Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon

A friend recently shared a story about a young man in his ward. The student graduated from high school and enrolled at Utah State University in Logan. Midway through his freshman year at college, he announced to his parents that he was leaving the Church because "there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon." I decided to compile a list of the 10 evidences I find most convincing. A few months ago, I received an email from John L. Sorenson who asked that I share some of his thoughts on the subject. Citing salient points from his 2013 magnum opus, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, John concludes that those who maintain there is no archaeological evidence for Mormonism's keystone scripture "remain ignorant of the actual situation." This article derives from my experience, John's thoughts, and Book of Mormon Central's superb KnoWhy series, the first 137 of which are now available in a new book from Covenant Communications entitled Knowing Why.

1. The Book of Mormon mentions Mulek (Yale 2009 Muloch), son of Zedekiah (ca. 618 - 587 BC), King of Judah deposed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon Helaman 6:10, 8:21. A variant of the name Mulek as royal son is now attested in Levantine archaeology from a clay seal dating from the time of Zedekiah. See KnoWhy #103 published May 19, 2016.
Clay Seal Excavated in Jerusalem in the 1980's
2. The Book of Mormon mentions a pre-existing place called Nahom on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula. Ishmael was buried at Nahom 1 Nephi 16:34, his family mourned there 1 Nephi 16:35, and Lehi's party changed direction at that place and traveled almost due east 1 Nephi 17:1 until they came to Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 by the sea. A place called Nihm/Naham does exist on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula in modern Yemen. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Naham Tribal Area between Sana'a and Marib in Yemen 
Naham is home to the largest ancient cemetery in Arabia. The Semitic root of the term implies sorrow or mourning. The name in this geographic area is attested from Lehi's era.
My friend, Warren Aston, pointing out the name NHM on an altar that pre-dates Lehi
And, travelling almost due east from the Naham Tribal Area brings one to Khor Khofot, the one place on the south Arabian coast that meets all of the Book of Mormon criteria for Bountiful.
Nearly Eastward from the Naham Tribal Area to Likely Bountiful
See KnoWhy #19 published January 26, 2016.
See also this great new YouTube video published June 17, 2017.

3. The Book of Mormon says Lehi and his family used an amalgamation of Hebrew and Egyptian language elements 1 Nephi 1:2. A similar compound system was in use 1,000 years later at the end of the Nephite era Mormon 9:32-33. We now know that a form of Egyptian script known as Palestinian Hieratic was in use by Hebrew-speaking Judean scribes in Lehi's day. Nearly 200 examples of this Hebrew/Egyptian amalgam have been found.
Ostracon from Tel Arad ca. 597 BC with Both
Hebrew and Egyptian Language Elements
See KnoWhy #4 published January 5, 2016.

4. The Book of Mormon says the people of Zarahemla (commonly called Mulekites) sailed across the sea from the ancient Near East ca. 588 BC and made landfall in the land northward, then settled permanently in a sparsely-populated part of the land southward Alma 22:30-31, Omni 1:15-16. This means they must have sailed past the Olmec capital, La Venta, which was going strong in 588 BC. The presence of Jewish/Phoenician seafarers in what is today Tabasco, Mexico would have been sensational news to the Olmec and we have good evidence that they memorialized the inter-cultural encounter in stone on La Venta Stela 3 excavated in 1943 by Matthew W. Stirling and Philip Drucker. This sculpture is generally dated ca. 600 - 550 BC and is sometimes euphemistically called the "Uncle Sam Stela."
La Venta Stela 3 in 1943, Then Newly-Excavated
Drucker said "... the principal figures on this monument represent a meeting of Olmec and non-Olmec personages." Philip Drucker, "On the Nature of Olmec Polity" in The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1981, p. 44. He goes on to say that La Venta Monuments 13 and 19 also depict non-Olmec foreigners arriving at the site.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff called the person on the right "... a bearded man with a conspicuously aquiline nose." She called the figure a "bearded visitor" and a "bearded stranger." She said "... these figures represent two racially distinct groups of people." Tatiana Proskouriakoff, "Olmec and Maya Art: Problems of Their Stylistic Relation" in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec October 28th and 29th, 1967, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968, p. 122

