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Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

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The relationship between Archaeology and the Book of Mormon is based on the claims made by the Book of Mormon that could be verified or discredited by archeological investigations. While members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement believe the Book of Mormon describes ancient historical events in the Americas, the available historical and archaeological facts point to the book being an anachronistic invention of Joseph Smith. Since the book's publication in 1830, Mormon archaeologists have been trying to use archaeological evidence to confirm the veracity of the narratives, but this has proved unsuccessful.

The Book of Mormon claims to describe the dealings of two civilizations, called the Nephites and the Lamanites, who are believed by Mormons to have existed in the Americas from about 600 BC to about AD 400. A secondary storyline discusses the Jaredite nation, which the Book of Mormon describes as coming from the Old World shortly after the Biblical confounding of the languages at the Tower of Babel via a miraculous transoceanic voyage. The Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that were not present in the Americas during the period 3100 BC to 400 AD, constituting some of the most significant anachronisms in the Book of Mormon.[1][2][3][4]

Some early-20th century Mormons claimed various archaeological findings, such as place names and ruins of the Inca, Maya, Olmec, and other ancient American and Old World civilizations, as giving credence to the Book of Mormon record.[5] All such claims are dismissed by archeologists,[6] oftentimes out-of-hand (a number of archaeological societies have a form letter response to Mormon inquiries about whether these civilizations are consistent with the Book of Mormon).[7]


The Book of Mormon narrative, together with supporting statements by Joseph Smith, his associates, and later LDS Church leaders, state that the Book of Mormon is a record of ancient Indigenous peoples of the Americas. The book affirms that the three groups or civilizations - the Nephites, the Lamanites, and the Jaredites - emigrated from the Old World between 2500 and 600 BC, and became ancestors of the continent’s indigenous peoples. In the 21st century, the exact extent and location of the peoples referenced in the Book of Mormon has become a subject of debate among Mormon scholars and apologists.

Proposed geographical settings[edit]

Various apologists have claimed that events in the Book of Mormon took place in a variety of locations[8] most notably North America, South America,[9] and Central America. These finds are divided into competing models, most notably the Hemispheric Geography Model, the Mesoamerican Limited Geography Model, and the Finger Lakes Limited Geography Model.

Generally non-Mormon archaeologists do not consider there to be any authentic Book of Mormon archaeological sites.

Hemispheric Geography Model[edit]

The Hemispheric Geography Model posits that the events of the Book of Mormon took place over the entirety of the North and South American continents. By corollary some Mormons believe that the people chronicled in the Book of Mormon exclusively populated an empty North and South American Continent, and that Native Americans were all of Israeli descent.

Speculations from various church leaders has shifted slightly over time, with early Mormon leaders including Orson Pratt taking a traditional stance.[10][11][12][13] This model was also implicitly endorsed in the introduction to the Book of Mormon which, before 2008, stated that Lamanites are the "principal ancestors of the American Indians."[14] More recently, the church has not taken as strong position on the absolute origin of Native American peoples.[15]

Some Mormon apologists note that during a trek through Illinois, Joseph Smith stated he and his travelling group were "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as proof of its divine authenticity".[16]

Critics have noted that the assumption that Lamanites are the ancestors of the American Indians is wholly unfounded in current archaeological and genetic research.[17]

Limited geography models[edit]

Mesoamerican Limited Geography Model[edit]

The Mesoamerican Limited Geography Model posits that the events of the Book of Mormon occurred in a geographically "limited" region in Mesoamerica only hundreds of miles in dimension and that other people were present in the New World at the time of Lehi's arrival. This model has been proposed and advocated by various Mormon apologists in the 20th century (both RLDS and LDS).[18][19][20] Geographically limited settings for the Book of Mormon have been suggested by LDS church leaders as well,[21][22] and this view has been published in the official church magazine, Ensign.[23]

The Limited Mesoamerican Geography Model has been critiqued by a number of scholars, who suggest that it is not an adequate explanation for Book of Mormon geography and that the locations, events, flora and fauna described in it do not precisely match.[24][25]

Among apologists, there have been critiques of this model—particularly around the location of the Hill Cumorah, which most Mormons consider to be definitively identified as a location in New York. In a Mesoamerican Limited Geography model, this would require there to be two Cumorahs (which some consider preposterous[26]).

Finger Lakes Limited Geography Model[edit]

Some Mormon apologists hold that the events of the Book of Mormon occurred in a small region in and around the Finger Lakes region of New York. Part of the basis of this theory lies on statements made by Joseph Smith and other church leaders.[27][28]

Criticism of this model comes on demographic grounds: Mormon scholars have estimated that at various periods in Book of Mormon history, the populations of civilizations discussed in the book would have ranged between 300,000 and 1.5 million people.[29] The size of the late Jaredite civilization was even larger. According to the Book of Mormon, the final war that destroyed the Jaredites resulted in the deaths of at least two million people.[30] From Book of Mormon population estimates, it is evident that the civilizations described are comparable in size to the civilizations of ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and the Maya. Such civilizations left numerous artifacts in the form of hewn stone ruins, tombs, temples, pyramids, roads, arches, walls, frescos, statues, vases, and coins. However, no evidence of any civilizations approaching this size and scale have been found in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Mainstream archeological viewpoint[edit]

