Friday, December 16, 2011

Melek

The land of Melek appears 8 times in The Book of Mormon text, all in the book of Alma. The first mention is in the 10th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 82 BC) and the final mention is in the 19th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 73 BC). The summary below indicates what we know about the land of Melek. The numbers 1 - 14 in aqua are criteria we will use to locate this Nephite polity on the modern map.
  • Departing from the local land of Zarahemla, the typical travel route goes over into Melek Alma 8:3. This implies travel over a highland region or some other major geographical barrier (such as river Sidon) between Zarahemla and Melek. 1 It also implies that the lands of Zarahemla and Melek were at roughly similar elevations 2 since you do not go "up" or "down" from one to the other.
  • The land of Melek was west of river Sidon Alma 8:3. How far west? It was right on the river. 3 The river ran by it, as it did the land of Zarahemla Alma 2:15. How do we know this? Because every other land or geographic feature mentioned in the text as being either east or west of Sidon adjoined the river. Hill Amnihu Alma 2:15; the valley of Gideon Alma 6:7; the land of Zarahemla Mormon 1:10; the south wilderness Alma 16:6-7; and the two valleys south of the city of Manti Alma 43:27, Alma 49:16  are all directly bordering or bisected by river Sidon. Mormon simply did not use the terminology "east of" or "west of" Sidon to describe places distant from the river.
  • The distance from the local land of Zarahemla to the land of Melek was greater than from Zarahemla to Gideon. 4 Alma simply "went over into" Alma 6:7 and "returned from" Alma 8:1 the land of Gideon, but he "took his journey" Alma 8:3 from Zarahemla to Melek. The phrase "took (or take) his (their, our, or a) journey" appears 14 times in Mormon's record, and each time it is associated with a rigorous trip requiring advance preparation. The phrase is also generally associated with wilderness travel on at least some leg of the journey.
  • The land of Melek lay between wilderness on the west Alma 8:3 5 and river Sidon on the east.
  • The population of Melek was distributed throughout the land Alma 8:4, not concentrated in a single urban area. 6
  • The land of Melek had an obvious wilderness side Alma 8:5. 7
  • 3 days' journey north of the land of Melek was the city of Ammonihah Alma 8:6. 8
  • Departing from the land of Jershon, the route goes over into Melek Alma 35:13. As with Zarahemla above, this implies an intermediate highland region 9 and roughly similar elevations. 10
  • The route from the local land of Zarahemla to the land of Melek 11 was not the same as the route through Gideon to Manti. When Alma II disappeared, he was last seen on the way to Melek and nowhere else Alma 45:18.
  • Melek is south (upstream) from the local land of Zarahemla. 12 See the article "Downstream from Zarahemla" in this blog. Here is how we know Melek was south of Zarahemla:
    • Ammonihah is generally east of Zarahemla (See the blog articles "Ammonihah" and "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation"). Melek is south of Ammonihah Alma 8:6. That puts Melek generally south of Zarahemla.
    • The geographic referents Ammonihah, Melek, Noah and Aaron appear in the same narratives in the text, implying that these places are proximate. Aaron is generally south of Zarahemla because it is also part of the Aaron, Nephihah, Moroni cluster Alma 50:14 and Moroni is on the southern boundary of Nephite lands Alma 50:13.
    • About 81 B.C., Lamanite armies came north from the greater land of Nephi, destroyed Ammonihah, marauded in Noah, and began their return back to Nephi with captives. Captain Zoram and sons then intercepted the Lamanites south of Manti and liberated the captives. Alma 16:2-8. This scenario is plausible if Noah is south of Zarahemla. It is problematic if Zarahemla is in between Noah and Nephi. The Ammonihah, Melek, Noah and Aaron cluster best fits the text when Melek, Noah and Aaron are all south of Zarahemla.
    • Zeezrom resided for a time in Melek Alma 31:6 after his original home in Ammonihah was destroyed. His name is also associated with the eponymous city of Zeezrom where Helaman and Antipus fought Alma 56:14. The city of Zeezrom was near the southern border of Nephite lands, associated with Judea on the west coast and Manti along the river Sidon. If Zeezrom the man founded Zeezrom the city as per Alma 8:7, a logical geographic relationship between Melek and Zeezrom is likely. 13       
  • From the river Sidon as our frame of reference, the land of Melek is oriented toward the west Alma 8:3. 14
The map below shows our proposal for the land of Melek west of river Sidon.
Proposed lands of Melek & Ammonihah. Each black pyramid
icon represents a known archaeological site
It may help to see our Melek in its larger context in the land southward.
Proposed lands of Melek & Ammonihah in context
Our candidate for the land of Melek is the lowland area approximately 100 - 200 meters elevation west of the upper Usumacinta River with the Lacantun River on the south and the Yaxchilan bowknot on the north.
We will now compare this area with the 13 textual criteria outlined above.

