Since the introduction of the Book of Mormon in 1830, both Mormon and non-Mormon archaeologists have studied its claims in reference to known archaeological evidence. Latter Day Saints generally believe that the Book of Mormon describes historical events, however the existence of the civilizations and people described in the Book of Mormon is not accepted by mainstream historians or archaeologists.
The Book of Mormon describes three heavily populated, literate, technologically advanced civilizations. The book primarily deals with the Nephites and the Lamanites, who it claims existed in the Americas from about 600 BC to AD 400. It also deals with the rise and fall of the Jaredite nation, which the Book of Mormon claims existed in the Americas starting at the time of the Tower of Babel (which many Biblical literalist scholars date to between 3100 BC and 2200 BC) until as late as 400 BC. The founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, Joseph Smith, taught that the Lamanites were the ancestors of the modern day American Indians.
There is a general consensus amongst members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the people described in the Book of Mormon lived somewhere on either North or South America, but also that the purpose of the book is not to document the history of the people described within it.Since the 1980s the contemporary LDS view is that these groups of people settled in Mesoamerica. Authorities of the LDS Church emphasize that the Book of Mormon is primarily a religious record, although they also claim that it is a historical work.
Critics note that the Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that are not substantiated by the archaeological record between 3100 B.C. to 400 AD in America,, including the following: ass, bull, calf, cow, horses, ox, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheat, barley, silk , steel, bellows, brass, breast plates, iron, ore (mining), plows, swords, scimitars, chariots and other elements.
During the early 1980s, reports circulated in LDS culture that the Book of Mormon was being used by the Smithsonian to guide primary archaeological research. This rumor was brought to the attention of Smithsonian directors who, in 1996, sent a form letter to inquiring parties stating that the Smithsonian did not use the Book of Mormon to guide any research, and included a list of specific reasons Smithsonian archaeologists considered the Book of Mormon historically unlikely. In 1998, the Smithsonian revised the form letter they sent in response to this issue to take a less controversial stance, specifically replacing detailed allegations of the non-historicity of the Book of Mormon with a simple statement that the Book of Mormon has not been used by the Smithsonian in any form of archaeological research. Mormon scholars suggest this may have been because the 1996 letter contradicts some aspects of research published by Smithsonian staff members; Non-LDS scholars note that the Smithsonian has not retracted any of its previous statements, and feel that the response was toned down to avoid negative public relations with Mormons. Terryl Givens suggests that the change in the statement was "in all likelihood a product of controversy-avoidance. Some Mormon scholars speculate that the statement may have been revised because some of the reasons listed are considered controversial or dubious for reasons unrelated to the Book of Mormon by some mainstream historians.
Additionally Latter-day Saints have based some of their conclusions regarding archaeology and the Book of Mormon on unproven archaeological data which looked promising at the time but has since been found to be either erroneous and or fraudulent. In recent years, this has caused LDS scholars to take a very critical approach to the work of other LDS researchers on this subject. Mormon scholar John L. Sorenson states that "LDS scholars themselves have attacked the same shoddy scholarship that makes Book of Mormon archaeology a playground for hobbyists.. It should be noted, however, that even with LDS methods becoming more erudite, the Central American Zarahemla tradition, which is not clearly based on Mormon scripture, continues as a major LDS paradigm.
In addition to the search for supporting physical evidence, John L. Sorenson has attempted to apply a "flesh-and-blood" reality to the cultures in the Book of Mormon. This approach uses what the authors refer to as "contextual knowledge" in order to establish a plausible setting for the cultural events of the Book of Mormon within the context of known Mesoamerican historical settings. The goal is to determine places and times at which Book of Mormon events occurred that correlate with similar events in the Mesoamerican historical record.
In 1955 Thomas Ferguson, an LDS member and founder of the New World Archaeological Foundation, with five years of funding from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 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. In 1972, Christian scholar Hal Hougey wrote Ferguson questioning the progress given the stated timetable in which the cities would be found. Replying to Hougey as well as 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. During the period of 1959-1961, NWAF colleague Dee Green was editor of the BYU Archaeological Society Newsletter and had an article from it published in the summer of 1969 edition of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, pp 76-78 in which he acknowledged that the NWAF findings did not back up the veracity of the Book of Mormon claims. After this article and another six years of fruitless search, Thomas Ferguson published a 29 page paper in 1975 entitled Written Symposium on Book-of-Mormon Geography: Response of Thomas S. Ferguson to the Norman & Sorenson Papers. The full text will be omitted here, but he summed it up on page 29: "I'm afraid that up to this point, I must agree with Dee Green, who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography...". In referring to his own paper, Ferguson wrote a 20 February 1976 letter to Mr & Mrs H.W. Lawrence 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-archeology. I should say — what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book. Ferguson’s admission that there is no professionally recognized Book of Mormon geography supported by archaeology, does not discount the accepted setting for the Book of Mormon recognized by historians who study 19th century American literature. The Book of Mormon is classed in the popular mound-builder genre of the time. Historians therefore consider that the original setting for the Book of Mormon intended to represent mound-builder societies of North America. It is historically evident that early members of the LDS Church regarded mound-builder artifacts as evidence in support of the Book of Mormon.
