Saturday, January 18, 2020

Where did the Mulekites Land?

Several lines of reasoning about the Mulekite ocean voyage across the Atlantic point to Tabasco, Mexico, as likely landing locations. The Mulekites landed twice, once in the land northward near the place where the Jaredites were destroyed Alma 22:30 and a second time in the land southward near the local land of Zarahemla where Mosiah I discovered their descendants still in the area their forefathers settled Alma 22:31, Omni 1:16. Mulek (Critical Text orthography Muloch) was a son of Zedekiah, King of Judah, who was captured Omni 1:15 by Nebuchadnezzar II (ca. 630 - 561 BC), blinded, and taken in chains to Babylon where he died in prison. Before he blinded the Jewish monarch, Nebuchadnezzar killed all of Zedekiah's older sons in their father's presence Helaman 8:21, 2 Kings 25:7. It has long been assumed by Book of Mormon scholars that Mulek was very young, perhaps even an infant, and that he came to the Americas in a Phoenician vessel. The Phoenicians were world class sailors and traders ca. 586 BC Ezekiel 26:15-17 while the Jews had few maritime assets. For an article describing an ancient stamp seal potentially belonging to the young son of Zedekiah, see the Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy #103 published May 19, 2016 entitled "Has An Artifact That Relates to the Book of Mormon Been Found?"

The Mulekite capital, the city of Zarahemla, was west of a dominant river called Sidon Alma 2:15, 34. Sidon was a major port in ancient Phoenicia. The modern Sidon, Lebanon, is midway between Beruit and Tyre.
The Mediterranean Port City, Sidon, in Context
The Book of Mormon Onomasticon etymology for Sidon suggests the Mulekite/Nephite river got its name from the ancient Phoenician seaport. Could the Phoenicians have reached the Americas ca. 586 BC? Briton Philip Beale just demonstrated that yes, they could have.
Philip Beale, British Banker Turned Explorer
Beale had a shipwright on Arwad Island, Syria, build a working replica of an ancient Phoenician sailing ship from ca. 600 BC. For models, he used stone carvings of ancient ships plying Mediterranean waters and the shipwreck Jules Verne 7, dated to ca. 600 BC, discovered in Marseille harbor, France. Beale sought to prove two things:
  1. Phoenicians could have circumnavigated Africa ca. 600 BC just as Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484 BC - ca. 425 BC) says they did.
  2. Phoenicians could have sailed from the Old World to the Americas ca. 600 BC. 
His ship, Phoenicia, is a 50 ton, 65 foot vessel with a single mast and a single square-rigged sail.
Phoenicia, Working Phoenician Ship Replica
In 2009-2010, Beale skippered Phoenicia from Lebanon through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aden into the Arabian Sea, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the Atlantic, and back to Lebanon. My friend, Warren Aston, was a volunteer deckhand on board Phoenicia during part of her voyage around the Arabian Peninsula. This is a map of the 2009-2010 journey.
Phoenicia Circumnavigation of Africa 2009-2010
Phoenicia then docked in southern England for a decade where she was a tourist attraction. On July 4th, 2019, she left Gosport, Hampshire, and sailed to Tunis, Tunisia, anciently known as Carthage, one of the Phoenicians' principal trading colonies in the Mediterranean. She left Tenerife, Canary Islands, on November 23, 2019, and 39 days later, on December 31, 2019, she docked to a festive reception at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. My friend, Boyd Tuttle, was a volunteer deckhand on board Phoenicia during the Mediterranean leg of her voyage.
Phoenicia Transatlantic Crossing 2019 has videos about the Phoenicians Before Columbus Expedition. Philip Beale knew he would spend time in the Canary Islands. They have been ports of call for Mediterranean ships since Greek and Roman times. After the Canaries, though, he did not know exactly where in the Americas Phoenicia would land. That would depend on the winds and ocean currents. Phoenicia followed the Canary Current south, skirted Cape Verde, then followed the North Equatorial Current almost due west and made landfall in the Caribbean at about 18 degrees north latitude.
Ocean Currents per National Geographic
The Sorenson/Norman/Hauck/Allen/Aston/Potter/Magleby/Tovar (SNHAAPMT) Book of Mormon geography model that scored 100% on a strict audit (see the article "Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models) places the Mulekite landfall in the land northward at about 18 degrees north latitude 2,560 kilometers due west of Santo Domingo.
Proposed Mulekite Landfall, Settlement in Context
Compared with Phoenicia December 31, 2019 Landfall
The ocean current that brought the Phoenicia to the southern coast of the Dominican Republic could take her westward past Jamaica and on to Yucatan. Not only did Philip Beale dramatically demonstrate that the Phoenicians could have reached the New World, he also showed a likely route the Mulekites may have taken.

