Thursday, March 29, 2012


Based on internal models of Book of Mormon locations, people for generations have been looking at large ancient cities west of big north-flowing rivers as possible cities of Zarahemla. That is why the Benjamin Cluff expedition in 1900 left Provo, Utah, on horseback headed for the Magdalena River in Colombia. It is why M. Wells Jakeman was interested in El Cayo, Chiapas. It explains why the first NWAF expedition in 1953 spent most of their season around Huimanguillo, Tabasco. And, it is why most Book of Mormon scholars in the RLDS (now Community of Christ) tradition have liked the site of Yaxchilan, Chiapas, ever since Louis Hills first proposed it in 1917.
Huimanguillo Area, El Cayo, and Yaxchilan
The Yaxchilan/city of Zarahemla correlation has staying power for a number of reasons. It is a large, dramatic site. Visitors are impressed. The setting is spectacular in an oxbow bend of the mighty Usumacinta River that offers natural protection in an almost 360 degree arc around the site.
Yaxchilan inside a large river meander
Other significant sites are in the general vicinity. Piedras Negras, El Cayo, and Altar de Sacrificios are all along the river within 70 air kilometers of Yaxchilan.

Other important sites near Yaxchilan
Yaxchilan, as is true for all four sites shown above, was first settled in the preclassic era. See Robert J. Sharer and Loa P. Traxler, The Ancient Maya 6th Edition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006). The early classic royal dynastic line began on 23 July A.D. 359 with the accession of Yopaat Balam I to the throne. The site reached apogee in the late classic. A formal border between Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, fortified on the Yaxchilan side, has been found.
Fortified border between Piedras Negras & Yaxchilan
This border, reported by Charles Golden and Andrew Scherer, "Border Problems: Recent Archaeological Research along the Usumacinta River" in The PARI Journal, Vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 2006 has been in place since preclassic times. See the article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #15 in this blog for information about a bridge the Maya constructed across the Usumacinta that linked Yaxchilan with its eastern hinterlands.

Could Yaxchilan have been the city of Zarahemla?  No. It does not meet many Book of Mormon textual requirements. See the article entitled "Zarahemla" in this blog. The best current thinking puts Yaxchilan on the northern edge of the land of Melek. See the blog article entitled "Melek." Could Nephites have once lived at Yaxchilan?  Of course. We know that Nephites and non-Nephites lived together in other communities Alma 8:20. We also know that the Nephites perceived themselves as settlers inhabiting large extensions of territory on a continental scale Mosiah 27:6, Alma 22:29Helaman 3:8, Helaman 11:20Mormon 1:7. If our proposed correlation for the local land of Zarahemla is accurate, Mormon himself as an eleven-year-old youth Mormon 1:6 was only about 100 air kilometers from Yaxchilan in A.D. 322. 37 years later, Yaxchilan's first Maya king was crowned.