The archaeological investigations of NWAF-sponsored projects have contributed towards the documentation and understanding of pre-Columbian societies, particularly in Mesoamerica. Currently BYU maintains 86 documents on the work of the NWAF at the BYU NWAF website and these documents are used outside both BYU and the LDS church by researchers.
The text of the Book of Mormon spans a period beginning circa 2500 B.C. to 400 A.D. Each of the anachronisms describes an artifact, animal, plant, or technology that critics and archaeologists believe did not exist in the Americas during this time period.
LDS scholars and apologists respond to the anachronisms in several ways. One frequent argument is that words chosen by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon may have been Old World designations for different New World items.
"For example, the Spanish called the fruit of the prickly pear cactus a "fig," and emigrants from England called maize "corn," an English term referring to grains in general. A similar practice may have been employed when Book of Mormon people encountered New World plant species for the first time.
The list below summarizes the most prominent and problematic anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, as well as perspectives by Mormon apologists, and rebuttals.
Others believe that the word "horse" in the Book of Mormon does not refer to the species Equus caballus.
Mormon FARMS apologist Robert R. Bennett stated that as a comparison the famed horses of the Huns did not leave a fossil trace yet numbered in the thousands. He also points out the limited evidence of lions in palestine:
"The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a 1988 publication of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region."
Critics argue that this rebuttal is not applicable since pictographic and literary evidence of Horses in the New World (outside of the Book of Mormon) is unknown.
The main point of contention is how late these animals were present before becoming extinct. Apologists give two different speculations for this anachronism:
Various LDS authors have cited controversial evidence that North American mound builder cultures were familiar with the elephant. The oldest mound builder societies date to around 2000 B.C. The mound builder / elephant controversy did not originate with the Book of Mormon . In The Mound Builders, Their Works and Relics, author Stephen Dennison Peet cites instances of exhumed mastodon remains and arguments given for why the remains were believed to be contemporary with mound builders. Elephant effigy pipes, of the characteristic mound builder platform style, were reported as archaeological finds in Iowa, and many have readily identified the animal depicted in the shape of the Wisconsin “elephant mound”, though others question whether this is in fact the animal represented. 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.
Critics note that the co-existence of man and elephantine animals is congruent with the archaeological record, but does not address the anachronism, since the dates of all elephantine remains have been placed well before their mention in the Book of Mormon.
There are instances of stories preserved orally by Native Americans which some LDS scholars believe may describe elephants. One such story is related by the Naskapi Indian Tribe, located in eastern Quebec and the Labrador region of Canada. The story concerns a monster from the Naskapi tradition called Katcheetohuskw, which is described as being very large, with large ears, teeth, and a long nose. Similar versions of "monster" legends related by other tribes refer to a monster called Ursida, which is described as more of a large, stiff-legged bear rather than a mammoth. The story of the "monster bear" is considered by some scholars to be purely mythical.Delaware and other native American legends of the “mastodon” are likewise said to exist
Apologists point out that the term "cattle", as used in the Book of Mormon and the Bible, is more general and does not exclusively mean members of the genus Bos. They claim the term "cattle" may refer to mountain goats, llamas, or other American species. According to the Book of Mormon, varieties of "cattle" could be found in ancient America. Without these the Nephites could not have kept the Law of Moses, as directed.
LDS Apologists note that the word "cattle" may refer to the ancestor of the American bison, Bison antiquus (of the sub family Bovinae). Bison antiquus, sometimes called the ancient bison, was the most common large herbivore of the North American continent for over ten thousand years, and is a direct ancestor of the living American bison.
However, no species of bison is known to have been domesticated as the "cattle" in the Book of Mormon are suggested to have been. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that the only large mammal to be domesticated in the Americas was the llama and that no species of goats, deer, or sheep were domesticated before the arrival of the Europeans to the continent. Apologists counter that the wording in the Book of Mormon does not require the "cattle" to have been domesticated in the strictest sense.
Apologists claim that the word "sheep" may refer to another species of animal that resembled sheep.
Domesticated goats are not native to the Americas, having been domesticated in pre-historic times on the Eurasian continent. Domestic goats were introduced on the American continent upon the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, 1000 years after the conclusion of the Book of Mormon, and nearly 2000 years after they are last mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The mountain goat is indigenous to North America, but it has never been domesticated, and is known for being very aggressive.
