Thursday, September 29, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Nine

9. Question. What was the nature of the terrain between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

9. Answer. Zarahemla was down, Nephi was up and an east-west mountain barrier plus lots of wilderness lay between them.
9. Exhibit A. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage basin is more densely populated than the Usumacinta, and that, based on known archaeological sites, the same was true anciently. See the articles "Water Fight on the River - Round Three" and "Water Fight on the River - Round Six" in this blog. Satellite photographs of city lights at night show populated places versus wild lands in a very interesting way because emanated light visible from low earth orbit is generally in direct proportion to the amount of human activity in an area. We overlay our map of the two river basins with NASA imagery showing earth lights at night. It is easy to see that there is more human activity along the Mezcalapa-Grijalva than along the relatively darker Usumacinta.
Earth lights at night along the Mezcalapa-Grijalva
and the Usumacinta rivers.
9. Conclusion A. Based on contemporary population, known archaeological sites, and the amount of night light visible in satellite images, the Usumacinta basin has much more potential wilderness area than the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin. Advantage Usumacinta.
9. Exhibit B. Carefully observe the highlighted area in the following NASA image of earth lights at night. Notice a nearly straight line of light running from the Carribean coast of Guatemala on the right to the Pacific coast of Mexico on the left. Click on the image to render it full-size. You can do this with every image in this blog.
Line of light running east-west from the Caribbean to the Pacific. 
We set a path in Google Earth that will allow us to investigate this interesting line of light.
Path in red following the east-west line of light.
Our map of the rivers is now somewhat more complete. We have added some of the larger tributaries of the Chixoy Negro and the Chixoy in red . We have also added the Polochic River in yellow that flows eastward and empties into Lake Izabal, as well as its major tributary, the Cahabon.
More detail on the rivers. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage is in blue, the
Usumacinta in red, and the east-flowing Polochic drainage is in yellow.
We change the line of light path from red to white and reduce its opacity so the detail underneath is more visible. Superimposing the light path on top of the rivers, it is instantly apparent that the two line up to a remarkable degree. Actually, it is not all that remarkable since humans tend to settle along rivers, and enough humans will eventually create night lights detectable by satellite imagery. The remarkable thing is that so many rivers flow in such a straight east-west line for 512 kilometers across Guatemala and Chiapas.
Line of light path juxtaposed with the rivers.
Beginning at the east Caribbean coast and moving westward, the line of light runs along the northern shore of Lake Izabal and then follows the Polochic, the Cahabon, the Chixoy, the Los Berros/Chicama, the El Molino, the Selegua, and the Cuilco.
Seven rivers that flow along the line of light path.
A case could also be made for the Paraxtut, the Blanco, and the Buca that would fill in the gap between the El Molino and the Selegua, but you get the idea. Adding modern roads to the view shows that major east-west highways follow this corridor in both Guatemala and Mexico, so the line of light turns out to be human activity strung along roadways built along the banks of rivers and the shores of a lake.
Guatemalan highway 7E that parallels the line of light path. Highway
7W is not shown, but it presents a similar view in the west. 
There is much more to this story, though, than just rivers and roads. This image from NASA's beautiful Blue Marble: Next Generation series clearly shows that the distinctive east-west line is also a major topographic feature.
NASA Blue Marble image showing the east-west line south of Coban.
In an attempt to approach Nephi's high standard of clarity that no one can misunderstand 2 Nephi 25:7, here is the same image with the line of light path superimposed.
NASA Blue Marble image with the line of light path.
Turning on Google Map's terrain layer and then changing the line of light to red, it is obvious that the line with its associated rivers and roads lies at the base of a series of steep mountains that run practically from the Caribbean east coast to the Pacific west.
Google Maps terrain layer showing the line of light
below a long series of steep mountain slopes.  
Zooming in on the central Guatemalan portion of the image shows a nearly unbroken line of cliffs running in an east-west direction.
East-west line of cliffs running across central Guatemala.
Zooming in still further on the area where the Los Encuentros enters the Chixoy, you can see that the vertical rise from the river to the cliff summits at this point is about 1,200 meters. That's approximately 4,000 feet of steep mountain slopes. No wonder this major topographic feature is visible from space.
Google Maps terrain layer showing the Chixoy River at about 600 meters
elevation surrounded by steep mountains rising to over 1,800 meters.
The straight red line is the line of light we have been following.
9. Conclusion B. A mountain barrier does exist that could be the line Mormon describes separating Lamanite possessions on the south from Nephite-held territory on the north during the time of Captain Moroni. Alma 50:11. We'll save a more detailed examination of the east-west narrow strip of wilderness line for another day. For the time being, our purpose is to establish whether the Mezcalapa-Grijalva or the Usumacinta is the river Sidon, and the results from this criterion are indeterminate. Both rivers fit well.