Philip Beale and Phoenicia followed many other seafarers who traveled similar routes. This map shows the four voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492 - 1502 and two voyages of Thor Heyerdahl in working replicas of ancient reed vessels. All six voyages passed through the Canary Islands and ended up in or near the Caribbean.
Columbus, Heyerdahl, and Phoenicia Expeditions
All Following Similar Routes
From 1969 to 2019, the Ocean Rowing Society International recognized 93 solo rows across the Atlantic. These small vessels with a single person aboard had no choice but to follow the surface winds and ocean currents. The vast majority of them began in the Canary Islands and ended in the Caribbean.
93 Human Powered Voyages that Followed Transatlantic Ocean Currents
First Line of Reasoning
Known historical examples of transatlantic ocean voyages made under circumstances similar to those the Mulekites would have encountered strongly suggest passage through the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.
The land southward was divided into the land north where Mulek landed and the land south where Lehi landed Helaman 6:10. Most serious Book of Mormon geographers consider the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to be part of the land southward along with Guatemala and Belize. This map shows locations per the SNHAAPMT Book of Mormon geography model.
Proposed Mulekite Landings in Context
In this proposal, the Mulekites landed first near the site of La Venta which in Olmec times was at the mouth of the Grijalva River. They then moved eastward to the mouth of the Usumacinta River where they settled a wilderness Alma 22:31 and remained in situ for more than 350 years until Mosiah I discovered them. The proposal for Lehi's landing is the Soconusco coast of southern Mexico/western Guatemala which is the seashore explicitly west (per Alma 22:28) of the area many identify as the lesser land of Nephi (valley of Guatemala).

Second Line of Reasoning
Tabasco is in the northern portion of what many consider the land southward, which fits Helaman 6:10.
Ancient iconography at La Venta strongly supports the idea of foreign visitors about the time the Mulekites would have landed. This is the famous La Venta Stela 3 dubbed the "Uncle Sam" stela which dates to 600 - 550 BC.
La Venta Stela 3 Excavated by Matthew Stirling in 1943
Philip Drucker, a member of the excavation team, said this stela depicts "a meeting of Olmec and non-Olmec personages." A typical Olmec figure on the left is meeting a decidedly non-Olmec figure on the right. See 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 DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1981, p. 44. Drucker said non-Olmec foreigners visiting the site are also depicted on La Venta Monuments 13 and 19.
Bearded Foreigner Depicted on La Venta Monument 13, Photo by Linda Schele
Tatiana Proskouriakoff was even more explicit, calling the person on the right of Stela 3 "...a bearded man with a conspicuously aquiline nose." She went on to call the figure a "bearded visitor" and a "bearded stranger." Like Drucker, she interpreted the La Venta carvings as depicting "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 DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968, p. 122.

Third Line of Reasoning
If La Venta stone carvings do not represent Mulekite/Olmec interaction, they show people with physical features similar to those we would expect in a Mulekite population visiting the Olmec capital at about the time the Mulekites arrived in the New World.
Ca. 600 BC, the Phoenicians and the Greeks were in a major competition to settle the entire Mediterranean shoreline and establish trading colonies. This map shows Greek colonies in blue and Phoenician colonies in red.
Greek (Blue) and Phoenician (Red) Colonies ca. 550 BC
Notice where these two colonial powers established settlements: along the sea coasts with cities at good harbors or along large navigable rivers. Theirs were maritime rather than inland empires. This tells us something about where a joint Mulekite/Phoenician expedition to the Americas would likely establish a capital city such as Zarahemla. Ocean-going vessels could sail up navigable rivers. In fact, ships through the ages have purposely sailed upstream on large rivers to rid their hulls of barnacles. Barnacles die and fall off in freshwater. Rivers, though, are only navigable to the fall line which is the place, usually at an escarpment, where severe rapids or a waterfall prevent upstream boat travel.

