Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sidom

All 7 references to the land of Sidom are in Alma chapter 15, set in the 10th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 81 BC). At that time, this territory was newly settled by the Nephites. We know that because:
  • The Nephite nation was experiencing rapid expansion in all directions in this general era Mosiah 27:6; Alma 22:29; Alma 50:18.
  • First Alma I and then his son, Alma II established churches throughout all the land of the Nephites beginning with 7 churches in the local land of Zarahemla and then expanding outward Mosiah 25:19; Mosiah 25:23Alma 6:8; Alma 8:11; Alma 16:21.
  • In his missionary journeys, Alma II performed two different labors - regulating or setting in order established churches Alma 6:4; Alma 8:1and setting up new churches Alma 15:17. The church at Sidom was new, first established by Alma II in the 10th year of the reign of the judges, implying a land recently brought under Nephite control. This further implies a land on the margins of Nephite territory at the time 1, a frontier settlement further away from the political center than Gideon or Ammonihah 2, and perhaps even further away than Melek 3 where Alma II began his missionary travels at the beginning of the year Alma 8:3. The church in Ammonihah certainly pre-dated the church Alma II founded in Sidom because some of the believers who were burned had testimonies prior to Alma & Amulek's teaching and they possessed sacred texts the Nehorites found opprobrious Alma 14:8. Since the city of Ammonihah was east of river Sidon (see the article entitled "Ammonihah" in this blog), we would expect Sidom to be either further east or north 4 of the apostate city. West makes no sense because Sidom was further away from the local land of Zarahemla than Ammonihah was. South is unlikely because Sidom does not appear in the record of the Lamanite army march from the ruins of Ammonihah back to the land of Nephi Alma 16:3. The land of Noah is the polity mentioned in that retreat Alma 49:12.
The Book of Mormon text makes additional details about the land of Sidom clear as well. The numbers 1-13 highlighted with aqua background are the criteria we will use to locate Sidom on the modern map.
  • The terminology "came out" Alma 15:1 implies that the city of Ammonihah was in a lowland depression 5.
  • Sidom must have been relatively close to the city of Ammonihah. We know this because the believers fled there as refugees immediately after suffering religious persecution in Amonihah Alma 15:1, and Zeezrom later preached in Melek Alma 31:6 which was precisely 3 days from Ammonihah Alma 8:6. At the same time, Sidom was far enough away that news of the martyrdom of their wives and children had not yet reached the surviving saints Alma 15:2 when Alma & Amulek shared the tragic details. An air distance in the neighborhood of 3 days travel  6 from the city of Ammonihah to the land of Sidom seems justified.
  • The local land of Zarahemla was "over" from the land of Sidom Alma 15:18, not up or down, implying roughly similar average elevations 7. The geographic feature one traveled over in this case was the river Sidon 8.
  • No single urban area dominates the land of Sidom. There is no mention of a city of Sidom, let alone a large city. This implies small settlements distributed throughout the land 9.
  • People lived in all the regions "round about" the land of Sidom Alma 15:14. Whereas Ammonihah had adjacent wilderness Alma 16:2, Sidom was surrounded by settled areas. 10
  • Alma II baptized Zeezrom in the land of Sidom Alma 15:2. Priests ordained by Alma II baptized many others. Alma 15:14. It is likely that a significant river is closely associated with the land of Sidom 11 because Alma II's pattern in Zarahemla, following his father's practice, was to baptize in the waters of river Sidon Alma 4:4.
  • After Zeezrom and his fellow believers were driven out of Ammonihah Alma 14:7 they went to neighboring Sidom Alma 15:1. After his miraculous healing Alma 15:11 at Sidom, Zeezrom began preaching there. When we next hear of Zeezrom, he is with Amulek in the land of Melek Alma 31:6. This implies transportation and communication links between the lands of Sidom and Melek. 12
  • The land of Sidom is mentioned in The Book of Mormon text in association with the local land of Zarahemla, the land of Ammonihah and the land of Melek, all of which have known relationships to the Nephite core. Nothing is ever mentioned further out or beyond Sidom. This implies that Sidom is on the margin of Nephite territory in its region, and that the land past Sidom was not under Nephite control 13.
Below is our candidate for the land of Sidom, east along the San Pedro River from our Ammonihah.
Proposed land of Sidom relative to lands of
Ammonihah, Noah & Melek
The larger context around our proposed land of Sidom:
Proposed land of Sidom relative to local lands of Zarahemla,
Nephi and key points in between
We will now test our candidate Sidom against the 11 textual requirements discussed above.

1. The Nephite nation, like polities throughout history, waxed and waned in different eras. See the article "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" in this blog for a series of maps that graphically depict territorial growth. The Lamanite nation was undergoing similar growth at the same time, advantaged by superior demographics Mosiah 25:3. The land of Sidom is mentioned for the first time in the text ca. 81 B.C. Alma 15:1. Our correlation locates it on the Nephite frontier at that time, a region newly under the political control of the government at Zarahemla.
Nephite territorial expansion
The white circle shows how far the Nephite nation had grown by 82 B.C. when Sidom is first mentioned in the text. Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. Our proposed correlation places Sidom upstream on the San Pedro River from Ammonihah which is itself upstream from Gideon.
Zarahemla, Gideon, Ammonihah and Sidom
along the San Pedro River
This relative placement of the lands fits well with the text. Criterion 2 satisfied.