9. Exhibit C. Much has been made over the years of what I call "prepositional geography." The Book of Mormon text is profuse with terrain references such as up, down, over, into, round about, etc. Countless hours have been spent by well-meaning students poring over flat maps trying to shoe-horn The Book of Mormon setting into central Chile on the south, eastern Canada on the north, and dozens of other equally nonsensical places in between. When you focus on the prepositions in the text without seeing the big picture, you can easily convince yourself to site Book of Mormon trees outside The Book of Mormon forest. In order for any proposed geographical correlation to work, though, the prepositions must make sense. What The Book of Mormon text says about Zarahemla, Nephi, and the wilderness in between is clear and consistent. Nephi was up at a higher elevation Words of Mormon 1:13Mosiah 9:3,  the wilderness was in the middle at an intermediate elevation Omni 1:27, Mosiah 7:4, and Zarahemla was down at a lower elevation Omni 1:13, Helaman 6:4. This 3-stepped Zarahemla - wilderness - Nephi relationship was the same for people going up to Nephi Mosiah 28:9 or down to Zarahemla Helaman 4:5. Furthermore, Nephi was generally south of Zarahemla Alma 22:33.
Zarahemla Wilderness Nephi elevation relationship
Graphic by Juan Fernando Vazquez Sanchez
Puebla, Mexico September, 2011.
To test the two river systems, we first create a white background plane in Google Earth that covers our area of interest, then anchor it absolutely at 1,600 meters above sea level. We chose 1,600 meters because Kaminaljuyu near Guatemala City - the consensus candidate for the city of Nephi - sits at 1,540 meters elevation, so anything 1,600 meters or higher is definitely up from Nephi which is not what we are looking for. We superimpose this 1,600 meter plane showing higher elevations floating like islands in a white sea on top of our base map of the rivers.
White plane with elevations higher than 1,600 meters
rising above it in stark contrast. The river basins
are outlined in yellow. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva
system is in blue, the Usumacinta in red. 
It should be obvious that a trip down the Usumacinta will be down in elevation from Guatemala City, while a trip down the Mezcalapa-Grijalva will require you to go up before you can go back down. How far up? We show a typical route from Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa via Huehuetenango, and then have Google Earth calculate an elevation profile for the trip. The highest point on this particular path is over 3,000 meters. That is  more than 1,400 meters (4,590 feet) of vertical rise. 
Typical route from Kaminaljuyu (Guatemala City) to Santa Rosa
(Central Depression of Chiapas) that climbs to over 3,000 meters
at its highest elevation.
Zooming in on the elevations higher than 1,600 feet, it is clear that as you go north from Guatemala City to the Usumacinta drainage, you have an ocean of possibilities that conform precisely with The Book of Mormon text. As you go west-northwest to the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage, on the other hand, you can't get there from here. There simply is no route that doesn't explicitly contradict The Book of Mormon text.
Zoomed in view of terrain higher than 1,600 meters elevation
with the Mezcalapa-Grijalva and major tributaries in blue and
tributaries of the Usumacinta in red.
Zooming in still further, we change the land mass display to a high-resolution digital topographic map that highlights elevations with shaded relief, then overlay the typical route from Kaminaljuyu to the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin via Huehuetenango. Departing from Nephi to the Central Depression of Chiapas, you have no where to go but up, and coming into Nephi from the wilderness, down is your only option.
Zoomed-in view of the route from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango
with all land over 1,600 meters elevation shown in high resolution
topographical relief
 9. Conclusion C. In The Book of Mormon, when you go from Nephi to the wilderness to Zarahemla, you go down, then down some more. When you go from Zarahemla to the wilderness to Nephi, you go up, then up again. This pattern is well attested in the text Alma 17:8. The topography of the Usumacinta follows The Book of Mormon text precisely. The topography of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva contradicts The Book of Mormon text overtly. This is much more than a simple advantage for the Usumacinta. It's a slam dunk, a home run, a technical knock out.
9. Conclusion. If the general Guatemala City area is Nephi, as decades of scholarly consensus affirm (see the article "The Book of Mormon Map as of September, 2011" in this blog), then the Mezcalapa-Grijalva/Sidon correlation is fatally flawed. The ups and downs simply do not work. The Usumacinta, which correlates beautifully with the text, must be our river.
9. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 9.
We posited 18 questions (see the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog, and at the half-way point on our river trip, we have already declared a winner. There is much more to come, some of it quite interesting, but we will cut to the chase. Of course, the questions are rigged. They are fundamental, big picture type issues specifically designed to highlight the kind of incisive thinking and powerful modern tools that will impel progress after decades of languor. When we are finished, the score will be 18 - 0 and we will declare unequivocally that 1) Mesoamerica is The Book of Mormon's New World setting, and 2) the Usumacinta is The Book of Mormon's river Sidon. With both preliminaries finally established, the fun can really begin.