Monday, October 19, 2015

Hansen and Coe

On Friday, October 16th, 2015, I attended lectures by Dr. Richard Hansen, University of Utah, and Dr. Michael Coe, Yale (emeritus). The event was the first biannual Mesoamerican Talks Conference sponsored by the U of U Department of Anthropology.

The conference was subtitled "A Tribute to Dr. Michael Coe, Yale University." [Comments in brackets about potential Book of Mormon connections are my own and did not originate with either Hansen or Coe,]

Hansen's presentation was very similar to the one he gave at the Library of Congress in April, 2014. You can watch a video of that presentation here. If you download the transcript, beware that it is machine-generated and therefore riddled with errors. A portion of Hansen's presentation is abstracted in the article "Founding Civilizations." Hansen did his undergraduate work at BYU, received his PhD from UCLA, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala. He heads the massive Mirador Basin Project (a consortium of 62 universities) and has authored more than 300 academic publications. Hansen is probably the top field archaeologist working in Mesoamerica today.

Some points in Hansen's lecture I found interesting:
  • All remains recovered by the Mirador Basin Project are processed at a lab in Guatemala City.
  • The site of El Mirador is 50 trail kilometers (36 air kilometers) from the nearest supply depot at Carmelitas. You get to El Mirador by helicopter or by walking for 3 days. [This is yet one more data point supporting our deduced value for the Book of Mormon standard unit of measure "one day's travel." See the article "Land Southward Travel Times."]
This map shows the locations of El Mirador and the closest town with a road.
El Mirador 36 air kilometers from Carmelitas
More points from Richard Hansen:
  • The Mirador - Calakmul Basin contains 51 sites mapped so far. Results from a recent LIDAR survey (38 hours in the air, 700 square kilometers analyzed) are just now coming in, so that number will undoubtedly increase.
  • Corn was being grown in the basin as early as 2,600 BC. We know that from pollen samples found in lake sediment cores. 
  • El Mirador, the largest site in the basin, began ca. 1,000 BC, reached apogee ca. 300 BC, and was abandoned ca. AD 150.
  • A temple with a roof comb was erected in the basin during the 720 - 600 BC time frame.
  • From 1,000 BC to 800 BC sea shells were being used as money. Sea shells as a form of currency also show up in Cahal Pech, Belize during this same time period.
This map shows El Mirador and Cahal Pech in context.
El Mirador, Peten and Cahal Pech, Cayo
Additional points made by Richard Hansen:
  • Olmec sites were generally aligned N/S. Early Maya sites were usually oriented E/W.
  • Sites in the basin have clear site alignments oriented to solstice and equinox points on the horizon. [This is yet one more corroboration of our proposed Book of Mormon directionality system described in the article "Test #5 North South East and West."]
  • El Mirador has 52 square kilometers of monumental architecture connected by causeways. This makes it the largest city in the Americas, larger even than Teotihuacan. For a size comparison of many ancient American sites, see the article "Site Sizes."
  • A typical causeway in the basin, called sacbe in Mayan, was 40 to 50 meters wide.
  • The late pre-classic moat around Tintal was 10 times larger than the widely-publicized one around Becan. The Tintal moat was 40 meters wide and 10 meters deep. El Mirador also had a moat around it.
This map shows the three sites protected by moats.
Becan, El Mirador & Tintal all Surrounded by Moats
[The Book of Mormon describes multiple cities protected by encircling ditches Alma 49:18, Alma 53:3-4.]

Hansen said the largest structure at El Mirador, Danta, is built on a base 600 meters wide. The pyramid itself is 320 meters wide and 76 meters tall. It's volume is 2,800,000 cubic meters. This makes it the largest pyramid in the world by volume and the tallest in the Americas.
Michael D. Coe, 86 years old, is generally regarded as the pre-eminent living Mesoamericanist. He pioneered the multi-disciplinary approach to antiquities. I have enjoyed his books for decades, so it was a pleasure to finally visit with the man and shake his hand. Some points from Coe's presentation I found interesting:
  • The Ancient Maya by Sylvanus Morley is still the best book on the subject.
  • The Olmec flourished from 1,400 BC to 400 BC.
  • San Lorenzo was destroyed 900 BC and power shifted to La Venta.
  • There were Maya living in a barrio in Teotihuacan.
  • Teotihuacan was an urban civilization with planned avenues.
  • The population of Teotihuacan at apogee was much larger than Tenochtitlan at contact.
  • During the AD 350 - 450 era, people from Teotihuacan were all over the Maya area.
  • The Teotihuacan warrior was an anonymous cultural icon, not an individual portrayal.
  • The Teotihuacanos did not venerate their rulers like the Maya did.
  • Teotihuacan collapsed AD 600.
  • The noted Tikal ball court marker is in Teotihuacan style except for the Maya glyphs.
This is an image of the aforementioned Tikal ball court marker.
Tikal Ball Court Marker with Glyphs on the Shaft
Coe continued:
  • The mural from Uaxactun structure B-XIII depicts a Maya lord and Teotihuacan warrior.
  • A mural from La Sufricaya shows Teotihuacan warriors.
  • We find Teotihuacan influence from northern Yucatan to the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Ergo, Teotihuacan was an empire.
Michael Coe prides himself on being something of an iconoclast among his peers. He gently chided his fellow Mesoamericanists for being reluctant to recognize Teotihuacan's status as an empire. He analogized that the Maya in Teotihuacan were like the Greeks in Rome. The presence of erudite Greeks in the imperial capital did not detract from Rome's status as an empire.