1. There are highlands in between our local land of Zarahemla and Melek. The map below shows a transect between the two lands in white. Google Earth has calculated & graphed the elevation profile of the transect. Along this particular line, one travels over uplands rising to 529 meters elevation before dropping down into Melek. Other vectors could be drawn that would rise as high as 800 - 900 meters elevation.
Zarahemla to Melek transect in white with elevation profile
The indicated terrain fits the text. Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. To calculate a rough (actually, very rough) average elevation for the two lands under consideration, we plot cross hair transects across each land and have Google Earth calculate the average elevation of each vector. The mean of the average elevations of the two crossing vectors gives us a quick and dirty average elevation for the shaded polygon representing a Book of Mormon land. If we were to plot more transects, we obviously could arrive at a more accurate number, but repeated tests have shown our simple method to be precise enough for meaningful comparisons between lands. We will start with the local land of Zarahemla.
Average elevation calculated for the trans Zarahemla
line sloping down to the right
The transect sloping down to the right has an average elevation of 40 meters. The transect sloping down to the left has an average elevation of 54 meters. 54 + 40 = 94. 94/2 = 47. By our rough estimate, the proposed local land of Zarahemla has an average elevation of 47 meters. Doing the same thing for our proposed land of Melek shows similar results.
Average elevation calculated for the trans Melek
line indicated by the red arrow
The transact marked by the red arrow has an average elevation of 159 meters. The transect that is nearly vertical has an average elevation of 180 meters. 159 + 180 = 339. 339/2 = 169.5 which rounds to 170. By our rough estimate, the proposed land of Melek has an average elevation of 170 meters. The land of Melek is roughly 123 meters higher in average elevation than the local land of Zarahemla. Is a 123 meter differential significant? Not in comparison with the surrounding landscape. For example, within 25 air kilometers of our proposed local land of Zarahemla an elevated region rises over 1,500 meters. Within 30 air kilometers of our proposed land of Melek, an elevated region rises over 1,300 meters.
Elevated regions near the proposed
lands of Zarahemla & Melek
Against the backdrop of the Chiapas highlands in their respective back yards, our proposed lands of Zarahemla and Melek have quite similar average elevations. Criterion 2 satisfied.

3. Our proposed land of Melek adjoins the river Sidon, as we would expect based on Mormon's textual convention when describing features east or west of the river.
Proposed land of Melek immediately west of river Sidon
Criterion 3 satisfied.

4. Our candidate for the land of Melek is about twice as far from the proposed city of Zarahemla as is the valley of Gideon, precisely as we would expect from the text.
Proposed land of Melek distant from city of Zarahemla
Based on the 15 air kilometers per day standard derived previously (see the article entitled "Land Southward Travel Times" in this blog), a journey from our city of Zarahemla to the northern part of the land of Melek would have taken 9+ days and involved some wilderness, while a trip from the city of Zarahemla to the western part of the valley of Gideon would have taken 4+ days through settled lands. Our proposed land of Melek fits The Book of Mormon text precisely. Criterion 4 satisfied.