The Americas began to be populated when Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (Paleo-Indians) entered North America from the North Asian Mammoth steppe via the Beringia land bridge, which had formed between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska due to the lowering of sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum (26,000 to 19,000 years ago).[31] These populations expanded south of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and spread rapidly southward, occupying both North and South America, by 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.[32][33][34][35]

The precise date for the peopling of the Americas is a long-standing open question. While advances in archaeology and other fields have progressively shed more light on the subject, significant questions remain unresolved.[36][37] The "Clovis First theory" refers to the hypothesis that the Clovis culture represents the earliest human presence in the Americas about 13,000 years ago.[38] However, evidence of pre-Clovis cultures has accumulated and pushed back the possible date of the first peopling of the Americas.[39][40][41][42] Academics generally believe that humans reached North America south of the Laurentide Ice Sheet at some point between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago.[36][39][43][44][45][46] Some new controversial archaeological evidence suggests the possibility that human arrival in the Americas may have occurred prior to the Last Glacial Maximum more than 20,000 years ago.[39][47][48][49][50] However, the archaeological sites in the Americas with the oldest dates that have gained broad acceptance are all compatible with an age of about 15,000 years. This includes the Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas,[51] the Meadowcroft Rockshelter site in Pennsylvania and the Monte Verde site in southern Chile.[52] Archaeological evidence of pre-Clovis people points to the South Carolina Topper Site being 16,000 years old, at a time when the glacial maximum would have theoretically allowed for lower coastlines.

Nineteenth-century archaeological finds[edit]

Critics have suggested that the Book of Mormon appears to be a work of fiction that parallels others within the "Mound Builder" genre that was pervasive during the nineteenth century.[53] Some nineteenth-century archaeological finds (e.g., earth and timber fortifications and towns,[54] the use of a plaster-like cement,[55] ancient roads,[56] metal points and implements,[57] copper breastplates,[58] head-plates,[59] textiles,[60] pearls,[61] native North American inscriptions, North American elephant remains etc.) were well-publicized at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon and there is incorporation of some of these ideas into the narrative.

Anachronisms and archaeological findings[edit]

Critics of the Book of Mormon hold that certain words and phrases in the book are anachronistic with archaeological findings. These relate to artifacts, animal, plant, or technology that critics believe did not exist in the Americas during the Book of Mormon time period (before 2500 BC to about 400 AD). The list below summarizes a few of the anachronistic criticisms in the Book of Mormon, as well as some of the most notable perspectives by Mormon apologists.


The Book of Mormon mentions horses in five incidences, and are portrayed as being in the forest upon first arrival of the Nephites, "raise(d)", "fed", "prepared" (in conjunction with chariots), used for food, and being "useful unto man".[62] Horses in the Americas are considered to have become extinct between 10,000 and 7,600 years ago,[63][64][65] and did not reappear there until the Spaniards brought them from Europe. Horses were re-introduced to the Americas (Caribbean) by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and to the American continent by Cortés in 1519.[66] Mormon archaeologist John L. Sorenson claims that there is fossil evidence that some New World horses may have survived the PleistoceneHolocene transition,[67] though these findings are disputed by other Book of Mormon scholars.[68] Alternately, Mormon apologist Robert R. Bennett suggests that the word "horse" in the Book of Mormon may have referred to a different animal, such as a tapir.[69]


Elephants are mentioned once in the earliest Book of Mormon record c. 2500 BC in the Book of Ether. Critics argue that the archaeological record suggests that all elephant-like creatures became extinct in the New World around 10,000 BC. The source of this extinction is speculated to be the result of human predation, a significant climate change, or a combination of both factors.[70][71] Recent eDNA research of sediments indicates mammoths survived until at least 6600 BC in North America.[72] A small population of mammoths survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, up until 3700 BC.[73]

Some amateur archaeologists and Mormon authors have cited controversial evidence that North American mound builder cultures were familiar with the elephant. This evidence has long been a topic of debate with modern archaeologists concluding that the elephantine remains were improperly dated, misidentified, or openly fraudulent.[74]

Cattle and cows[edit]

Llamas and alpacas are the only large mammals known to have been domesticated in the Americas.

There are five separate incidences of "cows" or "cattle" in the New World in the Book of Mormon, including verbiage that they were "raise(d)" and were "for the use of man" or "useful for the food of man",[75] and indicates that "cattle" and "cows" were not considered the same animal.[76] While the Book of Mormon may follow the common biblical precedent of referring to all domesticated animals as "cattle", there is no evidence that Old World cattle (members of the genus Bos) inhabited the New World prior to European contact in the 16th century AD.[77] Further, there is currently no archaeological evidence of American bison having been domesticated.[78] It is widely accepted that the only large mammals to be domesticated in the Americas were the llama and the alpaca and that no species of goats, deer, or sheep were fully domesticated before the arrival of the Europeans to the continent.

Some Mormon apologists believe that the term "cattle", as used in the Book of Mormon is more general and does not exclusively mean members of the genus Bos. Thus, they claim the term "cattle" may refer to mountain goats; llamas; or the ancestor of the American bison, Bison antiquus (of the sub family Bovinae).[79]


"Sheep" are mentioned in the Book of Mormon metaphorically at various places in the Nephite record[80] but are conspicuously absent in the list of animals observed in the New World upon the arrival of the Nephites.[81] In one instance sheep are described as being possessed by the Jaredites in the Americas at c. 2300 BC.[82] Another verse mentions "lamb-skin" worn by enemy armies of robbers about their loins (c. 21 AD).[83] However, domesticated sheep are known to have been first introduced to the Americas during the second voyage of Columbus in 1493.[84]

Mormon apologists argue the sheep referred to by the Jaredites, as the reference is not long after their arrival c. 2500 BC, is referring to Old World sheep as it is mentioned in the Book of Mormon that the Jaredites brought animals and birds with them,[85][86] and the reference to lamb-skins may refer to wild sheep that were hunted. No evidence of domesticated sheep has been found in the Americas prior to Columbus.[87]


Brocket deer: Some Mormon apologists believe that "goat" in the Book of Mormon refers to brocket deer in order to explain the apparent anachronism.