This map shows sites with known Teotihuacan presence.
Teotihuacan Influenced Sites
[Whether or not there were true empires in pre-contact Mesoamerica is an important question relevant to the Book of Mormon. The Nephite text describes multiple kings Alma 17:21, Alma 20:4 subject to an overlord king Alma 20:8 which means the Lamanites ca. 90 BC met the classic criteria for empire.]

There is much more archaeological evidence for the Teotihuacan empire than for the better-known Aztec empire. Anthropologists have no problem accepting the Aztec empire because it is described in historical sources, even though it is thinly-attested archaeologically. The Aztecs maintained a military garrison in the Soconusco, which they called Xoconochco, to protect their sources of cacao. The name Xoconochco in Nahuatl refers to chocolate.
Aztec Empire at Contact including Xoconochco Garrison
Xoconochco was approximately 800 air kilometers distant from the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Xoconochco Remote from Tenochtitlan
[The Nephites also maintained a remote military garrison on their west sea to protect a strategic travel route Alma 22:33. In our correlation, this Nephite outpost was just north of the Soconusco about 300 air kilometers distant from Zarahemla.]
Proposed Nephite Military Garrison Remote from Zarahemla
Coe then launched into a discussion of one of his favorite topics - chocolate. He and his late wife authored the best-selling "The True History of Chocolate" now in its 3rd edition.
  • ka-ka-w(a) is Mayan for cacao.
  • Chocolate is a complex substance containing theobromine & phenethylamine.
  • Traces of these chemicals can be detected in ancient pots and jars.
  • Barra pottery vessels from the Mokaya culture of the pre-Olmec Soconusco held chocolate.
  • The Soconusco was the ancient home of chocolate made from fermenting cacao.
  • Uaxactun burial A22 had chocolate in Teotihuacan-style pottery.
  • Cacao was used as money and appears on many tribute lists.
  • Cacao was anciently associated with marriage. Chocolate had prestige value.
Many Maya vases are signed. Maya rulers were venerated by name. This hyper individualism is unique in the New World. The Maya depicted real people in their art. They had supreme interest in their leaders as individuals. The Moche in Peru are the only other culture with this kind of interest in portraiture. [The Book of Mormon also demonstrates cultural focus on leaders as individuals Alma 46:16-18,]

Heather Hurst is the greatest archaeological artist of all time. This image from one of the murals at San Bartolo illustrates her work.
San Bartolo, Peten Mural Re-Drawn by Heather Hurst
In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the Pueblo Bonito apartment complex yielded cylindrical vases with chocolate residue. Patricia Crown, archaeologist with the University of New Mexico, made this discovery. Hohokam pottery from Snaketown (near modern Chandler, AZ) held chocolate. The Pima and Papago are modern Hohokam. Turquoise from the north was traded for cacao, scarlet macaw feathers, and copper bells from the south. AD 900 is when turquoise first appears in the archaeological record in Mesoamerica. In the post-classic, turquoise was even more valued than jade. The Aztec pochteca traders got as far north as New Mexico. Dorothy Washburn from the University of Pennsylvania has found traces of chocolate near Canyonlands National Park, Utah that dates to ca. AD 770. Chocolate has been found at Cahokia, Illinois and other post-classic Mississippian culture sites in North America.
Sites with Ancient Chocolate Residues
This means cacao in post-classic times was being traded as far away as 3,000 air kilometers distant from its origin in the Soconusco. Other indications of contact between Mesoamerica and North America in post-classic times:
  • Snaketown had a ball court with rubber balls.
  • Many copper bells from western Mexico have been found in Hohokam sites.
  • Maya vase K578 shows God N emerging from a snail shell. Snaketown has a similar motif.
This is Justin Kerr's photograph of vase K578.
God N Emerging from Snail Shell
The Maya carved pyrite mirrors. Similar carved mirrors have been found at Snaketown.

Coe said the Toltec Empire flourished from AD 900 - 1200. It had a presence in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas. Major centers were Tula, Hidalgo and Chichen Itza, Yucatan.
Toltec and Toltec-Influenced Sites
Don Forsyth of the BYU Anthropology faculty spoke with me after Coe's lecture. Don is not entirely convinced the Toltecs made it to Chiapa de Corzo.

The North American Mississippian culture is post-classic. These people built temple pyramids in a style reminiscent of Mesoamerica. Cahokia is the largest site. It dates to AD 1050 - 1200.

Metallurgy went from South America to Central America before it reached Mesoamerica. Cast gold objects from Panama were thrown into the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza.

Coe has spent considerable time studying the Angkor aka Khmer culture from Cambodia. Angkor Wat is the most famous site from this area. Coe is convinced there was significant contact between Southeast Asia and the Maya. He said if he had his life to live over again, he would spend at least half of his career working on the problem of of cultural diffusion between Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica.
Image of Angkor Wat in modern Cambodia
The Maya were the only real literary civilization in the New World. [This is an important point for Book of Mormon connections because both Nephites Mosiah 29:4 and Lamanites Mosiah 24:6-7 were highly literate.]

Coe and the late William T. Sanders (1926 - 2008) of Penn State were good friends. They were classmates at Harvard. Bill Sanders was one of five archaeologists who worked with NWAF in its first field season in Tabasco in 1953. [See the article "Zarahemla ca. 1955" for the Book of Mormon interest.]

