Thursday, September 29, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Nine

9. Question. What was the nature of the terrain between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

9. Answer. Zarahemla was down, Nephi was up and an east-west mountain barrier plus lots of wilderness lay between them.
9. Exhibit A. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage basin is more densely populated than the Usumacinta, and that, based on known archaeological sites, the same was true anciently. See the articles "Water Fight on the River - Round Three" and "Water Fight on the River - Round Six" in this blog. Satellite photographs of city lights at night show populated places versus wild lands in a very interesting way because emanated light visible from low earth orbit is generally in direct proportion to the amount of human activity in an area. We overlay our map of the two river basins with NASA imagery showing earth lights at night. It is easy to see that there is more human activity along the Mezcalapa-Grijalva than along the relatively darker Usumacinta.
Earth lights at night along the Mezcalapa-Grijalva
and the Usumacinta rivers.
9. Conclusion A. Based on contemporary population, known archaeological sites, and the amount of night light visible in satellite images, the Usumacinta basin has much more potential wilderness area than the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin. Advantage Usumacinta.
9. Exhibit B. Carefully observe the highlighted area in the following NASA image of earth lights at night. Notice a nearly straight line of light running from the Carribean coast of Guatemala on the right to the Pacific coast of Mexico on the left. Click on the image to render it full-size. You can do this with every image in this blog.
Line of light running east-west from the Caribbean to the Pacific. 
We set a path in Google Earth that will allow us to investigate this interesting line of light.
Path in red following the east-west line of light.
Our map of the rivers is now somewhat more complete. We have added some of the larger tributaries of the Chixoy Negro and the Chixoy in red . We have also added the Polochic River in yellow that flows eastward and empties into Lake Izabal, as well as its major tributary, the Cahabon.
More detail on the rivers. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage is in blue, the
Usumacinta in red, and the east-flowing Polochic drainage is in yellow.
We change the line of light path from red to white and reduce its opacity so the detail underneath is more visible. Superimposing the light path on top of the rivers, it is instantly apparent that the two line up to a remarkable degree. Actually, it is not all that remarkable since humans tend to settle along rivers, and enough humans will eventually create night lights detectable by satellite imagery. The remarkable thing is that so many rivers flow in such a straight east-west line for 512 kilometers across Guatemala and Chiapas.
Line of light path juxtaposed with the rivers.
Beginning at the east Caribbean coast and moving westward, the line of light runs along the northern shore of Lake Izabal and then follows the Polochic, the Cahabon, the Chixoy, the Los Berros/Chicama, the El Molino, the Selegua, and the Cuilco.
Seven rivers that flow along the line of light path.
A case could also be made for the Paraxtut, the Blanco, and the Buca that would fill in the gap between the El Molino and the Selegua, but you get the idea. Adding modern roads to the view shows that major east-west highways follow this corridor in both Guatemala and Mexico, so the line of light turns out to be human activity strung along roadways built along the banks of rivers and the shores of a lake.
Guatemalan highway 7E that parallels the line of light path. Highway
7W is not shown, but it presents a similar view in the west. 
There is much more to this story, though, than just rivers and roads. This image from NASA's beautiful Blue Marble: Next Generation series clearly shows that the distinctive east-west line is also a major topographic feature.
NASA Blue Marble image showing the east-west line south of Coban.
In an attempt to approach Nephi's high standard of clarity that no one can misunderstand 2 Nephi 25:7, here is the same image with the line of light path superimposed.
NASA Blue Marble image with the line of light path.
Turning on Google Map's terrain layer and then changing the line of light to red, it is obvious that the line with its associated rivers and roads lies at the base of a series of steep mountains that run practically from the Caribbean east coast to the Pacific west.
Google Maps terrain layer showing the line of light
below a long series of steep mountain slopes.  
Zooming in on the central Guatemalan portion of the image shows a nearly unbroken line of cliffs running in an east-west direction.
East-west line of cliffs running across central Guatemala.
Zooming in still further on the area where the Los Encuentros enters the Chixoy, you can see that the vertical rise from the river to the cliff summits at this point is about 1,200 meters. That's approximately 4,000 feet of steep mountain slopes. No wonder this major topographic feature is visible from space.
Google Maps terrain layer showing the Chixoy River at about 600 meters
elevation surrounded by steep mountains rising to over 1,800 meters.
The straight red line is the line of light we have been following.
9. Conclusion B. A mountain barrier does exist that could be the line Mormon describes separating Lamanite possessions on the south from Nephite-held territory on the north during the time of Captain Moroni. Alma 50:11. We'll save a more detailed examination of the east-west narrow strip of wilderness line for another day. For the time being, our purpose is to establish whether the Mezcalapa-Grijalva or the Usumacinta is the river Sidon, and the results from this criterion are indeterminate. Both rivers fit well.
