Sunday, September 22, 2019

Seasons of War

The Book of Mormon states that war among the Nephites was seasonal Omni 1:3. In an often-cited study, John L. Sorenson demonstrated that warfare in the Book of Mormon generally took place in months 11 - 3, occasionally in months 4, 5, and 10, and seldom in months 6 - 9. See John L. Sorenson, "Seasonality of Warfare in the Book of Mormon and in Mesoamerica" in Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, editors, Warfare in the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990). See also John L. Sorenson, "Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, editors, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991). Assuming the Nephite new year began on or about the winter solstice (December 21 or 22), a reasonable assumption given the pattern in most ancient cultures, Nephite battles were generally not fought in the time period roughly corresponding to our June through September.

Southern Mesoamerica has well-defined rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season generally begins in May and runs through October. The dry season generally begins in November and runs through April. Crops are typically planted at the onset of the rainy season and harvests are generally over by the onset of the dry season.

NASA Blue Marble imagery shows the surface of the earth in natural color. In other words, this is what the planet really looks like from high altitude with no cloud cover. There is a dramatic visual difference between the dry season and the rainy season in southern Mesoamerica.
Southern Mesoamerica in April at the End of the Dry Season
In April, streams run low, wetlands have shrunk, paths are hard packed, and ground cover is sparse.
Southern Mesoamerica in October at the End of the Rainy Season
In October, streams run high, wetlands are overflowing, paths are muddy, and ground cover is dense.

In Mesoamerica, the dry season was when agriculturalists were mobilized into fighting forces, surplus food supplies were available for provisions, infantry marches were feasible, and conditions in field camps were tolerable. Battles in southern Mesoamerica were generally not fought in the season corresponding to our June through September, the height of the rainy season.

Numerous war events recorded in Mayan inscriptions can be securely dated, and they follow the expected seasonal pattern. The Maya went to war in the dry season and stayed home tending their crops in the rainy season. See Stephen Houston's blog post "Watery War" in the blog Maya Decipherment, June 17, 2019, where he references data from Simon Martin.

Burned Cities

General Shiz spread terror through the Jaredite countryside by annihilating inhabitants and then burning their cities Ether 14:17. Lamanite armies ca. AD 379 used a similar scorched-earth tactic, destroying Nephites en masse and then burning their towns, villages, and cities Mormon 5:5.

Belligerent Maya city states burned enemy cities as an extreme military tactic. One word for this act of war in Mayan is puluy or puluuy. The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) Maya Hieroglyph Dictionary edited by Peter Mathews and Péter Bíró has this entry for puluy:
Puluy Hieroglyph Drawn by John Thompson
Mayanists for years wondered if this term was literal or metaphorical. When coupled with a place name, it was clearly used in a war context like "chopping" (ch'ak), but some clung to old romantic notions of Maya pacifism.

All that ambiguity disappeared on August 5, 2019 when the article "Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya" appeared in the journal Nature Human Behavior. In a rare convergence of disciplines, authors David Wahl (UC Berkeley), Lysanna Anderson (US Geological Survey), Francisco Estrada-Belli (Tulane), and Alexandre Tokovinine (Alabama) showed how lake sediment cores containing charcoal from Laguna Ek' Naab, charred structures from the adjacent archaeological site of Witzna (ancient Bahlam Jol), and epigraphic texts using the term puluy from the site of Naranjo were inter-related. On May 21, AD 697, Naranjo brutally destroyed Witzna by torching the city and environs. The conflagration deposited a layer of charcoal an inch thick in the sediment on the bottom of Laguna Ek' Naab.
Charcoal in Sediment from Laguna Ek' Naab
Photo by Lysanna Anderson
Ruling elites in Naranjo then memorialized their scorched-earth victory by carving inscriptions on Stelae 22 and 23 describing how Witzna (Bahlam Jol) puluy "got burned." See Alexandre Tokovinine, Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives, (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2013) pp. 33-34.

Naranjo inscriptions describe a similar fire at Buenavista del Cayo (ancient Komkom) which puluy "got burned" on March 27, AD 696. As they had at Witzna, archaeologists found charred structures at Buenavista del Cayo that date to the indicated time period. Naranjo Stela 22 describes five sites being burned over a five year period. See Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008).

"Puluuy ... is a clear verb for war meaning 'to burn' in Cholan languages and has been noted in many war contexts ... the hieroglyph ... puluuy is a well-accepted verb for war." James Brady (Cal State LA) and Pierre R. Colas (Vanderbilt), "Nikte' Mo' Scattered Fire in the Cave of K'ab Chante' " in James Brady and Keith M. Prufer, editors, In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005) p. 158. "Puluuy was a common war statement and such tactics were not rare." Wahl, et al., op. cit.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Moroni's Total War

In Mormon Chapter 8, a solitary Moroni ca. AD 400 finishes his father's record and documents widespread warfare among the Lamanites: "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" Mormon 8:8. A few years ago, most specialists did not believe warfare was endemic in Mesoamerica ca. AD 400. Mayanists in the previous generation thought the natives engaged in "ritualized," small-scale, token warfare until the Terminal Classic (AD 850 - 1,000) when droughts reduced the food supply. The combination of drought-induced famine and highly destructive "total war" were thought to have jointly caused the Classic era collapse.

Recent developments support Moroni's description of "total war" centuries earlier. An article by David Wahl (UC Berkeley), Lysanna Anderson (US Geological Survey), Francisco Estrada-Belli (Tulane), and Alexandre Tokovinine (Alabama) entitled "Palaeoenvironmental, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence of total warfare among the Classic Maya" was published in Nature Human Behavior August 5, 2019. They document the near total destruction of Witzna (ancient Bahlam Jol) by fire on May 21, AD 697.
Charcoal in Sediment from Laguna Ek'Naab Adjacent to Witzna
Photo by Lysanna Anderson
Witzna was the victim of an incendiary attack launched by Naranjo, a city-state 32 air kilometers to the south. Naranjo also burned the site known  today as Buenavista del Cayo (ancient Komkom), Ucanal (ancient K'an Witznal) and the unlocated K'inchil near the same time.
Witzna, Naranjo, Buenavista del Cayo, and Ucanal in Context
Epigrapic and lake sediment core evidence indicate Witzna was invaded militarily and burned on a previous occasion, and charcoal layers point to as many as two earlier burnings. This and other evidence are the reason specialists are now saying the Maya practiced highly destructive "total warfare" through most of the Classic period (AD 250 - 900). Works espousing this new view are in a book edited by Andrew Scherer (Brown) and John Verano (Tulane) entitled Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes, (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2014).