The Maya are the only civilization in the New World that historians of science are interested in. Paul Kirchhof invented the name Mesoamerica.

Cacaxtla was an intrusion from the Maya area into central Mexico. Pochteca traders with their large carry packs are shown. God L, the wealthy trader deity, is prominent in the iconography of the site. There is a writing system from Xochicalco. God L and the maize god are both represented, both associated with cacao.

Black and red was an Aztec phrase meaning "east." [Chapter 4 in Stephen C. Compton's important Exodus Lost, entitled "Black Land Red Land," shows evidence that this Aztec idiom originated in Egypt.] The Aztecs had a great deal of Maya influence in their culture.

Coe shared a metric I have also heard elsewhere - that 16 city states co-existed in the northern Maya lowlands and 31 were in the southern Maya lowlands. [The Book of Mormon mentions 31 named and described lesser lands. It names 4 continental-scale greater lands. It names a total of 33 greater and lesser lands. Other lands are alluded to in the text but neither described nor named. Some Book of Mormon lands functioned as classic city states with a central city controlling the land round about Mosiah 7:21, Mosiah 23:25, Alma 43:25.]
This ends the data presented by Hansen and Coe.
We can map the approximate extent of contiguous Maya territory (354,325 square kilometers) which consisted of the northern lowlands in the Yucatan Peninsula (approx. 117,120 sq. km), the southern lowlands (approx. 151,782 sq. km), and the highlands (approx. 85,423 sq. km).
Maya Territory with Approximate Land Areas 
One of the characteristics of Maya land use patterns was that they left relatively lightly-settled wild areas in between city states. We see this same pattern of wilderness adjoining developed areas in the Book of Mormon Alma 8:3, Alma 16:2-3, Alma 58:13. Focusing on the southern lowlands, if we assume a 50/50 relationship between lightly-settled and developed city state land areas, the approximate mean extent of a Maya city state in the region was 151,782 square kilometers divided by 2 and then divided again by 31 which equals 2,448 square kilometers. This compares very favorably with our estimated mean extent of Book of Mormon lesser land areas. See the article "Test #7 Land Areas."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Founding Civilizations

On April 2, 2014, Richard Hansen of the University of Utah gave the seventh Kislak Lecture at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. This is a prestigious lecture series. The fifth Kislak Lecture was given by David Stuart of UT Austin. Hansen's presentation was entitled "The Origins and Collapse of the Preclassic Maya in the Mirador Basin, Guatemala: Cultural & Natural Dynamics in the Cradle of the Maya Civilization."
Artist's Reconstruction of El Mirador, Peten, Guatemala
A product of BYU who spent much of career on the faculty at Idaho State, Hansen is generally regarded as one of the world's top archaeologists. He heads the massive Mirador Basin Project in Guatemala's northern Peten. 62 universities from many nations work together collaboratively in the Basin.

According to Hansen, there are only five "founding civilizations" in world history. They are:
  • the Chinese
  • the Harappan, Indus Valley societies
  • Mesopotamia
  • Egypt
  • Mesoamerica
Founding civilizations independently developed written script, the high-water mark of human accomplishment. All other civilizations are derivative from or subsidiary to these five pioneers.
Five Founding Civilizations of the World
The Book of Mormon describes high level literacy in both Jaredite Ether 12:24 and Nephite/Lamanite Mosiah 24:6 societies. This is a determinative point anchoring the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica.

It is worth noting that the five founding world civilizations all developed in the drainage basins of major rivers: the Yellow, Indus, Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Usumacinta, and Coatzacoalcos. We should pay particular attention to the Usumacinta and Coatzacoalcos river systems as we look for Book of Mormon locations within Mesoamerica.

Hansen described a pre-classic writing system found in Mirador Basin texts. Clearly related to later Mayan, the texts are currently unreadable even by leading Mayan epigraphers such as David Stuart and Stanley Guenter.
Preclassic Writing System, Precursor to Mayan
One is reminded of the Isthmian script on La Mojarra Stela 1 and the Tuxtla Statuette whose interpretation is still very much in dispute. The Book of Mormon describes multiple mutually unintelligible scripts Omni 1:20Mosiah 21:27-28.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Norman on Santa Rosa

Mesoamerican archaeologist V. Garth Norman, who believes Zarahemla was in the general vicinity of Palenque, proffers his argument why Sorenson's Zarahemla/Santa Rosa correlation does not fit the text. Santa Rosa and Huehuetenango had significant trade relations during pre-classic times. The reason for the connection is obvious. The Selegua River rises just on the outskirts of Huehuetenango. Follow the river and it takes you in a fairly straight course right to Santa Rosa. Huehuetenango, on the other hand, was well connected with the rest of highland Guatemala including Sorenson's candidate for the city of Nephi, Kaminaljuyu. Pottery from the central depression of Chiapas shows up in the Salama Valley in strata dating from ca. 500 B.C. to 200 B.C.

