Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grand Unifying Theory

Physicists, Biologists, and other scientists seek a "grand unifying theory" in their discipline to explain the big picture and fit disparate parts into a coherent whole. There may be a grand unifying theory linking the Book of Mormon with its ancient Mesoamerican setting.

G1 of the Palenque triad is likely the same deity as Central Mexico's Quetzalcoatl. George and David Stuart, Palenque Eternal City of the Maya (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008) p. 212 and note 21.

G1 of the Palenque triad is likely the same demigod-deity as Hunahpu, the elder of the hero twins in the Popol Vuh. Floyd G. Lounsbury, "The Identities of the Mythological Figures in the Cross Goup Inscriptions of Palenque," Mesoweb, 1985; Linda Schildkraut, "The Hero Twins in Veracruz," FAMSI; Carolyn Tate, Yaxchilan: The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).

G1 of the Palenque triad is likely a classic Maya instance of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. See the article "Palenque."

If these relationships are true, they form a grand unifying theory that explains many things in ancient Mesoamerica and in the Book of Mormon.

For example, it explains why both Popol Vuh and Book of Mormon iconographic elements appear on Izapa Stela 25. See the article "Art and Iconography 2."

Ditto both Popol Vuh and Book of Mormon iconographic elements on Izapa Stela 5. See the article "Art and Iconography 4."

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Refugee Pageant

What would you do if the Book of Mormon was not yet available in your native language? You would stage a pageant so the powerful messages in this divine book could communicate to your family and friends.

That is precisely the situation the Karen and Karenni Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake's Columbus Branch find themselves in. Refugees from Burma (Myanmar), they have come to Utah and joined the Church, but the Book of Mormon has not been translated into either Karen or Karenni so not all of their family members and friends have access to it.

Enter humanitarians Bob and Susan Roylance who have been working with the Columbus Branch for so many years some of their neighbors in Murray hardly know them. See the article "Refugee Eagle Scouts" for background on the Roylances. Their family non-profit is called "Welcome Hand" which provides a variety of services to the Utah refugee community.

Years ago, Susan authored a Book of Mormon pageant called "Mormon Speaks." It has been produced several times, but not in the last 20 years. She recently received the impression that she was to produce it again, casting Columbus Branch members in most of the roles. And that is how "Mormon Speaks" came to be scheduled for Thursday, June 7, 2018 through Saturday, June 9, 2018 in the Murray High School Auditorium, 5440 South State Street in Murray, Utah. General admission tickets are $5 and you can click on this link to purchase them on Eventbrite. Groups of 20 or more such as Young Men and Young Women get in free of charge.
Book of Mormon Pageant June 7, 8, 9, 2018
Click on this link to download a single page PDF flyer for printing or sharing.

Bob and Susan's leadership will ensure good production values, but the real joy of this pageant will not be the impressive scenery, costumes, lighting, or props. It will be the spirit of wonderful Latter-day Saints, many of them recently-baptized, portraying the epic Book of Mormon story on stage for people they love.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Trample Under Feet

It has come to my attention that Kerry Hull, one of two outstanding Mesoamericanists on the BYU Religion faculty (Mark Wright is the other), presented on this topic in early 2017. Anyone interested would be well-advised to consult Hull for further information. He is a first-rate scholar with wonderful insights into both ancient Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. 

I was looking at the figure on the obverse of the Leiden plaque aka Leiden plate who is standing beside a bound captive when it occurred to me that the Book of Mormon phrase "trample under feet" may be reflecting the Mesoamerican cultural tradition of lords humiliating victims by treading on them.
Leiden Plaque Incised Jadeite
This artifact was unearthed in 1834 in a post-classic burial mound near the mouth of the Motagua River in Guatemala. It is now in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, Netherlands. The glyph text on the reverse celebrates the accession of a king, probably in Tikal, on September 17, AD 320. This was just a few years before Mormon, age 15, took command of the Nephite armies Mormon 2:1-2.