Matthew Roper, a FARMS writer, discussed the topic of goats in, Deer as "Goat" and Pre-Columbian Domesticate. He noted that when early Spanish explorers visited the southeastern United States they found native Americans herding tame deer. Quoting an early historian of Spain, Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, recorded:
"In all these regions they visited, the Spaniards noticed herds of deer similar to our herds of cattle. These deer bring forth and nourish their young in the houses of the natives. During the daytime they wander freely through the woods in search of their food, and in the evening they come back to their little ones, who have been cared for, allowing themselves to be shut up in the courtyards and even to be milked, when they have suckled their fawns. The only milk the natives know is that of the does, from which they make cheese.
Mr Roper also noted early Spanish colonists called native Mesoamerican brocket deer goats. He quotes, "Friar Diego de Landa noted, 'There are wild goats which the Indians call yuc.'" He quoted another friar in the late 16th century, "in Yucatán 'there are in that province . . . great numbers of deer, and small goats'" .
Apologists note that that Peccaries (also know as Javelinas), which bear a superficial resemblance to pigs, have been present in South America since prehistoric times.LDS authors advocating the original mound builder setting for the Book of Mormon have similarly suggested North American peccaries (also called “wild pigs” ) as the “swine” of the Jaredites .
Critics rebut that peccaries have never been domesticated. It is not inconceivable, however, that captured peccaries held in captivity for food or for trade, could explain their being listed with Jaredite varieties of cattle. The Book of Mormon does not specifically say the “swine” were domesticated. We read that the non-Israelite Jaredites, saw “swine” as “useful for the food of man.”
FARMS apologist Robert Bennett offered two possible explanations for this anachronism:
Bennett postulates that references to "barley" could refer to Hordeum pusillum, also known as "Little Barley", a species of edible grass native to the Americas which was part of the Pre-Columbian Eastern Agricultural Complex. Hordeum pusillum was unknown in Mesoamerica, where there is no evidence of pre-Columbian barley cultivation, but evidence exists that this plant was domesticated in North America in the Woodland periods contemporary with mound builder societies (early centuries A.D.).. He states that this information “should caution readers of the Book of Mormon not to quickly dismiss references to pre-Columbian wheat as anachronistic.”.
Additionally, apologists also note that the Norse, after reaching North America, claimed to have found what they called “self-sown wheat” .
Critics reject the notion that Hordeum pusillum was the "barley" that Joseph Smith referred to in the Book of Mormon. They also note that the earliest mention of barley in the Book of Mormon dates to 121 B.C. which is several hundred years prior to the date given for the recent discovery of domesticated Hordeum pusillum in North America.
"...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.
A comparison of the South American Inca civilization to Mesoamerican civilizations shows the same lack of wheeled vehicles. Although the Incas used a vast network of paved roads (see Inca road system), 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 (see image and technology at Inca rope bridges). Inca roads were used mainly by chaski message runners and llama caravans.
Some apologists have pointed to the discovery of wheeled toys left in tombs. However, several researchers, including W. H. Holmes of the Bureau of American Ethnology suspect that the toys were introduced into the tombs after the arrival of Europeans on the continent. He stated:
"Charnay obtained from an ancient cemetery at Tenenepanco, Mexico, a number of toy chariots of terra cotta, presumably buried with the body of a child, some of which retained their wheels. The possibility that these toys are of a post-discovery manufacture must be taken into account, especially since mention is made of the discovery of brass bells in the same cemetery with the toys." (emphasis in original)
One LDS researcher responds to the lack of evidence with a comparison to Biblical archaeology, suggesting that though there are no archaeological evidences that any of the numerous ancient American civilizations used wheeled transportation, few chariot fragments have been found in the Middle East dating to Biblical times (apart from the disassembled chariots found in Tutankhamun's tomb). Although few fragments of chariots have been found in the Middle East, there are many images of ancient chariots on pottery and frescoes and in many sculptures of Mediterranean origin, thus confirming their existence in those societies. The complete absence of these images among the hundreds of frescoes, hundreds of thousands of pieces of decorated pottery and pre-Columbian artwork found in the New World does not support the existence of Old World style chariots in the New World.
Referencing the discovery of wheeled chariot "toys" in Mayan funerary settings, Mormon scholar William J. Hamblin has suggested that the chariots mentioned in the Book of Mormon might refer to mythic or cultic wheeled vehicles.
Between 2004 and 2007, a Purdue University archaeologist, Kevin J. Vaughn, discovered a 2000 year old iron ore mine near Nazca, Peru. The discovery demonstrated that iron was mined during the period of time covered in the Book of Mormon. There are also numerous excavations that included iron ore. 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.
Apologists counter that the word "steel" may be referring to another alloy of hardened metal such as the hardened copper alloy that is translated with the word "steel" in the King James Version of the Bible. This alloy is in fact a hardened copper similar to bronze and not hardened iron Though usually more resistant to oxidation than iron, hardened alloys of copper can oxidize. It is therefore not certain that the mention of “rust” is the same as iron oxide.