"Goats" are mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon[88] placing them among the Nephites and the Jaredites (i.e., between 2500 BC and 400 AD). In two of the verses, "goats" are distinguished from "wild goats", indicating that there were at least two varieties, one of them possibly domesticated.

Domesticated goats are known to have been introduced on the American continent by Europeans in the 15th century,[84] 1000 years after the conclusion of the Book of Mormon, and nearly 2000 years after goats are last mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The aggressive mountain goat is indigenous to North America. There is no evidence that it was ever domesticated. Mormon Apologist Matthew Roper has countered these claims, pointing out that 16th-century Spanish friars used the word "goat" to refer to native Mesoamerican brocket deer.[89] There is no evidence that brocket deer were ever domesticated.


A collared peccary

"Swine" are referred to twice in the Book of Mormon,[90][91] and states that the swine were "useful for the food of man" among the Jaredites.[91] There have not been any remains, references, artwork, tools, or any other evidence suggesting that swine were ever present in the pre-Columbian New World.[92]

Apologists note that peccaries (also known as javelinas), which bear a resemblance to pigs and are in the same subfamily Suinae as swine, have been present in South America since prehistoric times.[93] Mormon authors advocating the original mound-builder setting for the Book of Mormon have similarly suggested North American peccaries (also called "wild pigs")[94] as the "swine" of the Jaredites.[95] The earliest scientific description of peccaries in the New World in Brazil in 1547 referred to them as "wild pigs".[96]

Though it has not been documented that peccaries were bred in captivity, it has been documented that peccaries were tamed, penned, and raised for food and ritual purposes in the Yucatán, Panama, the southern Caribbean, and Columbia at the time of the Conquest.[97] Archaeological remains of peccaries have been found in Mesoamerica from the Preclassic (or Formative) period up until immediately before Spanish contact.[98] Specifically, peccary remains have been found at Early Formative Olmec civilization sites,[99] which civilization Mormon apologists correlate to the Book of Mormon Jaredites.

Barley and wheat[edit]

Wheat was domesticated in the Old World and was introduced on the American continent by Europeans.

"Barley" is mentioned three times and "wheat" once in the Book of Mormon narrative with the ground being "tilled" to plant barley and wheat at one geographical location, in the 1st and 2nd century BC according to Book of Mormon chronology.[100] The introduction of domesticated modern barley and wheat to the New World was made by Europeans after 1492.[101] The Book of Mormon claims that non-specific "seeds" were brought from the land of Jerusalem and planted on arrival in the New World and produced a successful yield.[102] To date, the existing evidence suggests that the introduction of Old World flora and fauna to the American continent happened during the Columbian exchange.[103]


The Book of Mormon mentions the use of "silk" in the New World four times.[104] "Silk" ordinarily refers to material that is created from the cocoon of one of several Asian moths, predominantly Bombyx mori; this type of silk was unknown in pre-Columbian America.

Mormon scholar John L. Sorenson documents several materials which were used in Mesoamerica to make fine cloth equivalent to silk, some of which the Spanish actually called "silk" upon their arrival, including the fiber (kapok) from the seed pods of the ceiba tree, the cocoons of wild moths, the fibers of silkgrass (Achmea magdalenae), the leaves of the wild pineapple plant, and the fine hair of the underbelly of rabbits.[105] He alleges that the inhabitants of Mexico used the fiber spun by a wild silkworm to create a fabric.[106]

The Aztecs used a silk material taken from nests made by two indigenous insects, the moth Eucheira socialis and the butterfly Gloveria psidii.[107][108] The nests were cut and pieced together to make a fabric, rather than extracting and spinning the fiber as in modern silk. Spinning of silk from what are thought to be the same insects has been reported in more recent times, though its use in pre-Columbian times has been debated.[109]

Old World artifacts and products[edit]

Chariots or wheeled vehicles[edit]

Chariots depicted in a Sumerian relief c. 2500 BC. Evidence of wheeled vehicles has not been found in the Americas.

The Book of Mormon contains two accounts of "chariots" being used in the New World.[110]

There is no archaeological evidence of wheeled vehicles in any part of the pre-Columbian Americas. Clark Wissler, the Curator of Ethnography at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, noted: "we see that the prevailing mode of land transport in the New World was by human carrier. The wheel was unknown in pre-Columbian times."[111]

Many regions, such as the Andes and Mesoamerica are not suitable for wheeled transport. Although the Incas used a vast network of paved roads, these roads are so rough, steep, and narrow that they appear to be unsuitable for wheeled use. Bridges that the Inca people built, and even continue to use and maintain today in some remote areas, are straw-rope bridges so narrow (about 2–3 feet wide) that no wheeled vehicle can fit. Inca roads were used mainly by chaski message runners and llama caravans.[citation needed]

Iron and steel[edit]

Aztec warriors brandishing maquahuitl, which are made of stone. From the 16th-century Florentine Codex, Vol. IX.

