Friday, January 27, 2017

Earliest Urbanization in the Americas

Anthropologists classify cultures by their degree of sophistication. From a geographic perspective, Hunter gatherers settle down into sedentism practicing agriculture. Sedentary people cluster together into urban centers with civic architecture. Urban areas become cities. Cities develop into states. States form empires. From a social perspective, families band together in clans. Clans form tribes. Tribes develop into chiefdoms. Chiefdoms evolve into states. States form empires. The earliest appearance of sedentism, urbanization, cities, and states are important milestones in the culture history of a region.

North America.

Watson Brake, Louisiana is the earliest urban center yet discovered in North America. It dates to ca. 3,500 BC.
Artist's Rendering of Watson Brake in NE Louisiana
The earthworks were simple and small. Watson Brake was pre-ceramic. Excavations there uncovered no evidence of long-distance trading. Populations were in the hundreds. Nevertheless, its early dates, first reported in 1997, took archaeologists by surprise. No one expected urbanism with even a modest scale community center at 3,500 BC.

Poverty Point, Louisiana dates to ca. 1,700 BC. It is much larger and was engaged in extensive long-distance trade. It also had crude ceramics. Populations were in the thousands.
Artist's Rendering of Poverty Point in NE Louisiana
Poverty Point is important enough in North American prehistory it is now a National Monument as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Both Watson Brake and Poverty Point were urban centers, but neither developed into a city. The only ancient city anthropologists recognize in North America is Cahokia which had a population of approximately 50,000 people at its peak with several hundred thousand in its periphery.
Monks Mound, Largest Ancient Earthwork North of Mexico
Cahokia dates to ca. AD 850. Its largest structure, Monks Mound, rises to 33 meters and has a volume of 623,000 cubic meters. Cahokia is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cahokia was beginning to develop some state-level characteristics when it collapsed ca. AD 1,300. For a discussion of tribalism and states, see the article entitled "State Level Society."

Middle America

The earliest urban centers discovered to date in Mesoamerica are Cuicuilco in Central Mexico (ca. 1,400 BC), San Jose Magote in Oaxaca (ca. 1,500 BC), Paso de la Amada on the Pacific coast of Chiapas (ca. 1,800 BC) and Monte Alto on the Pacific coast of Guatemala (ca. 1,800 BC). San Lorenzo (ca. 1,200 BC) is generally considered the first Mesoamerican city. 
Earliest Urban Centers in Middle America

South America

The earliest urban center yet discovered in South American is Caral on the Peruvian coast near Supe. Caral dates to ca. 3,000 BC. It was the largest of 18 affiliated sites in the area.
Caral on the Pacific Coast of Peru
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Caral was preceramic. Populations were in the tens of thousands. It had dozens of large-scale public works. Long-distance trade is attested. It was a true city - large and sophisticated. Caral is the earliest advanced civilization currently known in the western hemisphere. Quipus, the knotted string cords the Inca used as inventory control and mnemonic devices, were found at Caral, as were the famous Andean multi-pitched pan pipes.
Quipu and Pan Pipes Discovered at Caral
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Peru is so proud of the earliest known New World city, they adopted a spiral design from Caral as their new national symbol.
Caral Spiral Carved in Stone
Photo by Kirk Magleby, April 2014
Peru's current tourist logo on a baseball cap.
National Symbol Inspired by Ancient Caral
Caral, which only came to the world's attention in 2001, surprised the experts. No one anticipated a city co-terminus with the first Egyptian dynasty in the Americas. No clear antecedents have been found. A full-fledged advanced civilization appeared on the scene seemingly out of nowhere. In 2009, Caral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tracking the Jaredites

The Jaredite saga began at the Tower of Babel Ether 1:33. Biblical tradition has long held that the Tower of Babel was in the land of Shinar based on Genesis 10:10 and Genesis 11:2. Shinar is generally associated with Babylon in the alluvial plain between the lower Tigris and Euphrates. See Bible Dictionary Shinar, Plain of. From Babel, the Brother of Jared was instructed to lead his small band northward down into the Valley of Nimrod Ether 1:42, Ether 2:1.

