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.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Volcanic Eruptions Near the Time of Christ

Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #530 "Is there evidence for great destruction in the land northward at the death of Christ?" is superb. It discusses recent scientific literature about the massive eruption of Popocatépetl very near the time of Christ's death. This is of interest, of course, because professional geologists tend to interpret the destruction described in 3 Nephi 8, 9 as a combination of volcanic, seismic, and meteorological phenomena. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Popocatépetl in the land northward.
Popocatépetl with the Great Pyramid of Cholula in the Foreground
"Popo" as the locals know it, is the second highest peak in Mexico (5,426 meters or 17,802 feet) after Orizaba. It sits between the valleys of Mexico and Puebla. It remains a very active, dangerous volcano. I have maintained a software development office in downtown Puebla since 1999, so I travel there quite often on business. In all those years, I have only flown into the Puebla airport one time. The airport is so often closed due to volcanic ash in the air that most travelers fly into Mexico City and take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puebla.

The Book of Mormon also describes great destruction in the land southward 3 Nephi 8:11. Many read the text of 3 Nephi 8, 9 and imagine multiple volcanic, seismic, and meteorological events all happening simultaneously. Evidence has recently been published that Tacaná also erupted very near the time of Christ's death. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Tacaná in the land southward. 
Tacaná with Tajumulco in the Background
Tacaná is the second highest peak in Central America (4,060 meters or 13,320 feet) after Tajumulco. It straddles the border between Chiapas, Mexico and San Marcos, Guatemala. It remains an active, dangerous volcano. The ca. AD 30 eruption is documented in José Luis Macías, et al., "Late Formative Flooding of Izapa after an Eruption of Tacaná Volcano" in Ancient Mesoamerica 29 (2018) pp. 361-371. The eruption caused mud flows upslope and massive flooding in lower elevations as stream flows were temporarily dammed by volcanic ejecta.

How do paleogeologists date volcanic eruptions? They submit organic matter encased in a lava or ash strata for Carbon-14 dating just as archaeologists and paleontologists do. How expensive is one C-14 test? In the neighborhood of $500 - $650 assuming adequate sample preparation and no special handling. So, most projects can only afford a handful of C-14 tests. These are the results of C-14 tests run on the Tacaná eruption under consideration.
Tacaná Eruption Dated to ca. AD 30
Tacaná has erupted at least 11 times in the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years). The magnitude of a volcanic eruption is measured in volcanic explosivity index (VEI) numbers ranging from 1 to 8 on a logarithmic scale. The numbers represent the volume of pyroclastic material ejected by the volcano. The Popocatépetl eruption had a VEI of 6. The Tacaná eruption at about the same time had a VEI of 3. The Nephite text explicitly says there was great destruction in the land southward, but even greater devastation in the land northward 3 Nephi 8:11-12.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

President Nelson in Guatemala

This from Church News: A Living Record of the Restoration, Volume 90, Number 35, September 1, 2019:

As he arrived in "The Land of Eternal Spring" on Saturday, August 24, 2019, President Nelson said his thoughts were with the ancient civilizations whose ruins still define Guatemala.

"The lands of Central America and South America are studded with ruins - remnants - of ancient civilizations."

"One wonders what life must have been like among those people."

"Add to that the message on the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is 'written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel,' we not only learn more about those ancient inhabitants, but we learn that the Lord cares for His children in this hemisphere, both in ancient times, and in modern times."

The message seems clear. Guatemalans are Lamanites. There is a relationship between the Book of Mormon and ancient Guatemalan civilizations.

Tikal Temple IV. Photo taken by Jeffrey D. Allred on August 22, 2019,
published in
Pres. Nelson was in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala with Elder Marvin J. Ashton on October 19, 1991, when Elder Ashton offered a prayer on Guatemala and its people, re-dedicating the land for the preaching of the Gospel. Pres. Nelson also accompanied President Gordon B. Hinckley who presided at a devotional in Guatemala City on January 26, 1997.

Excerpts from the dedicatory prayer on the Guatemala City Temple offered by President Gordon B. Hinckley on December 14, 1984 where he sometimes speaks in first person representing the Guatemalan Saints:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts swell with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi, the many generations  of our fathers and mothers who suffered so greatly and who walked for so long in darkness. Thou has heard their cries and seen their tears. Now there will be opened to them the gates of salvation and eternal life."

"We thank Thee, O God, for lifting the scales of darkness which for generations clouded the vision of the descendants of Lehi...We thank Thee for the restored record of our ancestors, the record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, of Alma and Mosiah, of Benjamin and Mormon and Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice which has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Guatemala City Temple
For an interesting pattern in Pres. Hinckley's temple dedicatory prayers, see the article "Father Lehi in the Mexico City Temple" and "Lehite Temples." 

Excerpts from the very similar dedicatory prayer on the Quetzaltenango Temple offered by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on December 11, 2011:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts are filled with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Thou hast accepted their righteous sacrifices."