5. The land of Melek lay between wilderness on the west and river Sidon on the east. That wilderness is one of the most famous in Mexico - the huge Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve within the greater Lacandon Jungle, home of the renowned but very remote site of Bonampak. The map below from Google Maps shows Mexico's Frontier Road that has opened up access to this area since its construction beginning in 1985. Bonampak is circled in yellow. The small town of Velasco Suarez is also highlighted.
Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve west of
proposed land of Mulek 
Montes Azules, set aside in 1977, was the first biosphere reserve created in Mexico. It is also one of the largest protected areas in the country.

We can identify potential wilderness areas based on A) the amount of contemporary human activity, and B) the number and size of known archaeological sites. Another factor in montane regions is the piedmont line, the interface between lowlands and foothills. All three wilderness criteria are shown in the map below.
Proposed land of Melek with wilderness to the west
In this case, the base map is the NASA data set of earth lights at night. Note that the Mexican side of the Usumacinta River is darker (less human activity) than the Guatemalan side. We overlaid the base map with EEAMS data showing all known archaeological sites. An area with little modern human activity and no known ancient occupation is a prime candidate for Book of Mormon wilderness. A number of those exist west of our land of Melek. Many of the archaeological sites shown west of the green piedmont line are very small. Note the three  minor sites circled in yellow that are still without names in the professional literature. Bona fide wilderness exists west of our proposed land of Melek. Criterion 5 satisfied.

6. If we have correctly identified the land of Melek in The Book of Mormon, we would expect to see a number of ancient population centers rather than a single city site. Plotting EEAMS data on top of our working map of Melek, we find 10 known archaeological sites including the very important Yaxchilan within the bounds of our shaded polygon.
Known ancient sites within the borders of our proposed Melek
6 of the 10 sites cluster around the confluence of the Lacantun with the Usumacinta. Rivers were fundamental  in Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon times, and settlement patterns reflect this. Our proposed land of Melek did have multiple separate population centers in antiquity. Criterion 6 satisfied.

7. The piedmont line illustrated above forms a distinct boundary between the lowlands along the river and the uplands to the west. The line as shown represents an elevation of 200 meters above sea level. If we were to trace the line at 175 or 150 meters, it would move closer to the river and the land of Melek would become thinner. No matter where we place the line, though, it is clear that our land of Melek has an obvious wilderness side roughly paralleling the river. This is shown unambiguously when we juxtapose INEGI's map of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve and our map of the land of Mulek.
Proposed land of Melek wilderness side
The western boundary of our proposed land of Melek is an obvious wilderness side. Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. Departing north from the land of Melek, 3 day's travel takes one to the city of Ammonihah. How far is 3 day's journey? About 45 air kilometers. See the article "Land Southward Travel Times" in this blog. Do we find one or more candidates for the city of Ammonihah 45 air kilometers north of our Melek? Yes. On the map below the purple vertical line is precisely 45 air kilometers long. It originates on the south at the Usumacinta River and terminates at the archaeological site of El Hormiguero II just south of the San Pedro River. We will discuss in a future  article why El Hormiguero II fits The Book of Mormon textual criteria to be the city of Ammonihah. For our present purpose, note that a cluster of 7 archaeological sites along the San Pedro are in an area approximately 3 days' travel north of our proposed land of Melek. They are circled in yellow on the following map. This is a very busy map. As with all graphical images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Candidates for the city of Ammonihah
3 days' travel north of our Melek
Possibilities for the city of Ammonihah do exist an appropriate distance north of our proposed land of Melek. Criterion 8 satisfied.