Warriors in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica are known to have used wooden clubs with blade-like obsidian flakes, which being stone cannot rust.
Apologists counter that most references to swords do not speak of the material they were made of, and that they may refer to a number of weapons such as the Macuahuitl, a "sword" made of obsidian blades that was used by the Aztecs. It was very sharp and could decapitate a man or horse. However, this does not explain several references to swords that were explicitly made out of steel, and another metal that was capable of "rusting". Obsidian flakes on a Macuahuitl are not capable of rusting.
Researchers have shown that metallurgy did exist in a primitive state in Mesoamerica during the the that span the Preclassic/Formative and Classic periods (which corresponds to the time period in the Book of Mormon). These metals include brass, iron ore, copper, silver, and gold. However, the the metals were never used to make swords; Vaughn 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.
The word cimiter (scimitar) has at different times referred to a long curved sword used by the Persians and Turks, or a smaller curved knife, similar to the kopis of the Turks, or makhaira of the Greeks.
Apologists, including Michael R. Ash, and William Hamblin of FAIR, note that the Book of Mormon does not mention the materials that the "cimiters" were made out of, and postulate that the word is was chosen by Joseph Smith as the closest workable English word for the weapon used by the Nephites that was not made of metal, and was short and curved.
Mormon scholar John Sorenson believes that there are several materials which were used in Mesoamerica which the Spanish called "silk" upon their arrival. He alleges that the inhabitants of Mexico used the fiber spun by a wild silkworm to create a fabric.
Additionally, 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 15,000 and 10,000 B.C. instead of the time frame given in the Book of Mormon—that humans first arrived on the American continent around 2500 B.C.
Apologists argue that the Book of Mormon may not describe the original settlers of the Americas, but may have been a subset of the larger population, who settled in a limited geographical setting, and that evidence of the knowledge of Hebrew or Egyptian is too sparse to be found. Critics note that this is not congruent with past church teachings, and the preface to past editions of the Book of Mormon.
Apologists counter that the compass used by Nephi (the Liahona) was, according to the narrative, created by God himself, and not by the Nephites. They claim that it is possible that the compass used by the Nephites was not copied or used by the civilization, and as such archaeological evidence of compasses may not exist in the Americas. Based on this theory, Joseph Smith would have chosen the word "compass" in his translation of the gold plates as a best fit for the concept of the compass, and as such it is not necessarily an anachronism.
Apologists note that the Hebrew word "chalon" translated "window" in Genesis 8:6 in the Bible, refers to an opening or porthole that was covered, but by what is not specified. It is not specifically stated that the window referred to in the Book of Mormon was an opening covered by a transparent material. LDS Apologists argue that the word "window" simply parallels the language of the familiar King James Bible. They claim that a wooden or other covering might have been "dashed in pieces" by the "mountain waves" that would "dash upon" them , and that even a thick glass casting would not have provided constant light to the interior of the vessels.
all the great languages of the earth, ancient and modern, spring from a single center! This center Hrozny finds "north of the Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian." "It seems altogether likely," Hrozny continues, "that the earth was populated from Central Asia.
In fact, the mitochondrial evidence supports an ultimately African origin for humanity, not a Central Asian one.
See Genetics and the Book of Mormon for a detailed discussion on this topic.
Based upon Book of Mormon population estimates, the civilizations described would be roughly the size of a few other archaeologically prominent civilizations—Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Maya—which also thrived at about the same time as Book of Mormon civilizations. These civilizations left numerous artifacts in the form of ruins, tombs, temples, pyramids, roads, arches, walls, frescos, statues, vases, coins, etc.
Much of North American prehistory is generally misunderstood because of common misperceptions, stereotypes, and lack of preservation. For example, many are not aware of the existence of stone and mortar Maya cities in Mexico, structured stone and clay mortar pueblos of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples of the Southwest, or complex centers of flat-topped platform mounds of the Mississippian culture in the Eastern United States.
Nonetheless, our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress).
However, in addition to the four surviving pre-Columbian Maya codices mentioned by Coe, there are also a number of documents dating from the 16th century conquest and shortly after, in which indigenous scribes or Spanish interlocutors recorded facets of Maya (and other) historical accounts and beliefs.
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). 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 B.C. being recorded on Chiapa de Corzo Stela 2 in central Chiapas. It has been claimed that none of these inscriptions make contact with events, places, rulers, or timeline of Book of Mormon.
One LDS researcher uses as supporting evidence ancient Mesoamerican accounts that appear to parallel events recorded in the Book of Mormon.
On the shores of the Mississippi, some miles below Lake Pipin, on a fine plain, exists an artificial elevation of about four feet high, extending a full miles, in somewhat of a circular form. It is sufficiently capacious to have covered 5000 men. Every angle of the breastwork is yet traceable, though much defaced by time. Here, it is likely, conflicting realms as great as those of the ancient Greeks and Persians, decided the fate of ambitious Monarchs, of the Chinese, Mongol descent.