"Steel" and "iron" are mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon.[112] A bow constructed from steel is described as being used in the Old World, however the necessary spring steel was not invented until the 18th century. [113]

The Book of Mormon also makes numerous references to swords made in the New World, and their use in battle.[114] When the remnants of the Jaredites' final battle were discovered, the Book of Mormon narrative states that some swords were collected and "the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust."[115] No evidence of Pre-Columbian iron smelting has ever been found anywhere in the Western Hemisphere and all examples of iron artifacts are fabricated from meteoric iron.

Some limited metalworking was independently discovered by ancient American cultures, however. The Old Copper cultures around the Great Lakes are among the oldest metal-workers in human history due the region containing the world's largest native copper deposit.[116] Starting 8000 years ago, these peoples extracted and cold-worked native copper into a vast array of tools.[117] By 3000 years ago, most tools were no longer produced from copper due to the superior properties of stone tools,[118] though awls continued to be produced and used for thousands more years.[119] Due to the abundance of high quality stone and copper, the Great Lakes cultures never had a need to develop smelting or alloying. Not surprisingly due to the material properties of pure copper, bladed tools were rare, though a few examples have been recovered on Isle Royale and around Lake Superior.[120] Copper mined around Lake Superior was traded extensively and as a result can be found in Pre-Columbian sites all across North America.[121][122]

Mesoamerican cultures began extracting copper ore and smelting it 1400 years ago, including independently discovering the lost-wax casting method. Starting 800 years ago, these cultures experimented with alloying copper, gold, and silver. Nearly all examples of metalworking from this region are ornamental prestige pieces. All iron artifacts were prestige objects that were cold-worked from meteoric iron and were formed into mirrors, beads, hammers, and possibly magnetic compasses.

The Inca Empire independently discovered how to smelt and alloy copper into bronze, which it worked into a wide range of tools, including bolas, plumb bobs, chisels, gravers, pry bars, tweezers, needles, plates, fish hooks, spatulas, ladles, knives (tumi), bells, breastplates, lime spoons, mace heads, ear spools, bowls, cloak pins (tupus), axes, and foot plow adzes. Additionally, South American cultures regularly worked gold and other precious metals.

Between 2004 and 2007, a Purdue University archaeologist, Kevin J. Vaughn, discovered a 2000-year-old hematite mine near Nazca, Peru. Although hematite is today mined as an iron ore, Vaughn believes that the hematite was then being mined for use as red pigment. There are also numerous excavations that included iron minerals.[123] He noted:

Even though ancient Andean people smelted some metals, such as copper, they never smelted iron like they did in the Old World .... Metals were used for a variety of tools in the Old World, such as weapons, while in the Americas, metals were used as prestige goods for the wealthy elite.[124]

After it became clear that no Pre-Columbian iron or bronze swords existed, some apologists in the 1990s [125] began to argue that the references to swords may instead refer to a number of weapons such as the macuahuitl, a war club lined with obsidian blades that was used by the Aztecs.[126]


"Cimeters" are mentioned in eight instances in the Book of Mormon stretching from approximately 500 BC to 51 BC.[127] Critics argue this existed hundreds of years before the term "scimitar" was coined. The word "cimiter" is considered an anachronism since the word was never used by the Hebrews (from which the Book of Mormon peoples came) or any other civilization prior to 450 AD.[128] The word 'cimeterre' is found in the 1661 English dictionary Glossographia and is defined as "a crooked sword" and was part of the English language at the time that the Book of Mormon was translated.[129] In the 7th century, scimitars generally first appeared among the Turko- Mongol nomads of Central Asia however a notable exception was the sickle sword of ancient Egypt known as the khopesh[130] which was used from 3000 BC and is found on the Rosetta Stone dated to 196 BC. Eannatum, the king of Lagash, is shown on a Sumerian stele from 2500 BC equipped with a sickle sword.[131]

Apologists Michael R. Ash and William Hamblin postulate that the word was chosen by Joseph Smith as the closest workable English word for a short curved weapon used by the Nephites.[132] Mormon scholar Matthew Roper has noted there are a variety of weapons with curved blades found in Mesoamerica.[133]

System of exchange based on measures of grain using precious metals as a standard[edit]

The Book of Mormon details a system of measures used by the societies described therein.[134] No form of fiat currency, such as measures of gold for grain as described in the Book of Mormon, is known to have existed in any pre-Columbian culture. The vast majority of ancient Native American economies were gift economies, which do not use any form of currency and instead rely on reciprocal exchanges governed by social goodwill. Limited use of commodity currencies existed in large empires, such as in Mesoamerica where cacao beans were sometimes used.[135]

Knowledge of Hebrew and Egyptian languages[edit]

The "Caractors document", which shows characters transcribed from the golden plates (the source of the Book of Mormon). These characters are claimed to be from an unknown language called reformed Egyptian.

The Book of Mormon describes more than one literate people inhabiting ancient America. The Nephite people are described as possessing a language and writing with roots in Hebrew and Egyptian, and writing part of the original text of the Book of Mormon in this unknown language, called reformed Egyptian. A transcript of some of the characters of this language has been preserved in what had previously been erroneously identified as the "Anthon Transcript" but is now known as the "Caractors document".

