Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Narrow (Small) Neck of Land

The 3 most recent articles in this blog:
have laid important groundwork that will now allow us to establish the textual requirements and identify a viable candidate for the narrow (small) neck of land referenced in Alma 22:31-33, Alma 63:5-8 and Ether 10:19-21. For reasons why we believe all 3 passages refer to the same geographic feature, see point #18 at the end of the article "Narrow and Small Things."

Careful exegesis of the relevant texts allows us to identify fifteen criteria the narrow (small) neck must satisfy, enumerated as 1 - 15 with aqua shading.
  • These texts reference the land northward and the land southward. The lay of the land in this part of Nephite territory should be explicitly southward to northward 1, not south to north or east to west Alma 22:32, Alma 63:5, Ether 10:21.
  • The narrow (small) neck was by the west sea 2 Alma 22:32, Alma 63:5.
  • It was near a border between the land Desolation on the north and the land Bountiful on the south 3 Alma 22:31-32, Alma 63:5. This Bountiful/Desolation line was also the border between the land northward and the land southward.
  • The Bountiful/Desolation line was oriented east-west 4 Alma 22:32-33.
  • The Bountiful/Desolation line terminated at the west sea 5 Alma 22:32.
  • The Bountiful/Desolation line was a natural strategic line of defense 6. If the Nephite military could hold this line, they could prevent hostile incursions coming up from the land southward into the land northward Alma 22:33.
  • The east-west Bountiful/Desolation line was approximately 22.5 kilometers 7 long Alma 22:32. For a data-driven derivation of the standard Nephite unit of measure "one day's travel," see the article "Land Southward Travel Times" in this blog. 
  • The narrow (small) neck was a natural travel corridor 8 for people moving both northward and southward Alma 63:5, Ether 10:19.
  • The greater land of Zarahemla combined with the greater land of Nephi were nearly surrounded by water Alma 22:32. The narrow (small) neck on the west seacoast was part of this perimeter 9 of water.
  • The narrow (small) neck lay between 10 the land northward and the land southward Alma 22:32. Coming up from the land southward, the neck led into the land northward Alma 63:5. The actual boundary between the  lands northward and southward was a line Alma 22:32 so part of the neck lay northward of the line and part lay southward.
  • Near the narrow (small) neck was a harbor 11 suitable for berthing and launching ocean-going vessels. This harbor was just south of (on the Bountiful side of) the Bountiful/Desolation line Alma 63:5.
  • By the narrow (small) neck the Jaredites in the days of King Lib built a great city 12 Ether 10:20. See the blog article "Great Cities" for context behind that term. This city should be located northward of the Bountiful/Desolation line since the Jaredites reserved the land southward for hunting game Ether 10:21
  • Near the narrow (small) neck is a dramatic natural feature where the sea divides the land 13 Ether 10:20. This means we will find a land-salt water-land pattern in the topography.
  • At times, large portions of the land southward were a game preserve Ether 10:21filled with wild animals 14 Alma 22:31.
  • In order to qualify as narrow and small, the neck of land should not exceed 5 kilometers in width 15. See the blog article "Narrow and Small Things" for a comprehensive analysis of the meaning of the terms "narrow" and "small" in Nephite usage.
Our candidate for the narrow (small) neck of land is the coastal sand bar running between the Mexican states of Oaxaca on the northward and Chiapas on the southward.
Possible Narrow (Small) Neck of Land
Zooming in, we find that this part of the Mexican Pacific coast has a vast network of salt water lagoons, tidal flats and estuaries.
Possible Narrow (Small) Neck of Land Closeup
This sandbar is known locally as Barra San Marcos in Chiapas and Barra de Tonala in Oaxaca.

The criteria:
1. The lay of the land in this part of Middle America is decidedly southeast to northwest.
316 Degree Heading of  Coastal Chiapas 
The vector in the map above is on a heading of 316.02 degrees. 360 would be due north. 270 would be due west. 315 would be due North West. The terms "southward" and "northward" fit precisely. Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. Our candidate narrow (small) neck is on the west seacoast, just as the text requires.
Proposed North, South, West and East Seas
Criterion 2 satisfied.

3. This map is an attempt to reconcile Alma 22:29-34 with the modern map.
Mulek, Lehi, Desolation & Bountiful
Key points: The land Bountiful (in green) was the northern tier of the land southward. The land Desolation (in brown)  was the southern tier of the land northward. The Bountiful/Desolation boundary was also the land southward/land northward boundary. Mulek first made landfall in the land Desolation, but did not remain there long. The Mulek colony eventually ended up in a wilderness area within the land southward. On the west seacoast, the Bountiful/Desolation boundary was an east-west line terminating at the west sea. This Bountiful/Desolation line was a strategic defensive littoral. Nephites populated this area to prevent Lamanites coming up from the land southward from invading the land northward. The Nephites valued the land northward as a potential safety valve in the event their land southward territory were overrun. A plausible Bountiful/Desolation border is very close to our proposed narrow (small) neck of land. Criterion 3 satisfied.