The SNHAAPMT model correlates the city of Zarahemla with the ancient pre-classic site of Nueva Esperanza/Calatraba in northern Chiapas. The site is riverside west of the Usumacinta in the coastal plain upstream from the perennial flood zone and downstream from the fall line.
Proposed Zarahemla in the Coastal Plain Between Swamps and Mountains
Fourth Line of Reasoning
Given what we know of Phoenician settlement patterns in the Old World, we would expect them to favor a city site close to the seacoast at a good harbor or along a large river downstream from the fall line. The Usumacinta in Tabasco and northern Chiapas is such a setting.
The Jaredite final battles had a massive casualty count. Ether 15:2 talks of 2 million slain. The bones mentioned in Alma 22:30 and the bones, ruins, plates, breastplates, swords, etc. mentioned in Mosiah 8:8-11 were likely strewn over a sizable area in the general vicinity of hill Ramah/Cumorah. The proposed site of the Mulekites first landing, the mouth of the ancient Grijalva, modern Tonala, is 60 air kilometers from the most likely Ramah/Cumorah - Cerro San Martín Pajapan.
Proposed Mulekite Landfall 60 Air Kilometers from Likely Ramah/Cumorah
Could this area anciently have supported a population in the millions? Yes. This is the center of the densely-populated Olmec heartland. Olmec civilization collapsed about the time the Book of Mormon records the annihilation of the Jaredite nation (ca. 300 BC).
Dozens of Known Archaeological Sites in the Olmec Heartland
Fifth Line of Reasoning
The proposed first Mulekite landing near La Venta in the Olmec heartland could reasonably have been proximate to the massive destruction mentioned in Alma 22:30 and Mosiah 8:8-11.
Some Book of Mormon modelers over the years have tried to correlate La Venta with the city of Mulek based on the likely Mulekite/Olmec interaction in the Olmec capital recorded on stone monuments such as Stela 3 and the Nephite cultural pattern of naming cities after their founder Alma 8:7. There are three problems with this logic. First, La Venta was the Olmec capital ca. 800 BC and was a thriving city long before Mulek arrived on the scene. Second, Royal Skousen continually reminds us that the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon spells the name of the son of Zedekiah "Muloch" rather than "Mulek" which is the name of the city on the Nephite east coast near the city Bountiful. And third, Muloch was a Mulekite, not a Nephite. The Mulekites arrived in the New World ca. 586 BC and Mosiah I did not lead a group of Nephites from the city of Nephi to the lesser land of Zarahemla until ca. 200 BC. So, any name La Venta carried in Book of Mormon times is much more likely to have been Jaredite or Mulekite than Nephite. The name "Sidon" for instance, was probably applied by the Phoenicians/Mulekites to their dominant river and then simply adopted by the Nephites.
So, in summary, the SNHAAPMT model which has passed a rigorous audit with a perfect score of 100% places the first Mulekite landfall at the mouth of the ancient Grijalva, modern Tonala river not far from La Venta. The model predicts the second Mulekite landfall was at the mouth of the Usumacinta which led to settlement immediately upstream of the permanent wetlands. This correlation represents a convergence of several lines of reasoning:
  1. The Caribbean is an overwhelmingly likely landing place for any ancient voyage passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands on its way to the Americas.
  2. Tabasco is in the northern tier of a viable land southward as the text requires and the Usumacinta area had wilderness characteristics when the Mulekites first arived.
  3.  Monuments at La Venta dating to the Mulekite time period record the visit of foreign people whose beards and facial features would have been at home in ancient Jerusalem.
  4.  Known Phoenician settlement patterns in the Mediterranean during Mulekite times accommodate an initial landfall in Tabasco with a capital city on a large navigable river.
  5. The proposed first landing near La Venta is in the Olmec heartland which can reasonably accommodate the Jaredite destruction narrative including a likely hill Ramah/Cumorah.
Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which makes the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. Book of Mormon Central publishes the exciting new free app ScripturePlus.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Jaredites Crossed the Pacific