3 4. Measuring the distance from the local land of Zarahemla, it is clear that our proposed Sidom is further  from the Nephite center than Melek is with its contextual relationship to Ammonihah.
Relative distances from Zarahemla to Melek & Sidom
This relative distance relationship is completely in harmony with the text. Criterion 3 satisfied. Our proposal for Sidom places it east of Ammonihah which also fits the text. Criterion 4 satisfied.

5. Zooming in on the lands of Ammonihah and Sidom, we are interested in the phrase "came out" that describes Alma & Amulek's travel away from Ammonihah. We place a terrain plane so all land lower than 50 meters elevation shows white.
Proposed city of Ammonihah in a lowland river valley
It is clear that in this part of Mesoamerica, the lower elevation lands are very close to the rivers. Our proposed city of Ammonihah, the site of El Hormiguero II, is right on the river at an elevation of 40 - 50 meters. A mere 2 kilometers south of the site, mountains rise to an elevation of 350 meters. One could follow the river from Ammonihah to Sidom, but that would be the long way around. Taking the shortest route slightly south of east, you would indeed "come out" of the lower river valley into the somewhat higher plains. The text and this terrain match beautifully. Criterion 5 satisfied.

6. Our best efforts at teasing out inferences from the text suggest that the city of Ammonihah and the land of Sidom are approximately the same distance from each other as are the city of Ammonihah and the land of Melek.Here is how well our proposed correlation matches that textual datum.
Distances from the city of  Ammonihah
to the lands of Melek & Sidom
Our rule of thumb metric for a day's travel comes from the analysis in the blog article entitled "Land Southward Travel Times." Based on that, we posit 45 air kilometers from the land of Melek to the city of Ammonihah Alma 8:6. The line from our proposed city of Ammonihah to our land of Sidom measures 46 air kilometers. Our correlation is certainly in the ballpark of textual reasonableness. Criterion 6 satisfied.

7. We have a quick way of calculating the rough average elevation of a proposed Book of Mormon land. We set a northeast to southwest and then a northwest to southeast transect and have Google Earth calculate the average elevations of each transect. Averaging the 2 averages then gives us a mean elevation for the surface area in question.
Calculating the average elevation of the land of Sidom
The results: our proposed land of Sidom averages 74 meters elevation. We have previously calculated the average elevation of our local land of Zarahemla at 53 meters. These two lands are at roughly similar elevations. Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. To travel from Sidom to the local land of Zarahemla, Alma and Amulek went "over" something Alma 15:18. We know from careful analysis of the text that in The Book of Mormon one goes over topographical landmarks such as mountains, rivers or seas. See the articles "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #21 and "Crossing Things" in this blog. Ammonihah was east of Sidon (see the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation) and Sidom was closely associated with Ammonihah. This implies that Sidom was also east of Sidon. Therefore, Alma and Amulek went over the river Sidon when they traveled from the land of Sidom to Zarahemla.
River Sidon (Usumacinta) in between the local land
of Zarahemla and the land of Sidon
This is one more example of the text and the map agreeing on the merest of details. Criterion 8 satisfied.

9, 10, 11. To get some idea of ancient settlement patterns, we overlay our map of Sidom with EAAMS data showing archaeological sites known to science. The white line extends the boundaries of our Sidom by approximately 10 kilometers on all sides except the western border with Ammonihah.
Archaeological sites in and around our proposed land of Sidom
5 sites lie within the borders of our proposed Sidom. All 5 are what the EAAMS project editors classify as rank 4 sites - bigger than a house mound or shell midden, but not major sites. This implies a relatively even distribution of population throughout the territory rather than one dominant urban area. Criterion 9 satisfied. Within the 10 kilometer zone around our Sidom, there are 17 known archaeological sites. Many people lived in the regions around our Sidom. (When The Book of Mormon uses the term "round about" it is describing a circular area or movement.) Criterion 10 satisfied. The relationship between our proposed land of Sidom and the San Pedro River, a major Usumacinta tributary, is obvious. Criterion 11 satisfied.
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A side note: The site of El Peru (aka Waka) is in the area immediately around our proposed land of Sidom. Fire is Born and his Teotihuacan military entourage on January 8, A.D. 378 conquered El Peru as a staging ground for their assault on Tikal 8 days later. This history is recorded on the famous Stela 31 from Tikal. Tikal is 78 air kilometers east of El Peru.