Weapons of brass have been found in many parts of America, as in the Canadas, Florida, &c., with curiously sculptured stones, all of which go to prove that this country was once peoples with civilized, industrious nations…
Editor Joseph Smith then proceeds to comment (in the “American Antiquities” Times and Seasons article) that “The Book of Mormon speaks of ores, swords, cities, armies, &c.…In regards to there being great wars, the following will shew [show]:” Joseph Smith then quotes from the Book of Mormon the account of the battle of Coriantumr and Shiz (found in Ether 15:12-16 of the current edition) and concludes with the following remarks:
If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortification, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book…-ED
Joseph Smith associates earth, timber and metal works found in northern America (presumably artifacts of mound builder societies) with implements and constructions described in the Book of Mormon.As much as Joseph Smith approved of Stephens’ work, he only makes minor mention of it, and then only to conclude in his “American Antiquities” editorial, that the peoples of Central America are tied historically to the Book of Mormon. Regarding the peoples of Central America, Joseph Smith's exact words are,
Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.
Smith does not actually say that Book of Mormon lands are to be found in Central America. This assertion came later in several unsigned newspaper articles, published in the fall of 1842. These articles were likely written by other church members for Joseph Smith was not publicly present to oversee their publication. One of the articles in question mentions “Joseph Smith” in the third person. This same article alleges that Lehi “landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien” which would place Lehi’s landing on a western shore of South America. The 1842 Times and Seasons editorials, written by Joseph Smith, are readily identified as they end with his “ED”. Joseph Smith had found it necessary to go into hiding for much of the fall that year. Though he was still official editor of the Times and Seasons, it is doubtful that he was acting editor at the time in as much as he was in hiding as Doctrine and Covenants 127:1 and 128:1 attest. LDS Church History Scholars believe that John Taylor may have served as “the acting editor for the Times and Seasons” in Joseph's absence. In November 1842, Joseph Smith officially resigned as editor, explaining that, “The multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me, renders it impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times and Seasons.” John Taylor was then made official editor of the newspaper.
Published in the same issue as the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article (October 1842) with its anachronistic claims about the ruins of Quirigua, is a signed epistle to the church from the Mormon prophet in hiding. In Joseph Smith’s letter (canonized as the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants) the Book of Mormon land Cumorah is referenced among other locations of significance near the Finger Lakes.
Several earlier statements by Joseph Smith, indicate that events described in the Book of Mormon took place in lands occupied by the United States of America. In an 1833 letter to N.C. Saxton, Smith wrote:
The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians; having been found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power [of] God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered unto them. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land [of] America is a promised land unto them, and unto it, all the tribes of Israel will come, with as many of the Gentiles as shall comply with the requisitions of the new covenant. But the tribe of Judah will return to old Jerusalem.
The expression, “our western tribes of Indians” refers to Indian tribes who lived west, or were pushed west from the east coast of the United States by European expansion. LDS missionaries were sent to these peoples in the early days of the Church. Latter-day scripture refers to these peoples as “Lamanites”. Several passages in LDS scripture associate these native peoples with peoples of the Book of Mormon. LDS scripture teaches that the land of their Book of Mormon ancestors (now occupied by the United States of America) was ordained to become a land “free unto all…”. The ancient land of their inheritance is, according to LDS scripture, associated with the land of “New Jerusalem.”. New Jerusalem, “the city of Zion” is, according to LDS scripture to be built in northern America .
On June 4 1834, during the Zion's Camp trek through Illinois, Joseph Smith stated that the group was "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… Joseph Smith came to believe that the Maya ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula discovered in the late 1830s, offered evidence in support of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. After reading about the accounts, he proclaimed the ruins were likely Nephite or belonging to “the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon”.In view of the position that ancient peoples migrated from the north into Mexico and Central America, Joseph Smith’s linking of Mesoamerican artifacts with “ancient inhabitants …of …the Book of Mormon” is not inconsistent with his statements placing Book of Mormon lands in northern America. Just prior to publishing the AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES editorial (citing northern American evidence of Book of Mormon history), Joseph Smith recorded:
Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.
Stephens brought to New York hundreds of artifacts from Mayan sites. Among these were sculptures and architectural remnants. Shortly after arriving in New York, most of these relics were lost when the building that housed them was destroyed by fire. According to , Nephite civilization came to an end near the year 384 A.D. Copan, Quirigua, and sites in the Yucatan visited by Stephens and Catherwood, contain artifacts that date more recent than Book of Mormon times. It has not been shown that any of Stephens’ artifacts, referred to by Joseph Smith, date to Book of Mormon times, and Joseph Smith does not actually make this assertion.