Takeshi Inomata (Arizona), author of "War, Violence, and Society in the Maya Lowlands" in the 2014 Scherer and Verano volume, said "There is an increasing understanding that there were destructive wars throughout the Classic period." James Brady (Cal State LA) concurred "I was never convinced that warfare before the Terminal Classic was only ritualized. It must have been a fact of life from a very early time, and it often had serious consequences." Both quotations are from Tim Vernimmen, "Ancient Maya practiced 'total war' well before climate stress, National Geographic, August 5, 2019.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Volcanic Eruptions Near the Time of Christ

Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #530 "Is there evidence for great destruction in the land northward at the death of Christ?" is superb. It discusses recent scientific literature about the massive eruption of Popocatépetl very near the time of Christ's death. This is of interest, of course, because professional geologists tend to interpret the destruction described in 3 Nephi 8, 9 as a combination of volcanic, seismic, and meteorological phenomena. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Popocatépetl in the land northward.
Popocatépetl with the Great Pyramid of Cholula in the Foreground
"Popo" as the locals know it, is the second highest peak in Mexico (5,426 meters or 17,802 feet) after Orizaba. It sits between the valleys of Mexico and Puebla. It remains a very active, dangerous volcano. I have maintained a software development office in downtown Puebla since 1999, so I travel there quite often on business. In all those years, I have only flown into the Puebla airport one time. The airport is so often closed due to volcanic ash in the air that most travelers fly into Mexico City and take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puebla.

The Book of Mormon also describes great destruction in the land southward 3 Nephi 8:11. Many read the text of 3 Nephi 8, 9 and imagine multiple volcanic, seismic, and meteorological events all happening simultaneously. Evidence has recently been published that Tacaná also erupted very near the time of Christ's death. Most Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon geography place Tacaná in the land southward. 
Tacaná with Tajumulco in the Background
Tacaná is the second highest peak in Central America (4,060 meters or 13,320 feet) after Tajumulco. It straddles the border between Chiapas, Mexico and San Marcos, Guatemala. It remains an active, dangerous volcano. The ca. AD 30 eruption is documented in José Luis Macías, et al., "Late Formative Flooding of Izapa after an Eruption of Tacaná Volcano" in Ancient Mesoamerica 29 (2018) pp. 361-371. See also Robert M. Rosenswig & Julia Guernsey, "Introducing Izapa" in Ancient Mesoamerica 29 (2018) pp. 255-264. The eruption caused mud flows upslope and massive flooding in lower elevations as stream flows were temporarily dammed by volcanic ejecta.

How do paleogeologists date volcanic eruptions? They submit organic matter encased in a lava or ash strata for Carbon-14 dating just as archaeologists and paleontologists do. How expensive is one C-14 test? In the neighborhood of $500 - $650 assuming adequate sample preparation and no special handling. So, most projects can only afford a handful of C-14 tests. These are the results of C-14 tests run on the Tacaná eruption under consideration.
Tacaná Eruption Dated to ca. AD 30
Tacaná has erupted at least 11 times in the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years). The magnitude of a volcanic eruption is measured in volcanic explosivity index (VEI) numbers ranging from 1 to 8 on a logarithmic scale. The numbers represent the volume of pyroclastic material ejected by the volcano. The Popocatépetl eruption had a VEI of 6. The Tacaná eruption at about the same time had a VEI of 3. The Nephite text explicitly says there was great destruction in the land southward, but even greater devastation in the land northward 3 Nephi 8:11-12.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

President Nelson in Guatemala

This from Church News: A Living Record of the Restoration, Volume 90, Number 35, September 1, 2019:

As he arrived in "The Land of Eternal Spring" on Saturday, August 24, 2019, President Nelson said his thoughts were with the ancient civilizations whose ruins still define Guatemala.

"The lands of Central America and South America are studded with ruins - remnants - of ancient civilizations."

"One wonders what life must have been like among those people."

"Add to that the message on the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is 'written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel,' we not only learn more about those ancient inhabitants, but we learn that the Lord cares for His children in this hemisphere, both in ancient times, and in modern times."

The message seems clear. Guatemalans are Lamanites. There is a relationship between the Book of Mormon and ancient Guatemalan civilizations.

Tikal Temple IV. Photo taken by Jeffrey D. Allred on August 22, 2019,
published in thechurchnews.com
Pres. Nelson was in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala with Elder Marvin J. Ashton on October 19, 1991, when Elder Ashton offered a prayer on Guatemala and its people, re-dedicating the land for the preaching of the Gospel. Pres. Nelson also accompanied President Gordon B. Hinckley who presided at a devotional in Guatemala City on January 26, 1997.

Excerpts from the dedicatory prayer on the Guatemala City Temple offered by President Gordon B. Hinckley on December 14, 1984 where he sometimes speaks in first person representing the Guatemalan Saints:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts swell with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi, the many generations  of our fathers and mothers who suffered so greatly and who walked for so long in darkness. Thou has heard their cries and seen their tears. Now there will be opened to them the gates of salvation and eternal life."

"We thank Thee, O God, for lifting the scales of darkness which for generations clouded the vision of the descendants of Lehi...We thank Thee for the restored record of our ancestors, the record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, of Alma and Mosiah, of Benjamin and Mormon and Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice which has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Guatemala City Temple
For an interesting pattern in Pres. Hinckley's temple dedicatory prayers, see the article "Father Lehi in the Mexico City Temple" and "Lehite Temples." 

Excerpts from the very similar dedicatory prayer on the Quetzaltenango Temple offered by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on December 11, 2011:

"Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts are filled with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Thou hast accepted their righteous sacrifices."