12. The site of Pajaral in our proposed land of Sidom was part of the classic era polity known to modern Mayanists as Hix Witz (Jaguar Hill). During the Maya classic, Hix Witz and Yaxchilan had significant, sometimes violent relationships. Transportation and communication links between the two are a matter of ancient epigraphic record. Lintel 43 at Yaxchilan, for example, depicts Lady Mut Bahlam from Hix Witz.
Hix Witz - Yaxchilan relationship
Archaeology documents ancient relationships between the areas we identify as Melek and Sidom. Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Q. What do you find if you continue up the San Pedro River eastward beyond our proposed land of Sidom? A. Tikal, Uaxactun, El Mirador, Nakbe - the super powers of the southern Maya lowlands in the preclassic era. I find no evidence in the text that the Nephites ever settled this area.
Area not under Nephite hegemony at their territorial apogee
The text mentions lands with a relationship to the local land of Zarahemla (Minon, Gideon, Mulek, Ammonihah, Sidom and it mentions lands whose geographic reference is the east sea (Jershon, Antionum, Siron) but the land between those two regions remains terra incognita in the Nephite record. I believe the area from Calakmul on the north to Tikal on the south was an 800 pound gorilla in the room that the Nephite nation avoided to the extent possible. If this is true, it is easy to understand why the text never mentions lands beyond Sidom. It also helps explain a number of other interesting nuances in the text that we will explore in future posts to this blog. Criterion 13 satisfied.
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With 13 of 13 exegetical criteria satisfied, the area we identify as the land of Sidom fits The Book of Mormon text very well. See the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #26 for a linked list of other mapped Book of Mormon toponyms.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Ammonihah

    Article updated October 31, 2012.
    The name Ammonihah is a Book of Mormon toponym referenced 26 times in the text. 1 of those references is in the book of Helaman. The other 25 citations are all in the book of Alma. Ammonihah first appears by name in Mormon's compendium in the 10th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 82 BC). The city was obliterated in a brutal Lamanite invasion in the 11th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 81 BC) and it lay unoccupied and in ruins for several years as required by the law of apostate cities in Deuteronomy 13:12-16. (See John W. Welch, "The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities" in Reexploring The Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book & FARMS, 1992, chapter 50. By the 19th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 72 BC) the city had been partially rebuilt. It figures in the war with the Lamanites under Amalickiah and is never mentioned again except as an historical referent. Another name for Ammonihah is "Desolation of Nehors" Alma 16:11. Nehor and his successor, Amlici, are both important in the discussion. The locus of their power base centered in Ammonihah Alma 15:15. The recent realization (by Royal Skousen) that all 19 occurrences of the word "Amalekites" in the 1981 LDS text should read "Amlicites" (see the blog article entitled "Peripatetic Amlici") opens up a number of interesting implications for Ammonihah that have yet to be fully explored. The city of Ammonihah was in the land of Ammonihah Alma 8:18.