Fifteen examples of distinct scripts have been identified in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, many from a single inscription.[136] While Maya contains cartouches and is a form of hieroglyphic script like Egyptian, no further resemblance to Hebrew or Egyptian hieroglyphs has been identified. Additionally, professional linguists and Egyptologists do not consider the Caractors document to contain any legitimate ancient writing. Edward H. Ashment called the characters of the transcript "hieroglyphics of the Micmac Indians of northeastern North America".[137]

The Smithsonian Institution has noted, "Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines, and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland."[138]

Linguistic studies on the evolution of the spoken languages of the Americas agree with the widely held model that Homo sapiens arrived in America between 14,000 and 12,000 years ago.[32]

Systems of measuring time (calendars)[edit]

Most North American tribes relied upon a calendar of 13 months, relating to the annual number of lunar cycles. Seasonal rounds and ceremonies were performed each moon. Months were counted in the days between phase cycles of the moon. Calendar systems in use in North America during this historical period relied on this simple system.[139]

One of the more distinctive features shared among pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations is the use of an extensive system of inter-related calendars. The epigraphic and archaeological record for this practice dates back at least 2,500 years, by which time it appears to have been well-established.[140] The most widespread and significant of these calendars was the 260-day calendar, formed by combining 20 named days with 13 numerals in successive sequence (13 × 20 = 260).[141] Another system of perhaps equal antiquity is the 365-day calendar, approximating the solar year, formed from 18 "months" × 20 named days + 5 additional days. These systems and others are found in societies of that era such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixe-Zoque, Mixtec, and Maya (whose system of Maya calendars are widely regarded as the most intricate and complex among them) reflected the vigesimal (base 20) numeral system and other numbers, such as 7, 9, 13, and 19.[142]

Latter-day Saints and Book of Mormon archaeology[edit]

Early activities[edit]

In the early 1840s, John Lloyd Stephens' two-volume work Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan was seen by some church members as an essential guide to the ruins of Book of Mormon cities. In the fall of 1842, an article appearing in the church's Times and Seasons alleged that the ruins of Quiriguá, discovered by Stephens, may be the very ruins of Zarahemla or some other Book of Mormon city.[143] Other articles followed, including one published shortly after the death of Joseph Smith. Every Latter Day Saint was encouraged to read Stephens' book and to regard the stone ruins described in it as relating to the Book of Mormon.[144] It is now believed that these Central American ruins date more recent than Book of Mormon times.[145]

In recent years, there have been differing views among Book of Mormon scholars, particularly between the scholars and the "hobbyists".[146]

New World Archaeological Foundation[edit]

From the mid-1950s onwards, New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF), based out of Brigham Young University, has sponsored archaeological excavations in Mesoamerica, with a focus on the Mesoamerican time period known as the Preclassic (earlier than c. AD 200).[147] The results of these and other investigations, while producing valuable archaeological data, have not led to any widespread acceptance by non-Mormon archaeologists of the Book of Mormon account. In 1973, citing the lack of specific New World geographic locations to search, Michael D. Coe, a prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, wrote,

As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group.[148]

In 1955, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, an attorney and the founder of the NWAF, received five years of funding from the LDS Church and the NWAF then began to dig throughout Mesoamerica for evidence of the veracity of the Book of Mormon claims. In a 1961 newsletter, Ferguson predicted that although nothing had been found, the Book of Mormon cities would be found within 10 years. The NWAF became part of BYU in 1961 and Ferguson was removed from the director position.

Eleven years after Ferguson was no longer affiliated with the NWAF, in 1972 Christian scholar Hal Hougey wrote Ferguson questioning the progress given the stated timetable in which the cities would be found.[149] Replying to Hougey, as well as other secular and non-secular requests, Ferguson wrote in a letter dated 5 June 1972: "Ten years have passed .... I had sincerely hoped that Book-of-Mormon cities would be positively identified within 10 years—and time has proved me wrong in my anticipation."[149]

In 1976, fifteen years removed from any archaeological involvement with the NWAF, referring to his own paper, Ferguson wrote a letter in which he stated:

The real implication of the paper is that you can't set the Book-of-Mormon geography down anywhere—because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archaeology. I should say—what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book.[150]

Though the NWAF failed to establish a common belief of a specific Book of Mormon geographic location, the archaeological investigations of NWAF-sponsored projects were a success for ancient American archaeology in general which has been recognized and appreciated by non-Mormon archaeologists.[148] Currently BYU maintains 86 documents on the work of the NWAF at the BYU NWAF website;[151] these documents are used outside both BYU and the LDS Church by researchers.

Modern approach and conclusions[edit]

There is a broad consensus among archaeologists that the archaeological record does not substantiate the Book of Mormon account, and in most ways directly contradicts it.[152][153]

An example of the mainstream archaeological opinion of Mormon archaeology is summarized by historian and journalist Hampton Sides:

Yale's Michael Coe likes to talk about what he calls "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness," the tendency among Mormon theorists like Sorenson to keep the discussion trained on all sorts of extraneous subtopics ... while avoiding what is most obvious: that Joseph Smith probably meant "horse" when he wrote down the word "horse".[154]

Organizational statements regarding the Book of Mormon[edit]

National Geographic Society[edit]

The Institute for Religious Research posted on its website a 1998 letter from National Geographic Society that stated that the Society was unaware of any archaeological evidence that would support the Book of Mormon.[155]

LDS Church[edit]

The Gospel Topics essays section of the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has two essays titled "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies"[156] and "Book of Mormon Translation".[157] In them, the church affirms the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon. In the essay on DNA studies, the church argues for "a more careful approach to the data," and states that "much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas." Meanwhile, in the essay on the Book of Mormon's translation, the church affirms that "the Book of Mormon came into the world through a series of miraculous events."