"We thank Thee for the sacred record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, Alma and Mosiah, Benjamin and Mormon, and of Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice that has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quetzaltenango Temple
"Quetzaltenango" is a Nahuatl name meaning "place of the Quetzal bird." Many locals call the city by its Maya name "Xela" which refers to mountains.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Captain Moroni's Towers

We read in Alma 50:4 that Captain Moroni had the Nephites build towers as part of their defensive fortification strategy. The Pacunam Lidar Initiative (PLI) has helped archaeologists identify towers as part of Maya defensive fortification strategies in the northern Peten. Dozens of defensive towers have been identified in the area around La Cuernavilla fortress.
La Cuernavilla about 20 air kilometers west of Tikal
This map shows the locations of 37 defensive towers, 7 of them built alongside ditch and wall structures just as the Book of Mormon describes. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Dozens of defensive Towers in northern Guatemala
The map is in the article "Recentering the rural: Lidar and articulated landscapes among the Maya" by Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen Houston, and Omar Alcover Firpi in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 53, March 2019, pp. 133-146. Houston will be on BYU campus on Monday, October 28, 2019 to present the inaugural John L. Sorenson Lecture.

On September 21, 2019, I was privileged to hear a lecture by Andrew K. Scherer at Hamline University. He mentioned defensive structures, probably lookout towers, associated with walls and barricades in the fortified border region between Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras.

Additional insights into Maya and possibly Nephite defensive fortifications are in the articles "Light from Guatemala," "Ground-Truthed LiDAR," and "75 BC."

Article last updated on September 22, 2019.

   

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Early Settlement Sequence

I am reading a very good book entitled Pathways to Complexity: A View from the Maya Lowlands edited by M. Kathryn Brown (UT San Antonio) and George J. Bey III (Millsaps College).
New Book on Maya Origins
Published in 2018 by University Press of Florida, the volume contains 16 chapters authored by 27 specialists including Donald Forsyth of the BYU Anthropology faculty and BYU alum Richard Hansen of the University of Utah Anthropology faculty. This book contains a number of insights I find interesting and potentially relevant to the Book of Mormon. One is the order in which various areas in Mesoamerica began using ceramics.

Pathways Chapter 4 is entitled "The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands" authored by E. Wyllys Andrews V (PhD Tulane), George J. Bey III (PhD Tulane), and Christopher M. Gunn (PhD Kentucky). The authors summarize what is currently known of the first use of ceramics in important parts of Mesoamerica. This map shows their findings:
Dates when Ceramics First Appear in the Archaeological Record
Ceramics first appear in Oaxaca/Puebla ca. 2,000 BC, then along the Pacific coast of Chiapas and Guatemala and through El Salvador to the Mosquito Coast of NE Honduras ca. 1,900 BC. Ceramics then appear in the Olmec Heartland of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco ca. 1,500 BC followed by highland Guatemala ca. 1,200 BC. Ceramics appear in the southern Maya Lowlands ca. 1,000 BC and finally in the northern Maya Lowlands ca. 900 BC. This means that 300 years before Lehi left Jerusalem most of Mesoamerica had transitioned from mere wood, bone, stone, and fiber utensils to more sophisticated ceramic technology. The blank spot on the map in the Chiapas Highlands does not mean the Central Depression of Chiapas did not have ceramics by ca. 900 BC. The ceramic tradition was well-established in the Grijalva Basin by that time period. It simply means the authors did not consider central Chiapas as significant as the other areas in the cultural development trajectory of ceramic technology throughout the region.

This map showing settlement sequences of peoples possessing ceramics is broadly similar to our current thinking about the Jaredites. We think the Jaredites landed on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and migrated inland to the land of Nehor and upland to the land of Moron which we correlate with the valley of Oaxaca (San José Mogote). The Jaredites then built the city of Lib which we correlate with Tzutzuculi on the Pacific coast of Chiapas. The Jaredite demise at hill Ramah we correlate with the Tuxtla Mountains in the Olmec Heartland. This map includes key Jaredite correlates.
Proposed Jaredite Locations with Dates of Ceramic Attestation
Could Yucatan be part of the land Northward? We have already concluded that the land Northward likely extended to the Tonalá River area (La Venta, Tabasco). With the exciting work Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan (University of Arizona) are currently doing at Aguada Fénix (Balancán, Tabasco), our notion of what constituted the land Northward in Jaredite times may move eastward to include the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. Couple that with the work INAH is doing at Chakanbakán, Quintana Roo, and we may have to re-consider our view of the Olmec. They may have occupied much of Mesoamerica from Central Mexico to the Caribbean by ca. 400 - 300 BC.
Aguada Fénix and Chakanbakán in Context
I have not yet seen either Aguada Fénix or Chakanbakán. The article "Usumacinta Olmec" is based on reports Inomata and Trinidan made to Balancán municipal leaders in February, 2019. I know several people who have been to Chakanbakán (special permission is required from the INAH office in Chetumal, it is not yet open to the public) and they all describe Olmec-looking masks flanking the principal temple (Nohochbalam) stairway. Local news reports from Quintana Roo describe helmeted figures with a strong resemblance to the 17 Olmec colossal heads known from San Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Rancho la Cobata (Cerro El Vigía). The official INAH description of Chakanbakán mentions this unmistakable Olmec influence.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Large Bodies of Water

Alma 50:29 talks about a land which was northward covered with large bodies of water. Helaman 3:4 describes migrations from the land of Zarahemla to an exceeding great distance into the land northward which had large bodies of water. A large body of water probably refers to an inland lake. Many have suggested Teotihuacan adjacent to the very large ancient Lake Texcoco is a good candidate for the area being described in Alma 50 and Helaman 3.

I was at Cholula a few years ago and was interested to learn that it, like Teotihuacan, was built aside a large ancient lake. There is no lake near the ruins of Cholula today. It is a heavily-populated part of the state of Puebla and the local water table has been dramatically drawn down over the years through stream diversion and pumping. Ditto Lake Texcoco, The modest floating gardens of Xochimilco on the extreme south of sprawling Mexico City are all that is left of what once was a very large lake. Actually, Texcoco was five adjoining lakes: Chalco, Xochimilco, Texcoco, Xaltocan, and Zumpango, with a combined surface area of about 1,400 square kilometers. That is more than 3 times the size of Utah Lake which has a surface area of about 380  square kilometers.