    Careful reading of the text yields a number of insights about the city and its surrounding land of Ammonihah. The numbers 1 - 29 in aqua are criteria we will use to help locate this Nephite territory on the modern map.
    • Departing from the northern boundary of the land of Melek, the city of Ammonihah was 3 days journey further north Alma 8:6. 1
    • Ammonihah was not far distant from the Nephite center. 2 The citizens knew they were part of a larger political entity encompassing many parts Alma 8:11. They were informed about events in the capital city. Alma 8:12. They depended on the central government for their defense Alma 16:3 while remote outposts such as Manti were more militarily self-sufficient Alma 43:26.
    • The city of Aaron was a significant distance from Ammonihah 3 because Alma2 "took his journey" toward it after being rejected in Ammonihah Alma 8:13. The phrase "take his journey" and its multiple variants imply a long, arduous trip requiring advance preparation (see the article entitled "Melek" in this blog). After traveling part of the way to Aaron, Alma was instructed by his angel to return to Ammonihah. By the time Alma met Amulek, he had been traveling for many days Alma 8:26 even though he chose a relatively direct route back to Ammonihah Alma 8:18.
    • Ammonihah was far enough from the seat of power in the city of Zarahemla 4 that seditious plots could go unnoticed for some time Alma 8:17. Raising an army to defend the land of Ammonihah also took some time Alma 16:3.
    • The principal entrance into the city of Ammonihah was not from the south. 5 When Alma2 came into Ammonihah the second time he entered from the south which was unusual enough to be noteworthy. Alma 8:18.
    • Ammonihah was a cosmopolitan city with both Nephite and non-Nephite citizens. This implies a trade route location 6 with non-Nephite enclaves or proximity to a major non-Nephite region. Alma 8:20. Amulek's comment also reflects the Amlicite partition Alma 2:11 five years earlier and its aftermath Alma 3:11 with religious connotations.
    • The economy was flourishing in Ammonihah. This is evidenced by Amulek's comment that he had neglected spiritual matters because he was so busy making money. Alma 10:4, 5. It is further evidenced by the extreme hubris of the natives Alma 16:9 and the strength of the local legal profession Alma 10:31, 32.
    • Nehor was executed for the murder of Gideon in the first year of the reign of the judges (ca. 91 BC) Alma 1:15, but his apostate belief system survived him Alma 1:16. At the time of his death, Nehor had recently founded a church Alma 1:6. Where was Nehor's church located? It was in the city of Ammonihah Alma 14:16, 18; Alma 15:15; Alma 16:11. Therefore, when Nehor was travelling to preach to his believers & supporters Alma 1:7, he was headed to Ammonihah. We previously established that Nehor slew Gideon in the valley of Gideon (see the article entitled "Gideon" in this blog) because Gideon was a church leader Alma 1:7 in his eponymous valley defending his fellow church members from heresy and apostasy. We know that Gideon was one of the seven churches founded by Alma1 ca. 120 B.C. (see the blog article "The Church in Zarahemla"). From this we deduce that the valley of Gideon was en route from the local land of Zarahemla to Ammonihah. 7 This means Ammonihah was east of river Sidon 8. See the article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" in this blog for a great deal more information about Ammonihah east of Sidon and the implications of that important discovery first noted by V. Garth Norman.
    • Nehor tried to make converts in the valley of Gideon Alma 1:7. Did he intend to plant a new church in Gideon like the one he had recently established in Ammonihah? Or did he hope to expand the membership of his existing church in Ammonihah? We do not know, but either way the implication is that Gideon and Ammonihah were geographically proximate. 9
    • An earthquake leveled the prison in Ammonihah where Alma & Amulek were incarcerated Alma 14:27. This means Ammonihah is located in an earthquake zone. 10
    • The implication of Alma 1:5 is that Nehor preached intensively in the same area rather than extensively across a broad territory. As we have seen above, that area where Nehor could make a living as a preacher was Ammonihah. This means that the true Church was also established in Ammonihah Alma 1:3 at an early date (at least by 91 B.C.). And that means Ammonihah was one of the earlier Nephite polities to come under Zarahemla's control, 11 further reinforcing the notion of geographic proximity to the Nephite center (see the blog article entitled "Expansion of the Nephite Nation"). Some level of church presence must have pre-dated Alma & Amulek's preaching ca. 82 B.C. because people in Ammonihah had copies of the scriptures Alma 13:20, Alma 14:8 the Amlicites/Nehorites found objectionable. A further discussion of Ammonihah as one of the original seven churches founded by Alma1 ca. 120 B.C. is in the blog article "The Church in Zarahemla". 
    • The critical text (Alma 2:15) clarifies that both the Amlicites coming from Ammonihah and the Nephites coming from the local land of Zarahemla had to go up Alma 2:16 in elevation 12 to reach the battleground on hill Amnihu.
    • The citizens of Ammonihah were very proud of their imposing city Alma 9:4. The city of Ammonihah was not a small place. 13 
    • The land of Ammonihah must also have had a sizable population. 14 No other place in the greater land of Zarahemla is explicitly associated with the Nehorite/Amlicite apostasy prior to 87 B.C., and that rebellion was large enough to be a serious threat to the Nephite republic Alma 2:2
    • After their miraculous liberation from prison, Alma & Amulek both departed and "came out" of the city of Ammonihah Alma 15:1. Why two verbs to describe the act of leaving the city? We interpret this passage to mean the city of Ammonihah was located in a lowland depression surrounded by higher ground. 15
    • After leaving Ammonihah, the two prophets went "into" the land of Sidom Alma 15:1. They did not "take their journey," so it was not a long, arduous trip. 16 They did not cross "over" anything, so we would not expect large rivers or mountains 17 as travel obstacles en route. They did not go "up" or "down" so we would expect the lands of Ammonihah and Sidom to be at similar average elevations. 18 No "round about" is mentioned, so we would expect Ammonihah and Sidom to have a relatively straight line relationship with each other. 19 
    • On the other hand, even though many days had transpired Alma 14:23, the believers forcibly expelled from Ammonihah had no news of their families' tragic fates Alma 15:2. This implies a distance of  perhaps 3 days travel 20 from the city of Ammonihah to the land of Sidom.
    • The city of Ammonihah was near the edge 21 of the Nephite nation ca. 81 B.C. Beyond that boundary lay wilderness. 22 Furthermore, there was an obvious "wilderness side" 23 that offered the Lamanites a logical invasion route 24 facilitating a surprise attack when coming from the greater land of Nephi Alma 16:2.
    • After destroying Ammonihah, the Lamanite armies terrorized the borders of the land of Noah and then retreated with captives into the wilderness Alma 16:3. This means the land of Noah was along the Lamanite escape route 25 from Ammonihah back to the greater land of Nephi.
    • While the Lamanite armies were making their way back home with Nephite hostages, the Nephite commander, Zoram, visited with Alma2 in Zarahemla Alma 15:18 and the prophet told  Zoram and his sons precisely where to intercept the enemy and liberate their captives Alma 16:6. Zoram assembled his troops, crossed the river Sidon Alma 16:7, marched to the wilderness south of Manti, and engaged the enemy immediately east of Sidon. The Lamanites had a huge head start, but Zoram's army traveled so much faster east of Sidon 26 than the Lamanites did west of it that the two of them ended up in the same place at the same time.
    • The land of Ammonihah, while densely populated (see point #14 above) must have had a relatively small surface area 27 because the Lamanites annihilated every single person in the land Alma 16:9.
    • The distance from Ammonihah to Aaron must be roughly comparable to the distance from Zarahemla to Melek. 28 Mormon uses the same language "took his journey" Alma 8:3, Alma 8:13 to describe Alma2's contemporaneous travels to both places. There was a major difference in the two journeys, though. Whereas the trip from Zarahemla to Melek involved going "over" an intervening barrier or obstacle, the trip from Ammonihah to Aaron was more pedestrian. 29
    We propose that The Book of Mormon city of Ammonihah is the site known today as El Hormiguero II in Peten, Guatemala on the south bank of the San Pedro River about midway between the Rio Escondido confluence on the east and the Mexican border on the west. We propose that the ancient land of Ammonihah was the level ground south of the San Pedro and north of the highlands stretching for about 55 kilometers along the river east of the Mexico line.
    Proposed city and land of  Ammonihah in Peten, Guatemala
    Zooming out shows our proposed Ammonihah in a broader context. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
    Proposed land of Ammonihah in the land southward
    1. We have deduced a rule of thumb (15 kilometers) for air miles traveled per day in the region The Book of Mormon calls the land southward. See the blog article entitled "Land Southward Travel Times." Applying that metric we see that our proposed city of Ammonihah is precisely 3 days north of the northern boundary of our proposed land of Melek.
    Our city of Ammonihah 3 days travel north of our land of Melek
    Criterion 1 satisfied.

