. What was going on in the Nephite world ca. 75 BC? Captain Moroni became commander of Nephite forces, he fortified every city in the land, and fought continual wars from ca. 74 BC to ca. 61 BC. See the article entitled "Captain Moroni in Space and Time." These are the war chapters in the Book of Mormon from Alma 43 to Alma 62.

After reading Inomata, et. al., I am changing my correlate for Noah from Itzan to Chaak Ak'al about 3 kilometers to the north. Why? Because Chaak Ak'al, capital of a regional polity, has fortifications dated to ca. 75 BC which is precisely the kind of thing we read about in Alma 49:14.
Drawing of Chaak Ak' al 600 Meter Wall
The fortification wall was built with crudely hewn limestone blocks at its base.
Photo of Chaak Ak' al 600 Meter Wall
The Chaak Ak' al images are from Kevin J. Johnston (2006). Preclassic Maya Occupation of the Itzan Escarpment, Lower Rio Pasion, Peten, Guatemala in Ancient Mesoamerica, 17, pp 177-201. I appreciate Dave Gray of Warwick, Queensland, Australia who sent me a copy of this article.

The mention of Cerros also rings mental bells. Cerros is Joe & Blake Allen's correlate for the city of Mulek on the east coast. The January 2016 map follows the Allens on this point. Inomata says Cerros had fortifications dating to about the same time period as Ceibal (ca. 75 BC) which matches the kind of thing we read about in Alma 52:17.

Inomata identifies a pan-regional collapse between AD 125 - 175 which correlates well with the social turmoil described in 4 Nephi 1:20 that began right about that time. Inomata also identifies site abandonment ca. AD 300 which correlates fairly well with the final Nephite Lamanite war that began ca. AD 322 Mormon 1:8. Nephites began moving toward the land northward about this time.

Why has Takeshi Inomata generated such spectacular results from Ceibal? Because he has spent more than 10 years excavating several parts of the site down to bedrock and has had the budget to submit more than 150 samples for radiocarbon date testing. He also had very good results from the Harvard Project (1964 - 1968) that laid an excellent foundation for his more detailed work. The more we learn about Ceibal, the better the Book of Mormon looks in comparison. As similar resources are expended at other sites, we will likely find exciting comparisons with them as well.

Dave Gray shared his notes from the January 2016 Maya Meetings in Austin, TX. Inomata's work at Ceibal has implications for dating sequences at Kaminaljuyu (KJ) (See the article "Kaminaljuyu.") Lucia Henderson's current timeline for KJ:
  • 700 BC - 400 BC Olmec influence
  • 400 BC to 100 BC Highland regional culture
  • 100 BC to AD 200 Lowland culture importation
  • AD 200 to AD 300 Hiatus
  • AD 300 to  AD 600 Teotihuacan influence
This provides strong support for the January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map which places the city of Nephi at KJ and the city of Zarahemla in the Southern Maya Lowlands. Here is what was happening in the Book of Mormon during these times:
  • Jaredite collapse 400 BC - 250 BC Ether 15:2, Mosiah 8:8.
  • City of Nephi capital of expansive Nephite regional polity 550 BC - 200 BC Jarom 1:6-8.
  • Mosiahled many Nephites from the city of Nephi to the city of Zarahemla 200 BC Omni 1:13
  • Zeniff, Noah and Limhi temporarily re-occupied the lesser land of Nephi and the land of Shilom 200 BC - 121 BC Mosiah 9:6-8, Mosiah 22:11-13.
  • Amulon & other priests of Noah ignited a revolution in Lamanite culture by teaching them the Nephite written language. 120 BC Mosiah 24:4-7.
  • Amlicites with headquarters at Ammonihah established their belief system in outposts throughout the greater land of Nephi 100 - 90 BC Alma 21:14 (Yale 2009 orthography).
  • Sons of Mosiah ministered throughout the greater land of Nephi 91 BC - 77 BC Alma 17:4.
  • Intense Nephite/Lamanite interaction 74 BC - AD 200 Alma 43:3, Helaman 6:7-8, 4 Nephi 1:17.
  • Nephite collapse AD 322 - AD 385 Mormon 1:8, Mormon 8:7.
Very interesting chronological correlations.