9. Exhibit C. Much has been made over the years of what I call "prepositional geography." The Book of Mormon text is profuse with terrain references such as up, down, over, into, round about, etc. Countless hours have been spent by well-meaning students poring over flat maps trying to shoe-horn The Book of Mormon setting into central Chile on the south, eastern Canada on the north, and dozens of other equally nonsensical places in between. When you focus on the prepositions in the text without seeing the big picture, you can easily convince yourself to site Book of Mormon trees outside The Book of Mormon forest. In order for any proposed geographical correlation to work, though, the prepositions must make sense. What The Book of Mormon text says about Zarahemla, Nephi, and the wilderness in between is clear and consistent. Nephi was up at a higher elevation Words of Mormon 1:13Mosiah 9:3,  the wilderness was in the middle at an intermediate elevation Omni 1:27, Mosiah 7:4, and Zarahemla was down at a lower elevation Omni 1:13, Helaman 6:4. This 3-stepped Zarahemla - wilderness - Nephi relationship was the same for people going up to Nephi Mosiah 28:9 or down to Zarahemla Helaman 4:5. Furthermore, Nephi was generally south of Zarahemla Alma 22:33.
Zarahemla Wilderness Nephi elevation relationship
Graphic by Juan Fernando Vazquez Sanchez
Puebla, Mexico September, 2011.
To test the two river systems, we first create a white background plane in Google Earth that covers our area of interest, then anchor it absolutely at 1,600 meters above sea level. We chose 1,600 meters because Kaminaljuyu near Guatemala City - the consensus candidate for the city of Nephi - sits at 1,540 meters elevation, so anything 1,600 meters or higher is definitely up from Nephi which is not what we are looking for. We superimpose this 1,600 meter plane showing higher elevations floating like islands in a white sea on top of our base map of the rivers.
White plane with elevations higher than 1,600 meters
rising above it in stark contrast. The river basins
are outlined in yellow. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva
system is in blue, the Usumacinta in red. 
It should be obvious that a trip down the Usumacinta will be down in elevation from Guatemala City, while a trip down the Mezcalapa-Grijalva will require you to go up before you can go back down. How far up? We show a typical route from Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa via Huehuetenango, and then have Google Earth calculate an elevation profile for the trip. The highest point on this particular path is over 3,000 meters. That is  more than 1,400 meters (4,590 feet) of vertical rise. 
Typical route from Kaminaljuyu (Guatemala City) to Santa Rosa
(Central Depression of Chiapas) that climbs to over 3,000 meters
at its highest elevation.
Zooming in on the elevations higher than 1,600 feet, it is clear that as you go north from Guatemala City to the Usumacinta drainage, you have an ocean of possibilities that conform precisely with The Book of Mormon text. As you go west-northwest to the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage, on the other hand, you can't get there from here. There simply is no route that doesn't explicitly contradict The Book of Mormon text.
Zoomed in view of terrain higher than 1,600 meters elevation
with the Mezcalapa-Grijalva and major tributaries in blue and
tributaries of the Usumacinta in red.
Zooming in still further, we change the land mass display to a high-resolution digital topographic map that highlights elevations with shaded relief, then overlay the typical route from Kaminaljuyu to the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin via Huehuetenango. Departing from Nephi to the Central Depression of Chiapas, you have no where to go but up, and coming into Nephi from the wilderness, down is your only option.
Zoomed-in view of the route from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango
with all land over 1,600 meters elevation shown in high resolution
topographical relief
 9. Conclusion C. In The Book of Mormon, when you go from Nephi to the wilderness to Zarahemla, you go down, then down some more. When you go from Zarahemla to the wilderness to Nephi, you go up, then up again. This pattern is well attested in the text Alma 17:8. The topography of the Usumacinta follows The Book of Mormon text precisely. The topography of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva contradicts The Book of Mormon text overtly. This is much more than a simple advantage for the Usumacinta. It's a slam dunk, a home run, a technical knock out.
9. Conclusion. If the general Guatemala City area is Nephi, as decades of scholarly consensus affirm (see the article "The Book of Mormon Map as of September, 2011" in this blog), then the Mezcalapa-Grijalva/Sidon correlation is fatally flawed. The ups and downs simply do not work. The Usumacinta, which correlates beautifully with the text, must be our river.
9. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 9.
We posited 18 questions (see the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog, and at the half-way point on our river trip, we have already declared a winner. There is much more to come, some of it quite interesting, but we will cut to the chase. Of course, the questions are rigged. They are fundamental, big picture type issues specifically designed to highlight the kind of incisive thinking and powerful modern tools that will impel progress after decades of languor. When we are finished, the score will be 18 - 0 and we will declare unequivocally that 1) Mesoamerica is The Book of Mormon's New World setting, and 2) the Usumacinta is The Book of Mormon's river Sidon. With both preliminaries finally established, the fun can really begin.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Eight

