Thursday, January 29, 2015

Test #10 Crossing Sidon

Seven passages in the text use a variant of the word "cross" to describe movement over Sidon. The word "ford" is not attested. All passages are in the book of Alma and all describe large groups in a military context. See the blog article "Crossing Things." These are the movements in textual order.
  • Nephite forces under Almacrossed Sidon from east to west from Gideon into the local land of Zarahemla just north of its border with Minon Alma 2:27, Alma 2:34-35
  • Lamanite forces crossed Sidon from west to east in wilderness south of Manti Alma 16:6
  • Zoramand his Nephite forces crossed Sidon from west to east from the local land of Zarahemla into Gideon, then marched south to the wilderness south of Manti Alma 16:7
  • Lamanite forces under Zerahemnah came around the north side of hill Riplah, down a valley and crossed Sidon from east to west. Lehi2 and his men engaged the Lamanites from their rear, while across Sidon Moroniand his forces engaged them at their front. Alma 43:35, Alma 43:40
  • Lamanite forces dug in along the southwestern border of Nephite lands were afraid to cross over the head of Sidon to mount an attack on Nephihah Alma 56:25
Large rivers typically have a limited number of places where crossing is practical. This is the sense of Judges 3:28. Steep canyon walls, swift currents or lateral wetlands make crossing difficult and hazardous. Because of this, the battlefield where Zoramengaged the Lamanite invasion force returning from Ammonihah + Noah and the valley where  Lehi2 drove Zerahemnah's men into the river are almost certainly the same place. Both are described as the wilderness south of the land of Manti Alma 16:6, Alma 43:27, 32. By the same token, the place where Nephite forces under Alma2 crossed from Gideon into the local land of Zarahemla and the place where Nephite forces under Zoram2 crossed from the local land of Zarahemla into Gideon are almost certainly the same crossing.

This leaves us with only 3 actual river crossing locations.
  1. Local land of Zarahemla just north of Minon to the west, land of Gideon to the east
  2. Opposing valleys west and east of the river in wilderness south of Manti
  3. Head of Sidon
This is our correlation showing all 3 crossings as stars on the modern map.
Three River Crossing Points Described in the Text
In our age, when people want to cross a river regularly, they build a bridge. There are 11 bridges over the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta river from the head of the Chixoy to the mouth of the river at Frontera, Tabasco. The map below shows the bridges, marked with a square icon. Some archaeologists are convinced the Maya built a suspension bridge over the Usumacinta at Yaxchilan. 10 meter foundation platforms that may have supported bridge towers are still visible in the river at low water. We call this tantalizing possibility the "Ancient Yaxchilan Bridge." See point #15 in the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" for an artist's rendering of the hypothesized 7th century A.D. bridge.
1 Possible Ancient & 11 Modern Bridges over the Proposed Sidon
Zooming in, we see that a modern bridge has been constructed at each of the 3 precise locations where our model predicts a Book of Mormon river crossing.
Boca del Cerro Bridge
Boca del Cerro is on the fall line where the mountains end and the coastal plain begins.
La Union Bridge
La Union is north of Cerro Pampajche which we correlate with Hill Riplah and south of the site of Chama which we correlate with Manti.
Bridge over Chixoy Dam
Chixoy Dam is where the Chixoy - Negro, Salama, Carchela and Santa Gertrudis all come together to form the Chixoy.

These were strategic places in Book of Mormon times. They are strategic places today which is why bridges have been built there.

In addition, the text describes other river crossings whose locations we can deduce.
  • Nephite forces under Alma2 crossed Sidon from west to east from the local land of Zarahemla to Gideon to engage the Amlicites on Hill Amnihu Alma 2:16-17. This is the same crossing location as #1 in the list above.
  • Amlicite survivors of the battle on Hill Amnihu crossed Sidon from east to west from Gideon to Minon to rendezvous with their Lamanite allies Alma 2:24. This location is not far from the valley of Gideon which itself was not far from Hill Amnihu. It has to be upriver from the main drainage basin in the Valley of Gideon because the Nephite army was encamped for the night in the Valley of Gideon and their retinue would have monitored the path from the army campsite back to the local land of Zarahemla.
  • On his first missionary journey beyond the local land of Zarahemla, Alma2 crossed Sidon from west to east from the local land of Zarahemla to Gideon Alma 6:7. This is the same crossing location as #1 in the list above. Upon his return from Gideon, Alma2 crossed Sidon from east to west, again in the same location Alma 8:1
  • After Alma2 & Amulek finished their missionary work in Sidom they crossed over Sidon from east to west and resided for a time in the local land of Zarahemla Alma 15:18. We know Sidom was in the east (see the blog article "Ammonihah, Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon"). It was close to Ammonihah Alma 15:1. We know Ammonihah was east of Gideon because Nehor was passing through Gideon to return to Ammonihah to preach Alma 1:7 when he murdered Gideon in the elderly hero's eponymous city. This means it is likely the local land of Zarahemla, Gideon, Ammonihan and Sidom were at similar latitudes. And this means Alma2 & Amulek probably crossed over Sidon at the same crossing location as #1 in the list above.
  • Alma2 was journeying southward from Gideon to Manti when he met the sons of Mosiah2 returning from their 14 year mission to the Lamanites Alma 17:1. Since Alma2 had his home in the local land of Zarahemela Alma 8:1, Alma 15:18 he crossed over Sidon from west to east at the same crossing location as #1 in the list above to begin his southward journey from Gideon.  Alma2 returned to his home in the local land of Zarahemla with his old friends, the sons of Mosiah2, by crossing yet another time across Sidon from east to west Alma 27:20 at the same crossing location. It is worth noting that Zarahemla east over Sidon to Gideon and then south to Manti seems to have been a standard route at this time in Nephite affairs. Zoram2 and his men took this same route to travel from the local land of Zarahemla to Manti Alma 16:7. The fact that Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah2 met on the trail going in opposite directions shows that the Gideon to Manti route had become standardized by ca. 77 B.C.
  • Korihor traveled from the local land of Zarahemla over Sidon eastward  to Jershon Alma 30:19 which was in the NE corner of Nephite lands just south of land Bountiful Alma 27:22. This makes it likely Korihor crossed Sidon to the NE through the most capital parts of the land en route to Jershon just as Coriantumr did about 23 years later en route to the city of Bountiful Helaman 1:23.
  • The people of Ammon (Anti-Nephi-Lehi) traveled from Jershon by the east sea across Sidon from east to west into the land of Melek Alma 35:13. There was a river crossing at Melek because Alma2 went from Melek west of Sidon north across the NW flowing river to Ammonihah east of Sidon Alma 8:6.
  • The Lamanites under Zerahemnah came in a sweeping motion southward from Jershon into the wilderness south of Manti. They intended to cross over Sidon from west to east at Manti to mount a surprise attack Alma 43:24. That is why they had to cross Sidon from east to west in the wilderness south of Manti Alma 43:35
  • The 4,000 Lamanites captured by Moroniand Parhoran (Yale text orthography) NW of Nephihah were sent to live with the people of Ammon in Melek Alma 62:17. They likely crossed over Sidon from east to west at Melek.
This gives us four more crossing points to add to our list. Sidon crossing locations attested or implied in the text from north to south:
  1. NE of the city of Zarahemla toward the most capital parts of the land
  2. Local land of Zarahemla just north of Minon to the west, Gideon to the east
  3. Amlicites from Gideon west to Minon
  4. Melek
  5. Manti
  6. Opposing valleys in the wilderness south of Manti
  7. Head of Sidon
This is a map of our correlation of the 7 river crossings described in the text shown as stars.
Seven River Crossing Locations Described in the Text
We saw above that three of the proposed Book of Mormon river crossings are right where a modern bridge stands today. That pattern continues.
Chama Bridge
Our proposed Manti crossing is at Chama Bridge.
Ancient Yaxchilan Bridge
Our proposed Melek crossing is right where some archaeologists place the Ancient Yaxchilan Bridge.
Puente Usumacinta
And, finally, our proposed Northeast Zarahemla crossing is precisely where the largest bridge over the Usumacinta River stands today, the Puente Usumacinta that carries Mexican Federal Highway 186 coming from Villahermosa and going to Chetumal on the Caribbean. The ruin we correlate with the Nephite city of Bountiful, by the way, is in a suburb of Chetumal.

