Sunday, March 12, 2017

Los Horcones

Claudia Garcia-Des Lauriers wrote an article in 2007 entitled "The Early Classic Obsidian Trade at Los Horcones, Chiapas, Mexico" that was published by Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) in 2008. We cited her article in the blog post entitled "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage." This is her map of the area. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Los Horcones in Context
As she explains, this is a unique spot along the coast of Chiapas. It is the only place from Guatemala to Oaxaca where a spur of the Sierra Madre (Cerro Bernal) cuts through the coastal plain and comes right to the seacoast. Los Horcones is located in the passageway between Cerro Bernal and the Sierra Madre where Mexican Federal Highway 200 runs today. Garcia-Des Lauriers, describing Cerro Bernal, says "its foothills on the inland side constrict the terrestrial pass forming a narrow natural corridor that could have been easily controlled by Los Horcones."

We identify this constricted terrestrial pass forming a narrow natural corridor with the narrow passage mentioned in Mormon 2:29. We correlate quite a number of Book of Mormon geographic features with places shown on Garcia-Des Lauriers' map:
  1. Pacific Ocean - west sea Alma 22:27
  2. Mar Muerto Outlet - place where the sea divides the land Ether 10:20
  3. Sandbar containing Puerto Arista and Boca del Cielo - narrow (small) neck of land Ether 10:20, Alma 63:5, Alma 22:32
  4. Olmec site Tzutzuculi - city of Lib Ether 10:19-20
  5. Paredon - city Desolation Mormon 3:5-6, Mormon 3:8
  6. Eastern edge of Mar Muerto - Hagoth's port Alma 63:5
  7. South side of Cerro Bernal where Estacion Mojarras is today - narrow pass Alma 50:34, Alma 52:9, Mormon 3:5
  8. Pacific Ocean on the west and Laguna la Joya on the east - the singular west sea that also had an easterly component Alma 50:34
This is the area where we site the border between land Desolation on the north and land Bountiful on the south. The east west line mentioned in Helaman 4:7 that ran from a point in the east to the west sea we trace right through the site of Los Horcones. In our view, the point in the east was uphill in the Sierra Madre and the west sea mentioned was the saltwater lagoon Laguna La Joya. F. Richard (Ric) Hauck was the first to identify Los Horcones as part of the fortified border in the area between Bountiful and Desolation in his 1988 book Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon.

If this correlation is correct, much of the Book of Mormon narrative took place right here where the lands northward and southward intersected. This was the one place where the greatly outnumbered Nephites could hope to contain the Lamanites because topography worked to their advantage. As Garcia-des Lauriers says, at this place there was a narrow pass that "could have been easily controlled by Los Horcones."