On June 29, 2019, I spent time with Mexican historian Diego Velazquez near his home in Lerma east of Toluca. I asked about Lake Lerma south of the city. He said anciently it was considerably larger, covering much of the Toluca Valley, with settlement sites around the shores. Its ancient name was "Chignahuapan" which means "place of nine lakes." There were also shallow lakes called Chimaliapan and Chicnahuapan. So, Mexico City, Toluca over the mountains to the west, and Cholula over the mountains to the east, were all once part of a land northward with large bodies of water.

Further research has shown that Tlaxcala, too, once had sizable lakes along the upper course of the Zahuapan River. Cantona, a site closely affiliated with Teotihuacan, had two ancient lakes nearby, Tepeyahualco and Totoncingo. Lake Zacapu, 50 kilometers NW of Morelia, Michoacan, is now dry but once covered 350 square kilometers. Remnants remain of what was once a band of lakes through Central Mexico from Lake Chapala, the largest inland lake in Mexico today at 1,100 square kilometers, to lovely Lake Catemaco in the Tuxtla Mountains of Veracruz (72 square kilometers).
Region in Central Mexico that Anciently had Many Large Lakes
This region, through central Jalisco, northern Michoacan, southern Guanajuato, the state of Mexico, Mexico City, southern Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, central Puebla and south central Veracruz could reasonably have been described anciently as a land far northward with large bodies of water.

This band of ancient lakes roughly corresponds to the area Mexican geographers call the "Cinturón Volcánico Transmexicano" or CVT.

Monday, June 10, 2019

1921 Book of Mormon Geography Hearings

In April, 1928 General Conference, Pres. Anthony W. Ivins (1852 - 1934) of the First Presidency discussed Hill Cumorah. The Church had just purchased Hill Cumorah from the Pliny T. Sexton (1840 - 1924) estate a few weeks before. Pres. Ivins reported on that land acquisition and then waxed poetic about the ancient battles that supposedly had been fought on and around that hill. In 1928, practically every Latter-day Saint in the world thought the final Jaredite and Nephite battles took place on the same glacial drumlin in western New York where Moroni buried the plates. An alternative view with a battle site in Mexico and Moroni traveling during his 35 years of solitude was beginning to take root in Reorganization circles following the 1917 publication of Louis Edward Hills’ influential Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 BC to 421 AD in Independence, MO. A similar discussion would not take place among Latter-day Saint scholars until Hugh W. Nibley (1910 - 2005), M. Wells Jakeman (1910-1998), Thomas Stuart Ferguson (1915 - 1983), and Milton R. Hunter (1902-1975) met at Berkeley in the 1930’s. So, Pres. Ivins in 1928 was voicing what essentially everyone in the Church believed at that time.
Pres. Anthony W. Ivins from Washington County Historical Society
But, where did Pres. Ivins think most of the Book of Mormon took place? On Monday, January 24, 1921, then Apostle Anthony W. Ivins reported to the “Book of Mormon committee” chaired by fellow Apostle James E. Talmage (1862-1933). The Book of Mormon committee had overseen the successful publication of the 1920 edition and due to great interest around the Church, decided to convene a series of Book of Mormon geography hearings. Those hearings were held on Friday, January 21 through Monday, January 24, 1921. Three people presented their views:
  • Joel E. Ricks (1858 - 1944), author of maps and booklets popular throughout the Church, advocated for the land southward in northern South America and the land northward in Central America. A college professor in Logan, he had spent many summers travelling throughout Latin America.
  • Willard Young (1852 - 1936), Brigham’s son who attended West Point, favored a location in Honduras and Guatemala. He was an engineer who had worked on construction projects in Mexico and Central America.
  • Anthony W. Ivins of the Quorum of the Twelve thought the setting was Mexico and Yucatan. He served his second mission in Mexico City and helped establish the Mormon colonies in northern Chihuahua. His son, Antoine R. Ivins (1881 - 1967), presided over the Mexico Mission and was a member of the Seventy.  
That was it. Those were the only three theories considered by the Book of Mormon committee in January, 1921. No official conclusion was reached. Some of the best minds in the Church in that era envisioned Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica with the final battles in upstate New York. It would be a few more years before close reading of the text convinced a growing consensus of Latter-day Saint scholars that the lands being described by Mormon and Moroni could not have exceeded 1,000 kilometers in maximum extent which precludes New York in most models.

See James E. Talmage Journals, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: MSS 229, Box 6, Folder 2, Journal 24.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models

Several years ago, Jack Welch challenged me to devise a methodology to reasonably evaluate any Book of Mormon geography model no matter its setting. It has taken years of work and involved dozens of people, but we now have an audit tool, an Excel spreadsheet, that can be easily configured to accommodate a variety of different assumptions about the text and the surprisingly divergent interpretations that flow from those assumptions.

The only a priori assumption the audit procedure makes is that the Nephite text is consistent. Since virtually every scholar who has ever analyzed the text has come to this conclusion, we are on solid ground with this presumption of consistency.

The audit looks at every occurrence in the text of these key terms that are generally acknowledged by most modelers to be significant and relevant:
  • up & down (63 instances)
  • north, south, east & west with variants (northward, southward, south south east, etc.) (133 instances)
  • day's journey (22 instances)
  • cross over (28 instances)
That's a total of 246 textual instances of these key terms in a spatial context. Every one of these key terms involves a from and to relationship between two locations on the Book of Mormon map. That is a total of 492 from and to locations. Netting out duplicates yields 229 potentially different locations (some modelers conflate locations which is fine) that are required to pass all 246 tests.

The audit allows each modeler a great deal of flexibility in the way they interpret the text based on their assumptions. It measures completeness, internal consistency, and degree of fit to the text.
Audit Template Created by Lynn McMurray and LaMar Layton
The first model was audited last night, June 6, 2019. With a robust audit procedure in place, I predict rapid progress solving the Book of Mormon geography puzzle. There is no time to waste. Many BYU professors, even on the religion faculty, do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical and are not convinced that historicity matters.