    2. We let Google Earth measure the distance from our proposed city of Ammonihah to the local land of Zarahemla.
    Straight line distance from the proposed local land of
    Zarahemla to the city of Ammonihah 
    The two are close to 60 air kilometers distant - about 4 days travel. Criterion 2 satisfied.

    3.  From El Hormiguero II (Ammonihah) to Ceibal (Aaron), on the other hand, is a "far piece" as they say in Appalachia. 
    Proposed city of Ammonihah 122 air kilometers
    distant from likely city of Aaron
    This would have been about an 8 day trip for  Alma2. The Book of Mormon term "took his journey" fits comfortably in this scenario. Criterion 3 satisfied.

    4. Our proposed city of Zarahemla is the large Nueva Esperanza - Calatraba site west of the Usumacinta River in the extreme northeast corner of the state of Chiapas. It is 112 air kilometers from our candidate for the city of Ammonihah.
    Proposed city of Zarahemla 112 air kilometers
    distant from candidate city of Ammonihah
    This distance is about right for the events and conditions described in The Book of Mormon text. Criterion 4 satisfied.

    5. We now zoom in to see the landscape around our suggested site of Ammonihah.
    Closeup of terrain around El Hormiguero II (possible Ammonihah)
    3 features dominate this terrain: a) the large San Pedro River flowing from east to west with tributaries La Profundidad coming in just across the river from our site and Arroyo El Hormiguero flowing parallel to the river, b) the flats along the river, and c) the heavily forested hilly uplands south of the river. In this environment, it is obvious that most traffic in and out of Ammonihah would be coming from the east or the west along the river. A south entrance into the city would communicate with the mountainous wilderness along the southern edge of town, so it would be used much less frequently. This fits The Book of Mormon text precisely. Criterion 5 satisfied.

    6. We show our candidate Ammonihah surrounded by Maya archaeological sites known to have significant preclassic occupations.
    Preclassic  Maya sites around our Ammonihah
    Was El Hormiguero II on a trade route? Yes. The San Pedro River was one of the major trade routes in the  southern lowland Maya world. The site of Moral-Reforma downstream from El Hormiguero was a very important Maya trading center in the classic era because it handled goods coming from the sea lanes at Aguacatal (via the Usumacinta) and from the San Pedro. Was our proposed Ammonihah near a major non-Nephite region? Yes. The region shown in the yellow polygon above was ground zero for Maya civilization in the late preclassic. The region we have identified as the land of Ammonihah was only 56 air kilometers from the large site of Xulnal, one of the powerful polities associated with El Mirador in the northern Peten.
    Criterion 6 satisfied.

    7, 8, 9. How would Nehor have traveled from the local land of Zarahemla to his newly planted church in Ammonihah?
    Nehor's likely route from the local land of Zarahemla
    through the valley of Gideon to Ammonihah
    Nehor would have crossed the Usumacinta (Sidon) somewhere between Boca del Cerro and the modern town of Tenosique. The valley of Gideon would then have been a comfortable way to go eastward to the flats along the San Pedro River. In our proposed correlation, the valley of Gideon is en route from Zarahemla to Ammonihah, Ammonihah is east of Sidon, and the lands of Gideon and Ammonihah share a common border. Criteria 7, 8 & 9 satisfied.

    10. Guatemala and southern Mexico are very seismically active. The famous "ring of fire" runs along the Pacific coast of both countries. The North American and Caribbean plates come together in a tectonic zone right where we have identified The Book of Mormon narrow strip of wilderness shown in green below.
    Major plate tectonic boundary across Guatemala, Chiapas
    The Peten has fewer earthquakes than highland Guatemala. This sesimic hazard map from the US Geological Survey (USGS) shows earthquake risk getting smaller as one goes north into the Yucatan Peninsula, but every part of Guatemala is subject to seismic events.
    USGS Seismic Hazard Map for Guatemala
    The site we have tentatively identified as the city of Ammonihah is less than 20 air kilometers from the epicenter of a 4.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the area on March 9, 2011.
    Epicenter of March 2011 earthquake reported by USGS
    Our Ammonihah is indeed in an earthquake zone. Criterion 10 satisfied.