Article updated February 10, 2017.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Earliest Urbanization in the Americas

Anthropologists classify cultures by their degree of sophistication. From a geographic perspective, Hunter gatherers settle down into sedentism practicing agriculture. Sedentary people cluster together into urban centers with civic architecture. Urban areas become cities. Cities develop into states. States form empires. From a social perspective, families band together in clans. Clans form tribes. Tribes develop into chiefdoms. Chiefdoms evolve into states. States form empires. The earliest appearance of sedentism, urbanization, cities, and states are important milestones in the culture history of a region.

North America.

Watson Brake, Louisiana is the earliest urban center yet discovered in North America. It dates to ca. 3,500 BC.
Artist's Rendering of Watson Brake in NE Louisiana
The earthworks were simple and small. Watson Brake was pre-ceramic. Excavations there uncovered no evidence of long-distance trading. Populations were in the hundreds. Nevertheless, its early dates, first reported in 1997, took archaeologists by surprise. No one expected urbanism with even a modest scale community center at 3,500 BC.

Poverty Point, Louisiana dates to ca. 1,700 BC. It is much larger and was engaged in extensive long-distance trade. It also had crude ceramics. Populations were in the thousands.
Artist's Rendering of Poverty Point in NE Louisiana
Poverty Point is important enough in North American prehistory it is now a National Monument as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Both Watson Brake and Poverty Point were urban centers, but neither developed into a city. The only ancient city anthropologists recognize in North America is Cahokia which had a population of approximately 50,000 people at its peak with several hundred thousand in its periphery.
Monks Mound, Largest Ancient Earthwork North of Mexico
Cahokia dates to ca. AD 850. Its largest structure, Monks Mound, rises to 33 meters and has a volume of 623,000 cubic meters. Cahokia is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cahokia was beginning to develop some state-level characteristics when it collapsed ca. AD 1,300. For a discussion of tribalism and states, see the article entitled "State Level Society."

Middle America

The earliest urban centers discovered to date in Mesoamerica are Cuicuilco in Central Mexico (ca. 1,400 BC), San Jose Magote in Oaxaca (ca. 1,500 BC), Paso de la Amada on the Pacific coast of Chiapas (ca. 1,800 BC) and Monte Alto on the Pacific coast of Guatemala (ca. 1,800 BC). San Lorenzo (ca. 1,200 BC) is generally considered the first Mesoamerican city. 
Earliest Urban Centers in Middle America

South America

The earliest urban center yet discovered in South American is Caral on the Peruvian coast near Supe. Caral dates to ca. 3,000 BC. It was the largest of 18 affiliated sites in the area.
Caral on the Pacific Coast of Peru
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Caral was preceramic. Populations were in the tens of thousands. It had dozens of large-scale public works. Long-distance trade is attested. It was a true city - large and sophisticated. Caral is the earliest advanced civilization currently known in the western hemisphere. Quipus, the knotted string cords the Inca used as inventory control and mnemonic devices, were found at Caral, as were the famous Andean multi-pitched pan pipes.
Quipu and Pan Pipes Discovered at Caral
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Peru is so proud of the earliest known New World city, they adopted a spiral design from Caral as their new national symbol.
Caral Spiral Carved in Stone
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Peru's current tourist logo on a baseball cap.
National Symbol Inspired by Ancient Caral
Caral, which only came to the world's attention in 2001, surprised the experts. No one anticipated a city co-terminus with the first Egyptian dynasty in the Americas. No clear antecedents have been found. A full-fledged advanced civilization appeared on the scene seemingly out of nowhere. In 2009, Caral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tracking the Jaredites

The Jaredite saga began at the Tower of Babel Ether 1:33. Biblical tradition has long held that the Tower of Babel was in the land of Shinar based on Genesis 10:10 and Genesis 11:2. Shinar is generally associated with Babylon in the alluvial plain between the lower Tigris and Euphrates. See Bible Dictionary Shinar, Plain of. From Babel, the Brother of Jared was instructed to lead his small band northward down into the Valley of Nimrod Ether 1:42, Ether 2:1.