The only one of our Book of Mormon river crossings without an ancient or modern bridge is the point south of the Valley of Gideon where the Amlicites went over the river to join their Lamanite comrades who had come undetected up the central Sidon corridor into Minon.

See point #40 in the blog article "Test #9 River Sidon" for a description of Ron Canter's 2004 Rio Usumacinta Navigation Survey. Experienced rivermen scientists found six places along the upper Usumacinta where wear patterns from ropes on mooring stones indicated canoes tied up in that location during Maya times. On the map blow we call these six places "bollards." The survey also found six places where cross currents made for easy canoe transit back and forth across the river. On the map below we call these six places "ferries."
Bollards and Ferries along the Usumacinta from Yaxchilan to Pomona
Our proposed Amlicite crossing is precisely where the 2004 Rio Usumacinta Navigation Survey found ancient bollards and excellent crossing conditions at San Jose Usumacinta.
San Jose Usumacinta Bollards & Ferry
The survey also found many bollards and very good crossing conditions at Yaxchilan. So, all 7 of our proposed Book of Mormon river crossing points have one or more of the following validations:
  • an ancient or modern bridge
  • ancient mooring stones where canoes were tethered
  • cross currents and eddys that allowed easy paddling across the river
When Cortez came through Tabasco and the Peten in 1524 en route to Honduras, he and his large military entourage including cavalry and cannon crossed many rivers. In every case they crossed on hastily-constructed pontoon bridges. The Spaniards marveled how quickly their native allies were able to construct such bridges, and how sturdy the structures were as heavy loads passed over them. When the Spaniards conquered Guatemala, they found many rope suspension bridges in use by the indigenous peoples. When Europeans first entered the Soconusco (Pacific coast of Chiapas & western Guatemala) they found vast numbers of canoes stationed at river crossings that were available as a public utility similar to the way European cities provide fleets of bicycles for public use. So how did Nephites and Lamanites cross over Sidon? They absolutely did not wade across. The notion that Book of Mormon peoples forded the river like Mormon Handcart Pioneers crossing the Sweetwater is utter nonsense. Many smaller streams in Mesoamerica are too large for pedestrian fording, let alone the mighty Usumacinta. The Nephites and Lamanites crossed Sidon the same way the ancient Maya did and their descendants still do, in fleets of small watercraft or on bridges.

One more important point needs to enter our discussion of river crossings. There are certain places, typically inside steep canyons, where river crossings are rarely attempted. The terrain is simply too rough. Here is a map showing seven reaches of the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta where crossings are unlikely.
Seven Canyons on the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta
The 2004 Rio Usumacinta Navigation Survey found no evidence of ancient boat harboring along these difficult sections of the river. They did find one mooring stone that would have served to warp boats (pull them upstream with a rope tied to a stationary object) up Chicozapote Falls. None of our proposed Book of Mormon crossing locations fall within these problematic reaches of the river.

From the text we identified 7 unique places where Nephites and Lamanites crossed Sidon. We then compared these 7 points with the locations of 1 ancient and 11 modern bridges, 6 places with ancient canoe mooring stones, and 6 places where currents and eddies favor river crossings. We then compared our 7 Book of Mormon locations with 7 canyons where river crossings would be difficult and hazardous. We found 100% correspondence between proposed Book of Mormon locations and known likely locations for river crossings. We found zero correspondence between proposed Book of Mormon river crossings and difficult canyon terrain. We submit that any viable Book of Mormon map should show a similarly high degree of fit to the text with compelling external validation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Test #9 River Sidon

Compiling everything we have learned about river Sidon from the text and from the geomorphology of earth's rivers, we believe the quintessential Nephite river will demonstrate the following 44 characteristics identified as 1 to 44 below with aqua shading.

River Sidon is the only New World river mentioned by name in the text. Nephites in the land southward ranged hemispherically, from sea to sea Alma 22:27. From this we infer that river Sidon is the dominant stream in the land southward 1.

Book of Mormon lands in the New World are described as well-watered Mosiah 8:8, Mosiah 23:4, Alma 50:29Helaman 3:4, 3 Nephi 9:7, 4 Nephi 1:9Mormon 6:4, Ether 15:8 with verdant forests 1 Nephi 18:25, Enos 1:3, Ether 10:19 supporting a significant lumber industry Alma 50:2, Helaman 3:10, abundant wildlife 1 Nephi 18:25, 2 Nephi 5:24, Alma 2:37, Ether 10:21 and large human populations 1 Nephi 12:1, Alma 2:27, Mosiah 8:8Mormon 1:7, Ether 10:21. Drought was unusual and catastrophic Helaman 11:6Ether 9:30. Both cases of drought mentioned in the text were caused not by normal weather patterns, but by divine intervention Helaman 11:4-6, Ether 9:28-30. Tracks left by a large group of travelers disappeared (probably from heavy rain) after only two days Mosiah 22:16. From this we conclude the river did not flow through a desert or semi-arid region. Average annual precipitation in the river Sidon drainage basin is equal to or greater than the planet-wide mean 2.

The text of the Book of Mormon that fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph was Early Modern English (see the blog article "Early Modern English"). In England in the 1500's the term "river" referred to a watercourse large enough to have a Strahler Stream Order number of 5 or higher (see the blog articles "Strahler Stream Order" and "OED on Rivers"). Based on this lexical evidence, river Sidon has a Strahler Stream Order number of 5 or higher 3.

River Sidon flows generally from south to north 4 (See the blog aritcle "River Sidon South to North").

We have estimated the straight-line (air) distance between the city of Nephi and the local land of Zarahemla at 320 kilometers (see the blog article "Land Southward Travel Times"). Land Bountiful was north of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 22:29. Land Bountiful was a coastal entity Alma 22:32-33, Alma 27:22Alma 63:5. The east-west narrow strip of wilderness separated the greater land of Nephi on the south from the greater land of Zarahemla on the north Alma 22:27. The head of Sidon was in this narrow strip of wilderness Alma 22:27-29. This means the head of Sidon was between the city of Nephi and the local land of Zarahemla. See the blog article "The Narrow Strip of Wilderness." This means the air distance from the head of Sidon to its mouth at the seacoast is probably not less than 160 kilometers (320/2) or greater than 640 kilometers (320x2) 5.

There is a documented relationship between Strahler Stream Order number and river length (See the blog article "Strahler Stream Order"). Based on reasonable distances for the total extension of Nephite lands, we would expect the Sidon to be either a 7th or an 8th order stream 6. As a 7th or 8th order stream, global averages imply the length from source to mouth will probably exceed 150 kilometers but be less than 1,200 kilometers 7.

There is a documented relationship between Strahler Stream Order number and river width (See the  blog article "Strahler Stream Order"). Based on many examples known to science, as a 7th or 8th order stream, we would expect the Sidon near its mouth to have a width in excess of 50 meters but less than 1,000 meters 8.

River Sidon in the text is a unitary stream. Neither tributaries nor distributaries are mentioned. There are no branches or forks. This implies Sidon from head to mouth flows generally in one principal direction (See the section "Directionality" in the blog article "OED on Rivers") 9.

The head of a river in Early Modern English referred to the confluence of two or more smaller streams coming together to form the larger river. See the article "Head of a River" in the blog article "OED on Rivers"). The text supports this correlation. Alma 56:25 says you cross one of the tributaries comprising the head of Sidon just as you cross river Sidon itself Alma 2:34-35, Alma 16:6-7, Alma 43:35. So, the head of Sidon is the confluence of two or more tributary streams 10.