This means that during the time the Mulekites were building up their capital, Zarahemla, and the Nephites were doing the same with their capital, Nephi, significant trade relations existed between Santa Rosa, Kaminaljuyu, and the Salama Valley. This map shows the locations of these areas.
Santa Rosa, Huehuetenango, Kaminaljuyu, and the Salama Valley
Significant trade relations explicitly contradict Omni 1:14-17 which describes two peoples living in isolation for hundreds of years, unaware of each other's existence.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Zarahemla ca. 1955

1955 was a pivotal year in the search for Zarahemla. This is a timeline of selected events leading up to that year.
  • 1842 The official periodical of the Church, Times and Seasons, speculated on Book of Mormon connections with Maya ruins visited by Stephens and Catherwood and illustrated in their famous 2 volume Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. The sites of Quirigua and Palenque received prominent attention, with Quirigua mentioned as a possible Zarahemla. In the ensuing years, the suggested Quirigua/Zarahemla correlation was not pursued because Quirigua is on the south bank of the Motagua which flows eastward. Book of Mormon students even in the nineteenth century realized that Zarahemla would be found on the west bank of a north-flowing river.
  • 1879 George Martin Ottinger speculated in the Juvenile Instructor that Palenque might be Zarahemla. That idea has never faded. V. Garth Norman today believes Zarahemla was in the general vicinity of Palenque. See Juvenile Instructor Vol. 14 No. 5, March 1, 1879, p. 58.
  • 1917 Louis Edward Hills in his A short work on the geography of Mexico and Central America, from 2234 B.C. to 421 A.D. correlated Zarahemla with Yaxchilan. That correlation has remained remarkably consistent among RLDS (currently Community of Christ and Restoration Branch) students of the Book of Mormon from that day to the present. Aric Turner, for instance, in his well-researched contemporary map, correlates Zarahemla with Yaxchilan.
  • 1946 Max Wells Jakeman joined the BYU faculty and began teaching an Usumacinta/Sidon correlation. He was ambivalent about the actual location of Zarahemla. Some tension existed between Jakeman and his former classmate from U.C. Berkeley, Thomas Stuart Ferguson.
  • 1949 John L. Sorenson enrolled at BYU and was quickly recognized as an unusually gifted student. Sorenson was generally unimpressed with Jakeman's scholarship. Jakeman's was more of an historical approach, relying on documentary sources. Sorenson was more persuaded by the rapidly evolving science of dirt archaeology. 
  • 1952 Thomas Stuart Ferguson raised money from J. Willard Marriott and Rose Marie Reid and organized the New World Archaeological Foundation in California.
  • 1953 NWAF sponsored its first field season in Mexico. Participants included Pedro Armillas, director, Roman Piña Chan, William T. Sanders, Gareth W. Lowe, and John L. Sorenson. The excavation area - Huimanguillo, Tabasco, was strategically chosen. Ferguson was hoping for a big win and he took his best shot in the lowland coastal plain on the west bank of the mighty north-flowing Grijalva. This was the first time the Grijalva had been seriously considered as a candidate for Sidon. It was chosen partly based on anti-Jakeman bias.
  • 1953 After several months of reconnaissance, surface scavenging, and digging, the NWAF team had little to show. They were looking for pre-classic remains - structures and artifacts dating to Book of Mormon times. What they found was classic material too late to have been relevant to the Nephite record. Toward the end of the field season, they began investigating sites NW of Huimanguillo, closer to La Venta. There, predictably, they did find pre-classic remains. What the 1953 team did not know is that the Grijalva River has changed course since early Nephite times. Tabascan hydrologists have since confirmed that at the time La Venta was flourishing, the Grijalva flowed where the Blasillo and Tonala flow today - right past the famed Olmec site. The map below shows the Grijalva in blue as it flowed at the time the Mulekites founded Zarahemla. See the article "Wandering River."
  • 1953 During the evenings in the Hotel Flores in Huimanguillo, Sorenson and Lowe (the only Latter-day Saints on the NWAF team) held Book of Mormon study sessions. They began to develop an interest in the lightly-explored central depression of Chiapas. About March, Armillas led Sorenson and Lowe on horseback into the Chiapas highlands. Again, they found little of interest. In May, as the rainy season was beginning, Thomas Stuart Ferguson came down to check on his colleagues. Disappointed at not finding a viable candidate for Zarahemla along the lower Grijalva, he and Sorenson flew to Chiapas, took off in a jeep, and went on a whirlwind reconnaissance of the upper river. The most important site they found was pre-classic Chiapa de Corzo, but it could not have been Zarahemla because it was east rather than west of the river. Continuing on with mounting enthusiasm, they found literally dozens of small pre-classic sites along the upper Grijalva. Sorenson returned to BYU in June and gave a cautiously optimistic report. There was a great deal of pre-classic material to work with along the river between Chiapa de Corzo and the Guatemala line. This 1953 adventure was to be John L. Sorenson's only experience as a field archaeologist. He did not return to the area until 1984 when he, Jack Welch, and Joe Allen led the first FARMS tour to Mesoamerica.
  • 1954 M. Wells Jakeman, sensing competition, hired an airplane to fly him up and down the Usumacinta River looking for large sites immediately west of the river. El Cayo fit his criteria. Finding chicanel pottery (a pre-classic marker) at the site, he began promoting El Cayo as a viable candidate for Zarahemla. Jakeman's correlation never developed a significant following, partly because travel to the site was so difficult. Bruce Warren, for instance, tried to get to El Cayo overland from the west and eventually gave up without ever reaching the site. 
  • 1955 Ferguson secured more money (from the Church which for many years provided up to $500,000 per year), so NWAF returned for a second field season under the direction of Gareth W. Lowe. They began systematic investigation in the central depression of Chiapas. This established a pattern that continued for decades. Lowe did heroic fieldwork. Sorenson did equally important work in the library synthesizing the results of all the data coming up from Chiapas.   
  • 1955 John L. Sorenson over the previous two years had worked out the basic details of a Book of Mormon geographic correlation to his satisfaction. Santa Rosa was his Zarahemla, Chiapa de Corzo his Sidom, and Kaminaljuyu his Nephi. The western shoreline of the Gulf of Campeche was his east sea, the Sierra Madre his west wilderness. This model remained little changed through the 1985 publication of his landmark An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and the 2013 publication of his even more ambitious masterwork Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book.
This map shows places of interest in the search for Zarahemla.
Zarahemla Candidates Considered in the Period 1879 - 1955 
Some takeaways I think are important: A) Given only the text as their guide, the Sorenson/Lowe/Ferguson team in 1952 - 53 went looking for Zarahemla in the lowland coastal plain. The way I read the text, that is precisely where Zarahemla must be. The way he reads the text, John W. (Jack) Welch agrees. He has mentioned more than once in my hearing that Zarahemla has to be in the lowlands. B) Not finding suitable remains in the lowlands west of Huimanguillo, Sorenson and Lowe began considering alternatives. Once he found extensive pre-classic settlement in the highlands on both sides of the upper Grijalva, Sorenson began to re-interpret the text to justify his new model. In other words, he started with some favored sites and then tried to work the text around them. Most serious students would disagree with that site-centric methodology. John E. Clark in his excellent 2011 "Revisiting 'A Key for Evaluating Book of Mormon Geographies' " argues that only a text-centric methodology will prove successful. Late in his career, Sorenson published what he represented as a viable, even definitive, internal model. That is his small 2000 book Mormon's Map. I open Mormon's Map to the first page and immediately note several inconsistencies that contradict my reading of the text. Mormon's Map strikes me as a manipulation of the Nephite record in support of a real world model pre-existing since 1955. C) Largely because of his immense stature as an LDS scholar of the first rank, Sorenson's model has been the de facto standard among Mormon scholars since its formal publication in 1985. It has proven so singularly unpersuasive to rank and file Latter-day Saints, though, that the Book of Mormon geography enterprise is more fragmented in 2017 that at any time since 1830. Passionate devotees reject the Mesoamerican hypothesis and promote unlikely models in the Andes, NW Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Baja California, the Mississippi and Ohio River basins, and New York/Ontario.