One problem locating the Tower of Babel near Babylon is that virtually all topography northward is up in elevation and the Book of Mormon explicitly says they went down. In 2011, Anne Habermehl published a revisionist article entitled "Where in the World is the Tower of Babel?" She argues that Shinar was in the Khabur triangle of northern Mesopotamia in the  NE corner of modern Syria. From Habermehl's Babel one can in fact go northward and drop down in elevation.
Anne Habermehl's Proposed Tower of Babel Location
From the Valley of Nimrod, the group went into "that quarter where there never had man been" Ether 2:5. Since their eventual destination was an ocean leading to the New World, they must have gone either east to the Pacific or west to the Atlantic. John L. Sorenson in 1985 (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon) suggested they traveled east to the Pacific and landed on the west coast of Mexico. In 2013 (Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book) Sorenson changed his mind and postulated an Atlantic crossing disembarking in Veracruz. I find Sorenson's 1985 model more convincing. His 2013 reversal is based on several assumptions I find problematic:
  1. Textual indications that the Jaredites incorporated pre-existing populations into their polities favor a Veracruz setting. This is not necessarily true. There is as much evidence for pre-Jaredite peoples in Guerrero, Central Mexico, Puebla, and Oaxaca as there is in Veracruz.
  2. Sorenson places Heth approximately at modern Xalapa, Moron at Cordoba, and Nehor at Tuxtepec. He then says Moron was in the southern tier of Jaredite lands which contradicts his map. He further says Moron was near Nephite Desolation which also contradicts his map. Finally he says that Moron was up in elevation relative to other Jaredite lands, a condition required by the text Ether 7:5, 14:11 but not obvious on his map.
  3. Because Sorenson correlates the Nephite narrow pass Alma 50:34, 52:9, Mormon 3:5 with the "Tehuantepec Ridge" between Minatitlan and Acayucan, he tries to cluster Jaredite lands in the same general vicinity. His east west "gravelly ridge" has never made any sense to me. I have yet to find it on any topo map. Several north south "ridges" bisect it, defeating its supposed purpose. I have been in the area and inquired locally to no avail. The natives I have spoken with do not acknowledge any such natural feature. I believe the narrow pass identified in the Book of Mormon Lands Map 2016 on the Pacific coast of Chiapas is a more likely candidate and a stronger fit to the text. See the article entitled "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage."
  4. The severe drought mentioned in Ether 9:30 is more likely in arid Oaxaca or Puebla than in humid Veracruz.
  5. Sorenson's insistence that Ether 9:3 and 14:26 both refer to the "east sea" are probably forced readings. The text simply says people went eastward to a sea. The Gulf of Campeche, Sorenson's "east sea" is NW or even WNW of both his Zarahemla (Santa Rosa) and his Nephi (Kaminaljuyu). We now know that the ancient Maya called the Caribbean the "east sea." See the article entitled "Smoking Gun."
  6. Sorenson's point that no single river in south central Veracruz stands out is simply wrong. The Papaloapan is by far the largest river in this part of Mexico.
  7. Sorenson correlates the Jaredites with the Olmec who had influence from Central Mexico to the Caribbean and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific.
Sorenson's proposed Jaredite lands (yellow pins) overlay a map of sites with known Olmec influence.
Olmec World (Orange) with Sorenson's Jaredites (Yellow)
I have difficulty reconciling Ether 1:43 and the extensive Olmec world with Sorenson's diminutive Jaredite territory.

I share the view more common among LDS Mesoamericanists that the Jaredites landed on the west coast of Mexico and spread first throughout the land northward. Upland Oaxaca is a suitable candidate for the land of Moron.

David Rosenvall, one of the brightest contemporary Book of Mormon theorists, suggests that the Jaredites left the Tower of Babel area and turned eastward, building barges to cross the large inland Caspian Sea Ether 2:6-7.
Proposed Jaredite Route Eastward to Inland Sea
From there he thinks they traveled across Central Asia and China to the highest mountain on the Chinese coast - 1,083 meter Mount Laoshan Ether 3:1.
Proposed Jaredite Routes Eastward to Mount Shelem
Mount Laoshan is interesting because it is the traditional birthplace of both Taoism and Chinese culture generally. From Mount Laoshan the mythological Eight Immortals crossed the sea.
Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea
Relief from Qingsong Temple, Hong Kong
One of the eight, Zhongli Quan, reputedly had the power to turn stones into silver and gold.

From Mount Shelem, eight Jaredite barges were blown across the ocean for 344 days Ether 6:11 until they reached the New World. This is  a detail we can test scientifically.