The Book of Mormon describes several groups getting lost attempting to travel either northbound or southbound in the central Sidon corridor during the 80 year period from ca. 200 B.C. to ca. 121 B.C.:
  • Ammon1 and 15 other strong men Mosiah 7:4 dispatched from the local land of Zarahemla by King Mosiahto find the Zeniff colony who had been incommunicado in the greater land of Nephi for two generations.
  • The 43 members of King Limhi's exploring party Mosiah 8:8, Mosiah 21:25.
  • Zeniff and those who went with him from the local land of Zarahemla up to the greater land of Nephi Mosiah 9:4.
  • The Lamanite army sent to pursue King Limhi and his people Mosiah 22:16, Mosiah 23:20.
  • The Priests of King Noah led by Amulon Mosiah 23:35.
Traveler disorientation implies river Sidon and its drainage basin ca. 200 B.C. had:
  • a high sinuosity index [1.5 or greater] (see the blog article "Sinuosity Index") 11.
  • relatively gentle slope gradients (see the blog article "Sinuosity Index") 12.
  • dense vegetation lining its banks (see the blog article "Sinuosity Index") 13.
  • large tributaries which made the main stem aka main head-stream difficult to identify (see the blog article "Main Stem") 14.
  • reaches with relatively low population densities 15.
  • reaches without high mountains nearby to serve as orientation landmarks 16.
  • reaches with high forest canopies overhead which obstructed long-range sight lines 17.
The Mulekites, ca. 600 B.C., may have had Phoenician help to sail through the Mediterranean, past the Straits of Gibraltar, and make landfall in the New World. See John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book & Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013) p.33. We know that ca. 600 B.C. the Phoenicians and the Greeks were actively establishing dozens of trading colonies along the coasts of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas. See the blog article "French Connection." There was a pattern to their settlements. All had easy access to the sea and were located near good harbors or in the coastal plains/deltas of major rivers. We expect the city of Zarahemla, founded by seafarers on the west bank of the Sidon Alma 2:34, to follow this same pattern 18.

Settlement in the ancient world followed the rivers. This was as true in the New World as it was in the Old. See the blog article "French Connection." The Mulekites who inhabited Zarahemla in relative isolation for approximately 400 years did not venture far from their original homeland Omni 1:16. After Mosiahjoined them ca. 200 B.C., the combined Nephite/Mulekite polity began a process of rapid geographic expansion. By ca. 72 B.C. the Nephite nation reached the east sea Alma 50:13 and six years later significant settlement on the west sea is attested in the text Alma 52:11. This means that in about 135 years the Nephite nation went from a relatively compact geo-political entity in the central Sidon corridor to a far-flung commonwealth projecting power and exercising influence in pockets of settlement from coast to coast. Like ancient civilizations generally, Nephite expansion followed the rivers. Nephite settlement patterns between ca. 200 B.C. and 66 B.C. will show chronological consistency with the lay of the land and river channels in the greater land of Zarahemla 19. In other words, the geographic expansion of the Nephite nation will be orderly and logical radiating out along the rivers from its culture core in the local land of Zarahema. See the blog articles "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" and "Sidon East then West" for more context.

The major stream I know best is the Green River flowing from the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming to join the Colorado in Canyonlands National Park. 1,170 kilometers long, it is the major tributary of and only slightly smaller than the Colorado at their confluence. Average annual streamflow in the Green is 173 cubic meters/second. I have floated and paddled the Green River on multiple occasions. Would the streamflow in the Green River be adequate to carry thousands of dead Nephite and Lamanite bodies hundreds of kilometers to the sea? Yes and No. At high water in May and June when the raging river is discharging 500+ cubic meters per second the answer would be definitely yes. At low water in August and September when the placid river is barely discharging 75 cubic meters per second the answer would be probably not. Many of the corpses would end up stuck in shallows and on sand bars. Based on this experience, we would expect the Sidon south of Manti to have an average annual streamflow in excess of 250 cubic meters/second 20. See the blog article "Streamflow" for background.

Ca. 87 B.C. the local land of Zarahemla was located on the west bank of river Sidon Alma 2:34. Ca. A.D. 34 the city of Zarahemla burned 3 Nephi 9:3. Ca. A.D. 36 the city of Zarahemla was rebuilt at its original location 4 Nephi 1:7-8. Ca. A.D. 322 the local land of Zarahemla was still located riverside along the Sidon Mormon 1:6-10. After the destruction at the time of Christ, many Nephite cities were rebuilt in their original locations 4 Nephi 1:7. This means river Sidon did not change course during Book of Mormon times 21.

The Jaredite/Olmec correlation, first proposed in the 1930's by M. Wells Jakeman and Thomas Stuart Ferguson while they were students at UC Berkeley, remains viable. Knowledge about the Olmec, epi-Olmec and Zoque has increased exponentially in the ensuing decades, but the idea that the Jaredites and Olmec were generally coterminous maintains currency among LDS Mesoamericanists. Textual evidence suggests Mulekite Zarahemla was marginal to and isolated from formal Jaredite influence. See question #1 in the blog article "Asking the Right Questions." We would expect to find the local land of Zarahemla in the central Sidon corridor remote from the Olmec culture core in a region with relatively few Olmec-influenced sites 22.

The Nephite east coast was anchored by the city of Moroni on the south Alma 50:13 and the city of Bountiful on the north Alma 51:32. In between were Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek Alma 51:26. (Note that 'Nephihah' in the 1981 & 2013 LDS editions of Alma 51:26 is an error. The 2009 Yale University Press edition correctly emends this term to read 'Moroni'.)  The narrative in Alma 52:17-40 shows that the cities of Mulek and Bountiful were within a long day's march of each other. Jershon was also in the east by the seacoast, south of land Bountiful Alma 27:22. South of Jershon, slightly inland, was Antionum settled by Zoramites Alma 31:3. And what were all these seaboard polities east of? Alma 31:3 states clearly they were east of the local land of Zarahemla in the central Sidon corridor. So, when we read in Helaman 1:24-27 that the local land of Zarahemla was in the center of Nephite lands (Helaman 1:18 says 'heart') we can be confident river Sidon was roughly equi-distant from the Nephite east and west seacoasts 23.

The text explicitly says the Mulekites founded their capital city in a wilderness Mosiah 25:2, Alma 22:31. The local land of Zarahemla west of Sidon and adjacent territories in the central Sidon corridor had wilderness characteristics ca. 600 B.C. 24.

The local lands of Nephi on the south and Zarahemla on the north had no communication for approximately 400 years Omni 1:14-18 despite significant Nephite territorial expansion Jarom 1:6-8. Large tracts of wilderness separated the two populated areas Omni 1:12-13. The first group to successfully travel from Nephi down to Zarahemla enjoyed divine help Omni 1:13. Going from the local land of Nephi through the narrow strip of wilderness at the head of Sidon and then down the Sidon to the local land of Zarahemla presented such formidable barriers to travel 25 in the ca. 600 - 200 B.C. time frame that two large groups of people Jarom 1:8Omni 1:17, only about 320 air kilometers distant, were ignorant of each other's existence for nearly four centuries. 320 air kilometers is about the distance from Bodrum, Turkey (birthplace of Herodotus) to Athens, Greece. Writing his famous Histories ca. 450 B.C., Herodotus had considerable knowledge of the entire Mediterranean and Black Sea basins from the Caspian Sea on the east to the Straits of Gibraltar on the west, a distance of about 5,000 air kilometers. The fact that the Nephites and Mulekites remained oblivious to each other for so long implies extraordinarily difficult terrain between them.

Omni 1:13 implies the entire area from highland Nephi on the south to lowland Zarahemla on the north ca. 200 B.C. was a long stretch of wilderness. As the Nephite nation grew over the ensuing decades, settlements were founded along the central Sidon corridor, but significant pockets of wilderness remained. The wilderness of Hermounts (see the blog article "Hermounts") was immediately northwest of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 2:37. Melek, west of Sidon upstream from Zarahemla (see the blog article "Melek") had wilderness to its west Alma 8:3, 5. Manti, southernmost Nephite settlement in the central Sidon corridor (see the blog article "Manti") had a wilderness side Alma 58:13 as well as a south wilderness Alma 16:6-7. Travel through the central Sidon corridor ca. 90 B.C. involved a great deal of wilderness Alma 17:7-9. All Nephite settlements along the Sidon had adjacent wilderness 26. Some of that wilderness will be discernible today using satellite imagery and remote sensing techniques.