The first history of the Church was written in 1834 and 1835 by Oliver Cowdery, as a series of articles published serially in the Church's Messenger and Advocate. In this history, Cowdery stated that the final battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites occurred at the "Hill Cumorah," the very same Hill Cumorah in New York, where Joseph Smith said he obtained golden plates and other artifacts which were used to translate the Book of Mormon. These plates and artifacts were shown to only a few witnesses and never to the general public. The plates were later claimed to have been removed via divine means. Cowdery also identified the Jaredites' final battle as occurring in the same area as the Nephite/Lamanite final battle. Since Smith was an editor of the Messenger and Advocate and approved the history, all but proponents of limited South American and Mesoamerican geography theories believe it conclusively demonstrated Joseph Smith’s belief as well. In any case, evidence appears to show that Smith did not subscribe to the limited Mesoamerican and South American geography theories promoted by some LDS today.Joseph Smith clearly advocated a northern American setting (near the Finger Lakes) for the Book of Mormon land Cumorah, hence .
Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith’s mother, in her account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, says that the divine messenger called the hill where the plates were deposited the “hill of Cumorah” meaning “hill of” the Book of Mormon land “Cumorah”. In another account, Mother Smith says that young Joseph, referred to the hill using this description. Joseph Smith’s preeminence as an authority on the Book of Mormon is evinced by the following account given by his mother:
During our evening conversations, Joseph, would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities and buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.
Efforts to associate Joseph Smith with the geographic notions of his contemporaries remain speculative. A note in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph Smith's counselors and scribes, asserts that Lehi's people landed in South America at thirty degrees south latitude.Early LDS church leader, Orson Pratt also speculated that the Nephite landing site was on the coast of Chile near Valparaiso, but Pratt indicated that this hypothesis was arrived at by supposition, not divine revelation There is no proof that William’s unsigned, undated writing represents a revelation given to Joseph Smith. An official statement by the LDS Church discourages Church members from making too much of the William’s document.
The Old World narrative portion has proven much more fruitful for Mormon scholars where there are only two separate, but overlapping theories on the sites described in Lehi's journey to the Ocean, and the identification of locations, such as Nahom, that most Mormon scholars consider to be a confirmed location.
Recent trends in Book of Mormon archaeology have focused on the Arabian peninsula in the Middle East as the early accounts in the Book of Mormon do describe actual locations. Many Mormon researchers are confident that evidence found in Yemen and Oman correlates with the account of Lehi's family's journey southward from Jerusalem to a place on the Arabian peninsula called "Bountiful" by Lehi, where they built ships to come to the Americas.
Another Old World connection to the Book of Mormon occurred in 1997 when an ancient Judean stamp seal was identified as bearing the Hebrew form of the name "Malchiah son of Hammelech". It is argued that this ancient Judean stamp seal belongs to Mulek, a man who is mentioned in the Bible and briefly identified in the Book of Mormon as the only surviving son of Zedekiah, king of Judah.
Based on extensive text analysis and field work in Arabia, a number of LDS researchers have concluded that plausible locations exist for every important Arabian site mentioned along the route of Lehi's journey. These include, the 'borders near and nearer' the Red Sea, Shazer (where they stopped to hunt), the most fertile parts, the trees from which Nephi made his bow, Nahom, Nephi’s eastwardly trail to Bountiful, and Bountiful.
Most Mormon scholars believe that Lehi and his family interacted with locals during their travels, and even taught the gospel to those they came in contact with.'' Some scholars even suggest that Lehi's group might have been in bondage to others in the area for a period of time.
Some LDS historians believe this cave could have been the location where Lehi's sons stayed while trying to retrieve the Brass Plates, based on prophecies written on the walls of the cave. While there are some striking similarities and circumstantial evidence to support this view, there is no concrete evidence that "Lehi" and "Lei" are connected. Because the evidence is circumstantial, FARMS has offered caution against tying the two together.
The site remains a popular destination for LDS tourists.
A tribe called the Lihyanites (“People of Lihy”) came into existence between the 6th and 4th century B.C. in the area of al-Bad on the Arabian peninsula, and left behinds ruins, including a temple, a ceremonial font and inscriptions.. Lynn and Hope Hilton have speculated that the passage of Lehi through this area around 600 B.C. had an influence upon an existing tribe, and that they adopted his name. LDS scholars caution, however, that "far too little is yet known about early Arabia to strengthen a link with the historical Lehi, and other explanations are readily available for every point advanced, attractive and intriguing as they may be to Latter-day Saints.
There are a variety of challenges to the claim that Nahom correlates with NHM. Some claim that Joseph Smith might have learned of NHM from existing 19th century sources. Some suggest that either the vowels or consonants between the word Nahom and various derivatives of the root NHM do not represent an accurate correlation.
The New World setting for the Book of Mormon narrative has been placed everywhere from South and Central America to the Finger Lakes region in New York (possibly referring to the Mound Builders), which some equate to the fortifications described in the Book of Mormon.