This is John L. Sorenson's November, 2015 description of his 1953 adventure that set the course for his long career as the leading Mesoamericanist among Book of Mormon scholars:
"The facts are that in 1953 (probably in March), I and Gareth Lowe, a fellow BYU student, were led by Pedro Armillas, a noted Spanish archaeologist [and a (wounded) veteran on the losing, non-Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s], on an archaeological reconnaissance from Huimanguillo, Tabasco, Mexico, up into the mountains of nearby Chiapas state, looking for unreported sites. We had worked at several sites of modest significance in the lowlands during this first season of work by the New World Archaeological Foundation (funded by private Mormon money - mainly from the Marriotts). The NWAF had hired Armillas as field director. We didn't expect to find anything archaeologically important on our trip and in fact we did not. But we saw a number of small rural villages and an awful lot of trees! I have nothing good to say about the horseback riding except that it eventually got over with. Failure to find promising results in the lowland state of Tabasco led to my making a last minute trip up into the Central Depression (basin) of Chiapas, until then unexplored by archaeologists, with Calif. lawyer Tom Ferguson, the dynamo of the Foundation, where we found over a hundred sites, some extremely important, within a ten day period. The Foundation worked for the next 50 years excavating many of those, eventually under the leadership of my buddy, Gareth, who become one of the most respected archaeologists in Mexico (without a Ph.D.). Armillas ended up an anthro. professor at U. of Illinois at Urbana. Two other "student archaeologists" on that first year's expedition, Bill Sanders (of Harvard) and  Roman Piña Chan, a native Mayan student in Mexico, both became famous archaeologists in that country."
- From an email shared publicly by John L. Sorenson's son, Curtis.
Pedro Armillas (1914 - 1984) taught at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) in Mexico City. At the time of his death he was on the faculty of the University of Illinois, Chicago. He was honored posthumously with a festschrift volume in 1992 entitled Origen y Desarrollo de la Civilización en el Occidente de México.

William T. Sanders (1926 - 2008) and Michael D. Coe were classmates at Harvard. Sanders studied under Armillas at INAH in 1951. He was on the Penn State Anthropology faculty for 34 years and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985. He was honored with a two volume festschrift in 1996 entitled Arqueología Mesoamericana.

Roman Piña Chan (1920 - 2001) was one of the most celebrated anthropologists in Mexico where he was on the faculty at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. He was honored posthumously with a festschrift volume in 2015 entitled Las Grandes Ciudades Mayas de Campeche.

Gareth W. Lowe (1922 - 2004) ran the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) from 1959 to 1987. He was honored posthumously with a festschrift volume in 2007 entitled Archaeology, Art, and Ethnogenesis in Mesoamerican Prehistory.

John L. Sorenson is the last man standing of this distinguished quintet. He founded the BYU Anthropology Department. Sorenson was honored with a festschrift volume in 1998 entitled Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World.