Additional things we learn from the Garcia-des Lauriers paper with possible Book of Mormon implications:
  • The extent of Los Horcones' trade networks was remarkable. This was a nexus, a connecting point. The Book of Mormon consistently describes the Bountiful/Desolation west sea border as a transit point between the lands northward and southward Alma 22:32-34Alma 50:34, Alma 63:5, Mormon 3:5.
  • Los Horcones had close ties to Teotihuacan during the Early Classic (AD 200 - 450). Ca. AD 350, the Nephites forever abandoned the land southward to Lamanite control Mormon 2:29.
  • Los Horcones also maintained strong connections with Veracruz and the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Southern Veracruz is where we place Nephite territories in the land northward. Pacific coastal Guatemala we correlate with the greater land of Nephi in the land southward.
  • Los Horcones was occupied from AD 200 - 700. Apogee was probably AD 400 - 600. From the Book of Mormon we would expect a modest Nephite garrison stationed in the general area ca. 90 BC Alma 22:33 with much more substantial population by ca. AD 328 Mormon 2:6-8.
  • Large numbers of prismatic blades recovered from excavations at Los Horcones evidence militarism in the area which is precisely what the Book of Mormon describes Mormon 2:8.
  • Obsidian at Los Horcones came from Pachuca, Oyameles/Zaragoza, El Chayal, San Martin Jilotepeque, Otumba, and Guadalupe Victoria.
This map shows the sources of Los Horcones obsidian.
Obsidian from Six Sources Found at Los Horcones
Other observations from Claudia Garcia-des Lauriers:
  • The amount of obsidian recovered from Los Horcones is quite large relative to other sites in the area. The Book of Mormon points to the land northward/southward border region as a focus of military activity Alma 50:34-35, Mormon 3:7-8, Mormon 4:19.
  • Obsidian sources in Central Mexico controlled by Teotihuacan are disproportionately represented at Los Horcones. We correlate Teotihuacan with the Gadianton robber capital established by King Jacob 3 Nephi 7:12. Mormon says the Nephites were fighting an alliance of robbers and Lamanites Mormon 1:18, Mormon 2:8, Mormon 2:27.
  • Teotihuacan was a military power, but even more importantly it was a trading empire. The Gadianton robbers were distinguished as intense traders 4 Nephi 1:46.
  • After AD 300 there was a disruption in trading patterns at sites in the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Whereas up to that point, obsidian had come into the area from Guatemalan quarries, from that point on the Guatemalan material does not appear and all obsidian comes from Central Mexican sources, particularly Oyameles/Zaragoza. The Book of Mormon describes significant political shifts at precisely this time that drew a sharp dividing line between the lands northward and southward Mormon 2:28-29. The annihilation of the Nephites may also have opened up this region to a Teotihuacan trading monopoly controlled from Matacapan. See the article "Matacapan."
This map shows the southern Isthmus region.
Southern Isthmus in Context
Two travel and trade routes came from Central Mexico into Los Horcones. One went through the Ishtmus of Tehuantepec at Chivela Pass, the other through the Central Depression of Chiapas. Both of them communicated between our proposed city Desolation and our proposed Ramah/Cumorah.
Two Routes from Central Mexico to Los Horcones
A rough Nephite chronology at the end:
  • ca. AD 322 the war of annihilation began in the borders of the greater land of Zarahemla beside river Sidon Mormon 1:10. Mormon was 11 years old Mormon 1:6. Proposed location: The Chama, Alta Verapaz area which we correlate with the land of Manti on the southern border of the greater land of Zarahemla.
  • ca. AD 322 - 326 four years of peace Mormon 1:12.
  • ca. AD 327 Mormon assumed command of the Nephite armies at age 16 Mormon 2:2.
  • ca. AD 327 Nephite retreat towards the north countries Mormon  2:3. Proposed location: Between Chama, Alta Verapaz and Pijijiapan, Chiapas.
  • ca. AD 327 - 330 Angola fortified ("with our might") then lost. This had not previously been a Nephite city because they had to "take possession" of it. Mormon 2:4 Proposed location: La Libertad, Huehuetenango. 
  • ca. AD 327 - 330 David lost Mormon 2:5. Proposed location: Motozintla, Chiapas area. 
  • ca. AD 327 - 330 Nephites gathered into land of Joshua on the west sea Mormon 2:6-7. Proposed location: The Pijijiapan area on the Pacific coast of Chiapas.
  • ca. AD 327 - 330 Ubiquitous robbers and Lamanites were dual enemies Mormon 1:18, Mormon 2:8.
  • ca. AD 327 - 330 Widespread witchcraft Mormon 1:19, Mormon 2:10.
  • ca. AD 331 Nephites victorious in battle in land of Joshua Mormon 2:9.
  • ca. AD 345 Nephites retreated from land of Joshua to land of Jashon which was near land of Antum where hill Shim was located Mormon 2:16. Proposed location for Jashon: Laguna de los Cerros, Veracruz area. Proposed location for Antum: Tres Zapotes, Veracruz area. Proposed location for hill Shim: Cerro Vigia between Tres Zapotes and Santiago Tuxtla. 
  • ca. AD 345 Nephites driven northward from Jashon to land of Shem Mormon 2:20. Proposed location: Alvarado, Veracruz area, east of the Papaloapan River.
  • ca. AD 345 Nephites gathered, fortified city of Shem Mormon 2:21. Proposed location, El Meson, Veracruz. This was the northernmost Nephite advance.
A proposed map of Nephite movements ca. AD 322 - 345.
Proposed Manti, Angola, David, Joshua, Jashon, Antum with Hill Shim, & Shem
More Nephite chronology at the end:
  • ca. AD 346 - 349 From their fortified base in Shem, the Nephite army numbering 30,000 with Mormon in command defeated the numerically superior Lamanite/Robber forces and re-possessed lands they believed were rightfully theirs Mormon 2:22-27.
  • ca. AD 350 The Nephites negotiated a treaty with the combined Lamanite/Robber forces. The line of demarcation was the narrow passage on the Bountiful/Desolation border Mormon 2:28-29. The Nephites occupied the land northward and the Lamanites/Robbers controlled the land southward.
A proposed map contextualizing the strategic narrow passage area.
Proposed Narrow Passage in Green
The Bountiful/Desolation border, which was also the land southward/northward border, we interpret as the east-west line described in Alma 22:32 and 3 Nephi 3:23 and the border described in Alma 63:5. We read Mormon 2:28-29 as describing this same east-west line. It is represented by the longer of the two red lines on the map above. The narrow passage we correlate with the "narrow natural corridor" Garcia-Des Lauriers describes between Cerro Bernal and the Sierra Madre. This corridor is where Mexican Federal Highway 200 runs today. It is represented by the green line on the map above.
Google Street View of Proposed Narrow Passage Area
This image was taken on Mexican Federal Highway 200 headed northbound at about Nuevo Morelos near the La Polca ruins. The Sierra Madre is on the right, Cerro Bernal on the left.