8. Question. Was the River Sidon on a linguistic/cultural boundary?

8. Answer. No, the text of the Book of Mormon indicates that by the time of Alma II and Helaman I, people on both sides of the river spoke a common language and shared a similar material culture.
8. Exhibits. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva was a major boundary between Mayan and non-Mayan speakers. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Seven" in this blog. Another view of this boundary shows the extent of Mayan language distribution. Note the isolates in the El Tajin area near Papantla in northern Veracruz.
Mayan language distribution in Mesoamerica.
The southern heart of the Usumacinta River basin is generally regarded as the original home land of the Mayan language.
Mayan language migrations out from the linguistic core.
The Usumacinta is the Mayan river par excellence. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva has been and continues to be a Zoque river at many times in many places. This is the reason the densely forested area in the Usumacinta basin of Mexico and Guatemala is often called the "Selva Maya" or "Mayan Jungle," while the Uxpanapa - Chimalapas forest that straddles Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chiapas south and west of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva River is often called the "Selva Zoque" or "Zoque Jungle."
Selva Zoque south & west of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva River.
8. Conclusion. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva does not fit this criterion. In many places it is and has been a linguistic and cultural boundary between the Mayan and Zoque worlds. The Usumacinta fits well. Advantage Usumacinta.
8. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 8.

Water Fight on the River - Round Seven

7. Question. Did the Nephites and the Lamanites speak the same language? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

7. Answer. Yes. The Nephites and the Lamanites spoke a very similar language - similar enough that they had no difficulty understanding each other.
7. Exhibits. We will start with a brief synopsis of cultures and languages according to current Mesoamerican linguistic scholarship. Note that the language spoken at Teotihuacan is still indeterminate.
Mesoamerican culture, language relationships.
Language isolates (small pockets of Oto-Manguean speakers among the Mixe-Zoque) exist as do cultural isolates (The very Mayan Cacaxtla in Tlaxcala). In general, however, current scholarship believes the Olmec spoke Mixe-Zoquean and the regional variant Chiapa de Corzo spoke the closely related Zoque, ancestor tongue of the Zoque spoken today in certain barrios in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Early proto-Mayan may have branched from Mixe-Zoquean, it may be an independent language family, or they both may have roots in a very ancient language family called Macromayan. In any event, by Nephite times (Mesoamerican pre-classic) Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean were very different languages. The following language map shows the approximate distribution of native American languages in Mesoamerica at the time of European contact. The data comes from R. Longacre Handbook of Middle American Indians, Vol. 5 Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967, updated by Lyle Campbell (1988), Nicholas Hopkins & Kathryn Josserand (2005). Note  that the Mayan/Mixe-Zoquean boundary was roughly the Mezcalapa-Grijalva river, while the Usumacinta flowed through lands that spoke almost totally Mayan.
Mesoamerican language distribution at time of European contact.
Another view of the Mayan area, also from Hopkins and Josserand. Again, note that the Usumacinta basin is almost completely Mayan-speaking while the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin is largely non-Mayan. There was a general westward expansion of the Mayan language in Book of Mormon (Mesoamerican pre-classic) and post-Book of Mormon (Mesoamerican classic) times.
Language map, Mayan area.
7. Conclusion. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva is generally recognized as a significant boundary between Mayan and non-Mayan (Mixe-Zoquean, Oto Manguean) language families. Certainly in early Book of Mormon times (prior to 400 BC), the area around Chiapa de Corzo (upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva) was Zoque both culturally and linguistically. See the article "Chiapa de Corzo: Rise of a Zoque Capital in the Heart of Mesoamerica" by BYU's Bruce Bachand in Popular Archaeology, Vol. 3, June 2011. See also the article entitled "Linguistic Littorals" in this blog. Highland Guatemala, in contrast, was very much in the Maya orbit during most of the Nephite era and certainly during the period of intense Nephite/Lamanite interaction following the reign of Mosiah II. Since the Usumacinta basin was predominantly Mayan-speaking while the Mezcalapa-Grijalva was at least on the border if not predominantly non-Mayan, the Usumacinta fits the scenario described in the Book of Mormon text better than the Mezcalapa-Grijalva. Advantage Usumacinta.
7. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 7.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Six