4, 5. Our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line (in red) is oriented east - west and does go from the east to the west sea. It terminates at the Mar Muerto, a salt water lagoon open to the Paicific.
Proposed East West Bountiful Desolation Line
Criteria 4 & 5 satisfied.

6. Our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line (in red) is a strategically defensible choke point along the west coast. The white line in the map below is the continental divide. Yellow placemarks note elevations. The red circle shows the place where a mountain spur comes right to the water's edge.
Strategic Defensive Area
First, note that this area is the point along the west coast where the continental divide comes closest to the ocean. This means the coastal plain is narrow, the foothills steep, and the mountains rugged. Second, note that in this area a mountain spur comes almost to the ocean. At that particular point, there is essentially no coastal plain at all. Third, note the high elevations that cause steep vertical rises as one goes inland. All of these factors make our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line a strategic line of defense. If Nephite armies could hold that line, they could prevent hostile movements northward along the preferred coastal route. Criterion 6 satisfied.

7. The Bountiful/Desolation line (in red) we have posited is very close to 22.5 air kilometers in length, the idealized distance based on our derivation of the standard Nephite unit of measure "one day's travel." See the blog article "Land Southward Travel Times."
Proposed Bountiful/Desolation Line Length
Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. The map below shows modern routes of travel through our proposed narrow (small) neck of land area. Rivers are shown in yellow. The trans isthmian railroad is in magenta. Roads are in black. Our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line is in red.
Modern Travel Routes
The Barra San Marcos, our proposed southward leg of the narrow (small) neck of land, is indeed a travel corridor today as it was anciently. Criterion 8 satisfied.

9. The map below attempts to reconcile Alma 22:27-32 with the modern map.
Land Southward Nearly Surrounded by Water
Key points: The narrow strip of wilderness (in light green) ran from the sea east to the sea west with some circularity near the west coast. Both the land of Manti and the greater land of Zarahemla were north of this narrow strip of wilderness. The greater land of Nephi was south of it. The narrow strip of wilderness ran by the head of river Sidon. The land Bountiful (in green) was the northernmost tier of Nephite land in the land southward. Beyond the land Bountiful lay the land northward. Some references to the greater land of Zarahemla (such as Alma 22:32) include the land Bountiful such that Zarahemla + Nephi becomes a euphemism for the entire land southward. The greater land of Zarahemla + the greater land of Nephi (i.e. the land southward) was nearly surrounded by water. The entire red perimeter shown above is 3,808 kilometers in length. 3,363 kilometers (88.31%) is ocean shoreline. 445 kilometers (11.69%) is land. If the Bountiful/Desolation boundary followed major rivers such as the Coatzacoalcos shown above in yellow, and if the eastern boundary of the greater land of Nephi followed major rivers such as the Ulua shown above in yellow, then it is possible that the sense of Alma 22:32 included both fresh water and salt water. Regardless of how one views the water that nearly surrounded the land southward, our proposed narrow (small) strip of land along the west coast was certainly part of this aqueous perimeter. Criterion 9 satisfied.

10. This map shows our proposed narrow (small) neck of land (in green) with part on the Desolation (northward) side of the Bountiful/Desolation line (in red) and part on the Bountiful (southward) side.
Proposed Narrow (Small) Neck of Land
If our candidate for the Bountiful/Desolation line is near the right place, our proposed narrow (small) neck of land is clearly between the land northward and the land southward Alma 22:32. Coming northward from the land southward, our proposed narrow (small) neck of land clearly leads one into the land northward Alma 63:5. Criterion 10 satisfied.

11. Just south of our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line (in red), there are 3 marinas (red circles) where hundreds of small boats dock. Most of these craft are used for fishing and shrimping. They are about 10 kilometers from the open ocean in protected corners of the large Mar Muerto lagoon. Nearly 25,000 people in the state of Chiapas make their living in the fishing and aquaculture industries (Secretaria de Pesca y Acuacultura - Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas).
Mar Muerto Marinas
This is a closeup of the marina we have labelled "Hagoth's Port" immediately south of our Bountiful/Desolation line.
Closeup of Proposed Hagoth's Port
On the southward (land Bountiful) side of our proposed Bountiful/Desolation line, near our proposed narrow (small) neck of land, harbors do exist where ocean-going vessels could have been built, launched and berthed in Nephite times. Criterion 11 satisfied.