Mormon cultural belief regarding Book of Mormon archaeology[edit]

Existing ancient records of the New World[edit]

The Smithsonian Institution has noted, "Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines, and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland."[138]

Losses of ancient writings occurred in the Old World, including as a result of deliberate or accidental fires, wars, earthquakes, and floods. Similar losses occurred in the New World. Much of the literature of the pre-Columbian Maya was destroyed during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.[158] Mormon apologist Michael Coe therefore argues that our knowledge and understanding of the Maya is too fragmentary and incomplete to rule out the Book of Mormon narrative conclusively.[159]

The Maya civilization also left behind a vast corpus of inscriptions (upwards of ten thousand are known) written in the Maya script, the earliest of which date from around the 3rd century BC with the majority written in the Classic Period (c. 250–900 AD).[160] Mayanist scholarship is now able to decipher a large number of these inscriptions. These inscriptions are mainly concerned with the activities of Mayan rulers and the commemoration of significant events, with the oldest known Long Count date corresponding to December 7, 36 BC, being recorded on Chiapa de Corzo Stela 2 in central Chiapas.[161] None of these inscriptions have been correlated with events, places, or rulers of Book of Mormon.[162]

Efforts to correlate artifacts[edit]

Izapa Stela 5[edit]

In the early 1950s, M. Wells Jakeman of the BYU Department of Archaeology suggested that a complicated scene carved on Stela 5 in Izapa was a depiction of a Book of Mormon event called "Lehi's dream", which features a vision of the tree of life.[163] This interpretation is disputed by other Mormon and non-Mormon scholars.[164] Julia Guernsey Kappelman, author of a definitive work on Izapan culture, finds that Jakeman's research "belies an obvious religious agenda that ignored Izapa Stela 5's heritage".[165]

Other artifacts[edit]