    11. The Book of Mormon text does not specify the precise year most lands and cities were incorporated into the growing Nephite nation. Using the best data we have - the date of first mention in the text - we can plot the orderly growth of the Nephite polity out from the local land of Zarahemla. Ammonihah first appears in the text in 82 B.C. along with Melek & Aaron.
    Early Nephite lands & cities plotted by date of first mention in the text
    As this map demonstrates, Ammonihah was one of the first lands brought under Zarahemla's control, which makes sense in this correlation due to relative geographic proximity and ease of access along the San Pedro River. Criterion 11 satisfied.

    12. Alma chapter 2 describes the Nephite - Amlicite war ca. 87 B.C. The initial battle took place on hill Amnihu directly east of Sidon. Both armies had to go up in elevation to reach the battleground.
    Amlici's route Ammonihah to hill Amnihu with elevation profile
    Departing from their capital city of  Ammonihah, the Amlicite army had to climb from an elevation of 45 meters to 366 meters at the summit of hill Amhihu to engage enemy forces. Note that elevation profiles in Google Earth often have their directionality inverted, as in this case. 
    Alma's route Zarahemla to hill Amnihu with elevation profile
    Departing from their capital city of Zarahemla, the Nephite army ha to climb from an elevation of 48 meters to 365 meters at the summit of hill Amnihu to engage enemy forces. Both armies went up, just as the text indicates. Criterion 12 satisfied.

    13. The EAAMS database, closely affiliated with the Middle American Research Institute (MARI) at Tulane, classifies archaeological sites by relative size and importance in the ancient Mesoamerican world. They identify 11 rank 1 sites in the southern Maya lowlands and Maya highlands including Kaminaljuyu, Copan, Caracol, Tikal, Nakbe, El Mirador, Calakmul, Yaxchilan, Piedras Negras, Palenque & Comalcalco. Their 80 Rank 2 sites in the same geography include such notables as Uaxactun, Quirigua, Takalik Abaj, La Venta, Chama (our Manti), El Ceibal (our Aaron), Itzan (our Noah), Altar de Sacrificios, Lamanai (our Jershon), Altun Ha (our Omner), Becan & Kohunlich. In this schema, our proposed city of Ammonihah, El Hormiguero II, is a rank 3 site. This makes it of medium size and importance in the Mesoamerican big picture. To put this ranking in perspective, the EAAMS editors consider Chiapa de Corzo, Mirador, Santa Rosa, and La Libertad (our Cumeni) rank 4 (small) sites. El Hormiguero II is the anchor site of a cluster of ancient settlements.
    El Hormiguero II (Ammonihah) surrounded by
    9 other nearby archaeological sites 
    In this cluster, El Hormiguero II is the only rank 3 (medium-sized) site. The other 9 are all rank 4 (small) or rank 5 (tiny). Our candidate for Ammonihah was large enough to justify its citizen's hubris, at least within their local area. Criterion 13 satisfied.

    14. Zooming out to our proposed land of Ammonihah, we see 12 known archaeological sites within its boundaries.
    12 ancient sites within the borders of our
    proposed land of Ammonihah
    The land of Ammonihah as we have outlined it above, covers a surface area of 842 square kilometers. It has 12 documented archaeological sites within its borders. This works out to a site coverage factor of 1 site per 70 square kilometers. In our proposed land of Gideon, the number is 1 site per 230 square kilometers. In our proposed land of Melek, the number is 1 site per 112 square kilometers. So, the area we have identified as Ammonihah was relatiively densely populated compared with surrounding regions. Furthermore, 3 of the 12 sites within our Ammonihah were rank 3 sites - El Hormiguero II, Moctun & La Reina. (See our discussion of the EAAMS ranking system in point #13 above.) The area we have identified as the land of Ammonihah did have a sizable population anciently, most of it close to the San Pedro River which largely defines the local topography. Criterion 14 satisfied.

    15. The site we have identified as a strong candidate for the city of Ammonihah is right on the San Pedro River, the lowest point in the vicinity. Here is a map of the area overlaid on the Google Maps terrain layer.
    Terrain around El Hormiguero II (Ammonihah)
    It is easy to see the higher ground north, south, east and west of the candidate site. To further emphasize the point, we set a terrain plane at an altitude of 55 meters so all the ground below that elevation displays white.
    55 meter elevation terrain plane around proposed city of Ammonihah
    Our Ammonihah is in a river valley with higher ground all around. The highlands south of the river are particularly dramatic, rising to elevations above 460 meters. There are many ways Alma & Amulek could have traveled from the city of Ammonihah to the land of  Sidom that would have required them to "come out" of the river valley onto higher ground. This terrain fits the text. Criterion 15 satisfied.