The Book of Mormon uses a variant of the expression "trample under feet" 11 times. It must have been a relatively common term among the Nephites and their contemporaries. In contrast, the Old and New Testaments each use the phrase only once. Nephi was concerned enough about the meaning of the idiom that he defined it in 1 Nephi 19:7 as not heeding the counsels of the one being trampled underfoot. 1 Nephi chapter 19 is at the very beginning of Nephite history and literary tradition in the New World. Nephi may have sensed the need to define this expression because he saw the metaphor being used explicitly to depict dominance and subservience throughout the Mesoamerica of his day.

The relevant passages:
  • Psalms 91:13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. This psalm is generally understood to refer to the future Messiah.
  • Matthew 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet.
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet;
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 I say trample under their feet, but I would speak in other words - they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
  • Alma 5:53 ... can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet;
  • Alma 60:33 Ye know that ye do transgress the laws of God, and ye do know that ye do trample them under your feet.
  • Helaman 4:22 ... they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people;
  • Helaman 6:31 ... they had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God,
  • Helaman 6:39 ... they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor, and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
  • Helaman 12:2 ... they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One - 
  • 3 Nephi 14:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
  • Related is Mormon 5:6 ... they did tread the people of the Nephites under their feet.
  • Possibly related is 2 Nephi 26:20 ... that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
The relatively high frequency of trampling verbiage in the Nephite text may be related to the abundance of trampling imagery in Mesoamerican art and iconography. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Kaminaljuyú Sculpture 173
Drawing by Lucia Henderson
Kaminaljuyú (KJ) Sculpture 173 (Lucia Henderson's nomenclature) depicts a bejeweled human holding a double headed serpent in one hand while standing on one of the creature's two heads.

Izapa Stela 25 from V. Garth Norman
Izapa Stela 25 shows Hunahpu, one of the hero twins, pushing down the earth monster's snout with his foot.

Coba Stela 20 Site Drawing
In this image from Coba, Quintana Roo, a victorious ruler stands on the backs of two war captives. Coba stelae 1 & 4 show similar scenes of elites trampling prisoners under their feet.

Xultun Stela 5
In this image from Xultun, Peten, a victor tramples a hapless war captive.
Dos Pilas Stela 16
This image from Dos Pilas shows the same thing - victor trampling captive.

Naranjo Stela 30 Drawing by Ian Graham
Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions
Naranjo Stela 24 depicts a similar scene with an elite person treading on a captive.

We could duplicate these examples many times over. Tonina Monument 147 (bottom portion) for example is a striking image. Powerful individuals are often portrayed in Maya art treading or trampling on a hapless victim. This Mesoamerican cultural practice is a possible explanation for the frequent occurrence of the phrase "trample under feet" in the Book of Mormon. It may be the reason Nephi defined the term when he used it in 1 Nephi 19:7.

Naranjo Stela 14 shows a victor stepping on his victim's head with his foot, a literal grinding upon the face of the poor as 2 Nephi 26:20 describes.
Naranjo Stela 14
Cacaxtla has an entire stairway archaeologists call the "captive stair" where images of humiliated captives were meant to be tread upon.

Now things get really interesting. 3 of the Book of Mormon passages listed above describe men trampling God under their feet. Maya iconography shows a young man trampling a god.
Codex-Style Vase Likely from the Area around El Peru Waka, Peten
In this scene, old god L lies prostrate on his back, humiliated. A hunchback removes the god's elaborate hat while a young lord steps on his chest. This image is from Francis Robicsek and Donald Hales, The Maya Book of the Dead (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Art Museum, 1981). Justin Kerr labels this vase K1560.

Alfred Marston Tozzer rendered the Mayan term unaktantik "trample under foot."
Alfred M. Tozzer, A Comparative Study of the Mayas and the Lacandones, Archaeological Institute of America, Report of the Fellow in American Archaeology 1902 - 1905 (New York: Macmillan, 1907) pp. 172-176. 