Sorenson claims that one artifact, La Venta Stela 3, depicts a person with Semitic features ("striking beard and beaked nose").[166] Mormon researchers such as Robin Heyworth have claimed that Copan Stela B depicts elephants;[167][168] others such as Alfred M Tozzer and Glover M Allen claim it depicts macaws.[169][170]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abanes 2003, pp. 74–77
  2. ^ Wolverton 2004, pp. 84–85
  3. ^ Persuitte 2000, p. 102
  4. ^ "Does Archaeology Support The Book Of Mormon?". Mormons in Transition web site. Institute for Religious Research. Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  5. ^ Priddis 1975; see RLDS D&C 110:20 Archived 2018-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, were advanced by RLDS members: Hills 1917; Hills 1918; Hills 1924, and Gunsolley 1922
  6. ^ Coe 1973, pp. 41–42: "Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing [the historicity of The Book of Mormon], and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group"
  7. ^ "National Geographic Society Statement on the Book of Mormon". August 12, 1998. Letter from Julie Crain addressed to Luke Wilson of the Institute for Religious Research.
  8. ^ One book compiled by prominent Mormon scholar John Sorenson has more than 400 pages of possible location theories placing Book of Mormon events everywhere from the Finger Lakes region of the Northeast United States to Chile. Sorenson, John L., compiler. The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book Provo: FARMS, 1992. ASIN: B0006QHZWE.
  9. ^ Priddis 1975, pp. 9, 16, 17
  10. ^ This view was incorporated by Orson Pratt into his footnotes for the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon.[citation needed] (These geographical footnotes were later removed in 1920 and all subsequent editions).[citation needed]
  11. ^ Silverberg quotes early Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt who attempted to incorporate "ancient mounds filled with human bones" in a geographic model spanning "North and South America." (Silverberg, Robert, The Mound Builders, pg. 73)
  12. ^ A note in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph Smith's counsellors and scribes, asserts that Lehi's people landed in South America at thirty degrees south latitude. U.A.S. Newsletter (Provo, Utah: University Archaeological Society at Brigham Young University) January 30, 1963, p. 7. An official statement by the LDS Church discourages Church members from making too much of the Williams document. Frederick J. Pack (Chairman of the Gospel Doctrine Committee of the Church) and George D. Pyper, The Instructor 73, No. 4, 1938, pg 160.
  13. ^ Orson Pratt also speculated that the Nephite landing site was on the coast of Chile near Valparaiso, Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses (London, England: Albert Carrington, 1869), vol. 12; p. 342; Volume 14, p. 325, 1872.
  14. ^ Introduction to the Book of Mormon, prior to 2008. See for instance 1979 edition.
  15. ^ A 1938 church study guide asserted that "all the Book of Mormon text requires" is a "Hebrew origin for at least a part of Indian ancestry". Berrett & Hunter 1938
  16. ^ Jessee 1984, p. 324 (See also Zelph)
  17. ^ Southerton 2004, p. 42 "For many Mormons, this is as deep as their awareness of the origin of Native Americans extends. They remain oblivious to the large volume of research that has revealed continuous, widespread human occupation of the Americas for the last 14,000 years. Such research conflicts with erroneous LDS interpretations and oral traditions and unfortunately has, until recently, been ignored."
  18. ^ See Hills 1917, Smith 1997, Berrett & Hunter 1938, Sorenson 1985, Roper 2004, Nibley 1980
  19. ^ Sjodahl, Janne M (1927). "An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon". Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press.
  20. ^ "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations", by Matthew Roper, section on the geographic ideas of John E. Page, BYU Maxwell Institute, 2004.
  21. ^ Roper 2004
  22. ^ Sorenson 1985, pp. 1–48
  23. ^ Sorenson 1984a
  24. ^ Wunderli, Earl M (Fall 2002). "Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 35 (3): 161–197. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
  25. ^ Matheny, Deanne G (1994). Metcalfe, Brent Lee (ed.). "Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography". New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology.
  26. ^ Sides remarks, "As fantastic as it may seem, Sorenson actually argues that there were two Cumorahs: one in Mexico where the great battle took place, and where Moroni buried a longer, unexpurgated version of the golden Nephite records; and one near Palmyra, New York, where Moroni eventually buried a condensed version of the plates after lugging them on an epic trek of several thousand miles" (Sides, Hampton, "This is Not the Place!", Double Take Magazine, Vol. 5, No 2; Also included in his work American: Dispatches from the New Frontier, 2004)
  27. ^ See letter from Joseph Smith published in Times and Seasons October 1842, later canonized as the section 128 of the LDS Church's Doctrine and Covenants. In this letter, the Book of Mormon land Cumorah is referenced among other locations of significance near the Finger Lakes. See also Joseph Fielding Smith: Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3, pp. 233-234; Bruce R. McConkie: Mormon Doctrine; s.v. "Cumorah", p. 175; Mark E. Peterson: Improvement Era, June 1953, p. 423, 123 Annual Conference of the Church, April 4–6, 1953 General Conference Report, pp. 83–84.
  28. ^ See also Hill 1995, p. 33"Sir, Considering the Liberal Principles," Joseph Smith to N.C. Saxton, editor, American Revivalist, and Rochester Observer, 4 January 1833 (from Times and Seasons [Nauvoo, Illinois] 5 [15 November 1844], 21:705-707) where Smith stated that the "Western Indians" in the United States are the descendants of Book of Mormon peoples.
  29. ^ Smith 1997, p. 280
  30. ^ Ether 15:2
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  50. ^ Bryant, Vaughn M. Jr. (1998). "Pre-Clovis". In Guy Gibbon; et al. (eds.). Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America: An Encyclopedia. Garland reference library of the humanities. Vol. 1537. pp. 682–683. ISBN 978-0-8153-0725-9.
  51. ^ Kaplan, Sarah (October 24, 2018). "Continent's oldest spear points provide new clues about the first Americans". Washington Post.
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  53. ^
    • Robert Silverberg, Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth (New York: New York Graphic Society, 1968). pp. 94
    • Curtis Dahl, "Mound-Builders, Mormons, and William Cullen Bryant", The New England Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 2, June 1961, pp. 178–90 ("Undoubtedly the most famous and certainly the most influential of all Mound-Builder literature is the Book of Mormon (1830)). Whether one wishes to accept it as divinely inspired or the work of Joseph Smith, it fits exactly into the tradition. Despite its pseudo-Biblical style and its general inchoateness, it is certainly the most imaginative and best sustained of the stories about the Mound-Builders" (at p. 187)
    • Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (rev. ed., New York: Knopf, 1971) p. 36.
  54. ^ See Squier 1849
  55. ^ See mound builder homes of "clay-plastered poles": Stuart, George E., Who Were the "Mound Builders"?, National Geographic, Vol. 142, No. 6, December 1972, pg. 789
  56. ^ See Searching for the Great Hopewell Road, based on the investigations of archaeologist Dr. Bradley Lepper, Ohio Historical Society, Pangea Production Ltd, 1998