There has been a difference of opinion among Book of Mormon geographers about the Jaredite voyage - did the eight barges cross the Atlantic or the Pacific? In his 1985 An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson proposed a Pacific crossing. Then, in his 2013 Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, John changed his mind and argued for an Atlantic crossing. Data is now available which allows us to definitively settle the question. The Jaredites crossed the Pacific. Ether 6:11 tells us the Jaredites were 344 days at sea. That number works well in the Pacific. Recently-analyzed data shows it to be illogical and unattainable in the Atlantic. 

In the 2014 blog article Test #6 Relative Distances, I introduced the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) at the University of Hawaii and their drift model that monitors debris floating from Asia to the Americas across the North Pacific. It turns out that 344 days for barges riding high enough in the water to catch some wind Ether 6:8 is right in the expected range the drift model would predict. My 2017 blog article Tracking the Jaredites gave additional details supporting a Jaredite Pacific crossing.

On December 31, 2019, the ship Phoenicia landed in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic after a 39 day North Atlantic passage from Amarilla, Tenerife, Canary Islands. My friend, Boyd Tuttle, was aboard the Phoenicia on the first leg of its voyage from Tunis, Tunisia to Cádiz, Spain. You can learn more about this replica Phoenician ship and its fascinating mission to prove the Phoenicians could have reached the Americas at the website "Phoenicians Before Columbus Expedition." For our present purpose, it is sufficient to note that the Phoenicia crossed the Atlantic under sail in 39 days.
Phoenicia, Modern Replica of Ancient Phoenician Sailing Vessel
On July 18, 1969, Thor Heyerdahl's reed boat Ra foundered in the Atlantic about one week short of its intended destination, Barbados. The replica of an ancient Egyptian vessel sailed 2,662 miles from Safi, Morocco in 54 days. Heyerdahl was trying to demonstrate that the ancient Egyptians could have reached the Americas. Ra was built by Egyptians in the Nile delta.

On July 12, 1970, Heyerdahl's second reed boat, Ra II, built by Andean craftsmen on Lake Titicaca, landed in Barbados after a 57 day, 3,270 mile voyage from Safi, Morocco.
Thor Heyerdahl and Ra II Preparing to Leave Morocco in 1970
Columbus made four voyages across the Atlantic. His first, in 1492, sailed from Palos de la Frontera, Spain to the Bahamas in 61 days which included a stopover in the Canaries. His second, in 1493, sailed from Cádiz, Spain to Dominica in 41 days. His third, in 1498, sailed from Sanlucar, Spain to Trinidad in 62 days which included stopovers in both the Canaries and Cape Verde. His fourth, in 1502, sailed from Cádiz, Spain to Martinique in 35 days.

This is a map showing the seven voyages.
Columbus (4), Heyerdahl (2) and Phoenicia Expeditions
These seven transatlantic crossings were all done under sail. Elapsed times were 35, 39, 41, 54, 57, 61, and 62 days, some of which included stopovers in the Canary and Cape Verde Islands.