Relatively few scholars have such impactful careers that their colleagues honor them with a festschrift. All five of the inaugural season NWAF team members who dug for Zarahemla in 1953 were so honored. It was an all star team.
This is a 2014 description by Sorenson of the 1953 field season, also from his son, Curtis:
"In 1952, having just completed an M.A. degree in Archaeology at BYU, I was contacted by Thomas Stuart Ferguson, who had recently founded the New World Archaeological Foundation based in California. He invited me to join the planned first field season of research sponsored by the NWAF in southern Mexico in January. My friend and fellow graduate student Gareth W. Lowe was also invited. We were the only two Mormons to be involved. Despite our very limited personal financial resources, we both agreed when the Foundation agreed to pay $200 per month to "support" our families, minimally, for the six-month period.

"The New World Archaeological Foundation caper in Mexico lasted from January 1953 into June. (The limited funding consisted of a few thousand dollars that mostly came from Willard Marriott, the Mormon hotel man in Washington, D.C.) Lowe and I first flew to Mexico City to join the man who would be our field director, Dr. Pedro Armillas, an archaeologist from Spain (a veteran of the anti-Fascist Spanish Civil War who walked with a war-caused limp). We went by train over 400 miles southeast to Huimanguillo, Tabasco, which would be our headquarters (living in the so-called Hotel Flores, which was pretty minimal). There we were joined by three other students (one of whom, Bill Sanders, over the next 50 years graduated at Harvard, taught at Penn State for many years, and became one of the three of four leading archaeologists in Mexico, while another, Roman Piña Chan, a Maya Indian from southern Mexico, became of one of that country's top experts over the same period). We were digging there because of Ferguson's belief that the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla, which he identified with a place mentioned in the historical traditions of early Mexico, had been located in that area. In any case, no digging has previously been conducted thereabouts. We dug one significant site of moderate size (Tierra Nueva, aka Sanchez Site) and mapped another couple of dozen (Sigero  was one of these) during four months. Ferguson himself came among us in May, discouraged by the lack of any notable find which he could use to attract more money from donors. He wanted some promising if not sensational results. He had barely enough cash left for a last minute gamble. As a result of my study (with Lowe) of the Book of Mormon text during our evenings, I felt confident that the place to look was the Grijalva River basin in central Chiapas state, and I persuaded Ferguson of that view. The two of us flew to Chiapas, and in a ten-day reconnaissance by jeep in the area, until then essentially unexplored by archaeologists, we located 70 or 80 sites, some (Chiapa de Corzo) very large and dating to the Book of Mormon era. By 1955 those results permitted Ferguson to get support for further fieldwork and the NWAF then dug at those places and others in the same area over the next 30 years. (On our results see "An Archaeological Reconnaissance of West-Central Chiapas, Mexico," New World Archaeological Foundation, Publication 1, 7-19 (Orinda, California, 1956).)

"That one season would prove to be my only experience as a field archaeologist. I planned further work, but two months after enrolling in the program for the Ph.D. in Anthropology/Archaeology at UCLA in 1955, my plan was short-circuited by the sudden death of Dr. George Brainerd, a leading Mesoamerican archaeologist on the faculty and my primary advisor. Thereupon I had to change to Social Anthropology to complete my degree (fortunately for my career!)

Article last updated November 22, 2017

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jerry Grover's Translation of the "Caractors" Document

For a fascinating read on the bleeding edge of Book of Mormon studies, go to Jerry Grover's bookofmormoncaractorstranslation website and download his latest book as a PDF free of charge.
Jerry Grover's Latest Book
If Jerry is on the right track, his translation will be one of the most important pieces of Book of Mormon scholarship in our lifetime. If he is partially on the right track, specialists in ancient Near Eastern and Mesoamerican languages will be able to refine his work and improve the accuracy of his translation. If he is on the wrong track, his work will still stimulate renewed interest in this document attributed to John Whitmer that could lead to a breakthrough. At minimum, my hat is off to him for the sheer audacity of his monumental effort. This guy has what the Yiddish speakers in and around New York City call "chutzpah." This is without doubt the most sophisticated attempt to date to translate the extant copies of characters transcribed from the gold plates.

October 9, 2015 addendum. Neal Rappleye and I today were looking through Stefan Wimmer's 2008 book Palastinisches Hieratisch (Palestinian Hieratic). It has dozens of examples of a writing system used in the Levant about the time of Lehi that renders Hebrew vocabulary and syntax in Egyptian Hieratic script. This seems to be precisely what Nephi describes in 1 Nephi 1:2 as "the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians." Neal has a very good article in Interpreter entitled "Learning Nephi's Language: Creating a Context for 1 Nephi 1:2" that deals with Palestinian Hieratic. Rappleye made two interesting comments: A) "It looks like we have found Nephi's language," and B) "Many of these characters look just like the ones Grover is working with in the Anthon transcript." Wimmer is in Grover's bibliography.

Casting Lots

Bill Hamblin and Dan Peterson just published a very good article in the Deseret News about the practice of casting lots in ancient Israel. We saw this weekend three new apostles called to take their places in the modern Quorum of the Twelve. In the primitive church, a new apostle, Matthias, was chosen to replace the fallen Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:26 describes an apostolic selection process based on casting lots.