Continuing with the Nephite chronology:
  • ca. AD 351 - 360 The Nephites enjoyed 10 years of peace in their land northward territory. Mormon kept the people busy building fortifications and manufacturing weapons Mormon 3:1.
  • ca. AD 361 With knowledge that another round of fighting was imminent, Mormon gathered the entire Nephite nation into a single city - Desolation, just north of the land northward/southward border Mormon 3:4-5. We correlate Desolation with the ruins of Paredon on the eastern shore of Mar Muerto. The city of Desolation was very near the narrow pass that led into the land southward. We correlate the narrow pass with the railroad route represented by the orange line on the map above.
  • ca. AD 361 The city of Desolation was in an area where the Nephites had a reasonable expectation of preventing the larger Lamanite/Robber forces from breaking through their defensive lines Mormon 3:6. This is precisely how Garcia-Des Lauriers describes the narrow corridor between the Sierra Madre and Cerro Bernal - that because of its unique topography it could have been "easily controlled" by Los Horcones. Something else interesting was going on in the city of Desolation and environs. Mormon was building extraordinary fortifications "we did fortify against them with all our force."
Mormon had supervised construction of other fortifications. At Angola, he was only 16 years old when he oversaw major defensive public works. The Nephites were quickly defeated, notwithstanding having fortified Angola "with our might" Mormon 2:4. At Shem, Mormon was 34 years old when construction began and those fortifications were successful enough that the Nephite military not only defended Shem, but also went on the offensive and drove the enemy from some Nephite lands. During Mormon's fifth decade (age 40 - 49), he directed the Nephites as they prepared their lands which presumably meant building fortifications Mormon 3:1. When Mormon was 50 years old, he led his people in an unprecedented defensive construction project. They fortified the city of Desolation "with all our force" Mormon 3:6. Those fortifications were so effective that the Nephites could have remained on the defensive, protected in their city of refuge indefinitely Mormon 4:4. We believe the fortifications at Desolation were impregnable when adequately manned because they were built with large granite blocks like those visible today at the site of Iglesia Vieja. See the articles "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage" and "French Connection." Mormon took personal credit for his brilliant military engineering accomplishment Mormon 3:13. When the city of Desolation finally fell, Mormon went out of his way to explain the reason (shortage of defensive manpower) this well-fortified place eventually became vulnerable Mormon 4:13.
Proposed Correlations for Mormon's 3 Fortified Cities
More Nephite chronology:
  • ca. AD 361 Lamanite invaders came down to the city of Desolation and were defeated. Mormon 3:7.
  • ca. AD 362 Lamanite invaders came down again to the city of Desolation and were soundly defeated. Lamanite dead were cast into the sea Mormon 3:8. This is one of the reasons we site Desolation on the coast. 
  • ca. AD 362 The Nephites grew overconfident after their decisive victory and determined to leave their own lands, go on the offensive into enemy territory, and take the fight to the Lamanites and robbers Mormon 3:9-10. Captain Moroni had threatened to do this 425 years earlier Alma 54:12, but it had never happened. The Nephites had never before been the aggressors beyond the bounds of their lawful territory. The military expedition Zeniff participated in almost engaged the Lamanites, but the wording of verse 1 ("the land of our father's first inheritance) makes it clear those Nephites considered the recently-abandoned city of Nephi still rightfully theirs and available via treaty Mosiah 9:1-2. 3 Nephi 3:20-21 describes the divine mandate that the Nephites always remain on the defensive, even against irregular or extralegal forces occupying wilderness areas.
  • ca. AD 362 At age 51, Mormon relinquished his military command. He refused to be part of a punitive expeditionary raid that violated what he considered a fundamental tenet of the Nephite covenant with God Mormon 3:11-16.