  57. ^ See Priest, Josiah, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, pg. 179;
  58. ^ See Mound Builders & Cliff Dwellers, Lost Civilizations series, Dale M. Brown (editor), pg. 26
  59. ^ Priest, Josiah, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, 176; Mound Builders & Cliff Dwellers, Lost Civilizations series, Dale M. Brown (editor), pg. 26
  60. ^ See Ritchie, William A. The Archaeology of New York State, pp. 259, 261
  61. ^ See freshwater pearl necklaces, and pearls sewn on clothing: Mound Builders & Cliff Dwellers, Lost Civilizations series, Dale M. Brown (editor), pg. 26
  62. ^ 1 Nephi 18:25, Enos 1:21, Alma 18:9,10,12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22, 3 Nephi 4:4, and Ether 9:19.
  63. ^ Vila, C.; et al. (2001). "Widespread Origins of Domestic Horse Lineages" (PDF). Science. 291 (5503): 474–477. Bibcode:2001Sci...291..474V. doi:10.1126/science.291.5503.474. PMID 11161199. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-13. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  64. ^ Luís, Cristina; et al. (2006). "Iberian Origins of New World Horse Breeds". Quaternary Science Reviews. 97 (2): 107–113. doi:10.1093/jhered/esj020. PMID 16489143.
  65. ^ Haile, James; et al. (2009). "Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth and horse in interior Alaska". PNAS. 106 (52): 22352–22357. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10622352H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0912510106. PMC 2795395. PMID 20018740.
  66. ^ Singer, Ben. "A brief history of the horse in America; Horse phylogeny and evolution". Canadian Geographic Magazine. Archived from the original on October 29, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
  67. ^ See references cited in John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1996), 295, n.63.
  68. ^ Peterson Daniel C. and Roper, Matthew "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons" FARMS Review: Volume - 16, Issue - 1 [1] Archived 2008-10-28 at the Wayback Machine
  69. ^ Bennett, Robert R. "Horses in the Book of Mormon". FARMS. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013.
  70. ^ Diamond 1999
  71. ^ Sharon Levy, "Mammoth Mystery, Did Climate Changes Wipe Out North America's Giant Mammals, Or Did Our Stone Age Ancestors Hunt Them To Extinction?" Onearth, Winter 2006, pp15-19
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  73. ^ Kristine J. Crossen, "5,700-Year-Old Mammoth Remains from the Pribilof Islands, Alaska: Last Outpost of North America Megafauna", Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Volume 37, Number 7, (Geological Society of America, 2005), 463
  74. ^ In his 1903 The Mound Builders, Their Works and Relics, minister Stephen Dennison Peet cites instances of exhumed mastodon remains and arguments given for why the remains were believed to be contemporary with mound builders. Stephen Dennison Peet, The Mound Builders, pp. 38–44. Elephant effigy pipes, of the characteristic mound builder platform style, were reported as archaeological finds in Iowa, Stephen Dennison Peet, The Mound Builders, pp. 11–14. see also M.C. Read's 1896, Archaeology of Ohio, pp 116–17 and a mound in Wisconsin has been called the "elephant mound," though archaeologists question whether this is in fact the animal represented. On Elephant platform pipes and the Elephant Mound of Grand County, Wisconsin, see Charles E. Putnam (President of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences), Elephant Pipes and Inscribed Tablets in the Museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Davenport, Iowa, 1885, pp. 19–20, and U.S. Ethnology Bureau, Vol. 2., 1880–81,Pg. 153; see also Charles Valentine Riley, The American Naturalist, American Society of Naturalists (Essex Institute), pp. 275–77. The former Iowa state archaeologist Marshall McKusick discusses the evidence indicating that the elephant platform pipes are frauds in his book on the so-called Davenport Tablets. McKusick, Marshall, The Davenport Conspiracy Revisited. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8138-0344-9
  75. ^ Enos 1:21, 1 Nephi 18:25, Ether 9:18
  76. ^ Ether 9:18
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  80. ^ Mosiah 14:5-7, Mosiah 15:6, Mosiah 26:20-21, Alma 5:37-39, 59-60, Alma 25:12, Helaman 15:13, 3 Nephi 14:15, 3 Nephi 15:17, 21, 24, 3 Nephi 16:1, 3, 3 Nephi 18:31, 3 Nephi 20:16, 3 Nephi 21:12
  81. ^ 1 Nephi 18:25
  82. ^ Ether 9:18
  83. ^ 3 Nephi 4:7
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    • "No Native Americans made grape wine or wheat bread..."
    • "The Jaredites and Nephites are portrayed as having plow agriculture and wheat and barley" [...] "but nothing remotely resembling this kind of culture has ever been found, either archaeologically or ethnographically, in the aboriginal New World."
  102. ^ 1 Nephi 18:6, 24
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  110. ^ Alma 18:9-10,12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22
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  112. ^ See 1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9
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  115. ^ Mosiah 8:11
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  121. ^ Mound Builders & Cliff Dwellers, Lost Civilizations series, edited by Dale M. Brown, 1992, p. 26
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  125. ^ Matthew Roper (1997). "On Cynics and Swords". FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon. 9 (1).
  126. ^ Roper, Matthew (1999). "Swords and "Cimeters" in the Book of Mormon". Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. 8 (1): 34–43. doi:10.2307/44758887. JSTOR 44758887. S2CID 254309120. Retrieved 2014-12-15."Spaniards who faced native Mesoamerican swords in battle were deeply impressed by their deadly cutting power and razorlike sharpness."
  127. ^ Enos 1:20, Mosiah 9:16, Mosiah 10:8, Alma 2:12, Alma 27:29, Alma 43:18, 20, 37, Alma 44:8, Alma 60:2, Helaman 1:14
  128. ^ B. H. Roberts noted: "The word [cimiter] is of oriental and uncertain origin and appears in various forms. How it came to be introduced into the speech and writings of the Nephites, and how not used in the other Hebrew literature at an earlier date, is so far as I know, unaccountable. The earliest use of the word I have found is in Gibbon, where referring to the alleged incident of finding the sword of Mars for Attila, he there calls that sword of Mars 'cimiter'; but that was about 450 A.D." - Roberts 1992, pp. 112
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  132. ^ Ash states: "there is enough Mesoamerican artwork and artifacts that display the basic characteristics of a scimitar that the Book of Mormon is vindicated for its usage." See: http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Brochures/Anachronisms3.pdf
  133. ^ Roper, Matthew (1999). "Swords and Cimeters in the Book of Mormon". Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. 8 (1): 34–43, 77–78. doi:10.2307/44758887. JSTOR 44758887. S2CID 254309120. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
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  135. ^ Coe 2002, p. 132 "[W]ell into Colonial times the beans served as a form of money in regional markets."
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  139. ^ 13 Moons On the Turtles Back. A Native American Year of Moons, ISBN 0-698-11584-8, Putnam and Grossnet Group, 199
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  145. ^ Scholars date the ruins of Quirigua to about the 8th century AD. See Quirigua
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Further reading[edit]