Article by Kirk Magleby, volunteer Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, worlds premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English and Spanish.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Wade E. Miller is a retired BYU Professor of Geology and Paleontology. He received his PhD in Paleontology from UC Berkeley. He has done fieldwork and presented at academic conferences in more than a dozen countries. He spent a number of years working with faunal remains from the famed La Brea tar pits under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museums. He has a long-standing close working relationship with the Museo del Desierto in Coahuila, Mexico. Miller's ResearchGate profile shows a productive scholar whose work gets cited by others in his field. His personal statement of faith in the Mormon Scholars Testify collection shows his firm belief in the Book of Mormon.

Miller has personally reconciled his deep knowledge of earth sciences with his understanding of the scriptures. He wrote a book in 2010 entitled Science and the Book of Mormon.  My overview of it is in the article entitled "BMAF 2014." Miller teamed up with Book of Mormon Central Research Associate Matt Roper for an article on animals in the Book of Mormon published in Interpreter in 2014. That article was updated and expanded into an even better piece entitled "Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives" published in BYU Studies Quarterly Vol. 56 No. 4 (2017). The BYU Studies article includes blockbuster information about horse (Equus) remains from the state of Coahuila in Mexico that date to ca. 520 BC.

In other words, a qualified paleontologist has documented the presence of horses in Mexico in Book of Mormon times. Passages such as Enos 1:21 now have additional credible external corroboration.
State of Coahuila in Mexico
See also the very good article by Daniel Johnson entitled "Hard Evidence of Ancient American Horses" in BYU Studies 54:3 (2015) and the January 29, 2018 Book of Mormon Central blog post entitled "New Evidence for Horses in America."
Wade Miller lives just a few minutes from my house. We visited recently. Additional research is underway.