6. Question. What was the nature of the Land of Zarahemla - Land of Nephi relationship during the Nephite/Lamanite wars? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

6. Answer. Repeated Lamanite attacks with little or no warning on less densely-populated Nephite lands.
6. Exhibit A. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva area was relatively more densely- populated in antiquity than the Usumacinta region. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Three" in this blog. We will now compare both river basins with the highland Guatemala territory where scholarly consensus places The Book of Mormon's land of Nephi. We begin by drawing three polygons colored blue for the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin, red for the Usumacinta basin, and yellow for the contiguous land of Nephi (meaning that portion of the land of Nephi not already contained within one or the other river basin). We then overlay this colored map with EAAMS data showing known archaeological sites.
Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin in blue,
Usumacinta basin in red,
Contiguous land of Nephi in yellow.
Google Earth can calculate the area of each of the three polygons. Results: Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin 46,772 square kilometers, Usumacinta basin 97,150 square kilometers, contiguous land of Nephi 22,657 square kilometers. We then count the number of known archaeological sites within each polygon. Results: Mezcalapa-Grijalva 708, Usumacinta 577, contiguous land of Nephi 264. Dividing the number of sites by the number of square kilometers gives us the number of known archaeological sites per square kilometer in that area. Results: Mezcalapa-Grijalva .015, Usumacinta .006, contiguous land of Nephi .012.
Density of known archaeological sites per square kilometer.
6. Conclusion A. The Usumacinta River basin fits the expected pattern for this criterion. It was less densely-occupied in antiquity than highland Guatemala. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva River basin contravenes our expected results. It was more densely settled in antiquity than the highlands south of it. Advantage Usumacinta.
6. Exhibit B. Environmental conditions that would allow a Lamanite army to approach Nephite-held territory practically undetected might include:
  • Nearby jungle - dense vegetation, tall trees 
  • Storminess - precipitation, heavy cloud cover
  • High relative humidity that reduces visibility.
We established previously with NASA data that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva basin is largely unforested while the Usumacinta basin has huge areas covered with tall trees. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Five" in this blog. The Mexican Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (INEGI) publishes excellent data showing areas of dense vegetation which we overlay on top of our base map of the two river basins. Unfortunately, INEGI data stops at the Guatemala border. If it did not, you would see much more bright green in the Usumacinta region.
Mexican areas covered with dense vegetation.
Fortunately, NASA Terra/MODIS data ignores national boundaries. This is their land cover classification index that shows large sections of the Usumacinta basin covered with evergreen broadleaf forest.
Land Cover Classification.
This INEGI rainfall map of Mexico clearly shows that the middle and upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva area is drier than the Usumacinta region.
Rainfall map of Mexico.
And this map from the Guatemalan Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meterologia e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH) shows large areas along the Usumacinta that get more than 175 days of rain each year.
Guatemalan map of rain days per year.
With that many annual rain days, you can imagine what the relative humidity is like. This map, also from INSIVUMEH, shows that the annual average relative humidity in the Usumacinta River area is over 85%. By contrast, the annual average number for both Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, and Guatemala City is a more moderate 75%.
Average annual relative humidity in Guatemala.
6. Conclusion B. In each of the 3 criteria we have considered that may have allowed a Lamanite army to sneak up on the Nephites largely undetected - 1) dense vegetation, 2) storminess, and 3) relative humidity, the Usumacinta fits The Book of Mormon text better than the Mezcalapa-Grijalva. Advantage Usumacinta.
6. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 6.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Water Fight on the River - Round Five

    5. Question. What was the nature of the Land of Zarahemla - Land of Nephi relationship during the reigns of Kings Mosiah I, Benjamin, Mosiah II, Zeniff, Noah, Limhi, Lamoni, and Lamoni's father? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

    5. Answer. Travel was very difficult and unpredictable. Many journeys suffered delays or outright failure because the guides became disoriented and could not decide which way to go. Communication was almost non-existent.
    5. Exhibit A. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva was relatively more densely populated in antiquity than the Usumacinta. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Three" in this blog.