12. Jaredite civilization was largely coeval and coterminus with Mesoamerican Olmec culture. This map shows known Olmec sites and sites with significant Olmec influence.
Known Olmec Sites
Some of these sites are fundamentally Olmec. Others are hybrids of different cultures with varying degrees of Olmec influence. Drilling down in our area of interest, we find a fundamentally Olmec site precisely where our model predicts one should be.
Olmec Site of Tzutzuculi near Tonala, Chiapas
Tzutzuculi was excavated by Andrew J. McDonald under the auspices of the BYU New World Archaeological Foundation. The archaeological field report is Andrew J. McDonald, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 47, Provo: Brigham Young University, 1983. This 35 hectare site dates to the middle preclassic, about 1,000 B.C. It is best known for its Olmec sculpture. Rebeca B. Gonzalez Lauck, INAH's principal investigator at the site of La Venta for many years, says Tzutzuculi was contemporaneous with La Venta, a planned regional center with impressive public architecture. Rebeca B. Gonzalez Lauck, "La Zona del Golfo en el Preclasico: la etapa olmeca; Lo Olmeco mas alla de la costa del Golfo" in Historia Antigua de Mexico, Vol. 1, Mexico City: INAH and UNAM, 2001. Tzutzuculi is just across the Zanatenco River (in yellow) from Tonala, 12 kilometers from salt water, 15 kilometers from Barra San Marcos, our proposed narrow (small) neck of land, and 6.5 kilometers north of our Bountiful/Desolation line (in red). Ether 10:20 calls Lib's city a "great city." See the blog article "Great Cities" for background on this term. Compare Tzutzuculi at 35 hectares with Jerusalem ca. 598 B.C. at 50 hectares and the site of Santa Rosa, Chiapas at 54 hectares (documentation in the blog article "Site Sizes.") Many informed people (John L. Sorenson chief among them) consider Santa Rosa a viable candidate for the city of Zarahemla.
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So, a regional middle preclassic Olmec site very near our proposed narrow (small) neck of land has been professionally excavated and reported. Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Book of Mormon students have struggled with the phrase "by the place where the sea divides the land" Ether 10:20 for decades. The two leading candidates for Lib's "great city" have traditionally been San Lorenzo (50 kilometers inland) on the western branch of the Coatzacoalcos and La Venta (14 kilometers inland) near the Bay of Campeche (Gulf of Mexico). Is the Coatzacoalcos River the place where the sea divides the land? The Gulf of Mexico itself? The arguments have been singularly unpersuasive. If Tzutzuculi is Lib's city, we have a spectacular candidate for the place where the sea divides the land - a dramatic breach in the coastal bar where the large Mar Muerto lagoon has its outlet to the Pacific. If we have sited Hagoth's Port in the right neighborhood, this is where the large Nephite ships would have entered the open ocean. 
Proposed Place Where the Sea Divides the Land
We are looking for a topographic pattern terra firma || salt water || terra firma in close proximity. In all Mesoamerica we are unlikely to find a place more apt to Moroni's description than this. Criterion 13 satisfied.

14. Southward from our Bountiful/Desolation line, the Mexican state of Chiapas is rich in biodiversity. This  is how the government of Chiapas divides their state into administrative regions.
Administrative Regions in the State of Chiapas
We will focus on the Itsmo-Costa, Frailesca, Soconusco and Sierra regions as most likely to have been exploited by the Jaredites for wild game. These regions are in 3 of the major physio graphic areas in Chiapas - the Pacific Coastal Plain, Sierra Madre and Central Depression. According to authoritative local sources, 30 mammalian species are hunted for  meat or hides in this part of Chiapas. The most important species for subsistence hunting include:
  • Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)
  • Anteater (Tamandua mexicana)
  • Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis)
  • Peccary or Javelina (Pecari tajacu)
  • Raccoon (Nasua narica)
  • Red deer (Mazama americana)
  • Various large rodents including (Agouti paca)
  • Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)
  • White tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Source: Mario Gonzalez Espinosa, Neptali Ramirez Marcial and Lorena Ruiz Montoya, Diversidad Biologica en Chiapas, Mexico City: ECOSUR, COCYTECH and Plaza y Valdez, S.A. de C.V., 2005, Capitulo 6, La Diversidad de Mamiferos en Chiapas.

As you would expect, bird, reptile and aquatic species are also harvested in this region today. Despite human encroachment, prime wildlife habitat is still abundant, particularly in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains. The Jaredites in the days of King Lib could certainly have used this part of Chiapas as a vast hunting preserve. Criterion 14 satisfied.

15. We have belabored the point that when the Book of Mormon says "narrow" or "small" we should expect a geographic feature that English speakers in King James' or Joseph Smith's day would have considered "narrow" or "small." See the blog articles "Isthmuses," "Narrow and Small Things" and "Another Geographic Neck." So, how wide is our proposed narrow (small) neck of land?
Width of Proposed Narrow (Small) Neck of Land
Placing a ruler on Barra San Marcos at Cabeza de Toro, we find a width of 1.93 kilometers. VoilĂ . We are right in the sweet spot. Criterion 15 satisfied.

Our candidate for the narrow (small) neck of land meets all 15 textual requirements with flying colors. So, have we found the elusive narrow neck? Not quite. In the first place, others have been here long before us. F. Richard (Ric) Hauck and his loyal comrade, Joe V. Andersen, have been trying to get Book of Mormon students to pay attention to the Pacific coast of Chiapas for decades. In his book Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988 Hauck makes many of the same points we have just elaborated in this article. Secondly, there are other geographic features closely associated with this area that we have not yet examined in detail. After we have taken a look at the narrow pass and narrow passage, we will be in a better position to assess our correlation's degree of fit to the text.