    16, 17, 18, 19.We plot a likely route, shown in white below, for Alma & Amulek to come out of Ammonihah and travel into the land of Sidom.
    Likely travel route city of Ammonihah to land of Sidom 
    Length of travel: 50 kilometers, or about 3 days based on our standard rule of thumb. Criterion 16 satisfied. The line traverses relatively level, dry territory. Maximum vertical rise is 62 meters. There are no large rivers to cross en route. Criterion 17 satisfied. Elevation at origin: 45 meters. Elevation at destination: 49 meters. The lands of Ammonihah and Sidom are at roughly similar average elevations. Criterion 18 satisfied. We see little circularity in this route. Criterion 19 satisfied. 

    20. Plotting the straight line distance between our proposed city of Ammonihah and the land of Sidom, it comes in at 46 kilometers, right in the sweet spot for three days travel.
    3 days travel city of Ammonihah to land of Sidom
    Criterion 20 satisfied.

    21, 22. Based on lands and cities mentioned in the text, the Nephite nation looked more or less like this ca. 81 B.C.
    Nephite nation ca. 81 B.C.
    The area within the white-shaded polygon represents territory under Nephite control. Pretty much everything else was "wilderness" as far as the authorities in Zarahemla were concerned. See the article entitled "A Note About Wilderness" in this blog for important insights into the Nephite meaning of that term. Like the term "Lamanites," The Book of Mormon authors sometimes used "wilderness" in broad, comprehensive ways and other times in more discrete, precise ways. It is indisputable that The Book of Mormon is describing far-flung Nephite settlements surrounded by pockets of embedded wilderness. Settlement patterns were often dictated by military defensive strategy. The Usumacinta/Sidon correlation we are following fits this scenario nicely as it posits gradual Nephite expansion along major rivers. In the map above, we see Nephite settlement along the Usumacinta (Zarahemla, Gideon, Minon, Melek, Manti); the San Pedro (Gideon, Ammonihah, Sidom); the Lacantun (Melek) and the Pasion (Noah, Aaron). Does this mean the Nephites controlled every kilometer of the large rivers within the white-shaded area above? No.  We know the Amlicite rebellion ca. 87 B.C., for example, resulted in a breakaway territory loyal to King Amlici in and around the city of Ammonihah Alma 2:9. We know the land of Ammonihah was essentially obliterated by invading Lamanites ca. 81 B.C. before the Nephite military establishment could muster an effective defense Alma 16:3, Alma 25:2. It is doubtful the Nephites ever effectively controlled the areas around Piedras Negras and Altar de Sacrificios, thriving Maya centers in preclassic times.
    Piedras Negras & Altar de Sacrificios areas relative
    to the Nephite nation ca. 81 B.C.
    Our proposed Ammonihah was on the Nephite frontier ca. 81 B.C. Criterion 21 satisfied. It was also surrounded by large tracts of wilderness. Criterion 22 satisfied.

    23. The site of El Hormiguero II (city of Ammonihah) has an unmistakable "wilderness side." We set a terrain plane at 150 meters elevation and the line between the river bottom lowlands and the hilly folded uplands to the south and west could hardly be more stark.
    Highland - lowland line south and west of the San Pedro River
    The uplands form a wall of mountains that rise abruptly to elevations in excess of 460 meters. This terrain fits The Book of Mormon text precisely. Criterion 23 satisfied.

    24, 25. The Lamanite + Amulonite force that laid waste the city and land of  Ammonihah probably followed a route that looked like the white line below, skirting west of Manti and shooting the gap between Melek and Noah. Keep in mind that the Nephites probably never controlled the strategic Altar de Sacrifricios/Dos Pilas area at the confluence of the Pasion with the Salinas (the point at which the modern Usumacinta begins).
    Likely Lamanite invasion route from Nephi to Ammonihah
    This route does in fact come into the city from its southern wilderness side. Criterion 24 satisfied. It also passes by the borders of our proposed land of Noah. Criterion 25 satisfied.