    5. Conclusion A. The more people you encounter along the way as you travel, the less likely you are to get lost. Advantage Usumacinta.
    5. Exhibit B. We established previously that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva has much swifter current than the Usumacinta because its slope gradient is five times higher. See the article "Dividing the Rivers" in this blog.

    5. Conclusion B. People traveling along a river course are less likely to get lost if the direction of flow is unambiguous. Faster current makes the direction of flow more obvious. Advantage Usumacinta.
    5. Exhibit C. Sinuosity is a measure of how straight or how crooked a river is. First, the upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva which covers 127 straight line kilometers in 178 river kilometers for a sinuosity of 1.40.
    Upper Mezcalapa - Grijalva River.
    Next, the upper Usumacinta which covers 145 straight line kilometers in 227 river kilometers for a sinuosity of 1.56.
    Upper Usumacinta River.
    The middle Mezcalapa-Grijalva covers 91 straight-line kilometers in 175 river kilometers for a sinuosity of 1.92. The meandering middle Usumacinta, on the other hand, covers 65 straight-line kilometers in 200 river kilometers for a sinuosity of 3.08.

    5. Conclusion C. The more sinuous a river, the more likely people traveling along it will get lost. Advantage Usumacinta.
    5. Exhibit D. We will bisect each river with four 60 kilometer transects set perpendicular to the direction of flow. We will then have Google Earth calculate the elevation profile for each transect and we will determine the relative elevation difference between the river and the highest point within 30 kilometers on either side. This will measure the potential lookout points guides could have used anciently to orient themselves as they traveled along the river. The example below is from the upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva. The red line is the transect. The elevation profile shows a 1,221 meter peak within 30 kilometers of the south bank of the river. It also shows the river at an elevation of 539 meters. 1,221 - 539 = 682 meters of vertical rise. This means that at this spot, there is a potential lookout point 682 meters high within 30 kilometers of the river. Keep in mind that this portion of the river was dammed in 1976 so the water level in Angostura Reservoir is higher than it would have been in Book of Mormon times.
    Elevation Profile of a 60 kilometer transect bisecting
    the upper Mezcalapa-Grijalva River.
    The 8 points, roughly equi-distant, where we will measure transects to sample the ambient elevations surrounding each river:
    8 sample points for 60 kilometer elevation transects.
    The results: Mezcalapa-Grijalva Point 1: 1,221 - 539 = 682 meters vertical rise. Point 2: 2,479 - 410 = 2,069 meters vertical rise. Point 3: 1,906 - 221 = 1,685 meters vertical rise. Point 4: 1,157 - 87 = 1,070 meters vertical rise. Average = 1,377 meters vertical rise.

    Usumacinta Point A: 418 - 102 = 316 meters vertical rise. Point B: 767 - 82 = 685 meters vertical rise. Point C: 426 - 17 = 409 meters vertical rise. Point D: 57 - 5 = 52 meters vertical rise. Average = 366 meters vertical rise.

    5. Conclusion D. The higher the surrounding mountain peaks, the easier it will be for travelers to orient themselves as they move along or near a river course. In our small sample, the mountains surrounding the Mezcalapa-Grijalva are 3.76 times higher those surrounding the Usumacinta. Advantage Usumacinta.
    5. Exhibit E. The NASA Earth Observations Terra/MODIS mission mapped the height of forest tree canopies by measuring the signal bounce differential between the tree line and the ground. We have superimposed tree canopy height data on top of our base map of the rivers. White areas are unforested. The darker the green color, the higher the forest canopy. For visual contrast, the river basin boundaries are in yellow. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva flows through country that for the most part is unforested. The Usumacinta, on the other hand, flows through many areas of tall trees in dense forests.
    NASA data showing forest canopy heights in the two river basins.
    5. Conclusion E. Travelers wandering around under tall forest canopies are much more likely to get lost than people going through more open country with fewer trees. Advantage Usumacinta.
    5. Conclusion. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva cannot be the river Sidon. All the narratives of groups getting lost coming down from Nephi or up from Zarahemla do not make sense in its ecological context. The same stories make perfect sense set in the Usumacinta drainage basin. An episode in Guatemalan history provides an apt referent. In 1695, the Governor of Guatemala, Don Jacinto de Barrios, mounted a large military expedition to engage the Lacandon Indians who had killed a number of Catholic missionaries sent to convert them. Four different armies entered the Usumacinta River basin from four different staging points. The army that came up river from Yucatan disbanded before they achieved their goal. History does not record what happened to the army that went north from Cahabon, Alta Verapaz, but they never reached their destination. The army that went down into the jungles from Huehuetenango did reach the Lacandons after 30 days of hard travel. The fourth group that left from Ocosingo (Chiapas was part of Guatemala during Spanish colonial times) got lost and wandered around for many days before they were finally discovered by members of the Huehuetenango group who had sent out search parties to rescue them. It all sounds very familiar.