9. Based on the text of The Book of Mormon, we would expect an upland region between the lands of Jershon and Melek. Taking our cue from V. Garth Norman, we site Jershon in the modern country of Belize, between the Belize and Hondo Rivers, encompassing the important archaeological site of Lamanai. Obviously, our proposed Jershon is near the east sea. We will deal with the land of Jershon in more detail in a subsequent article. The white line on the map below is a transect between the two lands. A Google Earth elevation profile shows that indeed, you travel over an elevated region to get from our Jershon to Melek.
Elevation profile of the upland region between the
Lamanai area and our proposed land of Melek
Going "over into" Melek from Jershon Alma 35:13 could also refer to crossing the river Sidon. Alma II went "over" from the local land of Zarahemla to the valley of Gideon Alma 6:7 and he obviously crossed the big river. The terrain between our proposed land of Melek and the east coast clearly fits the text. Criterion 9 satisfied.

10. We previously calculated the average elevation of our proposed land of Melek (see the exhibits for criterion 2 above) at 170 meters. We need to do the same for our proposed land of Jershon.
Bi-secting transects help calculate the average
elevation of the land of Jershon
The white vectors in the map above cross our land of Jershon. The line that slopes down to the right has an average elevation of 59 meters. The line that slopes down to the left has an average elevation of 62 meters. 59 + 62 = 121. 121/2 = 60.5 which rounds to 61. Our proposed land of Jershon has a rough average elevation of 61 meters. Less than 30 air kilometers from our Jershon the Maya Mountains rise to a height above 950 meters. This high point is circled in purple on the map above. Relative to their surrounding landscapes, the proposed lands of Jershon at 61 meters and Melek at 170 meters are at roughly similar elevations. Criterion 10 satisfied.

11. We previously described the standard route from the local land of Zarahemla south to the land of Manti and beyond. See the article entitled "Manti" in this blog. That route, through the valley of Gideon and staying east of river Sidon, is referenced multiple times in The Book of Mormon text Alma 16:7, Alma 17:1. Our interpretation of that route is shown in purple on the map below.
Typical travel route in purple between the cities
of Zarahemla and Nephi
East of river Sidon, the Zarahemla to Manti & Nephi route did not go through the land of Melek which was on the other side of the river. Does a logical route exist from our local land of Zarahemla to Melek? Yes. It is the same route taken by the modern Mexican Carretera Fronteriza (Frontier Road) that begins in the city of Palenque and runs along the west side of the Usumacinta River to Benemerito de las Americas and then on to Nuevo Orizaba at the southern end of the eastern extreme of Chiapas near the border corner with Guatemala. We turn on the roads layer in Google Earth and Alma II's likely route from Zarahemla to Melek could hardly be clearer.
Mexican Carretera Fronteriza (Frontier Road) between
our lands of Zarahemla and Melek
A logical route from Zarahemla to Melek does exist, and that path is not the same as the typical Nephite trail from Zarahemla to Gideon and Manti east of river Sidon. The terrain in our area of interest matches the text of The Book of Mormon precisely. Criterion 11 satisfied.

12.  Our proposed land of Melek is indeed upstream from our local land of Zarahemla.
River Sidon flowing generally from south to north
between our lands of Melek & Zarahemla
Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Our proposed Melek and Zeezrom do indeed have a logical and obvious geographic relationship.
Nephite southwest quarter showing border cities
From Melek you go upstream on the Lacantun, then upstream on the Ixcan to reach Zeezrom. Criterion 13 satisfied.

14. The topography of our proposed land of Melek naturally orients northward & westward, in contrast with the Pasion River area (highlighted in yellow below) that is clearly influenced from the east.
Pasion River sites naturally oriented toward the east
In our land of Melek area, the lay of the land tends northwest and then west, which determines the direction of flow in the rivers. Because of this, most ancient settlements in the area are west of the Usumacinta River,which itself flows nearly west over part of its course in this region.
Westward orientation of proposed land of Melek
All of these factors cause our land of Melek to be influenced primarily from the Lacandon Jungle to the west rather than the Guatemalan Peten to the east. This is precisely what we would expect based on our reading of The Book of Mormon text. Criterion 14 satisfied.
--
With all 14 textual criteria satisfied, the land of Melek mentioned in the book of Alma is probably the lowland region west of the Usumacinta River bounded by the Anaite rapids on the north and the general Lacantun confluence area on the south.