This map shows La Venta with Mulek's likely sea voyage route.
Mulek's Likely Route in White Passing by La Venta
5. The Book of Mormon describes the first Nephite capital, the city of Nephi, in some detail. As John L. Sorenson and others have pointed out, the site of Kaminaljuyu (KJ) within the confines of modern Guatemala City matches the textual description of the city of Nephi remarkably well on point after point. The article "Kaminaljuyu" analyzes the latest scholarship on KJ from Lucia Ross Henderson (PhD, UT Austin, 2013) and finds more than 100 points of tangency between descriptions in her doctoral dissertation and the Nephite record. The article "Art and Iconography I" illustrates several sculpted scenes from KJ with direct textual corollaries in the Book of Mormon. Among the Nephi/KJ correspondences I find compelling are:
  • In every reference to the city of Nephi one goes up to approach the city and down to travel away from it (See the article "Test #1 Ups and Downs"). KJ is on the very summit of the continental divide. King Noah could view multiple surrounding lands from a prominence in the ceremonial precinct of his capital Mosiah 11:12, Mosiah 19:6.
  • The only point mentioned in the text at an elevation higher than the city of Nephi is a hill north of Shilom Mosiah 7:5-6 which is generally northward (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 11:13) from the city. A plausible candidate hill (Cerro Tuncaj) exists.
Proposed City of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) with candidate hill north of Shilom:
Kaminaljuyu in Topographical Context
More correspondences:
  • The city of Nephi was the principal urban area in its region Alma 47:20. Ditto KJ.
  • A sister city, Shilom, was very close to Nephi Mosiah 9:8 generally in a northward direction (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 22:11). KJ was closely affiliated with the site of Naranjo 3 kilometers to the north.
  • The institution of kingship was established in Nephi 2 Nephi 5:18, 2 Nephi 6:2, Mosiah 11:8-9. KJ clearly had kings. By ca. 500 BC state-level societies in highland Guatemala had begun organizing around kings (Brant A. Gardner, personal communication).
  • Nephi had a wall around it Mosiah 9:8 that deteriorated over time. A team of  Japanese archaeologists discovered a sizable (25 foot high) wall around KJ made primarily of clay (John L. Sorenson, personal communication.)
6. Ca. 72 BC after a spectacular victory in the fortified city of Noah Alma 49:23 Captain Moroni began a massive public works project to fortify every city in greater Zarahemla Alma 50:1. This kind of large-scale earth movement should show up in the archaeological record and it does. See the article "75 BC" for documentation on fortifications in the area we correlate with greater Zarahemla that date precisely to Captain Moroni's time period. 

7. Helaman 3:3-5 describes a large migration into the land northward ca. 46 BC. People migrated an unusually long distance to a land less heavily forested than greater Zarahemla where lakes were an important feature of the landscape. Alma 50:29 ca. 67 BC presaged this migration. This kind of large-scale movement of people from distant lands should show up in the archaeological record and it does. The first century BC is precisely when Teotihuacan in Central Mexico began its ascent based on in migration from many parts of southern Mesoamerica. Tens of thousands of people were involved. Teotihuacan is over 770 air kilometers distant from our proposed city of Zarahemla, a number that is consistent with the Book of Mormon terminology "exceedingly great distance" (see the article "Things Near and Far" for context on relative distances in the text).
Teotihacan 772 Air Kilometers from Proposed Zarahemla
Nasa's Blue Marble imagery shows the true color of the earth's surface in different months of the year. This is the image for April, the height of the Mesoamerican dry season.
Earth Surface Colors in April
Central Mexico is far less forested than southern Mesoamerica.