Nephites are always described in the text as less numerous than their ubiquitous Lamanite brethren Jarom 1:6, Mosiah 25:3. Alma 43:13-14 says even the former Nephite dissenters (Amlicites, Zoramites, Amulonites) had nearly as many people as the Nephites themselves, before adding in the vast populations of Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites. Note that Alma 43:13-14 in the Yale edition of the text changes 'Amalekites' to 'Amlicites' and 'descendants' to 'dissenters'. The theme of Nephite demographic inferiority continues in Helaman 4:19 and 25. Based on this disparity, we would expect the Lamanite culture core in the local land of Nephi and environs to be more densely populated anciently than the Nephite culture core in the local land of Zarahemla 27 along the Sidon.

Textual evidence suggests the Nephites and Lamanites, geographically proximate for nearly 400 years, spoke the same language. See point #7 in the the blog article "Asking the Right Questions." We would expect the Nephite culture core in the central Sidon corridor and the Lamanite culture core in highland Nephi to share a common ancestral language 28.

River Sidon during Nephite times was neither a cultural nor linguistic boundary. See point #8 in the blog article "Asking the Right Questions" and the article "Linguistic Littorals." We would expect a common language and similar material culture on both sides of the river 29.

Somewhere between Nephi on the South and Zarahemla on the north an east-west narrow strip of wilderness ran from sea to sea Alma 22:27. This means the strip is roughly perpendicular to the north-flowing Sidon 30.

The head of river Sidon is in or adjacent to this east-west narrow strip of wilderness Alma 22:27 31.

From the local land of Nephi one went down in elevation to wilderness separating Nephi from Zarahemla Words of Mormon 1:13Mosiah 7:4, Alma 47:1Alma 56:3. One then went over an intermediate barrier, likely a mountainous area in the vicinity of the narrow strip of wilderness Alma 25:2, Alma 27:14, Alma 47:29. Then one continued to go down in elevation to the local land of Zarahemla Omni 1:13Omni 1:27-28, Mosiah 7:1-3. On the route Nephi/Zarahemla there was only one point higher in elevation than the local land of Nephi itself - the hill north of Shilom Mosiah 7:5-6. So, the topographical pattern we would expect from Nephi northward to Zarahemla on the river is:
  • From Nephi down in elevation to wilderness 32
  • Passing a hill more elevated than Nephi itself 33
  • Over an intermediate mountainous region 34
  • Then down in elevation from wilderness to Zarahemla 35
  • With no point on the journey higher in elevation than Nephi 36 Alma 27:5-9, Alma 63:15, Helaman 1:15-17, Helaman 6:4.
Most mass migrations are explained by only a handful of factors: escape from violence, economic opportunity, forced re-settlement, lineage ties, climate, etc. Mosiahled the Nephites from Nephi to Zarahemla ca. 200 B.C. to escape Lamanite predations Omni 1:10-13. But what explains the irrational and ill-fated reverse migration of Zeniff and his colony from Zarahemela back to Nephi? By process of elimination based on close reading of the text, climate is the likely reason many Nephites put themselves in harm's way by returning to Nephi soon after they had escaped to safety in Zarahemla. See point #12 in the blog article "Asking the Right Questions," the blog article "Water Fight on the River - Round Twelve" and point #12 in the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation." We would expect the local land of Zarahemla on the Sidon to have a very different climate than the local land of Nephi in the highlands 37, and we would further expect most people to deem Zarahemla's climate inferior. There is one more indication in the text that climate was the major attraction for the people who followed headstrong Zeniff. When Limhi and his people returned to Zarahemla ca. 121 B.C, Mosiah 22:13 where did middle-aged Alma 1:9 Gideon go to found his settlement? He went to Gideon Alma 2:20, Alma 6:7 which was in a valley higher in elevation than Zarahemla Alma 62:6-7. And what was proximate to the valley of Gideon? The highlands of hill Amnihu Alma 2:15-20.

The text explicitly describes nine entities riverside to Sidon.
  • Hill Amnihu was east Alma 2:15-17
  • The Local Land of Zarahemla was west Alma 2:15
  • The battlefield where Almaslew Amlici was west Alma 2:34
  • The valley of Gideon was east Alma 6:7
  • The land of Melek was west Alma 8:3
  • The south wilderness where Zoramintercepted a Lamanite army was east Alma 16:6-7 
  • The land of Manti was east Alma 16:7
  • The valley south of Manti where Moronidefeated Zerahemnah was west Alma 43:27
  • The valley south of Manti where Lehifought Zerahemnah was east Alma 49:16
Deductive reasoning shows the land of Minon west of Sidon, south of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 2:24. In addition, since Sidon flowed northward and the wilderness of Hermounts was north and west of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 2:37, Hermounts was west of Sidon downstream from Zarahemla. Land Bountiful with exposure to both the east Alma 27:22 and west seas Alma 22:33 was north of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 22:29. This means Sidon flowed through Bountiful to reach the sea. We would expect these twelve entities to all adjoin Sidon 38.

From ca. 200 B.C. to ca. 72 B.C. the Nephite nation had a decidedly eastward orientation. As they grew, Nephites finally reached the northern part of their eastern seaboard ca. 77 B.C. Alma 27:22 and the southern portion ca.  72 B.C. Alma 50:13. See the blog articles "Expansion of the Nephite Nation," "Sidon East then West" and "Ammonihah Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon." Since ancient settlement patterns generally followed rivers, we would expect the Sidon to have large eastern tributaries 39 extending the drainage basin significantly toward the east sea.

People cross the Sidon frequently in the Book of Mormon, individually Alma 6:7 and in large groups Alma 16:7. The text deals with the river matter-of-factly, never describing treacherous waters or required detours. This implies a fordable stream with multiple ferry points, manageable currents and runnable rapids 40. See point #16 in the blog article "Asking the Right Questions," the article "Observations from a River Runner," point #16 in the article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" and the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Sixteen."

Limhi's exploring party traveled from the city of Nephi to hill Ramah-Cumorah and back to Nephi, erroneously thinking they had found the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 8:8-9Mosiah 21:25, Ether 1:2. A line plotted from Nephi to Ramah-Cumorah will not intersect the Sidon 41 or Limhi's explorers traveling that route would have found Zarahemla.

Sidon flowed northward (see point #4 above) in the approximate center of Nephite lands (see point #23 above). The land of Gideon was east of Zarahemla on the river Alma 6:7. Hill Amnihu was also east of the river Alma 2:15 near the valley of Gideon Alma 2:20. The locus of Amlici's power base was Ammonihah (see the blog article "Ammonihah, Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon"). The Amlicites attacked the Nephites from the east Alma 2:17 which is one of the ways we know Ammonihah was east of Sidon, at about the same latitude as the local land of Zarahemla and Gideon. Land Bountiful on the coast lay to the north of the local land of Zarahemla Alma 22:29, Helaman 1:23. Jershon was on the east coast just south of Bountiful Alma 27:22 so Jershon also must have been at roughly the same latitude as the local land of Zarahemla, Gideon and Ammonihah. Based on founding dates for the churches in Jershon Alma 28:1 and Sidom Alma 15:13 there is reason to believe Sidom lay between Ammonihah to its west and Jershon to its east. The Nephite nation was explicitly expanding eastward at this point in its history Alma 22:29. We know from historical precedent that a city state large enough to be called a "land" in Nephite affairs was probably not smaller than 100 square kilometers (about 10 kilometers on a side) and more likely to be 1,000 square kilometers (about 30 kilometers on a side). See the blog article "Test #7 Land Areas." On the other hand, a land larger than 20,000 square kilometers (about 140 kilometers on a side) is out of the question. Many Nephite lands were settled amid wilderness Alma 28:1. So, taking all of the forgoing into account, a reasonable distance from the Sidon at the latitude of Zarahemla and Gideon to the sea east would be on the order of 100 to 400 air kilometers 42. This means Sidon did not empty into the sea east 43.

We know from the route Limhi's explorers took (see the blog article "Test #8 Limhi Expedition") that the local land of Zarahemla was in the coastal plain much closer to the mouth than to the head of Sidon 44. Several other lines of reasoning (such as Moronihah's point of departure when he recaptured the northern half of Nephite lands Helaman 4:6-10) support this location.