    26. The Nephite army under Captain Zoram was unable to mobilize quickly enough to prevent the destruction of Ammonihah and Lamanite marauding in the borders of Noah. While the Lamanite forces were marching southward with captives, Zoram and his men, with prophetic direction, traveled southward on the east side of Sidon. The two armies met in the wilderness east of Sidon and south of Manti Alma 16:7-8 and had a number of battles Alma 25:3. Here is a plausible map of the routes the two groups took to arrive at their first military engagement. The Lamanites crossed Sidon from west to east just before the battle Alma 16:6, so they must have traveled west of Sidon to avoid the Nephite settlements in the land of Manti.
    Proposed routes of Lamanite invasion force and Nephite
    defense force, destruction of Ammonihah ca. 81 B.C. 
    The Lamanite invasion route in white moving through the land of Ammonihah and then terrorizing the borders of the land of Noah is 452 kilometers in length, but the Lamanite retreat route in blue to the battlefield is only 154 kilometers in length. The Nephite defense route in red is 380 kilometers in length. The Lamanites had a head start and they had less than half as far to travel. How did the Nephites arrive at the battle field south of Manti before the Lamanites? Even if the Nephite armies mustered at Boca del Cerro rather than the city of Zarahemla, they still had to travel 326 kilometers. Some factors to consider:
    • The Nephites were in a hurry. The Lamanites, thinking they were secure in their wilderness fastness, would not have had the same sense of urgency.
    • The Nephites had only their own military force to move. The Lamanites were transporting captives and spoils from Ammonihah/Noah.
    The primary reasons why the Lamanites traveled more slowly, though, are probably topographical and cultural. 
    • The Lamanite route crosses over mountainous terrain in excess of 1,000 meters elevation. The highest point on the Nephite route does not exceed 480 meters.
    • There are more than 30 known archaeological sites within 15 kilometers east of the Salinas and Chixoy Rivers (the Usumacinta is known as the Salinas upstream from the Pasion confluence, and it is called the Chixoy upstream from the point where Chiapas, El Quiche, Alta Verapaz and Peten come together) between the Pasion confluence on the north and the proposed battle site on the south. Furthermore, a number of those sites are rank 2 (large) and rank 3 (medium-sized). See point #13 in this article for more information about EAAMS site rankings. On the other hand, along that same stretch west of the rivers, there are only 5 known ancient sites, and they are all rank 4 (small) or rank 5 (tiny). The Lamanite route traversed veritable wilderness with few roads, trails or settlements en route to facilitate travel.
    The Lamanites were not as highly motivated and more heavily laden. They had higher mountains to scale and were moving through much wilder country. Criterion 26 satisfied.
    27. Our proposed land of Ammonihah has a surface area of 842 square kilometers. It is about 1/5 the size of Rhode Island (4,002 square kilometers), the smallest state in the US. It is about 9% larger than Davis County (774 square kilometers), the smallest county in the state of Utah. Most of the population lived near the river. The events described in The Book of Mormon are plausible in this modest-sized territory. Criterion 27 satisfied.

    28, 29. The straight line distance between our proposed city of Zarahemla and land of Melek is 135 kilometers (about 9 days travel according to our derivation of the Nephite standard measure). The distance between our Ammonihah and Aaron is 122 kilometers. Criterion 28 satisfied. Both measurements are show as white lines on the map below.
    Zarahemla to Melek roughly the same distance as Ammonihah to Aaron
    It is obvious from the satellite imagery above that a journey from Zarahemla to Melek would cross over mountainous country in the Chiapas highlands, while the gentler trip from Ammonihah to Aaron would pass through the comparatively flat terrain of the northern and central Peten. Criterion 29 satisfied.  

    29 of 29 textual criteria fit our proposed terrain well. So, have we found Ammonihah? Not necessarily. We have a viable candidate. The fact that other proposed correlations (Melek, Sidom, Gideon) near Ammonihah also fit the text well strengthens our case. Our identification will remain tentative, though, until we get comprehensive archaeological field reports from professional excavations at El Hormiguero II. The site has suffered looting, but remains essentially unexcavated. See the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #26 for a linked list of other mapped Book of Mormon toponyms.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Downstream from Zarahemla

    The name Sidon is mentioned 36 times in the text of The Book of Mormon. All citations are in the books of Alma and Mormon. We have established previously that the big river flowed generally from south to north. See the article entitled "River Sidon South to North" in this blog.  The local lands of Zarahemla and Gideon were across the river from each other at approximately the same latitude with Zarahemla on the west and Gideon on the east. See the article entitled "Gideon" in this blog. Downstream (northward) from the local land of Zarahemla, the river Sidon is never mentioned. We know the wilderness of Hermounts was northwest of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 2:37. The land of Bountiful was north of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 22:29. There was an area called the most capital parts of the land Helaman 1:27 to the north east (in the direction of the city of Bountiful Helaman 1:23 which was on the east coast Alma 52:17Alma 51:26) and another un-named land between Zarahemla and west coast Bountiful 3 Nephi 3:23. The only references to river Sidon, though, are in relation to the local lands of Zarahemla & Gideon and points south (upstream). The river itself shows us why this scenario makes perfect sense. We have situated the local land of Zarahemla along the middle Usumacinta, that part of the river north of the highlands at Boca del Cerro but south of the permanent flood zone. Downstream from the middle Usumacinta, the lower Usumacinta runs through the largest wetlands in all of North America. It also splits into 3 major distributaries - the Usumacinta that has a confluence with the original Grijalva, the San Pedro y San Pablo, and the Palizada that flows into the Laguna de Terminos.
    Local land of Zarahemla south of river delta flood zone
    Another satellite image taken at the height of the rainy season in October shows this area in flood. The white represents standing water.
    Usumacinta delta in flood at the height of the rainy season (October).
    It is no wonder, then, that all mention of the river Sidon in The Book of Mormon refers to places south (upstream) of these wetlands. There is a lot of river downstream from New Orleans, but is that swampy part of the Mississippi delta often mentioned in epic literature? No. Most people consider the port of New Orleans the southern terminus of the Mississippi.
    Map of southern Louisiana showing New Orleans
    and the Mississippi River Delta downstream

    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.