The Jaredite barges did not have masts and sails. They were completely at the mercy of ocean currents and surface winds. There is a class of ocean-going vessels that drift across the Atlantic propelled only by a human rowing with oars. Elite athletes compete to see who can cross the ocean in the shortest time with the winners published in the Guinness Book of World Records. The adjudicating body for this sport is the Ocean Rowing Society International. The Ocean Rowing Society recognizes 93 successful solo rows from 1969 to 2019. This is the data. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Successful Solo Rows Across the Atlantic Part 1 of 3
Spreadsheet row 12 is of particular interest. This is my friend, Latter-day Saint Richard Jones, whose boat was named "Brother of Jared."
Successful Solo Rows Across the Atlantic Part 2 of 3
Spreadsheet row 78 shows the current world champion. He solo rowed across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua in 34 days.
Successful Solo Rows Across the Atlantic Part 3 of 3
The longest solo row, 224 days, started in Genoa, Italy and went through the Mediterranean past the Straits of Gibraltar all the way to Fortaleza, Brazil, a 5,000 mile trip with an average speed of 22 miles per day. The second longest solo row, 180 days, started in the Canary Islands and went 3,940 miles to Hollywood Beach, Florida at an average speed of 22 miles per day. The shortest solo row, 34 days, started in the Canary Islands and went 2,934 miles to Antigua at an average speed of 86 miles per day. The second shortest solo row, 35 days, started in the Canary Islands and went 2,921 miles to Barbados at an average speed of 83 miles per day. The mean voyage went 3,128 miles in 78 days for an average speed of 40 miles per day. The median voyage went 3,000 miles in 73 days for an average speed of 41 miles per day.
Richard Jones in His High-Tech Brother of Jared in the Year 2000
This map shows all 93 solo rows across the Atlantic recognized by the Ocean Rowing Society.
93 Solo Rows Across the Atlantic 1969 - 2019
The Jaredite 344 day ocean crossing does not fit in the Atlantic. None of the 7 sailing or 93 solo rowing voyages discussed in this article took anywhere near that long. If the Jaredites went at the slowest speed documented in this article, 22 miles per day, 344 days would have taken them 7,568 miles. The Atlantic Ocean is not anywhere near that wide. Most of the 100 voyages described in this article crossed the Atlantic in 2,900 to 3,300 miles.

On the other hand, if the Jaredite voyage looked like this:
Proposed Jaredite Transpacific Voyage from China to Mexico
Then the Jaredites traveled 8,762 miles in 344 days at an average speed of 25 miles per day which is consistent with known historical crossings and just what the University of Hawaii drift model would lead us to expect.

Friday, January 10, 2020


I volunteer as the Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central. We have been unusually busy the last few months preparing for Come Follow Me 2020. The centerpiece of our effort is the new ScripturePlus mobile app. It offers multiple editions of the Latter-day Saint Standard Works enriched with videos, images, notes and commentary, narrative formatting, red-lettering, and speaker identification with many more content types in the pipeline. The iOS (Apple) version debuted on September 16, 2019 and the Android version on January 9, 2020. This is an ad we aired on KSL TV over the October General Conference weekend.

ScripturePlus is and always will be free of charge. You have to register with your email to get access to the enrichment material. Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly favorable.

Book of Mormon Central's mission is to build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. In March, 2018, I took several Book of Mormon Central staffers to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. We visited with a number of Latter-day Saint Googlers and posed the question, "If you wanted to get many more people around the world cherishing the Book of Mormon, how would you do it?" Their consensus opinion was build an app. So, we built an app. We learned from some of the terrific Bible study apps on the market including Blue Letter Bible, gloBible, and especially YouVersion.

A little aside. Analyzing the powerful global impact of this unusually productive ecosystem:
I am impressed. These friends are very bright and very good. And, they play well together in the sand box. We as Latter-day Saints can learn a great deal from them. ScripturePlus is a huge step in the right direction.

ScripturePlus is now available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

As Itzhak Perlman is to Violonists, the Book of Mormon is to Books

Last evening, my wife and I had the rare privilege of hearing world's greatest violinist, Itzhak Perlman, in concent. He performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, for Violin and Orchestra Op. 61 in the de Jong Concert Hall with the BYU Philharmonic conducted by Kory Katseanes.
Program for 2020 Itzhak Perlman Concert at BYU
There are violonists and then there is Itzhak Perlman. Born in Israel, he began studying at Julliard at age 13. He has performed with every major orchestra on earth. His talent is so prodigious Katseanes called it "a gift from God." Now 74, Perlman's music is sweet, rich, and supremely nuanced. He clearly enjoys creating beautiful music. Last night, thunderous applause from the audience brought the virtuoso back out on stage four separate times before Katseanes finally ended the evening. In the audience we saw Pres. Dallin H. Oaks, Pres. Henry B. Eyring, and Apostle Gerrit W. Gong (who gets his first name from Gerrit de Jong, Jr. [1892-1978] for whom the concert hall is named). The memory of last night's performance will remain with me for years. It is a remarkable experience to spend time with world's greatest violinist.