Only one stream on the planet meets all 44 criteria - the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta that begins at the confluence of the Salama, Carchela and Santa Gertrudis with the Chixoy Negro main head stream. This is the point where the Guatemalan departments Alta Verapaz, Baja Vereapaz and Quiche meet. It is the point geographers and limnologists identify as the head of the Chixoy which becomes the Salinas at the Mexican border and then the Usumacinta at the Pasion confluence. It is the location of the modern Chixoy Dam, the largest hydroelectric facility in Guatemala which provides 15% of the nation's electricity. It lies on the Polochic fault, aka Cuilco-Chixoy-Polochic fault, the intersection of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates whose line of cliffs we correlate with the narrow strip of wilderness (see the blog article "The Narrow Strip of Wilderness"). At the head of Sidon, the Chixoy Negro is a 5th order stream in the Strahler classification system (See the blog article "Strahler Stream Order"). At its mouth at Frontera, Tabasco the Usumacinta is a 7th order stream.
The Usumacinta, Only River on Earth that
Meets all 44 Criteria for Sidon  
1. We define the Nephite & Lamanite land southward as that area between the northerly Coatzacoalcos and the southerly Ulua. Whether measured by basin area, branch complexity or flow volume, the Usumacinta is the uncontested dominant stream in this part of the world.
Proposed Land Southward Between the
Coatzacoalcos & the Ulua
Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. Global mean annual precipitation on land is 715 millimeters. Oceans in general receive more rainfall than land surfaces. This map shows mean annual precipitation over a ten year period as measured by NASA satellites. The Usumacinta River basin is outlined in white.
Average Annual Rainfall in the Usumacinta Basin
The dark brown areas receive between 500 and 1,000 millimeters of rainfall annually. Only a tiny fraction of the 95,848 square kilometers of surface area in the Usumacinta River drainage basin are colored dark brown. Most of the basin is yellow, receiving between 1,000 and 2,000 millimeters of rainfall annually.The blue areas have mean annual precipitation in excess of 2,000 millimeters. Criterion 2 satisfied.

3, 6CONAGUA, the Mexican National Water Commission, classifies the Usumacinta as a 7th order stream in the Strahler numbering system. Five other Mexican rivers are also 7th order streams. No river in Mexico has a higher number. Criteria 3 & 6 satisfied.

4, 9. Our proposed river Sidon flows on a heading of 328 degrees where 315 is NW and 360 is true north. Despite high sinuosity, the river flows in one principal direction.
Sidon Candidate Flowing N of NW
Criteria 4 & 9 satisfied.

5. The distance from our proposed head of Sidon to its mouth is 437 air kilometers. See the map above. Criterion 5 satisfied.

7. River length from the source of the Usumacinta about 5 kilometers SW of Huehuetenango to its mouth is 1,111 kilometers.
Usumacinta Source to Mouth
Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. Just upstream from its first distributary, the Usumacinta is 278 meters wide.
Usumacinta at the Palizada Effluence
Criterion 8 satisfied.

10. Our head of Sidon is the confluence of 4 streams that come together in a 1 kilometer reach of the main stem to form the Chixoy.
Salama, Carchela and Santa Gertrudis all Flowing into the
Main Stem Chixoy-Negro to Form the Chixoy
Criterion 10 satisfied.

11. From source to mouth the Usumacinta is highly sinuous. Sinuosity indices flowing downstream are 1.52 Chixoy-Negro, 2.58 Chixoy, 2.48 Salinas, 1.55 upper Usumacinta, 3.08 middle Usumacinta, and 1.39 lower Usumacinta.
Usumacinta with Sinuosity Indices
Critereion 11 satisfied.

12. The Chixoy-Negro has a steep stream gradient of 8.07 meters/kilometer. The Chixoy from its head to the Sachichaj confluence (the area we correlate with Manti) has a relatively steep stream gradient of 5.77 meters/kilometer. The Chixoy downstream from the Sachichaj confluence has a gentle stream gradient of .94 meters/kilometer. The Salinas has a very gentle stream gradient of .14 meters/kilometer. The upper Usumacinta from its head at the Pasion confluence to Boca del Cerro has a gentle stream gradient of .41 meters/kilometer. The middle Usumacinta from Boca del Cerro to Teclopan has an extremely gentle stream gradient of .07 meters/kilometer. The lower Usumacinta from Teclopan to its mouth at Frontera has an almost imperceptible stream gradient of .02 meters/kilometer.
Usumacinta with Stream Gradients in Meters/Kilometer
Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Both Mexico and Guatemala have suffered a great deal of deforestation in recent decades as small landholders have cleared agricultural plots. Nevertheless, even today it is clear from this NASA land cover imagery that the banks of the Usumacinta are covered with dense vegetation throughout much of its length.
Satellite Imagery Showing Dense Vegetation in Green
Criterion 13 satisfied.

14. The upper Usumacinta/Salinas/Chixoy area presents a veritable crazy quilt of large tributaries that could easily confuse an inexperienced traveler trying to follow the main stem of the river.
Upper Usumacinta/Salinas/Chixoy with Tributaries
Criterion 14 satisfied.

15. A good proxy for contemporary population density is the amount of light emitted into space from a given land surface. A reasonable proxy for ancient population density is the number of known archaeological sites in a given area. NASA's Earth Lights at Night imagery shows relatively low population densities along the Usumacinta channel.
Proposed Sidon Flowing through Relatively Unpopulated Lands
Overlaying data from the Electronic Atlas of Ancient Maya Sites (EAAMS) shows that many reaches of the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta have few known archaeological sites in close proximity.
Ancient Archaeological Sites Known to Science 
Criterion 15 satisfied.

16. We set a low opacity white plane at an elevation of 500 meters so peaks higher than that threshold show through in natural color. As this map makes clear, nearby mountains high enough for travel orientation do not exist along most of the course of the Usumacinta.
500 Meter Terrain Plain Overlay in White
Criterion 16 satisfied.

17. This image shows the Usumacinta overlaid with forest canopy heights derived from NASA satellite data. The white areas are unforested. The green areas have a tree canopy overhead. In this image, the darker the green the higher the trees.
Forest Canopy Height from NASA GLAS
Geoscience Laser Altimeter System
The Chixoy, Salinas and Upper Usumacinta have high tree canopies over most of their length. Criterion 17 satisfied.

18. This is a plausible scenario for the Mulekites, perhaps escorted by Phoenician seamen:
  • Made landfall at the mouth of the Papaloapan which we correlate with the waters of Ripliancum Ether 15:8. The Papaloapan is the largest river by streamflow in our land northward. Alma 22:30 explicitly puts the Mulekite landfall near Ramah-Cumorah.
  • Coasted southward checking out in turn the Coatzacoalcos and the Mezcalapa-Grijalva. Keep in mind that ca. 586 B.C. the Mezcalapa-Grijalva ran where the Tonala flows today. See the blog article "Wandering River." This means the Olmec site of La Venta, still thriving when the Mulekites arrived, was upstream on the big river.
  • Decided the Olmec heartland was too heavily populated for their purposes. We draw this inference from the fact that they finally settled in a wilderness Mosiah 25:2, Alma 22:31.
  • Continued coasting eastward until they came to the largest river yet, the Usumacinta, which they found sparsely populated. Sailed up the Usumacinta and settled on the first high ground they came to. This put them downstream from the fall line (head of navigation) at Boca del Cerro, but upstream from the vast floodplain in the delta.
Proposed Mulek Voyage in White
 If this really is where the Mulekites founded their capital proximate to the coast on a large navigable river, they were following Greek & Phoenician settlement patterns well-established in the Mediterranean world ca. 600 B.C. Criterion 18 satisfied.