The practice of casting lots is well-attested in the Old Testament.
In Leviticus 16:8-10 lots were cast to select goats for ritual purposes.
In Numbers 26:55-56 lots were cast to divide land among the tribes of Israel.
Joshua 18:6-8 confirms that casting lots was a priestly or prophetic function done before the Lord.
Judges 20:9 describes military units mustered by casting lots.
In Davidic times priests were selected by casting lots 1 Chronicles 24:31.
The provisioning of fuel for sacrificial offerings was apportioned by casting lots Nehemiah 10:34.
Population was distributed among urban areas by casting lots Nehemiah 11:1.
A messianic psalm foretold Roman soldiers casting lots to divide the Savior's clothing Psalms 22:18.
Proverbs 16:33 & Isaiah 34:17 describe divine forces at work in the process of casting lots.
Seamen cast lots to indict Jonah as the cause of their ill weather Jonah 1:7.

Ritual functions in the New Testament also involved casting lots Luke 1:9.

Casting lots is attested in the Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 3:11, Alma 20:30.

Hamblin and Peterson write that the ancient practice of casting lots was "a form of divination by which the will of God was revealed."

The lots themselves were stones or pieces of broken pottery. Some modern biblical translations use the word "dice." Some scholars believe the enigmatic Urim andThummim Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8 was a type of divining crystal or stone stored in a pouch on the priestly breastplate.

The Urim and Thummim Moroni delivered to Joseph Smith was in a stone box with a breastplate Joseph Smith History 1:52. And when Joseph found the Nephite Urim and Thummim cumbersome to use for translation, he went back to his familiar seer stone which he kept in a pouch.
One of Joseph Smith's Seer Stones with Pouch
This is another view of the same stone and pouch.
Joseph Smith Seer Stone with its Pouch
Virtually all Book of Mormon geographic models set in Mesoamerica place the greater land of Nephi in highland Guatemala. Among the Quichean Maya of highland Guatemala, the practice of priestly divination using seeds, stones and pieces of broken pottery survives to this day. Diviners are called "daykeepers" and they guard their "lots" in pouches, bags, or bundles. Noted anthropologist Dennis Tedlock was trained as a daykeeper and had a remarkable experience using his pouch of semi-precious objects in divination. See Dennis Tedlock, Breath on the  Mirror: Mythic Voices and Visions of the Living Maya, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque: 1997), pp. 194-202. This is Tedlock's illustration of his divining pouch with his "lots" grouped atop a stone slab.
Divining Pouch Used by Quichean Daykeepers
Mesoamericanists see evidence the divining tradition using "lots" extended back into Olmec times. Current interpretations of the Cascajal Block find the graphemes indicated represent open and closed divining pouches.
Cascajal Block ca. 900 BC
See my report on a presentation by F. Kent Reilly, III of Texas State in section 22 of the article entitled "Light from L.A."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Capacity Temples

I was interested in Elder Hugo Montoya's story in the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference about a brother who was turned away from one of our temples because the facility had reached its daily capacity limit. Since most of Elder Montoya's ministry has been in Mexico, I assume he was referring to one of our twelve temples currently operating in that land. It reminded me of remarks I heard from Elder Clate Mask, former President of the Guatemala City Temple. During his three year presidency it was operating at 125% of capacity - the busiest temple in the church by that measure.
Image of the Guatemala City Temple from
There is a nefarious faction within the church that mocks the faithful Saints in Mexico and Guatemala by casting aspersions on their countries. We should celebrate the posterity of Lehi coming to know the covenants of the Lord in large numbers as the Title Page of the Book of Mormon promises they will.

According to the World Bank, the U.S. has a land area of 9,147.420, Canada has 9,093,510, Mexico has 1,943,950, and Guatemala has 107,160 square kilometers. According to,, the U.S. currently has 71 operating temples, Canada has 7, Mexico has 12, and Guatemala has 2. On the basis of operating temple density per square kilometer, this is how the four countries rank:

  1. Guatemala: 1 temple per 53,580 square kilometers
  2. U.S. 1 temple per 128,837 square kilometers
  3. Mexico: 1 temple per 161,996 square kilometers
  4. Canada: 1 temple per 1,299,073 square kilometers
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. had an estimated population in July, 2014 of 318,892,103; Mexico had 120,286,655; Canada had 34,834,841, and Guatemala had 14,647,083. On the basis of operating temples per capita, this is how the four countries rank:
  1. U.S.: 1 temple per 4,491,438 people
  2. Canada: 1 temple per 4,976,496 people
  3. Guatemala: 1 temple per 7,323,542 people
  4. Mexico: 1 temple per 10,023,888 people
According to, the U.S. at the end of 2014 had 6,466,267 members of the church. Mexico had 1,368,475, Guatemala had 255,505 and Canada had 192,299. The four countries ranked by percentage of their population in the church are:
  1. U.S.: 2.02% belong to the church
  2. Guatemala: 1.74% belong to the church
  3. Mexico: 1.14% belong to the church
  4. Canada: .055% belong to the church
Another interesting way to run the numbers brings in the length of time the church has had missionaries in a country. This is a measure of receptivity to the gospel in that country. Missionary work began in the U.S. in 1830 and has continued for 186 years. Missionary work also began in Canada in 1830 and has continued for the same 186 years. Missionary work began in Mexico in 1875 and has continued for 141 years. Missionary work only began in Guatemala in 1947 and has continued for 69 years. The four countries ranked by percent of population baptized per year are:
  1. Guatemala: 1.74%/69 years = .025% baptized per year
  2. U.S.: 2.02%/186 years = .011% baptized per year
  3. Mexico: 1.14%/141 years = .008% baptized per year
  4. Canada: .055%/186 years = .003% baptized per year

Friday, October 2, 2015

New Apostles

Article updated October 6, 2015.