One problem locating the Tower of Babel near Babylon is that virtually all topography northward is up in elevation and the Book of Mormon explicitly says they went down. In 2011, Anne Habermehl published a revisionist article entitled "Where in the World is the Tower of Babel?" She argues that Shinar was in the Khabur triangle of northern Mesopotamia in the  NE corner of modern Syria. From Habermehl's Babel one can in fact go northward and drop down in elevation.
Anne Habermehl's Proposed Tower of Babel Location
From the Valley of Nimrod, the group went into "that quarter where there never had man been" Ether 2:5. Since their eventual destination was an ocean leading to the New World, they must have gone either east to the Pacific or west to the Atlantic. John L. Sorenson in 1985 (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon) suggested they traveled east to the Pacific and landed on the west coast of Mexico. In 2013 (Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book) Sorenson changed his mind and postulated an Atlantic crossing disembarking in Veracruz. I find Sorenson's 1985 model more convincing. His 2013 reversal is based on several assumptions I find problematic:
  1. Textual indications that the Jaredites incorporated pre-existing populations into their polities favor a Veracruz setting. This is not necessarily true. There is as much evidence for pre-Jaredite peoples in Guerrero, Central Mexico, Puebla, and Oaxaca as there is in Veracruz.
  2. Sorenson places Heth approximately at modern Xalapa, Moron at Cordoba, and Nehor at Tuxtepec. He then says Moron was in the southern tier of Jaredite lands which contradicts his map. He further says Moron was near Nephite Desolation which also contradicts his map. Finally he says that Moron was up in elevation relative to other Jaredite lands, a condition required by the text Ether 7:5, 14:11 but not obvious on his map.
  3. Because Sorenson correlates the Nephite narrow pass Alma 50:34, 52:9, Mormon 3:5 with the "Tehuantepec Ridge" between Minatitlan and Acayucan, he tries to cluster Jaredite lands in the same general vicinity. His east west "gravelly ridge" has never made any sense to me. I have yet to find it on any topo map. Several north south "ridges" bisect it, defeating its supposed purpose. I have been in the area and inquired locally to no avail. The natives I have spoken with do not acknowledge any such natural feature. I believe the narrow pass identified in the Book of Mormon Lands Map 2016 on the Pacific coast of Chiapas is a more likely candidate and a stronger fit to the text. See the article entitled "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage."
  4. The severe drought mentioned in Ether 9:30 is more likely in arid Oaxaca or Puebla than in humid Veracruz.
  5. Sorenson's insistence that Ether 9:3 and 14:26 both refer to the "east sea" are probably forced readings. The text simply says people went eastward to a sea. The Gulf of Campeche, Sorenson's "east sea" is NW or even WNW of both his Zarahemla (Santa Rosa) and his Nephi (Kaminaljuyu). We now know that the ancient Maya called the Caribbean the "east sea." See the article entitled "Smoking Gun."
  6. Sorenson's point that no single river in south central Veracruz stands out is simply wrong. The Papaloapan is by far the largest river in this part of Mexico.
  7. Sorenson correlates the Jaredites with the Olmec who had influence from Central Mexico to the Caribbean and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific.
Sorenson's proposed Jaredite lands (yellow pins) overlay a map of sites with known Olmec influence.
Olmec World (Orange) with Sorenson's Jaredites (Yellow)
I have difficulty reconciling Ether 1:43 and the extensive Olmec world with Sorenson's diminutive Jaredite territory.

I share the view more common among LDS Mesoamericanists that the Jaredites landed on the west coast of Mexico and spread first throughout the land northward. Upland Oaxaca is a suitable candidate for the land of Moron.

David Rosenvall, one of the brightest contemporary Book of Mormon theorists, suggests that the Jaredites left the Tower of Babel area and turned eastward, building barges to cross the large inland Caspian Sea Ether 2:6-7.
Proposed Jaredite Route Eastward to Inland Sea
From there he thinks they traveled across Central Asia and China to the highest mountain on the Chinese coast - 1,083 meter Mount Laoshan Ether 3:1.
Proposed Jaredite Routes Eastward to Mount Shelem
Mount Laoshan is interesting because it is the traditional birthplace of both Taoism and Chinese culture generally. From Mount Laoshan the mythological Eight Immortals crossed the sea.
Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea
Relief from Qingsong Temple, Hong Kong
One of the eight, Zhongli Quan, reputedly had the power to turn stones into silver and gold.

From Mount Shelem, eight Jaredite barges were blown across the ocean for 344 days Ether 6:11 until they reached the New World. This is  a detail we can test scientifically.

On March 11, 2011 a massive tsunami killed 16,000 people in northern Japan and washed millions of tons of debris into the ocean. On December 13, 2011 buoys from Japan reached Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the first objects from the tsunami to cross the Pacific.
Buoys from Japan retrieved from a Canadian Beach
Light enough to be blown by the wind Ether 6:8, the buoys drifted for 276 days. Two days later, December 15, 2011, the first tsunami debris landed on Washington's Olympic Peninsula after drifting for 278 days. Similar Japanese buoys from oyster farms began appearing on beaches in the Alaska Panhandle in January, 2012. The first vessel to arrive, the Japanese shrimping boat Ryou-Un Maru from Hokkaido, was spotted in Canadian waters off British Columbia on March 23, 2012. It was adrift as a ghost ship for 377 days. It was scuttled to avoid damaging other vessels. A few days later a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a shipping container landed on Graham Island, British Columbia. Its Japanese owner donated it to the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

So, we have recent credible evidence that drifting waterborne objects from northern Japan can reach North American shores in a period of 276 - 377 days. Assuming the Jaredites crossed the North Pacific, this tsunami drift data supports the Book of Mormon account to a remarkable degree. This is a map of the places Japanese tsunami debris had landed as of March, 2016, five years after the disaster.
Japanese Tsunami Drift Map
According to the University of Hawaii International Pacific Research Center IPRC Drift Model, the Book of Mormon's 344 days is right in the sweet spot of probability for northern Pacific oceanic passage of objects that ride high enough in the water to catch the wind which the Jaredite barges clearly did.