19. Ca. 121 B.C. when Limhi and Almajoined Mosiahin Zarahemla, the only political entity attested in the text in the greater land of Zarahemla (land north of the east-west narrow strip of wilderness) was the local land of Zarahemla itself. Words of Mormon 1:14 tells us other lands had been settled but does not mention names. We know one of the seven churches Mosiah 25:23 Almafounded in the greater land of Zarahemla was in Gideon because Alma2 on his first visit ca. 83 B.C. worked with a pre-existing organization Alma 6:8. Almataught and baptized converts into an existing church in Melek ca. 82 B.C. Alma 8:4-5 rather than found a church as he did the following year in Sidom Alma 15:13. When he got to Ammonihah ca. 82 B.C. Almafound the tattered remains of a previously-established church Alma 8:11-12, Alma 8:23-24, Alma 13:20, Alma 14:8. Aaron also may have had a previously-established church since it was on Alma2's visit list Alma 8:13 even though it was many days' journey from Ammonihah Alma 8:26. So, the Nephite polities that existed prior to the deaths of Almaand Mosiahca. 91 B.C. Mosiah 29:45-46 included Gideon, Ammonihah, Melek, probably Aaron and almost certainly Minon because of its proximity to both the local land of Zarahemla and Gideon. Another candidate would be Noah south of Ammonihah on the return route to Nephi Alma 16:3. We would expect these entities to be relatively close to the Nephite culture core in the central Sidon corridor along either the big river itself or major tributaries. Historical precedent from antiquity would lead us to expect important settlements at the confluence of large rivers. In fact, this logical settlement pattern is precisely what our correlation shows.
Early Nephite Settlements
Zarahemla, Gideon, Minon and Melek adjoined the river. Gideon was at the confluence of the eastern San Pedro with the Usumacinta. Melek was at the confluence of the western Lacantun with the Usumacinta. Noah was near the confluence of the eastern Pasion with the Usumacinta. Ammonihah was upriver on the San Pedro, Aaron upriver on the Pasion. The entire commonwealth fit within a circle 280 kilometers in diameter (about the size of modern West Virginia) and more than 80% of that surface area was still wilderness. But, the Nephites were just getting started.

The highly-polemicized text in Alma 22:27-34 describes the Lamanite and Nephite geo-political situation as it stood ca. 90 B.C. By this time, the Lamanite empire in the greater land of Nephi south of the narrow strip of wilderness extended from sea east to sea west Alma 22:27. The Nephites had begun a significant expansion eastward from their culture core but had not yet reached the east sea Alma 22:29. The Nephites had established Manti on their southern border just north of the head of Sidon in the narrow strip of wilderness Alma 22:27. The Nephites were trying to exert control over the entire central Sidon corridor from Manti on the south to land Bountiful on the north. Their hegemony extended northward from the head of the river to the Bountiful/Zarahemla line. Alma 22:29. Land Bountiful was the northernmost entity in the land southward. Northward of Bountiful lay land Desolation which was in the land northward Alma 22:30. The Bountiful/Desolation line was also the land southward/land northward line Alma 22:31. In addition to its extent north of Zarahemla in the central Sidon corridor, land Bountiful also extended along the Desolation border to the west sea where the two lands shared a common east-west boundary with Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north Alma 22:32. This east-west Bountiful/Desolation line was only about 23 kilometers wide (see the blog article "Land Southward Travel Times"). This east-west Bountiful/ Desolation line was at a strategic place where the Nephite nation maintained a military garrison on the Bountiful (southern) side to prevent Lamanite incursion into the land northward along the preferred coastal route. Alma 22:33. The Nephites feared being surrounded by hostile Lamanites and reserved the land northward as a potential escape route in the event of overwhelming military pressure coming up from the south Alma 22:34.

Ca. 90 B.C. Nephite settlement attested and implied in the text had expanded southward along the Sidon and was pushing eastward. In our view, the eastward expansion followed the two major eastern tributaries of the Usumacinta, the San Pedro on the north and the Pasion on the south.The west coast defensive outpost was a frontier military operation.
Nephite Settlements ca. 90 B.C.
The next 2 decades saw the Nephite nation grow rapidly. The Nephites did not control all their territory the way a modern state exercises exclusive sovereignty within its borders. The Nephites were a string of semi-autonomous riverside city states interspersed among Lamanites and wilderness enclaves. The Nephites were bound together by political and trade ties with heavy religious overtones Alma 8:11-12. Given the decentralized nature of the Nephite political structure Mosiah 29:29 sedition was a constant threat Alma 8:17, Alma 43:4. In the end the organization was so unstable and out manned Alma 43:14 (the Yale text changes 'descendants' to 'dissidents') that by ca. 35 B.C. the Nephites had been driven out of the entire greater land of Zarahemla (the land north of the narrow strip of wilderness and south of Bountiful) Helaman 4:5-6. Before that debacle, though, they had some very good years and ca. 71 B.C. was the high water mark of pre-advent Nephite civilization Alma 50:23.

Ca. 81 B.C. the land of Sidom is attested in the text in the general vicinity of Ammonihah Alma 15:1. We know that Sidom was relatively newly-settled at the time because Almafounded a church there Alma 15:13. Four years later, ca. 77 B.C., the land of Jershon is attested. Jershon by the east sea was the first Nephite land explicitly outside the Sidon drainage basin.
Sidom & Jershon ca. 77 B.C.
We believe Sidom was upstream on the San Pedro from Ammonihah, and Jershon was over the Maya Mountains on the Rio Hondo - Azul in modern Belize. The headwaters of the Hondo - Azul, its tributary the Bravo, and the San Pedro all rise within 20 kilometers of each other near Tikal. If this correlation is correct, the Nephites followed the rivers from their culture core in the local land of Zarahemla to the east sea. It is worth noting we don't believe Nephites were a major influence in the lowland Maya culture core extending from Tikal and Uaxactun on the south through the Mirador Basin to Calakmul on the north. The Mirador Basin sites such as El Mirador, Nakbe, Wakna, Tintal and Xulnal were so powerful in the first century B.C. the Nephites probably gave them wide berth.
Cradle of Maya Civilization in the Blue Circle
Ca. 74 B.C. the lands of Antionum and Siron are attested in the text. Antionum was an inland territory south of Jershon with Lamanites to its south Alma 31:3. South of Antionum, across the Belize River, is our correlate for the Lamanite land of Siron Alma 39:3. At this time, Nephite expansion was pushing Lamanites southward along the eastern seaboard. This is similar to the pattern Alma 22:29 describes in the central Sidon corridor 16 years earlier where Nephite settlement was strongest in the north bordering land Bountiful.
Nephite Settlement Pushing Southward ca. 74 B.C.
We propose that by ca. 74 B.C. the Nephites had expanded from their culture core on the Sidon eastward to the sea following the large northern tributary, the San Pedro, and its Belizean counterpart, the Hondo - Azul. Two years later they repeated this pattern following the large southern tributary, the Pasion, and its Belizean counterpart, the Mojo. Ca. 72 B.C. was a pivotal year in Nephite history.
  • The Nephites won an unprecedented victory over a Lamanite invasion force (over 1,000 Lamanite dead, 0 Nephite dead) Alma 49:23 due to Captain Moroni's paradigm-shifting fortification technology Alma 49:18-20.
  • In a wave of national euphoria, the Nephites embarked on a large-scale strategic defensive plan they hoped would neutralize the threat of Lamanite aggrssion Alma 50:6.
  • Moroniled a military campaign that drove the Lamanites out of the Nephite east and forced them to return to the greater land of Nephi south of the narrow strip of wilderness Alma 50:7.
  • Citizens from the Nephite culture core in the local land of Zarahemla and environs were forcibly re-settled along the east coast Alma 50:9.
  • Fortifications were erected along the southern edge of Nephite lands Alma 50:10.
  • Nephites for the first time began large-scale military activity and settlement west of the central Sidon corridor Alma 50:11.
  • They founded the city of Moroni (now submerged) in the land of Moroni in the extreme SE corner of the greater land of Zarahemla Alma 50:13.
  • They founded the city of Nephihah in the land of Nephihah between Moroni and Aaron Alma 50:14.
  • They founded the city of Lehi in the land of Lehi north of Moroni on the east coast Alma 50:15.
  • This incredible wave of expansion ushered in the Nephite golden age Alma 50:23.
Awash in optimism, the Nephites still did what every ancient civilization did. They followed the rivers. We believe Nephihah was upstream from Aaron on the Pasion and Moroni was over the Maya Mountains on Belizean drainages whose headwaters were very near the source of the Pasion.
Central Sidon Corridor and Points East
Pyramid icons mark the location of archaeological sites known to have pre-classic (Book of Mormon time period) occupation layers. Our correlation demonstrates logical consistency in Nephite settlement patterns. Settlement followed the rivers. Criterion 19 satisfied.