February 21, 2018 Wade brought Rosario Gomez to visit me. The two of them just returned from St. George where they presented research papers at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists. Gomez is Director of Paleontology for the State of Coahuila, Mexico. Coahuila has more fossils than any other state in the country and its license plates now carry the tagline "Tierra de los Dinosaurios."
National Geographic Article on Coahuila Dinosaurs
We discussed their upcoming trip to the state of Mexico where Miller and Gomez will do fieldwork at sites near Mexico City.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Early Thursday morning, February 1, 2018, National Geographic broke a story intended to drive viewership to a one-hour special entitled "Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings" that aired on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 on the National Geographic Channel. The teaser was "See how LiDAR is revolutionizing archaeology and rewriting history." The National Geographic story that quickly went viral was entitled "Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya 'Megalopolis' Below Guatemalan Jungle." In subsequent days, the story was picked up by other major media:
The details in this story, including those shared in the television special, explicitly corroborate dozens of verses in the Book of Mormon that describe dense populations, sophisticated economies, road networks, large-scale agriculture, intensive land use, disaster-prone landscapes, and prevalent warfare. This is paradigm-shifting even for Latter-day Saint scholars who have tended to dismiss Book of Mormon phrases such as "the whole face of the land" as hyperbole. If the Maya lowlands were part of the Book of Mormon world as we believe they were (See the Book of Mormon Central archive article "Book of Mormon Lands Map, January 2016") these grandiose descriptions are not far-fetched after all. Respected archaeologists are now comparing the Maya with the ancient Egyptians and Chinese.
LiDAR is a technology where expensive equipment is flown in a slow grid pattern over a target area. Billions of pulsed laser beams penetrate the forest canopy and bounce off structures below to create a massive data cloud. Graphics processing with supercomputers then yields highly accurate 3-D maps of the scanned surface. This digital imaging technique is revolutionizing Mesoamerican archaeology where important ruins lie concealed beneath jungle or dense forest.
Guatemalan LiDAR Data after Rendering and Graphical Processing
Richard Hansen's and Fernando Paiz' Fundación Patrimonio Cultural y Natural Maya (PACUNAM) just went public with the results of the largest LiDAR survey ever attempted for archaeological research. Called the Pacunam LiDAR Initiative, it mapped 10 tracts totaling 2,100 square kilometers near the Mirador Basin and other areas of northern Guatemala. The surveyed area is less than half the size of Utah County. And what did archaeologists find buried in the Peten?
  • 65,000 previously unknown structures. Mosiah 27:6 speaks of large cities and villages in all quarters of the land.
  • Vast networks of highways elevated so they functioned even in the rainy season. 3 Nephi 6:8 terminology is many highways cast up, and many roads made.
  • Ubiquitous fortresses, ramparts, and defensive walls. Alma 49:13 mentions forts of security, for every city in all the land round about. Alma 49:18 emphasizes the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about. Mormon in Alma 50:4,6 calls Captain Moroni's fortifications towers and strongholdsAlma 52:6 describes Teancum preparing defenses by casting up walls round about and preparing places of resort. The article "75 BC" documents the impressive chronological correlation between widespread fortifications in the Maya lowlands and the Book of Mormon text.
  • Public works including dikes, dams, canals, ditches, and reservoirs. In some cases Maya engineers re-routed natural stream flows. Mormon, in describing the Nephite golden age in the land southward, mentions widespread engineering and construction works Alma 50:12 which included ditches Alma 49:22.
  • Agricultural terraces with irrigation systems. Alma 17:26-27 describes a designated Lamanite place of water.
  • Animal pens. Alma 1:29 says the Nephites had an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind.
  • Stone quarries. Alma 48:8 lists banks of earth and walls of stone as structural components.
It will take decades to study so many new structures, but settlement patterns and big picture insights are already apparent. The concordance between this new scientific data and the scriptural record is simply remarkable. It is almost like the archaeologists are paraphrasing the Book of Mormon.
  • Maya lowland population at apogee could have reached 15-20 million. Mormon 1:7 says the people in the land southward were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.
  • Maya civilization was much more dense, complex and advanced than previously thought. Jarom 1:8 says the people multiplied exceedingly, spread upon the face of the land, became exceedingly rich, employed fine workmanship, built buildings and machinery, worked metals, made tools of every kind, and crafted weapons of war. Helaman 3:14-15 adds that they built ships, temples, synagogues, and sanctuaries and authored many books and many records of every kind.
  • Maya cities were more interconnected with transportation infrastructure than anyone realized. 3 Nephi 6:8 describes many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.
  • Food production was at an industrial scale. Helaman 6:12 mentions raising grain in abundance, many flocks and herds, and many fatlings.
  • Land use was intensive - nearing 100% in many areas. Mormon 1:7 says the whole face of the land had become covered with buildings. Note to would-be Book of Mormon geographers from John W. (Jack) Welch: the text does NOT say huts, tents, dugouts or mounds.
  • Many people lived on marginal, swampy lands. Helaman 11:20 uses the terminology waste places4 Nephi 1:9 speaks of cities sunk in water.
  • Endemic warfare over centuries was the norm. Mormon 8:8 Moroni ca. AD 400 said the Lamanites are at war one with another, and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.
  • Warfare was particularly prevalent in the early classic AD 250-500. Moroni 1:2 Moroni ca. AD 400 - 421 wrote that their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves.
Notes from the television special that aired on Feb. 6:
  • We have always known the Maya were the most advanced civilization in the ancient Americas. Now we know they were one of the most advanced in all the ancient world. The Lord promised Jared and his brother that their seed in the New World would become "a great nation" and that there would be "none greater ... upon all the face of the earth" Ether 1:43.
  • The Maya developed perhaps the most sophisticated writing system in the entire ancient world with over 800 different glyphic characters. Book of Mormon authors mentioned writing challenges: "difficulty of engraving our words upon plates" Jacob 4:1, "awkwardness of our hands" Ether 12:23-24, "stumble because of the placing of our words" Ether 12:24.
  • Tikal was 3 or 4 times larger than we thought. Previous population estimates were 60,000 at apogee. That number should now be 250,000 or more. El Palmar (15 kilometers west of Tikal) was 40 times larger than we realized. The Maya created vast urban sprawl. In many places the Book of Mormon text mentions large populations: "numerous people" Mosiah 24:3, "so many people" 3 Nephi 5:8.
  • Estimates of population in the Maya area at apogee have been revised upward to about 20 million. This was 1/2 the population of Europe at the time, even though the Maya occupied only 1/30 as much land area. Mormon described the Lamanites as "numberless hosts" Alma 51:27.
  • We used to think of Maya cities as isolated. They were not. Networks of roads and highways connected them over vast distances. One is reminded of the roads and highways mentioned in 3 Nephi 8:13.
  • Agricultural production was on an astonishing scale with many wetlands drained and turned into irrigated fields. Helaman 12:2 explicitly mentions agriculturalists prospering "in the increase of their fields."
  • There was much more war among the Maya than we had ever supposed. Defensive structures and fortifications were everywhere. Tikal had a large fortress protecting it. The Nephites strengthened "so many cities ... all of which were strongly fortified, after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni" Alma 51:27.
  • There was an earthwork wall surrounding Tikal 5 meters high and 16 kilometers long. Archaeologists have begun calling it "the great wall of Tikal." The Book of Mormon describes "a strong wall of timbers and earth to an exceeding height" Alma 53:4 encircling Bountiful with similar earthworks surrounding Gid Alma 55:25-26.
The Maya flourished in their tropical home from ca. 1,000 BC to AD 900. In most parts of the world, archaeological remains of the magnitude revealed in the Pacunam LiDAR initiative would have been obscured long ago by modern farming, ranching, and urbanization. In the case of the northern Peten, dense jungle quickly reclaimed the sites abandoned in the classic Maya collapse and this overgrowth both hid and protected them. As a result of the recent laser survey, four entirely new sites with pyramids and plazas are now known to science. The most important findings of the research, though, are the unexpected length, breadth, and depth of human activity and architectural development around sites previously known.