This morning, my wife and I both had the rare privilege of reading world's greatest book, the Book of Mormon. There are books, and then there is the Book of Mormon. Its opening scenes begin in Jerusalem where Nephi was a very young hero, a prodigy with a formidable gift from God. 175 million copies have gone to every corner of the globe. Now 189 years in print, the Book of Mormon is sweet, rich, and supremely nuanced. The extraordinary people whose stories it tells clearly found joy in living righteous, inspired, meaningful lives (Alma 27:17-18, Alma 36:20-21). The sacred scripture garners repeated praise from an appreciative audience worldwide. Pres. Oaks, Pres. Eyring, and Elder Gong regularly feast upon the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, named after an exceptional prophet, historian, and military general. Insights from the Book of Mormon have enriched my life for years.
Personal Favorites Clockwise: Yale 2009, Palmyra 1830 (replica),
Spanish 1960, and the Rosenvall's 2018 New Approach
It is a remarkable experience to spend time with world's greatest book.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Seasons of War

The Book of Mormon states that war among the Nephites was seasonal Omni 1:3. In an often-cited study, John L. Sorenson demonstrated that warfare in the Book of Mormon generally took place in months 11 - 3, occasionally in months 4, 5, and 10, and seldom in months 6 - 9. See John L. Sorenson, "Seasonality of Warfare in the Book of Mormon and in Mesoamerica" in Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, editors, Warfare in the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990). See also John L. Sorenson, "Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, editors, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991). Assuming the Nephite new year began on or about the winter solstice (December 21 or 22), a reasonable assumption given the pattern in most ancient cultures, Nephite battles were generally not fought in the time period roughly corresponding to our June through September.

Southern Mesoamerica has well-defined rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season generally begins in May and runs through October. The dry season generally begins in November and runs through April. Crops are typically planted at the onset of the rainy season and harvests are generally over by the onset of the dry season.

NASA Blue Marble imagery shows the surface of the earth in natural color. In other words, this is what the planet really looks like from high altitude with no cloud cover. There is a dramatic visual difference between the dry season and the rainy season in southern Mesoamerica.
Southern Mesoamerica in April at the End of the Dry Season
In April, streams run low, wetlands have shrunk, paths are hard packed, and ground cover is sparse.
Southern Mesoamerica in October at the End of the Rainy Season
In October, streams run high, wetlands are overflowing, paths are muddy, and ground cover is dense.

In Mesoamerica, the dry season was when agriculturalists were mobilized into fighting forces, surplus food supplies were available for provisions, infantry marches were feasible, and conditions in field camps were tolerable. Battles in southern Mesoamerica were generally not fought in the season corresponding to our June through September, the height of the rainy season.

Numerous war events recorded in Mayan inscriptions can be securely dated, and they follow the expected seasonal pattern. The Maya went to war in the dry season and stayed home tending their crops in the rainy season. See Stephen Houston's blog post "Watery War" in the blog Maya Decipherment, June 17, 2019, where he references data from Simon Martin.

Burned Cities

General Shiz spread terror through the Jaredite countryside by annihilating inhabitants and then burning their cities Ether 14:17. Lamanite armies ca. AD 379 used a similar scorched-earth tactic, destroying Nephites en masse and then burning their towns, villages, and cities Mormon 5:5.

Belligerent Maya city states burned enemy cities as an extreme military tactic. One word for this act of war in Mayan is puluy or puluuy. The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) Maya Hieroglyph Dictionary edited by Peter Mathews and Péter Bíró has this entry for puluy:
Puluy Hieroglyph Drawn by John Thompson
Mayanists for years wondered if this term was literal or metaphorical. When coupled with a place name, it was clearly used in a war context like "chopping" (ch'ak), but some clung to old romantic notions of Maya pacifism.

