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.