Thomas Garrison is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at New York's Ithaca College. He has worked extensively at the site of El Zotz ("the bat," classic Mayan "Pa' Chan"). He went into the area recently looking for one of he roads shown in the LiDAR data. "I found it," he said, "but if I had not had the LiDAR and known ... that's what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is."
Some of the Archaeological Sites Near Areas Mapped
in Phase I of the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative
This northern Guatemalan LiDAR project will continue in phases, eventually mapping more than 5,000 square kilometers (about the size of Utah County). At that point it will have mapped approximately 1.4% of the ancient Maya world which covers 350,000 square kilometers (about the size of Montana).

This note was shared by Larry Stay, former Guatemala City South Mission President and personal friend of Richard Hansen: “We have a big article coming out in Nat Geo magazine later this year. This material is not the Mirador Basin, but the area to the east of the Basin, towards Belize.  We start flying again at the end of this month to finish the rest of the Basin. Best to you always, Richard”

LiDAR in archaeology is like the Hubble Telescope in astronomy.
Guatemalan LiDAR Data after Additional Graphical Processing
For notes of a 2015 talk given by Richard Hansen that discussed part of this LiDAR project, see the article "Hansen and Coe." For additional LiDAR images from the vicinity of the Mirador Basin, see the articles "Roads and Highways" and "Flocks and Herds."

Hansen, almost certainly the leading field archaeologist in Mesoamerica today (he's nicknamed "King of the Jungle"), served his mission in Bolivia, graduated from BYU, and is a practicing Latter-day Saint living in Rupert, Idaho.

If you enjoyed this article, you will likely appreciate "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

The September 28, 2018 issue of Science (vol. 361, issue 6409, pp. 1313 - 1314) has an article by Anabel Ford and Sherman Horn entitled "Above and below the Maya forest." In it they cite estimated population densities in the central Maya lowlands (surrounding the areas surveyed by the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative) of 80 to 120 persons per square kilometer. This works out to a total population of 7 to 11 million in the 95,000 square kilometers of the central Maya lowlands ca AD 650 - 800. These estimates are based on LiDAR visualizations corroborated by traditional boots on the ground archaeological reconnaissance (ground truthing). See the article "Ground-Truthed LiDAR."

Article by Kirk Magleby who volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, world's premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English and Spanish. Article last updated on September 30, 2018.