    5. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 5.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Water Fight on the River - Round Four

    4. Question. What was the nature of the Mulekite - Nephite relationship prior to the mass migration under Mosiah I? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

    4. Answer. They had no relationship - zero communication for centuries.
    4. Exhibits A. We will use the ancient highland Guatemala site of Kaminaljuyu as our surrogate for the city of Nephi. Most Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholars are comfortable with this correlation (see the article "The Book of Mormon Map as of September, 2011" in this blog for an image of the current consensus map). We will use the ancient Central Depression of Chiapas site of Santa Rosa as our surrogate for the city of Zarahemla on the Mezcalapa-Grijalva. First suggested by John L. Sorenson, Santa Rosa is the most frequently cited candidate for Zarahemla in the Mezcalapa-Grijalva/Sidon correlation. The straight-line distance from Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa is 258 kilometers.
    Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa.
    So how would you have traveled from the Guatemala City area to the Central Depression of Chiapas in Book of Mormon times? You would have done it in stages, stopping at some of the many way points along the route. The toughest part would have been the climb up the Cuchumatanes Masif to Huehuetenango. Once on top, though, it would have been a straight shot down the Selegua River to the Central Depression or up to Comitan. This was a well-traveled route in antiquity.
    Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa with possible way points.
    It is also a well-traveled route today. Central America 1, the famous Pan-American Highway, runs from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango, down the Selegua, and then up to Comitan, San Cristobal de las Casas, and beyond. In the following image from Google Maps, the Pan American Highway is highlighted in red. Note the switchbacks on the climb up to Huehuetenango.
    Route of the Pan American Highway from Guatemala City to Comitan.
    Dozens of ancient villages, towns and cities dotted the hypothetical route from Kaminaljuyu to Santa Rosa shown below in red. Here we superimpose EAAMS data on top of our map to show the many sites ancient travelers would have passed along their journey.
    Known archaeological sites on a typical route from Kaminaljuyu
    to Santa Rosa along the Mezcalapa-Grijalva.
    4. Conclusion A. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva cannot be the Book of Mormon river Sidon. People in Book of Mormon times knew how to get from Kaminaljuyu to Huehuetenango. Frequent trade and communication passed along this mountain corridor. They also knew how to get from Huehuetenango to the Central Depression of Chiapas following either the Selegua or the Cuilco. Regular trade and communication passed along this river corridor. So, the likelihood of the Nephites in highland Guatemala and the Mulekites in the Central Depression of Chiapas (both numerous enough to have fought many battles, even wars with the locals Omni 1:10, Omni 1:17) co-existing for at least 350 years without knowing of each other's existence approaches zero.  
    4. Exhibits B. We will use  the unexplored middle Usumacinta site Nueva Esperanza II as our surrogate for the city of Zarahemla on the Usumacinta. First suggested by V. Garth Norman, this Google Earth view from an eye altitude of 1.35 kilometers clearly shows dozens of large mounds. See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Two" in this blog for a surface photo.
    Nueva Esperanza II, Chiapas, Mexico, just downstream
    from the town of Emiliano Zapata in Tabasco.
    The straight-line distance from Kaminaljuyu to Nueva Esperanza II is 374 kilometers.
    Kaminaljuyu to Nueva Esperanza II.
    And how would you have traveled from the Guatemala City area to the middle Usumacinta in Book of Mormon times? With a machete in hand and a dugout canoe. You would have passed through dense tropical jungle where trails disappeared from overgrowth after a big rainstorm, rivers were the principal highways, and there were many long gaps between population centers. The areas of modern-day Rabinal or Salama in Baja Verapaz and Coban in Alta Verapaz would have been likely way points. Extrapolating from known classic and post-classic Maya trade routes, one way from Kaminaljuyu to Nueva Esperanza II is shown in red below. This route goes overland from highland Guatemala to Salama, then follows the Salama River to the Chixoy which becomes the Salinas and then the Usumacinta at the confluence with the Pasion near the noted Maya site Altar de Sacrificios. Even though this route only covers 374 air kilometers, it is 933 kilometers long with all of its twists and turns.
    One of the possible travel routes from highland Guatemala
    to the middle Usumacinta.
    Even today, it is a long, arduous trek to travel by surface from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta. Modern travelers before the 1990's would typically go to Comitan first - that part was easy up the Pan- American Highway - then make their way through the Chiapas jungle (aka Selva Maya) to Ocosingo and Palenque. The following Google Maps image shows a likely route in red. Total travel distance over modern paved roads is about 650 kilometers.
    Typical modern route from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta.
    4. Conclusion B. The Usumacinta River fits this Book of Mormon criterion very well. It is difficult to travel by surface from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta even today. Until Mexico built Federal Highway 307 in the 1990's there was no direct all weather route. Along the Usumacinta one enters a whole new tropical world, vastly different from the more predictable sub-tropical Guatemala - Chiapas highlands. Trade and communication between the mountainous highlands and the middle Usumacinta lowlands did occur, but it was tough and relatively infrequent in the Nephite - Mulekite era prior to 200 BC. It is easy to envision the Nephites in their mountain citadel and the Mulekites in their coastal plain savanna completely unaware of each other for 350+ years. A famous incident from Spanish colonial history reinforces the stark difference in transport logistics between the Guatemala - Chiapas highlands and the jungle. Tenochtitlan fell to Hernan Cortes in 1521. By 1524, Pedro de Alvarado, second in command to Cortes, had conquered most of the Maya states in highland Guatemala. In 1525, Cortes and his Mexican allies were in the Guatemalan Peten on their way to subdue the rest of Central America, but Spanish influence quickly waned in that remote region. With the fall of the Kaqchikel in 1530 and the Qeqchi in 1548, the Spanish dominated all of  mountainous and coastal Guatemala as they did most of modern Chiapas. The Itza Maya, though, in the area around modern-day Flores, remained proud and independent of Spanish control until 1697. The Usumacinta River basin was simply that formidable.
    4. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 4.    