The 185th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue on October 3, 2015. It is widely expected that three new Apostles will be called to the Quorum of the Twelve to fill vacancies left by the passing of Elders L. Tom Perry, Boyd K. Packer, and Richard G. Scott.

A great call would be Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the First Quorum of the Seventy, currently serving as President of the Asia Area headquartered in Hong Kong. The W. in his name stands for Walter, his father's name. Walter A. Gong was a Professor of Natural Science at San Jose State University. Gerrit grew up in Palo Alto, California. He was named after Gerrit de Jong Jr., first Dean of the College of Fine Arts at BYU. Gerrit de Jong is the person for whom the de Jong Concert Hall on BYU campus is named.

Gerrit Gong attended BYU as a Joseph Fielding Smith Scholar. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Tennis is his sport. His early career was with the U.S. State Department. He was working in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square uprising in June, 1989. He was later head of the Asia Desk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. For several years he was an Assistant to the President of BYU, in charge of long range planning for the university. He served as a Stake President of one of the BYU stakes, then as an Area Authority. He was called to the First Quorum of Seventy in 2010.

From time to time, the Apostles bring in outside specialists to share their expertise and keep the brethren informed on a wide variety of topics. J. Ward Moody, for example, of the BYU Physics Department, was brought in to teach them about astronomy. One of Elder Gong's early assignments as a Seventy was to identify and arrange for these outside experts to advise the Twelve.

Gerrit is married to Susan Lindsay whose brother is Bruce Lindsay, long-time news anchor at KSL Television and recently released President of the Australia Perth Mission.

Other terrific calls would be Elder L. Whitney Clayton, a former California attorney currently serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, or Elder Kim B. Clark, former Dean of Harvard Business School, former President of BYU-Idaho, and currently Commissioner of Church Education.
Elder Gong was called to serve as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Clayton was called as the senior president of the Quorums of the Seventy.
Elders Clayton and Gong from
My interest in these two is personal. Elder Clayton and I served in the Andes Peru Mission under Pres. J. Robert Driggs. Elder Gong and I became friends our freshman year at BYU in 1971.
The brethren who were called as Apostles include Elder Ronald A. Rasband, former President and COO of Huntsman Chemical, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, co-founder and former COO of Icon Health and Fitness, world's largest manufacturer of exercise equipment, and Elder Dale G. Renlund who did his medical residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the top-rated medical school in the U.S. My wife and I spent a year living in Baltimore County. While there, a number of impressive young couples come into our ward and the husband announced something like this: "I'll be going to Hopkins, so you won't see me. You may see my wife from time to time and she may be able to accept a calling." The creme de la creme of LDS medical students go to Johns Hopkins. It was axiomatic in the Baltimore area wards that these magnificent young people would be essentially unavailable for Church service. During his five years at Hopkins, Elder Renlund served three years as a Bishop, took care of his wife who developed ovarian cancer, and was the primary caregiver for their young daughter while his wife was indisposed. During his medical practice, he served as a Stake President and Area Seventy. When he was called to the First Quorum of Seventy in 2009, his wife left her law career. They spent the next six years in Africa. These are remarkable people.
Elders Renlund, Stevenson, and Rasband from
What does this have to do with the Book of Mormon? The risen Lord called twelve disciples to be his special witnesses in the New World. They were exceptional men 3 Nephi 19:4, 4 Nephi 1:5. In the world of Prophets and Apostles, cream rises.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Xoc Chiapas

In 1968 the BYU New World Archaeological Foundation NWAF worked at the Olmec outlier site of Xoc SE of Ocosingo, Chiapas. The principal attraction of the site was a 2 meter high bas relief figure carved into the face of a rock. When the BYU team returned for another field season four years later, a looter had removed the carved figure with a chain saw and the vandalized rock face was bare. See Susanna Ekholm-Miller, "The Olmec Rock Carving at Xoc, Chiapas, Mexico" in Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 32, BYU NWAF (Provo: 1973). Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the Maya lowlands where most monuments are carved into soft limestone.

Fortunately in this case, the original carving (cut into four pieces for easier transport) recently showed up in France where it was handed over to Mexican authorities who plan to repatriate the important work of Olmec art. This map shows the location of Xoc 190 air kilometers SE of the Olmec Heartland along the Gulf Coast.
Known Olmec Sites with Xoc shown SE of Ocosingo
This photo shows the rock carving in situ prior to defacement.
Olmec Stone Carving ca. 900 BC
And this is an artist's rendering from Mike Ruggeri's fine collection of Olmec images.
Rendering of Olmec Stone Carving from Xoc, Chiapas
Some Mesoamericanists think the figure is a priest, others a warrior. He wears an elaborate headdress adorned with avian motifs.

Xoc is one of only a handful of Olmec sites known from the Usumacinta drainage basin which is typically considered Maya territory.This relative paucity of Olmec sites is one of the many reasons I believe the Usumacinta is a stronger candidate for river Sidon than the Grijalva. See the article "The Usumacinta/Sidion Correlation." The Olmec sculptor who carved the Xoc rock face was probably a long way from his homeland just as Coriantumr was a long way from his native land when he carved the large stone stela none of his hosts could read that is mentioned in Omni 1:20-22.