June 11,  2019 Second audit completed today in Puebla, Mexico. Results agreed with the 6/6 audit.

June 18, 2019 Third audit completed today in Arizona. Results agreed with the 6/6 audit.

June 29, 2019 Reports have come in from several additional independent auditors in three countries, all of whom have confirmed the 6/6 audit results.

August 22, 2019 In working through an audit of the Pasión River Model, Bob Roylance found an error in version 20 of the audit spreadsheet. One instance of from location 177, Sidom, should have been from location 150, river Sidon. This error was corrected in spreadsheet version 21. The error did not affect the results of any previously reported audit, but auditors going forward should use the latest version of the audit tool because this correction will impact some models.

August 28, 2019 The Spanish translation of the audit spreadsheet was certified correct. Audits in Spanish can now proceed.

August 31, 2019 A Spanish version of the audit went online to aid those Hispanic members who do not have access to or do not wish to learn Microsoft Excel.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Many Waters

I had Jeff Faulkner from Phoenix in my office today. His study of the Nephite text convinces him the phrase "many waters" means salt water ocean. I took a look at the term "waters" back in 2014 in the article entitled "OED on Waters." Jeff's interpretation is certainly within the pale of possibilities.
National Geographic Photo of an Ocean Wave
"Many waters" is one of the few terms actually defined by the editor in the text itself. 1 Nephi 17:5 is explicit. Irreantum or many waters refers to the sea. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon entry for "Irreantum" gives possible Semitic and Egyptian etymologies for this word.

1 Nephi 13:10, 12-13, 29 is equally explicit. The term "many waters" in these verses refers to the Atlantic Ocean which separates Europe from the Americas.

1 Nephi 14:11-12 is unmistakable. The great and abominable church is a global institution whose dominion extends from sea to sea. "Many waters" in this context means the world's salt water oceans. See the blog article "What is the Great and Abominable Church?" for insights into this nexus of evil.

Ether 2:6 is clear. Jaredites crossed "many waters" in barges which traversed a sea Ether 2:7 and these barges were nearly identical Ether 2:16 to those that were sometimes submerged beneath the waves of the sea Ether 6:7.

The term "many waters" occurs 11 times in the text. The 9 instances described above all refer to one or more salt water oceans. What does that imply for the other two instances? The text of the Book of Mormon is so consistent in its usage patterns Royal Skousen coined the term "systematic phraseology" to describe its orderly repetition. The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), Editor's Preface p. xlv. Every time we see the phrase "many waters" in the text it likely refers to a salt water ocean. This means we should look for hill Ramah/Cumorah seaside.

Mosiah 8:8 says the land of Cumorah was located "among many waters" and Mormon 6:4 says Cumorah was a "land of many waters..." That probably means Cumorah had a salt water coastline. The fact that Ablom by the seashore is due east of hill Ramah/Cumorah Ether 9:3 strengthens this marine interpretation.

In 2016 and 2017, Warren Aston spent months in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala on multiple trips exploring many of the candidates that have been seriously proposed for hill Ramah/Cumorah. After looking carefully at more than half a dozen hills, he narrowed the list to two: Cerro Vigía and Cerro San Martín Pajapan, both in southern Veracruz. In my mind, 1,160 meter Pajapan is the stronger candidate. See the article Ramah/Cumorah. If the "many waters" phrase in Mormon 6:4 really does refer to the open ocean, then Pajapan is almost certainly hill Cumorah.
The Summit of San Martín Pajapan is 7 Air Kilometers from Salt Water
The NE slopes of Pajapan are ancient volcanic lava flows that extend right to the water's edge. The red arrow in the image below points to one of these lava flows jutting into the ocean.
Lava Flow from Eye Distance of 13 KM. Flowing Streams in Yellow
 And this is what that lava flow looks like from just offshore.
Ancient Lava Flow with San Martín Pajapan in the Background
Photo by Kirk Magleby, February, 2017 
The Olmec (and Aztecs) considered this particular hill the site of earth's original creation. According to Linda Schele, Complex C (The Great Pyramid) at La Venta was built as a model of San Martín Pajapan. San Martín Pajapan Monument 1, now in Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, was set atop the hill ca. 1,000 BC (the article "Linguistic Cumorah" includes a photo). This particular hill is clearly among and in a land of many (sea) waters.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Las Vegas Odds

The father/son team of Bruce and Brian Dale, both PhD engineers, published a sensational 110 page article in Interpreter on May 3, 2019 that uses Bayesian statistical analysis to demonstrate a) the Book of Mormon is historical and b) it is set in ancient Mesoamerica.

Dad.
Bruce Dale, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, Michigan State
Son.
Brian Dale, BioMedical Engineer, Siemens
Article.
Joseph Smith: The World's Greatest Guesser - Highly Recommended
The Dales analyzed 137 statements of fact from Michael D. Coe and Stephen D. Houston, The Maya (Ninth Edition), Thames & Hudson (2015), a gold standard reference work on ancient Mesoamerica.
Current, Authoritative Scholarly Source
They compared and contrasted these 137 statements of fact with corresponding statements of fact in the Book of Mormon.
Nephite Text - An Ancient American Codex
They found 131 points of agreement and 6 points of disagreement between The Maya and the Book of Mormon. Running the math, this works out to odds of billions upon billions to one that the Book of Mormon peoples shared common political, cultural/social, religious, military/warfare, physical/geographical, and technological/miscellaneous characteristics with the ancient Maya.

The smart folks at Interpreter (Dan Peterson, Allen Wyatt, Brant Gardner) anticipated a blockbuster, so they kept this article in peer review for over a year where it was polished by both Mesoamericanists and statisticians. When the provocative piece was finally published a month ago, reactions were fast and furious. Anti-Mormons masquerading behind pen names went ballistic trying to do damage control. Hyper skeptical cultural Mormons went nuts trying to invent counter explanations. True believers like me cheered loudly and long to see our favorite book so convincingly vindicated. The Dales managed the comment parade with aplomb. What is not to like about a genuine intellectual free-for-all with eternal salvific overtones?