All that ambiguity disappeared on August 5, 2019 when the article "Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya" appeared in the journal Nature Human Behavior. In a rare convergence of disciplines, authors David Wahl (UC Berkeley), Lysanna Anderson (US Geological Survey), Francisco Estrada-Belli (Tulane), and Alexandre Tokovinine (Alabama) showed how lake sediment cores containing charcoal from Laguna Ek' Naab, charred structures from the adjacent archaeological site of Witzna (ancient Bahlam Jol), and epigraphic texts using the term puluy from the site of Naranjo were inter-related. On May 21, AD 697, Naranjo brutally destroyed Witzna by torching the city and environs. The conflagration deposited a layer of charcoal an inch thick in the sediment on the bottom of Laguna Ek' Naab.
Charcoal in Sediment from Laguna Ek' Naab
Photo by Lysanna Anderson
Ruling elites in Naranjo then memorialized their scorched-earth victory by carving inscriptions on Stelae 22 and 23 describing how Witzna (Bahlam Jol) puluy "got burned." See Alexandre Tokovinine, Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives, (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2013) pp. 33-34.

Naranjo inscriptions describe a similar fire at Buenavista del Cayo (ancient Komkom) which puluy "got burned" on March 27, AD 696. As they had at Witzna, archaeologists found charred structures at Buenavista del Cayo that date to the indicated time period. Naranjo Stela 22 describes five sites being burned over a five year period. See Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008).

"Puluuy ... is a clear verb for war meaning 'to burn' in Cholan languages and has been noted in many war contexts ... the hieroglyph ... puluuy is a well-accepted verb for war." James Brady (Cal State LA) and Pierre R. Colas (Vanderbilt), "Nikte' Mo' Scattered Fire in the Cave of K'ab Chante' " in James Brady and Keith M. Prufer, editors, In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005) p. 158. "Puluuy was a common war statement and such tactics were not rare." Wahl, et al., op. cit.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Moroni's Total War

In Mormon Chapter 8, a solitary Moroni ca. AD 400 finishes his father's record and documents widespread warfare among the Lamanites: "the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war" Mormon 8:8. A few years ago, most specialists did not believe warfare was endemic in Mesoamerica ca. AD 400. Mayanists in the previous generation thought the natives engaged in "ritualized," small-scale, token warfare until the Terminal Classic (AD 850 - 1,000) when droughts reduced the food supply. The combination of drought-induced famine and highly destructive "total war" were thought to have jointly caused the Classic era collapse.

Recent developments support Moroni's description of "total war" centuries earlier. An article by David Wahl (UC Berkeley), Lysanna Anderson (US Geological Survey), Francisco Estrada-Belli (Tulane), and Alexandre Tokovinine (Alabama) entitled "Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya" was published in Nature Human Behavior August 5, 2019. They document the near total destruction of Witzna (ancient Bahlam Jol) by fire on May 21, AD 697.
Charcoal in Sediment from Laguna Ek'Naab Adjacent to Witzna
Photo by Lysanna Anderson
Witzna was the victim of an incendiary attack launched by Naranjo, a city-state 32 air kilometers to the south. Naranjo also burned the site known  today as Buenavista del Cayo (ancient Komkom), Ucanal (ancient K'an Witznal) and the unlocated K'inchil near the same time.
Witzna, Naranjo, Buenavista del Cayo, and Ucanal in Context
Epigrapic and lake sediment core evidence indicate Witzna was invaded militarily and burned on a previous occasion, and charcoal layers point to as many as two earlier burnings. This and other evidence are the reason specialists are now saying the Maya practiced highly destructive "total warfare" through most of the Classic period (AD 250 - 900). Works espousing this new view are in a book edited by Andrew Scherer (Brown) and John Verano (Tulane) entitled Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes, (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2014).

Takeshi Inomata (Arizona), author of "War, Violence, and Society in the Maya Lowlands" in the 2014 Scherer and Verano volume, said "There is an increasing understanding that there were destructive wars throughout the Classic period." James Brady (Cal State LA) concurred "I was never convinced that warfare before the Terminal Classic was only ritualized. It must have been a fact of life from a very early time, and it often had serious consequences." Both quotations are from Tim Vernimmen, "Ancient Maya practiced 'total war' well before climate stress, National Geographic, August 5, 2019.