  • ca. AD 363 The Nephite military left the city and land of Desolation, invaded territory rightfully belonging to Lamanites and robbers, mounted a surprise attack, were repulsed, then driven back into their own land of Desolation Mormon 4:1-2. Once the survivors were back across the land of Desolation border, a new Lamanite army engaged the spent Nephite forces and nearly obliterated them. This allowed the invaders to take the unusually well fortified city of Desolation Mormon 4:2. Nephite survivors fled to the neighboring coastal city of Teancum Mormon 4:3. At this time I do not know of a suitable candidate for Teancum. It is a coastal site probably only a few kilometers distant from Desolation.
  • ca. AD 363 Mormon points out the turning point in the war - the disastrous Nephite invasion into Lamanite lands. There would be fleeting Nephite victories, but the die was cast. This was the moment when the Nephites "began to be smitten" Mormon 4:4. Had the Nephites not lost most of their fighting force in an offensive blunder, they could have remained secure in and around the city of Desolation the rest of their lives.
  • ca. AD 364 The Lamanites, still controlling Desolation, attempted to take Teancum and were defeated. Heartened by their successful defense, the Nephites drove their weakened enemies out of Desolation as well Mormon 4:7-8. The implication is that the Nephites applied the lessons they had learned at Desolation about defensive fortification architecture to Teancum. There appears to be a numbers game going on here. A fortified city could hold out against superior forces until troop strength relative to the invaders dropped below a certain critical mass.
  • ca. AD 367 The Lamanites invaded Desolation again with overwhelming force and took control of the city Mormon 4:13. The Lamanites marched on neighboring Teancum and took control of that city as well Mormon 4:14. Both sides had descended into unprecedented depths of utter depravity.
  • ca. AD 367 The remaining Nephites, stirred up into a vicious frenzy by Lamanite atrocities, re-took control of both Teancum and Desolation and re-enforced the boundary established by treaty 17 years earlier Mormon 4:15.
  • ca. AD 367 - 375 The Nephites resided in peace in the Desolation - Teancum area for 8 years Mormon 4:16.
  • ca. AD 375 The Lamanites invaded the city of Desolation for the 5th time in 15 years. The Lamanite army was enormous - unprecedented up to that point in the war, and the out manned Nephites were forced to retreat Mormon 4:17-19. By this time it was clear to Mormon that the end was near.
  • ca. AD 375 The Nephites made a valiant stand in the city of Boaz and defeated the first Lamanite army that attempted to invade Mormon 4:20. Where is Boaz? There is so little context for this city in the text that we may never know for sure. The double site of La Soledad in Chiapas NW of Arriaga is a likely candidate.
This map shows our proposed location for Boaz.
La Soleada, Chiapas, Possible Nephite City of Boaz
Continuing Nephite chronology:
  • ca. AD 375 The Lamanites attacked Boaz a second time and routed the Nephites. The Nephites began a general evacuation and retreat not just from their headquarters, but from all of their settlements Mormon 4:20-22.
  • ca. AD 375 - 379 Mormon describes a major political upheaval "the Lamanites were about to overthrow the land" Mormon 4:23. This is one of the most remarkable statements in the Book of Mormon. Precisely at this time, political upheaval took place all over Mesoamerica with well-documented regime changes in the Maya lowlands. AD 378 was the famous "entrada" or entry of Teotihuacan-allied forces into the Peten that shaped politics for the next two hundred years and ushered in the resplendent Maya classic era.
This map shows sites with significant Teotihuacan influence. Many of them experienced political convulsion right at the time period Mormon describes. Key sites in the Peten such as Waka (El Peru) and Tikal are shown as black pyramid symbols, but their names do not appear because so many sites are densely packed that Google Earth does not render all the names.
Sites with Known Significant Teotihuacan Influence
Two areas of Teotihuacan influence draw our attention. The first is the Pacific coast of Chiapas around Los Horcones.
Proposed Book of Mormon Locations near Los Horcones and Fraccion Mujular,
both of which were under Teotihuacan Iinfluence ca. AD 378
The second is the Tuxtlas Region of Southern Veracruz.
Proposed Book of Mormon Locations near Tres Zapotes, Matacapan, and Piedra Labrada,
all three of which were under Teotihuacan Influence ca. AD 378
So, at precisely the moment Mormon says the Lamanites were about to overthrow the land, we believe the Nephites had been driven from the Los Horcones, Fraccion Mujular area and the Nephite repository buried in hill Shim was no longer secure because Teotihuacan was intensifying its control of the Matacapan area.