Nephite "control" over this vast expanse of territory was tenuous. Sedition was rampant The fear expressed in Alma 31:4 regarding the land of Antionum became reality later that year Alma 35:10-11. Almost as soon as their land entered the Nephite nation, the people in Morianton rebelled Alma 50:29-30. Amalickiah conquered the entire east coast from Moroni on the south to Mulek on the north in a blitzkreig ca. 67 B.C. Alma 51:26 (in the Yale text, 'Nephihah' reads 'Moroni'). Moroniliberated Mulek 3 years later, ca. 64 B.C. Alma 52:26 and Gid the following year Alma 55:24. Omner is never mentioned in this repatriation campaign. Morianton is mentioned Alma 55:33 but we are never given the details of its recapture. The Lamanites overthrew Nephihah in a short-lived counter offensive Alma 59:8 ca. 62 B.C. After restoring Parhoran (Yale text orthography) to power in Zarahemla, Moroni1and Parhoran jointly liberated Nephihah ca. 61 B.C. followed in quick succession by Lehi Alma 62:31 and finally Moroni Alma 62:38. By ca. 60 B.C. the Nephites once again managed the affairs of all their lands north of the narrow strip of wilderness Alma 62:42. After 7 years of peace, the Nephites repelled another Lamanite invasion ca. 53 B.C. Alma 63:15. Ca. 51 B.C. a Lamanite army under Coriantumr captured the capital city, Zarahemla, in a brash strike up the central Sidon corridor Helaman 1:20. Ca. 35 B.C. Lamanite forces captured the entire greater land of Zarahemla between the narrow strip of wilderness on the south and land Bountiful on the north Helaman 4:5. Operating from his base in Bountiful, Moronihah pushed southward and re-captured one-half of the greater land of Zarahemla including Mulek and Gid in the northeast Helaman 5:15. After ca. 30 B.C. the text never mentions the rest of the Nephite east coast in a Nephite context. Overwhelming Lamanite numerical superiority resulted in the permanent loss of one-half of formerly Nephite lands Helaman 4:19.

20. We correlate the Sidon south of Manti with the Chixoy which forms the boundary between the Guatemalan Departments of Alta Verapaz on the east and Quiche on the west. Reliable stream flow data for the Chixoy is available from 3 metering stations maintained by INSIVUMEH, the Guatemalan Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia.
Average Annual Chixoy Streamflows in Cubic Meters/Second
Annual average discharge at Puente Chocox on the Chixoy Negro is 59.79 cubic meters/second. The turbine penstocks in the Chixoy Dam (our head of Sidon) were designed for 75 cubic meters/second of water flowing past and they typically operate near 100% of capacity. In addition, the discharge tunnel that handles excess flow runs at an average annual rate of 44 cubic meters/second. So, the average annual streamflow of the Chixoy at its head is 119 cubic meters/second. Many small tributaries join the stream by the time it gets 58 river kilometers downstream to our proposed Zarahemnah/Moronibattlefield south of Chama which we correlate with the city of Manti. We estimate average annual streamflow at the battlefield to be about 180 cubic meters/second. 174 river kilometers downstream from the battlefield where the Chixoy becomes the Salinas at the Mexican line, average annual streamflow is 536.16 cubic meters/second. This means that for every kilometer the river flows downstream from the battlefield it adds an average of 2 cubic meters/second to its discharge rate. It doesn't take much effort to discover why the Chixoy has a much larger flow downstream than it does upstream from the battlefield. Overlaying a map of average annual rainfall derived from NASA's TRMM Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission we see that the battlefield is near a meteorological boundary between a wet area with heavy precipitation to the north and much drier lands to the south.
Average Annual Precipitation over a 10 Year Period
Our Manti and environs are among the wettest places in all of Mesoamerica. The Chixoy at Manti downstream from the Salchichaj confluence easily reaches the 250 cubic meters/second average annual discharge rate we deem necessary to carry thousands of corpses hundreds of kilomters to the sea. Criterion 20 satisfied.

21.The Usumacinta is a mature river that has not changed course signfiicantly since early Book of Mormon times. It has formed new distributaries in its delta, but the stream channel throughout most of its length is deeply eroded and therefore quite stable. This is an altimetric map of Guatemala showing the ancient river flowing through deep canyons and heavily eroded valleys over much of its course.
Altimetric Map of Guatemala
And this is a map of the middle Usumacinta (our local land of Zarahemla) created by the JPL Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA from satellite elevation data. The small red arrow points to Boca del Cerro where the very old river makes a dramatic exit from the highlands into the coastal plain. Notice the deeply eroded channel with no evidence of course deviations.
The Middle Usumacinta in Peten, Guatemala; Chiapas & Tabasco, Mexico
Criterion 21 satisfied.

22. This is a map showing 124 Olmec and Olmec-influenced sites, 5 of which are in the vast Usumacinta River drainage basin.
Olmec Heartland & Olmec or Olmec-Influenced Sites
The Usumacinta, remote from the Olmec heartland and possessing few Olmec sites, fits the text nicely. Criterion 22 satisfied.

23. Our Sidon is approximately equi-distant from the sea east and the sea west.
Sidon as Center or Heart of Nephite Lands
The point indicated on the middle Usumacinta is 328 air kilometers from the Caribbean at a point near Altun Ha, our correlate for city of Omner. See the blog article "Captain Moroni in Space and Time." It is 325 air kilometers from Barra San Marcos, our correlate for the narrow (small) neck of land. See the blog article "The Narrow (Small) Neck of Land." This is what we think the Nephite authors had in mind when they referred to their culture core in the central Sidon corridor as the center or heart of their lands. Criterion 23 satisfied.

24. Our proposal for the local land of Zarahemla is outlined in white on the map below, overlaid with NASA imagery of earth's lights at night.
Local Land of Zarahemla in Lightly Populated Area
This shows that the area we correlate with the Mulekite homeland has a relatively low population density in modern times.

Ancient demographics are much more problematic. The prevalence of archaeological sites known to science is one indication of population densities in antiquity.
Black Icons are Known Archaeological Sites
Our local land of Zarahemla had significant activity in ancient times, but it lacked the heavy concentration of sites obvious in other areas. We saw in point #22 above that Olmec influence was scarce in the region. Wilderness ca. 586 B.C. is plausible. Criterion 24 satisfied.

25. Mexico and Guatemala are both rapidly expanding their highway networks, but today if you wanted to travel between Guatemala City (our Nephi) and Emiliano Zapata (our Zarahemla) it would be a long trip because you would have to make a wide circle around the Usumacinta River with all its road-less swamps and lagoons. Even after decades of large-scale roadbuilding in both countries, no direct route exists between highland Guatemala and the middle Usumacinta. This is a map of roads in both countries.
Modern Roads in Mexico and Guatemala
The roads inside the white bounding box have almost all been constructed since 1990. Travel between highland Guatemala and the Tabascan coastal plain is tough today. It was much more arduous in Book of Mormon times Mosiah 9:3. Criterion 25 satisfied.

26. The local land of Zarahemla bounded the wilderness of Hermounts to its northwest Alma 2:37. We correlate Hermounts with the Pantanos de Centla, the largest wetlands in Mexico in the Usumacinta River delta. In the shaded relief map below, deep blue is essentially standing water.
Wilderness Wetlands NW of Local Land of Zarahemla
Melek had wilderness to its west Alma 8:3. Today it is called the Lacandon Jungle or Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, the largest montane rainforest in North America.
Mountainous Jungle Wilderness West of Melek
The city of Manti had a wilderness side Alma 58:13. In our correlation Manti (Chama) has a ridge of heavily-forested low mountains to its north.This image, from NASA satellite data, shows the height of the forst canopy rising dramatically just north of Manti.
Proposed City of Manti South of Low Mountains with Tall Trees
Ammonihah (El Hormiguero II in our correlation) also had a wilderness side Alma 16:2. We believe it was a ridgeline of moderately high mountains just south of the city.
Wilderness Side South of Proposed City of Ammonihah
Four entities in our central Sidon corridor adjoin wilderness that is obvious in satellite imagery. Criterion 26 satisfied.