And the comments, 300+ and counting, just keep comping. This is the most heavily commented article Interpreter has ever published. A response has just been posted (agrees with the conclusion, disagrees with the statistical methodology). This is a terrific article that will have a lasting impact on Book of Mormon studies. At 110 pages with appendices, footnotes, logic, and math, it is not for the faint of heart, but it is well worth the effort.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

PreColumbian Honey Bees

We previously noted evidence that beekeeping and honey production were important economic activities in ancient Mesoamerica. See the articles "Titulo de Totonicapan" and "Komkom Vase". A scholarly article recently came to our attention that shows images of ancient Maya beehives and provides interesting details about Mesoamerican beekeeping.

Jaroslaw Zralka (Jagiellonian University, Kraków), Laura Sotelo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Christophe Helmke (University of Copenhagen), and Wieslaw Koszkul (Jagiellonian University, Kraków) wrote "The discovery of a beehive and the identification of apiaries among the ancient Maya" published in Latin American Antiquity 29(3) (June, 2018) pp. 514-531. The page numbers that follow are from this article.

514 A ceramic beehive was discovered in a dedicatory cache at Nakum, Peten, Guatemala by Polish archaeologists who worked the site from 2006 - 2016. The artifact dates to the late Preclassic (ca. 100 BC - AD 250/300).
Nakum, Guatemala in Context
515 Nakum was first settled in the middle Preclassic 1,000 - 700 BC.

518 A photo of the beehive fashioned in pottery to look like a hollow log with ceramic end caps made to look like mud plaster and a single bee hole.
Ancient Maya Beehive from Nakum
Now in the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Guatemala City

520 Cozumel Island was an important center of native American beekeeping and honey production at European conquest. This censer figurine from Cozumel shows a bee-like "diving god" holding honeycomb cells in his hands. Two beehives similar to the Nakum example flank the sides of the censer.
Post-classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in Museo Palacio Cantón, Mérida
 Another figurine, also from Cozumel, shows a deity wearing a miniature beehive as a necklace.
Post-Classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
520 The article illustrates another ancient Maya iconographic portrayal of a cylindrical beehive.

521 kaab was one of the variant names for "bee" in Mayan languages.

521 Species of stingless bees endemic to the New World include Geotrigona acapulconis, Melipona beecheii, Partamona bilineata, and Tetragonisca angustula. All 4 species were domesticated by the ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans.

521 Ceramic jars and bottle gourds were also used as beehives in ancient Mexico and Guatemala.

522 There is evidence of large-scale intensive farming of stingless bees in the Yucatan Peninsula in precolumbian times.

524 Diego de Landa (1524 - 1579) and Tomás López Medel (1520 - 1582) both described the extensive honey industry that existed among the ancient Maya at European contact.

524 The Madrid Codex discusses beekeeping on pp. 103 - 112. This section is often called the "Beekeeping Almanac."

525 Maya deities associated with beekeeping according to the Madrid Codex include Itzamnaj, Cháak, and Yax Báalam. Goddess I is depicted as a beekeeper.

525 The Mayan difrasismos or diphrastic kennings uk'-we' "drink-eat" meaning "feasting" and yax-k'an "green-yellow" or "unripe-ripe" meaning "abundance" are associated with bees and honey. This may be significant. The Book of Mormon associates honey with feasting 2 Nephi 17:22, 2 Nephi 26:25 in the sense of a land flowing with milk and honey. Honey is explicitly associated with the abundance of land Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 which in the Spanish edition of the Book of Mormon is called "Abundancia."
Difrasismo for Abundance, Madrid Codex, p. 110 Middle Register
526 The Madrid Codex, generally dated ca. AD 1450, depicts many bees with cylindrical beehives that resemble the Nakum example.
Bee Image from Madrid Codex, p. 103
527 In Mayan languages, the same word means "bee" and "honey." The Book of Mormon explicitly uses the term "honey bee" Ether 2:3.

Bees, honey, and beekeeping are mentioned in the Book of Mormon in both Jaredite and Nephite contexts. Bees, honey, and beekeeping are now attested archaeologically in the Peten at Nakum during Nephite times. Nakum was originally settled in the Jaredite era.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The River

The Book of Mormon mentions only one river, the Sidon, by name, and it is referenced more than 25 times (e.g. Alma 3:3). Almost all references call it "the river Sidon" (e.g. Alma 6:7). There is one reference, though, where Mormon called the Sidon simply "the river" (Alma 43:52). All of these conditions (uniquely named, frequently mentioned, generically named), point to a singular river that dominated its landscape. Most contemporary Book of Mormon modelers (myself included) correlate the Sidon with the mighty Usumacinta, the largest river in Mesoamerica.
Main Channel of the Chixoy, Salinas, and Usumacinta
I recently found confirmation that the Chontal Maya called the Usumacinta Xocolha which can simply mean "the river." Ronald L. Canter, "Rivers Among the Ruins: The Usumacinta" in PARI Journal, Vol. VII, No. 3, Winter 2007.

This is the third geographic reference in the Nephite text where we have a precise correlate in Mayan. The other two are the "east sea" (see the blog article "Smoking Gun") and "the east" (see the blog article "Maya Place Names"). 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Komkom Vase

A shattered royal drinking vessel discovered in 2015 at Baking Pot, Belize bears a long Mayan inscription that originally consisted of 202 glyph blocks, about 60% of which are extant after reconstruction.
Komkom Vase Dedicated AD 812 
Baking Pot is on the Belize River.
Baking Pot, Belize in Context
A critical text of this important inscription was recently published - Christophe Helmke, Julie A. Hoggarth, Jaime J. Awe, A Reading of the Komkom Vase Discovered at Baking Pot, Belize (San Francisco: Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2018) 144 pp. Helmke is at the University of Copenhagen, Hoggarth at Baylor, and Awe at Northern Arizona. The fact that they published a critical text only 3 years after the vase's discovery is a credit to the authors and a result of the remarkable worldwide collaboration among contemporary Mayanists.

The vessel was owned by the king of Komkom, an unidentified site probably on the Belize River and allied with the more powerful Naranjo to the west. Buenavista del Cayo is an increasingly likely candidate for Komkom. The text was copied from an earlier historical record, almost certainly painted on bark paper. The text on Naranjo Stela 12, dedicated AD 800, ultimately derives from that same earlier historical source. Naranjo Stela 12 and the Komkom vase describe the same military engagements with Yaxha and Tikal, but from the different perspectives of Naranjo and its junior partner, Komkom. The military action took place between February and September, AD 799.