LDS scripture indicates that early church members did not exhibit great attention to Book of Mormon detail . An exaggerated, two-continent geography for the Book of Mormon satisfied the minds of many Latter-day Saints. The hemispheric model is readily arrived at by cursorily reading the Book of Mormon in view of maps of the Western Hemisphere. In as much as there is no firsthand statement by Joseph Smith espousing a hemispheric setting for the Book of Mormon, it is not definite that he held this view. From first hand statements we find Joseph Smith relating the history of the Book of Mormon to “the aboriginal inhabitants of this country…” (North America) The peoples that survived the fall of the Nephite nation are according to Smith “the indians that now inhabit this country.” Smith said that he was divinely “…informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, government, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known to me.” Joseph Smith at the very least, taught that certain lands of the Book of Mormon were in his country. Various associates of Joseph Smith held divergent opinions regarding the location of Book of Mormon lands and sites. The opinion, for instance, that Lehi landed in Chile, as far south of the equator as Jerusalem is north, is inconsistent with the notion that Lehi landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien. These South American settings are inconsistent with the idea that Zarahemla is in Guatemala, and all are incompatible with the Book of Mormon land and city of Manti placed in the United States. Only Joseph Smith’s reference to the Finger Lakes location of Cumorah is canonical (). Along with the assumption that the New World Book of Mormon’s setting encompasses all of the Americas, has been the tradition that the Lamanites are the "principal ancestors of the American Indians. The original text of the Book of Mormon makes no such generalization The Book of Mormon speaks of a narrow neck of land, and many readers, with the entire Western Hemisphere in mind, have presumed that the Isthmus of Panama, or even all of Central America fits this requirement.
With Zarahemla posited in Guatemala, the pick of isthmuses to label as the “small neck” becomes rather limited. The lateral Isthmus of Tehuantepec is as wide as Florida, and its northern and southern seas are a problematic fit for “the sea, on the west and on the east” of the “narrow pass” (). Curiously, the only Isthmus mentioned in the Times and Seasons “ZARAHEMLA” article is the Isthmus of Darien. The writer(s) of the newspaper article cite (pages 280-81 in the Book of Mormon 3rd edition). The “narrow strip of wilderness” south of Zarahemla (verse 27), is easily confused with “the small neck of land” north of Zarahemla (verse 32). The article clearly blunders in attributing the description of a “large stone …with engravings on it” to Mosiah, when in fact it was Amaleki son of Abinadom who described the stone (). There is nothing in the 1842 article leading readers to place Cumorah in southern Mexico. 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. In response to one of these critiques in 1994, Sorenson reaffirmed his proposal for a limited Mesoamerican geographical setting.
Scholar and author Venice Priddis speculated that the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon could be in South America.Author Phyllis Carol Olive cogently defends a limited geography setting based on scriptural Cumorah of the Finger Lakes
Establishing connections between ruins of the Mayan civilization (for example, Quirigua, Kaminaljuyu, and Tikal in Guatemala, and Copán in Honduras, and Palenque in Mexico) and the cities and civilizations mentioned in the Book of Mormon has been difficult for LDS scholars on a number of fronts. Perhaps the most significant issue is the dating. By Old-World standards, the Mayan ruins are relatively recent; conventional archaeology places the pinnacle of Mayan civilization several centuries after the final events in the Book of Mormon supposedly occurred. LDS scholars suggest that the Book of Mormon record follows the Nephite civilization until its destruction, but the Lamanite civilization remained (possibly the Maya). This would explain the more modern ruins that are from a much later time period.
The standard construction practice employed by the Maya was to build new structures on top of older structures. Many older structures are either contained within or their rubble is buried under the structures which were built later.
LDS scholars propose several views: A Nephite culture may have existed within the greater Lamanite (usually Maya) culture. The Book of Mormon, however, makes no mention of Lamanites erecting impressive works of hewn stone as did the Maya. Another view holds that the events surrounding most of the Book of Mormon may have occurred in the Great Lakes region in ancient times. The Golden Plates were reported to have been found near this general area.
The Book of Mormon mentions that Nephite infrastructure included “high ways”. Ancient highways of Central and South America are not the only possible candidate. Bradley T Lepper contends that the ancient peoples of Ohio constructed the Great Hopewell Road which is estimated to have been 90 kilometers long and 40 meters wide, and is believed to have connected present day Newark and Chillicothe, Ohio, in a straight line. Works of earth and timber are mentioned repeatedly in the Book of Mormon. Some of the earth and timberworks of North American mound builder societies predate stone works of the Maya, Aztecs and Incas.
Nephite civilization was severely damaged at the time of Christ, with many major cities being completely destroyed. There is a 300 year period in the Book of Mormon after Christ’s arrival for which few details about Nephite civilization are recorded. The Book of Mormon indicates that damaged cities were rebuilt. Distant migrations may have also occurred.