Anciently, a band of lakes stretched through Central Mexico from Chapala in Jalisco to Catemaco in Veracruz.
Ancient Band of Lakes in Central Mexico
Both Teotihuacan and Cholula were originally built on the shores of large lakes. Now, of course, this is the most heavily populated part of Mexico and most of the lakes have been drained or pumped dry. Archaeology shows that in the first century BC large numbers of people migrated from southern Mesoamerica into Central Mexico, a less forested area with many large lakes.

8. Ancient cement can last for thousands of years, so the widespread use of cement in the land northward described in Helaman 3:7 and subsequent verses should show up in the archaeological record, and it does.
Tetitla, Teotihuacan photo taken by Kirk Magleby September 23, 2017
Architectural cement as a primary building material is attested throughout Central Mexico in the Book of Mormon time period. See KnoWhy #174 published August 26, 2016.

9. The Lamanites were the Nephites' quintessential nemesis for a thousand years, but as the Nephite nation was in the throes of extinction, another formidable foe appeared on the scene. The Nephites at the end were fighting a two-front war, against not only the Lamanites but also the Gadianton robbers Mormon 2:8, 27-28. The Gadiantons built a powerful city far to the north 3 Nephi 7:11-13, 9:9. At the final battle, the Nephites were caught in a vise between the Lamanites coming up from the south and the Lamanite  allies, the Gadiantons, who controlled the far north. Many serious Book of Mormon scholars believe the final battle took place in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Veracruz. And what do we see in the archaeology of this area precisely at the time the Nephites were destroyed? We see an assertive Teotihuacan as a dominant force allying itself with others all over Mesoamerica. The Book of Mormon description fits remarkably well into this world.
Sites with Teotihuacan Influence ca. AD 380
Pushpins on this map show our correlation of Nephite sites mentioned in the final war narrative, caught between Teotihuacan-allied Lamanites to the south and east and Teothihacan with its allies in the north and west. And when was this Teotihuacan expansion taking place? The famous Stela 31 at Tikal dates the "entrada" of Teotihuacan forces to AD 378, contemporary with the final battle described in Mormon chapter 6.
Tikal Stela 31 Front
El Peru Stela 15, Naachtun Stela 24, and the Tikal Marcador all document the entrada of 378.

10. Beards. In 1979, I authored a paper entitled "A Survey of Mesoamerican Bearded Figures" which was later published as a FARMS preliminary report. It keeps showing up, most recently in Stephen C. Jett's excellent Ancient Ocean Crossings: Re-considering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017). See the article "Ancient Ocean Crossings."

At European contact, almost all native Americans were beardless or had scant facial hair. The earliest Spaniards argued that this beardlessness showed the natives were not real men, did not possess souls, and could therefore be enslaved with impunity (in explicit fulfillment of Mormon 5:9).

In the archaeological record, in contrast, bearded human portrayals are quite common in pre-classic and proto-classic (Book of Mormon) times, tapering off somewhat in the late classic and then becoming much less common in the post-classic. In my 1979 study, I looked at nearly 200 examples of beards in art. F. David Lee in his 2008 "The Bearded Ones: A Context for Bearded Populations in Mesoamerica" analyzed 554 examples. I have visited dozens of museums throughout Mesoamerica. Rarely do I not find at least one bearded figure on display in any given museum.

Bearded Figure from Tres Zapotes Excavated by Matthew Stirling
The Book of Mormon describes immigrants coming from the Old World to the New who eventually suffered genetic bottlenecks as war decimated their populations and destroyed their polities. This narrative is explicitly consistent with the portrayal of bearded human figures we see from Mesoamerican archaeology.
Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 79 in Museo Nacional, Guatemala City
Photo by Kirk Magleby, December 27, 2015
A top 10 list is always fluid. If I were to re-compile this list today, I would include:

11. Roads. The article "Roads and Highways" describes impressive corroboration of 3 Nephi 6:8 and the other Book of Mormon passages that describe roadways being built about the time of Christ.
--
Non-archaeological corroboration of the text is discussed in the article "Top Ten Literary and Linguistic Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Article last updated October 23, 2017.