More Nephite chronology:
  • ca. AD 375 - 379 Mormon aged 64 - 68 resumed command of the Nephite military after an absence of at least 13 years Mormon 5:1.
  • ca. AD 375 - 379 Under Mormon's leadership, the Nephites gathered at Jordan and several other nearby cities. These cities were fortified because the text calls them strong holds. This cluster of cities guarded the route into more expansive lands still under Nephite control. The Nephites successfully repulsed two Lamanite attacks on Jordan and environs Mormon 5:3-4.
There are natural choke points around Chivela Pass where travelers ancient and modern have crossed over the continental divide. We propose Jordan was in the general vicinity of Chivela Pass. With the Sierra Madre on either side, the Nephites at this place would have been in an advantageous position to control enemy movements northward through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This is the place Mexican Federal Highway 185 and the railroad run today.
Proposed Location of Jordan at Chivela Pass
Green represents Continental Divide, Turquoise Highway 185, and Orange Railroad
Nephite chronology at the end:
  • ca. AD 380 The Lamanites came a third time against Jordan with overwhelming force and drove the Nephites into full evacuation and retreat Mormon 5:6.
  • ca. AD 380 - 384 Mormon wrote an epistle to the Lamanite king asking for time to gather all remaining Nephites to the land of Cumorah Mormon 6:2. The Nephite nation came together around the hill Ramah/Cumorah which we correlate with San Martin Pajapan on the eastern extreme of the Tuxtlas Mountains in southern Veracruz.
  • ca. AD 385 At age 74 Mormon hid up the Nephite record repository in hill Cumorah Mormon 6:6.
  • ca. AD 385 230,000 Nephites were massacred in and around hill Ramah/Cumorah Mormon 6:7-15.
Topographic view of our proposed Ramah/Cumorah:
San Martin Pajapan in Context
For additional insights into the last years of the Nephite nation, see the blog articles Ramah Cumorah, Linguistic Cumorah, and Matacapan.

This map shows our correlation for places mentioned in Mormon's record of his career as prophet, historian, and supreme commander of Nephite forces.
Proposed Locations for Mormon's Eye-Witness Account
This helps us visualize Mormon in space and time. See the 2012 article Captain Moroni in Space and Time for a similar treatment of the other quintessential Nephite military hero.

If our correlation is correct, Mormon as commander ranged over territory 628 air kilometers in extent between ca. AD 327 and 385.
628 Air Kilometer Distance Proposed Manti to Shem
As a point of comparison, if our correlation is correct, Captain Moroni as commander ranged over territory 591 air kilometers in extent between ca. 74 and 61 BC.
591 Air Kilometers Distance Proposed Judea to Bountiful
I occasionally hear objections from thoughtful students of the text that distances on the order of 600 air kilometers are too large, that the Nephites could not have ranged over that vast a territory. This map puts distances on that scale into perspective.
596 Air Kilometers Cornwall to Norfolk
Another perspective.
591 Air Kilometers Dorset to Northumberland
Article last updated May 15, 2017.