    Water Fight on the River - Round Three

    3. Question. Did the Mulekites site Zarahemla in a populated area? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

    3. Answer. No. The Book of Mormon text specifically says they established their city in a wilderness. For some perspective on the word "wilderness" in The Book of Mormon, see the article "A Note about Wilderness" in this blog.
    3. Exhibit A. We will superimpose a data set from the Earth Institute at Columbia which shows contemporary population density on top of our base map of the rivers. Certain physical geographical features (deserts, mountains, jungles, swamps, etc.) influence settlement patterns today just as they did anciently. Of course there are exceptions such as refrigeration technology opening up Arizona's Salt River Valley (the Phoenix area). But in many parts of the world (think Egypt's population focused in a narrow ribbon along the Nile) modern day population patterns approximate their ancient counterparts. Note that in the following population map, darker colors represent more people per square kilometer and the white areas have hardly any people at all.
    Contemporary population densities.
    In general, the Mezcalapa-Grijalva runs through areas of higher current population density and the Usumacinta flows through areas with lower populations.
    3. Exhibit B. Second, we will overlay our base map with EAAMS data showing known ancient archaeological sites.
    Documented ancient archaeological sites.
    Both rivers are home to many ancient sites. Counting sites within 10 kilometers of the river, the Mezcalapa-Grijalva shows 67 and the Usumactinta 55. These numbers do not include tributaries, and they would be improved considerably if we had taken the time to identify sites within time horizons. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva is slightly shorter than the Usumacinta. Calculating proximate sites per running kilometer, the Mezcalapa-Grijalva shows .115 and the Usumacinta .089. 
    3. Conclusion. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva is less likely to have run through an area The Book of Mormon would describe as "wilderness" than the Usumacinta. Advantage Usumacinta.

    3. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 3.

    Water Fight on the River - Round Two

    2. Question. Where were the Mulekites most likely to have founded their capital city? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

    2. Answer. The most likely place for the Mulekites to have founded their city was in a coastal plain, on the navigable portion of a major river, upstream from the seasonal floods in the delta but not beyond the head of navigation at the fall line.
    2. Exhibits. The lower Mezcalapa-Grijalva fits both criteria. It is in the coastal plain downstream from the fall line. We can safely rule out this portion of the river, though, because it has radically changed course so many times in the last 2,500 years (See the article "Wandering River" in this blog) and that violates another Book of Mormon textual requirement (See the article "Asking the Right Questions" question #14 in this blog). We have created a graphic that shows some of the major movements of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva since Book of Mormon times. Our sources included works from and private conversations with Tabascan scholars Maximo Carrera Sosa (Geological Engineer), Judith Guadalupe Ramos Hernandez (Hydrologist), and Augustin Somellera Pulido (Geological Engineer). Other important sources were publications by Christopher L. von Nagy including his 2003 PhD dissertation at Tulane entitled "Of Meandering Rivers and Shifting Towns: Landscape Evolution and Community within the Grijalva Delta."
    Lower Mezcalapa-Grijalva showing the eastward movement
    of the river since Jaredite-Mulekite times.