The Komkom vase text has a number of interesting similarities with the much earlier Book of Mormon.
  • Komkom p. 22 The vase text has calendrical, historical narrative, and parentage components. The Book of Mormon establishes chronology, recites historical narrative, and declares lineage relationships Alma 63:15-17.
  • Komkom p. 30 cites our friend, Kerry Hull of the BYU religion faculty, because the vase text uses the elegant poetic form difrasismo or "diphrastic kenning" where dual extremes imply a larger whole. Hull has pointed out several examples of this poetic form in the Nephite record including 2 Nephi 10:16, 2 Nephi 26:33, and Alma 11:44. Komkom p. 39 says difrasismo has endured virtually unchanged as a poetic form in Mayan literature for two millenia.
  • Komkom p. 32 describes the title "five headdresses" applied to elite women. The phrase is known from inscriptions at half a dozen Maya sites.
This is Linda Schele's drawing of the Palace Tablet, Palenque.
K'inich K'an Joy Chitam Flanked by his Parents
All three figures wear elaborate headdresses. Lady Tz'akbu Ajaw to the right is wearing at least three headdresses. K'inich Janaab Pakal to the left is holding a headdress.

These are Linda Schele's drawings of various headdresses:
Headdresses from Palenque, Machaquila, Yaxchilan, and Piedras Negras
The Book of Mormon calls tall headdresses "high heads." 2 Nephi 28:14 talks about prideful people who wear stiff necks and high heads. Jacob 2:13 explicitly says prideful people wear stiff necks and high heads because they can afford costly apparel. Some Mesoamerican headdresses were so heavy and cumbersome the wearers used a back rack with a vertical pole or lattice to hold everything up. Back racks with vertical support may be the "stiff necks" Nephi and Jacob refer to.
  • Komkom p. 34 analyzes the linguistics of the title "eastern 28 chief" attested from the sites of Dos Pilas, Machaquila, Ixkun, Naranjo, and Caracol. All of these sites where the term has been found (now including Baking Pot) are in the central (Usumacinta) or eastern (Maya Mountains) sector of the Maya world. This is precisely where many Book of Mormon modelers place "the east wilderness" mentioned in Alma chapters 25 and 50 and "the east by the seashore" in Alma 22:29. The "eastern 28" part of the Maya title is likely a late Classic regional grouping of polities.
This  map shows sites where the title "eastern 28 chief" is found, the Maya Mountains in brown overlay, and plausible correlates for the Book of Mormon "east."
Sites where "East" is Attested with Possible Book of Mormon Correlates
The blockbuster discovery that the Book of Mormon "east sea" may now be corroborated in ancient Mayan inscriptions is discussed in the 2016 article "Smoking Gun." More information about the region the Maya considered "the east" is in the 2018 article "Maya Place Names." Alexandre Tokovinine, author of the very important 2013 monograph Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives and world's leading expert on Maya toponyms, really likes the new Helmke, Hoggarth, Awe, Komkom Vase book per his favorable Amazon review.
  • Komkom p. 36-37 The Mayan verb ch'ahb describes a devotional act such as fasting or doing penance. The meaning "let blood" originally proposed in Linda Schele's era is no longer considered viable. The Book of Mormon mentions fasting in a devotional context dozens of times, e.g. Alma 45:1, Helaman 3:35.
  • Komkom p. 41 describes a military campaign in AD 696 where enemy structures were set ablaze. The Book of Mormon describes a military campaign ca. AD 379 where villages and towns were burned with fire Mormon 5:5. Komkom p. 56 describes another burning of an opponent's home town in a martial context. Komkom pp. 70, 75 mention yet others. 
  • Komkom p. 42-43 cites Mayan texts that describe Motul de San Jose and Yaxha as being west of Naranjo and the Baking Pot area as east of it.
This map shows the four sites generally in a west-east alignment.
Motul & Yaxha West of Naranjo, Baking Pot East of It
The late Classic Maya used a system of solar-based directional cardinality similar to our own. Their meaning of "west" and "east" nearly matched our modern usage of those terms.