"We thank Thee for the sacred record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, Alma and Mosiah, Benjamin and Mormon, and of Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice that has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quetzaltenango Temple
"Quetzaltenango" is a Nahuatl name meaning "place of the Quetzal bird." Many locals call the city by its Maya name "Xela" which refers to mountains.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Captain Moroni's Towers

We read in Alma 50:4 that Captain Moroni had the Nephites build towers as part of their defensive fortification strategy. The Pacunam Lidar Initiative (PLI) has helped archaeologists identify towers as part of Maya defensive fortification strategies in the northern Peten. Dozens of defensive towers have been identified in the area around La Cuernavilla fortress.
La Cuernavilla about 20 air kilometers west of Tikal
This map shows the locations of 37 defensive towers, 7 of them built alongside ditch and wall structures just as the Book of Mormon describes. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Dozens of defensive Towers in northern Guatemala
The map is in the article "Recentering the rural: Lidar and articulated landscapes among the Maya" by Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen Houston, and Omar Alcover Firpi in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 53, March 2019, pp. 133-146. Houston will be on BYU campus on Monday, October 28, 2019 to present the inaugural John L. Sorenson Lecture.

On September 21, 2019, I was privileged to hear a lecture by Andrew K. Scherer at Hamline University. He mentioned defensive structures, probably lookout towers, associated with walls and barricades in the fortified border region between Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras.

Additional insights into Maya and possibly Nephite defensive fortifications are in the articles "Light from Guatemala," "Ground-Truthed LiDAR," and "75 BC."

Article last updated on September 22, 2019.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Early Settlement Sequence

I am reading a very good book entitled Pathways to Complexity: A View from the Maya Lowlands edited by M. Kathryn Brown (UT San Antonio) and George J. Bey III (Millsaps College).
New Book on Maya Origins
Published in 2018 by University Press of Florida, the volume contains 16 chapters authored by 27 specialists including Donald Forsyth of the BYU Anthropology faculty and BYU alum Richard Hansen of the University of Utah Anthropology faculty. This book contains a number of insights I find interesting and potentially relevant to the Book of Mormon. One is the order in which various areas in Mesoamerica began using ceramics.

Pathways Chapter 4 is entitled "The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands" authored by E. Wyllys Andrews V (PhD Tulane), George J. Bey III (PhD Tulane), and Christopher M. Gunn (PhD Kentucky). The authors summarize what is currently known of the first use of ceramics in important parts of Mesoamerica. This map shows their findings:
Dates when Ceramics First Appear in the Archaeological Record
Ceramics first appear in Oaxaca/Puebla ca. 2,000 BC, then along the Pacific coast of Chiapas and Guatemala and through El Salvador to the Mosquito Coast of NE Honduras ca. 1,900 BC. Ceramics then appear in the Olmec Heartland of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco ca. 1,500 BC followed by highland Guatemala ca. 1,200 BC. Ceramics appear in the southern Maya Lowlands ca. 1,000 BC and finally in the northern Maya Lowlands ca. 900 BC. This means that 300 years before Lehi left Jerusalem most of Mesoamerica had transitioned from mere wood, bone, stone, and fiber utensils to more sophisticated ceramic technology. The blank spot on the map in the Chiapas Highlands does not mean the Central Depression of Chiapas did not have ceramics by ca. 900 BC. The ceramic tradition was well-established in the Grijalva Basin by that time period. It simply means the authors did not consider central Chiapas as significant as the other areas in the cultural development trajectory of ceramic technology throughout the region.

This map showing settlement sequences of peoples possessing ceramics is broadly similar to our current thinking about the Jaredites. We think the Jaredites landed on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and migrated inland to the land of Nehor and upland to the land of Moron which we correlate with the valley of Oaxaca (San José Mogote). The Jaredites then built the city of Lib which we correlate with Tzutzuculi on the Pacific coast of Chiapas. The Jaredite demise at hill Ramah we correlate with the Tuxtla Mountains in the Olmec Heartland. This map includes key Jaredite correlates.
Proposed Jaredite Locations with Dates of Ceramic Attestation
Could Yucatan be part of the land Northward? We have already concluded that the land Northward likely extended to the Tonalá River area (La Venta, Tabasco). With the exciting work Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan (University of Arizona) are currently doing at Aguada Fénix (Balancán, Tabasco), our notion of what constituted the land Northward in Jaredite times may move eastward to include the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. Couple that with the work INAH is doing at Chakanbakán, Quintana Roo, and we may have to re-consider our view of the Olmec. They may have occupied much of Mesoamerica from Central Mexico to the Caribbean by ca. 400 - 300 BC.
Aguada Fénix and Chakanbakán in Context
I have not yet seen either Aguada Fénix or Chakanbakán. The article "Usumacinta Olmec" is based on reports Inomata and Trinidan made to Balancán municipal leaders in February, 2019. I know several people who have been to Chakanbakán (special permission is required from the INAH office in Chetumal, it is not yet open to the public) and they all describe Olmec-looking masks flanking the principal temple (Nohochbalam) stairway. Local news reports from Quintana Roo describe helmeted figures with a strong resemblance to the 17 Olmec colossal heads known from San Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Rancho la Cobata (Cerro El Vigía). The official INAH description of Chakanbakán mentions this unmistakable Olmec influence.