- 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
|Proposed lands of Melek & Ammonihah. Each black pyramid|
icon represents a known archaeological site
|Proposed lands of Melek & Ammonihah in context|
We will now compare this area with the 14 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|
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
|Average elevation calculated for the trans Melek|
line indicated by the red arrow
|Elevated regions near the proposed|
lands of Zarahemla & Melek
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.
Criterion 3 satisfied.
|Proposed land of Melek immediately west of river Sidon|
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|
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, set aside in 1977, was the first biosphere reserve created in Mexico. It is also one of the largest protected areas in the country.
|Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve west of|
proposed land of Mulek
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|
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|
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.
The western boundary of our proposed land of Melek is an obvious wilderness side. Criterion 7 satisfied.
|Proposed land of Melek wilderness side|
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.
Possibilities for the city of Ammonihah do exist an appropriate distance north of our proposed land of Melek. Criterion 8 satisfied.
|Candidates for the city of Ammonihah|
3 days' travel north of our Melek
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.
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.
|Elevation profile of the upland region between the|
Lamanai area and our proposed land of Melek
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.
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.
|Bi-secting transects help calculate the average|
elevation of the land of Jershon
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.
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.
|Typical travel route in purple between the cities|
of Zarahemla and Nephi
|Mexican Carretera Fronteriza (Frontier Road) between|
our lands of Zarahemla and Melek
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
13. Our proposed Melek and Zeezrom do indeed have a logical and obvious geographic relationship.
|Nephite southwest quarter showing border cities|
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.
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.
|Pasion River sites naturally oriented toward the east|
|Westward orientation of proposed land of Melek|
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.