  • Komkom p. 50 says particular forests had names in the Maya world. The Book of Mormon has a named forest Mosiah 18:30.
  • Komkom p. 51 talks about a conquering army scattering the bones of an enemy king. The Book of Mormon mentions scattered bones Omni 1:22.
  • Komkom p. 52 mentions the construction of paved roads in AD 588. The Book of Mormon describes the construction of paved roads ca. AD 29 3 Nephi 6:8. Komkom p. 62 talks about "four-breadth roadways," a term found also at Naranjo and Caracol. Maya highway widths were classified by standard units of measure. The Book of Mormon implies different sized roadways when it mentions both "roads" and "highways" in 3 Nephi 6:8.
  • Komkom p. 52 cites the phrase "it is set in order" which recalls the wording of Alma 8:1 where Alma "established the order" of the church in Gideon.
  • Komkom p. 52 says the sociopolitical relationship between the site of Naranjo and some of its neighbors was stable for 220 years. The Book of Mormon describes similar periods of stability Jarom 1:5.
  • Komkom p. 53 describes kab which is the Mayan word for "bee." Ether 2:3 describes the Jaredite word for "honey bee."
  • KomKom p. 55 note 18 says the term "large waters" used throughout Mesoamerica refers to a river. This may have significant implications for Book of Mormon geography. The terms "waters of Sidon" and "river Sidon" are used interchangeably in the text Alma 43:40. Alma baptized in the waters of Sidon Alma 4:4 just like his father had baptized in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18. The waters of Mormon may be a river just like the waters of Sidon are a river. Ditto the waters of Sebus Alma 19:20-21 and the waters of Ripliancum which are explicitly called "large" Ether 15:8.
  • Komkom p. 58 says the sites of Yaxha (Yaxa'), Mopan (Monpaan), Motul (Mutu'l), and Laguna la Blanca (Sakha') carry names that have remained largely unchanged since late Classic times. It is well known in historical linguistic circles that toponyms are remarkably resistant to change. This gives us hope that more Book of Mormon toponyms (in addition to "east sea" and "the east" discussed above) may be found as Maya decipherment advances.
  • Komkom p. 62 describes a regal title translated as "he of nine lands." The most prominent political organization mentioned in the Nephite text is "land" and some rulers had dominion over multiple lands Alma 22:1.
  • Komkom p. 64 outlines a chiastic structure. The Book of Mormon contains dozens of chiastic structures such as Mosiah 5:10-12.
  • Komkom p. 65 discusses deity impersonation where a human donned regalia and acted like a particular god. The Mayan phrase for this behavior is rendered "it is his/her image in the state of being like a god." Alma alluded to this practice when he asked his followers in the city of Zarahemla if they had received the image of God engraved in their countenance Alma 5:14,19.
  • Komkom p. 66 talks about a captured king who was killed with a torch. In the Book of Mormon, King Noah suffered death by fire Mosiah 19:20.
  • Komkom p. 71 tells about a king who ascended a mountain to evade military pressure. The Book of Mormon tells a similar story about Lehonti atop Mount Antipas Alma 47:10. Komkom p. 86 discusses the idea of people fleeing and taking refuge in an elevated place. This is exactly what happened when Mosiah 1 led the Nephites from the land of Nephi down to the land of Zarahemla. The large group took temporary refuge en route on the hill north of Shilom Mosiah 11:13.
  • Komkom p. 73 describes the practice of giving a youth a different name after he matured and began to fulfill his adult role in society. Paranomasia (pun names) are one implementation that Matthew Bowen has found throughout the Book of Mormon. See his "Name as Key-Word, Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay."
  • Komkom p. 74 discusses the Mayan adverb uhtiiy which means "it happened." The Book of Mormon variant is the ubiquitous "It came to pass" e.g. Alma 47:2-3.
  • Komkom p. 76 says the ancient Maya measured distance by a day's walk. The Book of Mormon peoples measured distance by a day's journey Alma 8:6.
  • Komkom p. 82 says many localities mentioned in ancient Mayan texts cannot be identified on the modern map. It should not surprise us that many localities mentioned in the Book of Mormon have not yet been identified on the modern map.
  • Komkom p. 84 talks about historical annals, records kept year by year. Large parts of the Book of Mormon such as Helaman 11:21-24 are abridgments from historical annals.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Usumacinta Olmec

For years, people have talked about the Olmec "heartland" as a western Gulf Coast phenomenon anchored by the three major sites San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes, all of which took their turn as the capital city. Archaeologists referred to Olmec sites outside this relatively small area as the "hinterland."
Traditional Olmec Heartland in Orange
In 2006, V. Garth Norman and I visited Pomona in Tabasco on the western bank of the Usumacinta.
Pomona Relative to the Traditional Olmec Heartland
Pomona is generally considered a Classic Maya site, but we saw this monument on display in the INAH site museum.
Olmec Iconography on Display in Pomona
Photo by Kirk Magleby, September, 2006
This photo does not do the monument justice. It is Olmec, about as Olmec as you get. Seeing this carving started me on a quest to map known Olmec sites. Until today, my map looked like this.
148 Sites with Olmec Influence, 52 of which are in the Heartland
Olmec influence reached into every part of Mesoamerica, but the culture core was still in the heartland, or so we thought.

The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology just concluded in Albuquerque, NM. My friend, Richard Terry, presented two papers at the conference on the soil chemistry of sites in Belize and Utah. Richard sent me abstracts of two papers presented by the dynamic team of Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan, both from the University of Arizona. I wrote blog articles entitled "Takeshi Inomata" and "75 BC" describing some of their ground-breaking work at Ceibal and Aguateca. Inomata finished his Sabbatical year at Dumbarton Oaks (a research center in Washington, DC affiliated with Harvard University) and is now back in the field. What he and his team have found will re-write history and could have profound implications for the Book of Mormon.

Since 2017, Inomata and Triadan have been excavating a massive Olmec site they named Aguada Fénix at the great bend of the San Pedro river in Balancán Municipality, Tabasco. This is near the large Maya trading site, Moral Reforma.
Aguada Fénix on the San Pedro
What we know about this site after two seasons of work:
  • It is the largest of 15 newly-discovered middle Preclassic sites in the area.
  • These 15 sites are so standardized in their rectangular layout Inomata and Triadan have coined the name "Middle Formative Usumacinta" (MFU) pattern to describe the site plans.
  • Dates are coming in from 1,000 BC to 800 BC. Since Inomata is a master of precise dating, we can expect more clarity soon. 
  • It had an E Group, as did Ceibal in the middle Preclassic. It remains to be seen which predates the other. Prior to Aguada Fénix, the Ceibal E Group was the earliest known in Mesoamerica.
  • It is so large it may have been the Olmec capital after the collapse of San Lorenzo and before the rise of La Venta.
  • It had cultural ties with Ceibal, 185 air kilometers to the SE. 
Stay tuned. These 15 new sites headed by Aguada Fénix may force a re-evaluation of what constituted the Olmec heartland and may demonstrate a much closer connection between the Olmec and the early Maya than we have heretofore realized. They may also force us to re-think the proposed boundaries of the land northward during Jaredite times.

John Clark: "Aguada Fénix is the most important site found in Mesoamerica in my lifetime" is what Francisco Estrada-Belli tweeted referring to Clark's presentation at SAA 2019 in Albuquerque.

August 29, 2019. I spent quality time today with John Clark in the Mexico City airport. He does not believe Aguada Fénix is Olmec, but neither does he see it as Maya. He believes it may represent a new cultural tradition entirely. The artificially raised platform at Aguada Fénix is 2,250 meters long, 200 meters wide, and 3 meters high. This is a volume of 1.3 million cubic meters of dirt. I asked him if he was familiar with Caral on the Peruvian coast. He has not visited the site, but has read about it. See the blog article "Things Peruvian" for more information. To his way of thinking, Aguada Fénix is the Caral of Mesoamerica - huge scale architecture springing up in an out of the way place seemingly from nowhere.