    The peripatetic nature of the lower Mezcalapa-Grijalva helps explain why in January-June, 1953, Gareth W. Lowe, Ramon PiƱa Chan, William T. Sanders and John L. Sorenson found no large pre-classic sites in the area around Huimanguillo (See the article "Book of Mormon Lands 1830 - 1985" in this blog).
    The lower Usumacinta does not fit the first criterion. The delta area is innundated much of the year and therefore ill-suited for large-scale human settlement. NASA satellite imagery graphically shows standing water in the Usumacinta flood plain.
    Satellite imagery showing standing water in Tabasco & Campeche.
    The middle Usumacinta, on the other hand, hits the bulls-eye. It fits both criteria nicely. We have superimposed EAAMS data on our map of the middle Usumacinta to show the extent of documented ancient settlement in the area.
    The middle Usumacinta with known archaeological sites,
    the most famous of which is, of course, Palenque.
    Robert Rands is one of the archaeologists who has worked in this area. He contributed two articles to the 1973 University of New Mexico publication The Classic Maya Collapse edited by T. Patrick Culbert. In Rands' article entitled "The Classic Maya Collapse: Usumacinta Zone and the Northwestern Periphery," he says that occupations in this area were most vigorous during the pre-classic (Book of Mormon times) with a partial hiatus followed by extensive occupation again in the post-classic (900 AD to European contact). In September, 2006, V. Garth Norman and I spent some time in this area. At the site of Nueva Esperanza II, we saw dozens of unexcavated mounds scattered through cattle pastures. Clearly this relatively unexplored area supported a large population in antiquity.
    Some of the dozens of mounds visible at Nueva Esperanza II downstream
    from Emiliano Zapata, Tabasco. Photo by Kirk Magleby, September 2006.
    2. Conclusion. Like San Lorenzo on the Coatzacoalcos and La Venta on the Mezcalapa-Grijalva (today the Blasillo/Tonala), the Mulekites likely sited Zarahemla in the coastal plain of a major river, upstream from the permanent flood plain but downstream from the head of navigation. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva is incompatible with this criteria during the relevant time period. The Usumacinta conforms well with this criteria.

    2. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 2.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Water Fight on the River - Round One.

    1. Question. What was the nature of the Jaredite - Mulekite relationship? Did the Mulekites settle among the Jaredites (Olmec)? Or did the Mulekites establish Zarahemla on the periphery of Jaredite culture? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

    1. Answer. The Mulekites did not establish Zarahemla among the Jaredites. They lived on the margins of and somewhat isolated from the strong influence of the Jaredite culture core.
    1. Exhibits. We created a database of 69 known Olmec sites. Our sources included works from Bruce R. Bachand, Elizabeth P. Benson, John E. Clark, Michael D. Coe, Miguel Covarrubias ("the last of the Olmecs"), Kent V. Flannery, David C. Grove, Gareth W. Lowe, Carlos Navarrete, Robert J. Sharer, and the venerable Matthew W. Stirling. We will superimpose this data on our base map of the two rivers and determine whether there is a significant difference in the amount of Olmec influence in the Mezcalapa-Grijalva and the Usumacinta River drainage basins.
    69 Olmec or Olmec-influenced Sites.
    Zoomed-in view of Olmec sites within the Mezcalapa-Grijalva
    and the Usumacinta River Basins.

    1. Conclusion. 28 of the 69 known Olmec sites in our sample were within the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage basin and some of them such as Mirador Plumajillo were very important. They include the famous La Venta that many have called the "Olmec capital." Note that the Mezcalapa-Grijalva river in book of Mormon times flowed past La Venta where the Tonala River runs today. See the article "Wandering River." Olmec sites also include Chiapa de Corzo that recent excavations directed by Bruce R. Bachand of BYU-NWAF show was a powerful Olmec - Zoque regional center in the 700 BC - 400 BC time frame. Only 4 of the 69 known Olmec sites in our sample were within the Usumacinta drainage basin, and all 4 of them were relatively minor in the Olmec world. The Usumacinta River best fits the data for this criterion.

    1. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 1.