On March 11, 2011 a massive tsunami killed 16,000 people in northern Japan and washed millions of tons of debris into the ocean. On December 13, 2011 buoys from Japan reached Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the first objects from the tsunami to cross the Pacific.
Buoys from Japan retrieved from a Canadian Beach
Light enough to be blown by the wind Ether 6:8, the buoys drifted for 276 days. Two days later, December 15, 2011, the first tsunami debris landed on Washington's Olympic Peninsula after drifting for 278 days. Similar Japanese buoys from oyster farms began appearing on beaches in the Alaska Panhandle in January, 2012. The first vessel to arrive, the Japanese shrimping boat Ryou-Un Maru from Hokkaido, was spotted in Canadian waters off British Columbia on March 23, 2012. It was adrift as a ghost ship for 377 days. It was scuttled to avoid damaging other vessels. A few days later a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a shipping container landed on Graham Island, British Columbia. Its Japanese owner donated it to the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

So, we have recent credible evidence that drifting waterborne objects from northern Japan can reach North American shores in a period of 276 - 377 days. Assuming the Jaredites crossed the North Pacific, this tsunami drift data supports the Book of Mormon account to a remarkable degree. This is a map of the places Japanese tsunami debris had landed as of March, 2016, five years after the disaster.
Japanese Tsunami Drift Map
According to the University of Hawaii International Pacific Research Center IPRC Drift Model, the Book of Mormon's 344 days is right in the sweet spot of probability for northern Pacific oceanic passage of objects that ride high enough in the water to catch the wind which the Jaredite barges clearly did.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Big Picture Thinking

A new book is coming out soon from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Entitled The Origin of Maya States, it looks at Maya city state polities in the preclassic, beginning at ca. 1,000 BC. Contributors include LDS archaeologists John E. Clark from BYU and Richard D. Hansen from the University of Utah. The book, following standard practice in the discipline, divides the Maya area into 3 distinct cultural areas:
  • Pacific Coast
  • Highlands
  • Lowlands
If we assume that the dividing line between the Book of Mormon lands northward and southward is the Coatzacoalcos River (a boundary that many serious students of the text support) then the Maya area is roughly coterminous with the Book of Mormon land southward. And what do we find in the Book of Mormon during Nephite (preclassic) times? 3 distinct cultural areas:
  • Land of First Inheritance
  • Greater land of Nephi
  • Greater land of Zarahemla sharing a fluid border with land Bountiful
Mapping everything out according to our Book of Mormon Lands Map January 2016 correlation, we find that the latest scholarship nicely validates our model.
Maya Area with Proposed Book of Mormon Correlations
More details are in the article "Test #3 Cultural Boundaries."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

El Tigre

Jorge Merino just visited El Tigre on the Candelaria River in Campeche and was very impressed with the size and dramatic location of the site. It was well situated for defense and to control canoe traffic up and down the river.
El Tigre aka Itzamkanac, Campeche
This site was opened for visitors about three years ago. According to INAH, it was first settled between 600 and 300 BC and was continuously occupied until European contact. Hernan Cortes executed Cuauhtemoc at this place during his overland trip to Honduras. The site reached apogee in the Postclassic. The urban core extends over 380 hectares. and includes at least 60 major structures.

I believe this site could have been part of the area the Book of Mormon describes as "the most capital parts of the land" Helaman 1:27 situated between the lesser land of Zarahemla and land Bountiful.
El Tigre in Possible Book of Mormon Context
El Tigre was interconnected with Palenque in a number of ways. Palenque is in the area we identify as the lesser land of Zarahemla shown in red on the map above.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Joseph Smith's 211th Birthday

Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. That was 211 years ago today. We celebrated Joseph Smith's birthday this evening with friends. I showed them the only authenticated photo of the Prophet.
Daguerreotype of Joseph Smith, Jr. Taken in Nauvoo
Shortly Before the Prophet's Martyrdom
My friend, Chad Fugate from Pocatello, Idaho, was part of the team (Reed Simonsen, Jim Fugate) that determined the authenticity of this image. They did historical research and compared facial features with Joseph's death mask, taking into account the fact that the Prophet's skull was badly fractured in the melee at Carthage. You can read their report here.

This evening I also showed my friends the new Joseph Smith Chronology published by BYU Studies. This remarkable database of nearly 1,500 entries goes through the Prophet's action-packed life day by day and details what happened on that day. References come from the many sources that were studied to compile the Joseph Smith Papers Project.