27. We let a count of archaeological sites known to science proxy ancient population densities. Within a 30 kilometer radius of our city of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) we count 71 sites.
Ancient Sites Prevalent within 30 km of Kaminaljuyiu
Within a 30 kilometer radius of our city of Zarahemla (Nueva Esperanza - Calabraba) we count 27 sites.
Far Fewer Ancient Sites within 30 km of Zarahemla
Our proposed city of Nephi lies within greater Guatemala City (estimated 2014 population 2.3 million). Our proposed city of Zarahemla is near Emiliano Zapata, Tabasco (population per the 2010 census 20,030). The population disparity in Nephite times was much less dramatic, but highland Guatemala had many more inhabitants than the middle Usumacinta. Criterion 27 satisfied.

28, 29. The white overlay on the map below shows the traditional Maya area separated into the northern lowlands, southern lowlands, and highlands.
Maya Area Divided into 3 Sub Areas
Our candidates for Nephi and Zarahemla are both well within the Maya area. Criterion 28 satisfied. The Usumacinta river is entirely contained with the Maya area. Criterion 29 satisfied.

30. Our narrow strip of wilderness and river Sidon intersect at nearly right angles.
Narrow Strip of Wilderness Perpendicular to River Sidon
Criterion 30 satisfied.

31. Our head of Sidon (head of the Chixoy) adjoins the line of cliffs with east-west flowing rivers (Cuilco - Chixoy - Polochic Fault) we identify as the narrow strip of wilderness.
Head of Sidon Immediately South of Narrow Strip of Wilderness
Criterion 31 satisfied.

32, 33, 34, 35, 36. Kaminaljuyu, our candidate for the city of Nephi, sits at an elevation of 1,540 meters. We set a white terrain plain at precisely that elevation so everything showing through in natural color is higher than Nephi and everything obscured by the white overlay is lower. The grey line is a logical travel route from Nephi to Zarahemla
Topography Nephi to Narrow Strip of Wilderness
Nephi is right on the continental divide (shown in green) so following one of the tributaries of the Motagua descends in elevation. Criterion 32 satisfied. Our path then skirts around the prominent hill north of Shilom which is at an elevation nearly 900 meters higher than Nephi. Criterion 33 satisfied.
The path then climbs from the Motagua up over the Sierra de las Minas, down the Salama Valley and up over the Cuilco-Chixoy-Polochic Fault, our narrow strip of wilderness. Criterion 34 satisfied.
Topography Narrow Strip of Wildrness to Sidon Drainage Basin
Following the Cahabon past modern Coban, our path enters the vast Usumacinta River drainage basin. The wilderness placemark on the map above sits at an elevation of 270 meters. Criterion 35 satisfied.

Likely Route Nephi to Zarahemla in Black
From Nephi down to wilderness past a high hill north of Shilom. Over intermediate mountains past the head of Sidon. Down to more wilderness and eventually Zarahemla. Both mountain passes along the trail are lower in elevation than the city of Nephi itself. Criterion 36 satisfied. This route conforms precisely with the topography described in the text.

37. Guatemala City, home to our city of Nephi, has a delightful climate that comes from a combination of low latitude (14.6) and high altitude (1,540 meters). Average temperature is 21 degrees celsius (70 fahrenheit). Average annual precipitation is 1,100 millimeters. Relative humidity averages 75%. 115 days of the year are rainy while 250 are sunny. Locals brag about their climate which they call "eternal spring." In the Koppen system, Guatemala City has a Cwb (temperate, highland, tropical with dry winters) classification. Our Zarahemla, on the other hand, has the muggy climate that comes with a low latitude (17.8) and a low altitude (40 meters). Average temperature is 27 degrees celsius (81 fahrenheit). Average annual precipitation is 2,400 millimeters. Relative humidity averages 86%. 160 days of the year are rainy. while 205 are sunny. This part of the middle Usumacinta has a Koppen climate classification of Am (tropical monsoon) bordering on Af (tropical rainforest).
Koppen Climate Map of Mexico
Most people would prefer Nephi's brisk highland to Zarahemla's sweaty lowland climate. Criterion 37 satisfied.

38. We will illustrate our correlation for the twelve entities adjoining Sidon in three maps.
Northern Tier of Nephite Lands along Sidon
The southern tier of Nephite lands aside Sidon.
Melek, Manti & Battlefields South of Manti
And a closer view of the 3 battlefields.
Battlefields along Sidon South of Manti
All 12 entities fit comfortably riverside the Sidon. Criterion 38 satisfied.

39. Our candidate for Sidon has two large eastern tributaries, the San Pedro on the north and the Pasion on the south.
San Pedro & Pasion, Eastern Tributaries of the Usumacinta
Criterion 39 satisfied.

40. In 2004 Ron Canter, a cartographer with the Federal Aviation Administration, whitewater enthusiast and amateur archaeologist participated in a research trip down the Usumacinta from Frontera Corozal upstream from Yaxchilan (our land of Melek) to Boca del Cerro (our southern border of the local land of Zarahemla). Called the "Rio Usumacinta Navigation Survey," the purpose of the trip was to determine how the Maya used the river. Expedition members included specialists in many disciplines, all of whom were experienced river runners. Canter published a report entitled "Rivers Among the Ruins: The Usumacinta" in The PARI Journal, Vol. VII, No. 3, Winter 2007. His report includes a detailed map of the upper Usumacinta downstream from the Lacantun confluence. Canter and his colleagues found dozens of bollards - mooring stones - with deep rope grooves worn by heavy use over hundreds of years. These stones were precisely where experienced river runners expected them to be - in locations where it made sense to tie up canoes or warp a boat (move it upstream by pulling hand over hand on a rope) through rapids. They also documented good harbors and places where placid waters would have made it easy to ferry boats across the river. They found the river navigable downstream with no rapids more difficult than class 2-3. (River Outfitters take adventure travelers from Frontera Corozal to Tenosique regularly.) Lining or poling canoes upstream would have been another matter. The upper Usumacinta has a few narrow canyons with high cliff walls that would have been nearly impossible to navigate upstream against the current in the pre-industrial era. So, the team documented portages and riverside trail systems that would have enabled combination land/river travel. This map shows bollards, ferry points and a splendid natural harbor just downstream from Piedras Negras per Canter's article.
Upper Usumacinta Mooring Stones and Likely Ferries
People today cross and travel along the upper Usumacinta routinely. This photo shows small motorized watercraft moored on the Mexican side with Guatemala across the river. Canter and colleagues found that the ancient Maya were equally skilled rivermen anciently.
Usumacinta River Upstream from the Lacantun Confluence
Our candidate for Sidon was a highway that ancient people crossed routinely. Criterion 40 satisfied.

41,42, 43, 44. We know that Limhi's explorers traveled from Nephi to Ramah-Cumorah and back to Nephi. They must have followed a route generally similar to the black lines on the map below.
Limhi Expedition Nephi to Ramah-Cumorah
This route does not cross Sidon which began at the head of Sidon. Criterion 41 satisfied.

We saw in point #23 above that the distance from Sidon near the city of Zarahemla to the east coast is 328 air kilometers. Criterion 42 satisfied.

Our Sidon does not empty into sea east. Criterion 43 satisfied.

Our Zarahemla, like our Ramah-Cumorah, is in the coastal plain beyond the 100 meter line shown in green on the map above. Criterion 44 satisfied.

We have ferreted meaning from the text through close reading in historical context. We have applied known characteristics of earth's rivers. 44 criteria emerged from this fusion of textual exegesis and earth science. The Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta comfortably meets all 44 conditions. We believe any viable Book of Mormon correlation will show a similarly high degree of fit to the text.
One more note. In Alma 2 the Nephites defeat the dissident Amlicites and their Lamanite allies. This narrative features 2 river crossings. The first is when the retreating Amlicites cross over from Gideon to join their Lamanite comrades in Minon. The second is when Alma and the Nephite army hustle back to the local land of Zarahemla from their overnight camp in the valley of Gideon. This map shows our correlation of key points in this battle narrative.
Proposed Alma Amlici Battle Locations 
When Ron Canter and his team surveyed the Usumacinta in 2004 (see point #40 above) they found 2 river ferry points very near our proposed crossings. In the 3 canyons indicated river crossings would be highly unlikely. See the blog article "Test #10 Crossing Sidon" for more in-depth analysis.