LDS scripture indicates that Nephite civilization situated near the Great Lakes / Finger Lakes region. LDS authors John L. Sorenson and David A. Palmer, on the other hand, propose a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. According to , Book of Mormon lands were subjected to three days of profound darkness, preceded by a period of electrical storms and earth quakes. The account of this destruction and particularly the palpable darkness, has led Sorenson and Palmer to speculate that local volcanism was involved. It is known that volcanic tephra including ash, can travel thousands of miles from an eruption. LDS theorists Sorenson and Palmer, however, conclude that Book of Mormon lands must reside in a volcanic zone . There is no explicit mention of a volcano or volcanism in the Nephite record, and it has not been demonstrated that volcanism is the only mechanism capable of accounting for cloudy darkness described in LDS scripture. American History demonstrates that during the dustbowl of the great depression there were visual black outs caused by dust storms. , , People and animals died as a consequence of the dust storms. A similar phenomenon is asserted as a possible explanation for the palpable darkness described in the Book of Mormon narrative. Plural “whirlwinds” (tornados), “lightnings”, “fire” and “smoke” are explicitly described in the Book of Mormon. LDS author Phyllis Carol Olive notes documented occurrences of earthquakes and extraordinary daytime darkness in the regions of Canada north of New York. It should be noted that Olive is not an archaeologist, but her review of LDS scripture and firsthand statements by Joseph Smith on the subject of Book of Mormon lands, warrant consideration.
According to Joseph Smith the golden plates, the interpreters and breast plate were sealed in a cemented stone box near Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes. Limited Mesoamerican and South American geography theorists must, out of necessity, argue that these artifacts were carried to the Finger Lakes region by a Mesoamerican or else South American Moroni, who journeyed thousands of miles, trying to escape from seemingly ever present Lamanites. It is evident from the Book of Mormon, however, that Moroni was still hiding from the Lamanites (Book of Mormon peoples) and robbers in Book of Mormon lands many years after the destruction of the Nephites . He was still in Book of Mormon “north country” when he began his abridgement of the record of Ether. This is evident from his introductory remarks to the abridged Book of Ether, which mention “…the ancient inhabitants [Jaredites] who were destroyed…upon the face of this north country” . Before completing the abridgement in his own language, Moroni sealed up the interpreters , ), and was still in Lamanite held territory (not thousands of miles away) after completing the Ether abridgement. He specifically mentions his intent to seal up the plates (the interpreters had already been sealed up) after concluding some remarks to the Lamanites (his brethren).
Nephite scripture informs us that “the Lord God, will give unto him [Joseph Smith] power, that he may whisper concerning them [the righteous dead of the Book of Mormon] , even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.” The process of translating the words of the Book of Mormon (in the vicinity of the Finger Lakes) was therefore likened to the voice of the dead speaking out of the ground. indicates that the voice from the dust, concomitant with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, would figuratively proceed from the ground of the book’s ancient dead, that is, from the land which the saints of the Book of Mormon possessed in life, and not from ground thousands of miles away (i.e. Central or South America).
Most North American tribes relied upon a calendar of 13 months, since there are 13 distinct cycles of the moon each year. Seasonal Rounds and ceremonies were performed each moon. Months were counted in the days between phase cycles of the moon itself. Calendar Systems in use in North America during this historical period relied on this simple system.
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. 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). 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 13 and 9.
Although the number 7 is a co-factor in some Mesoamerican calendars (such as the Mayan 819-day calendar, formed from 13 × 9 × 7 days), none of the known calendar systems used a 7-day count as an exclusive or prominent base.
Many North American Cultures considered the numbers 7 and 13 to be particularly sacred. 13 was associated with the earth itself because it represented the cycles of the moon each year, and the number 7 was the lunar cycle midpoint between the seasons of summer and winter. North American Tribes experienced yearly fluctations in the availability of various food sources throughout the year, and the number 7 corresponded in MesoAmerican and North American Cultures with the ripening of Maize crops, since the cultivars of Zea Mays (corn) grown by these cultures matured in the 7th lunar cycle of each seasonal round (year).
One archaeologist has noted the existence of ancient Mesoamerican defensive fortifications. According to one article in the Ensign, military fortifying berms are found in the Yucatan Peninsula, in the region appropriate to where LDS scholars suggest that the wars described in the Book of Mormon could plausibly have occurred.
In addition to the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, the narrative itself mentions other writings recorded on metal plates. The difficulty of creating records on metal plates is referenced in the Book of Mormon narrative itself, in which Jacob states: "[A]nd I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates.
Recent discoveries have provided some evidence that this was an established method for recording information considered important. As a point of comparison, the oldest known Biblical verses preserved in archaeology are three verses from the Book of Numbers, chapter 6, verses 24-26, that were on a pair of small silver amulets found by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay at Ketef Hinnom and dated to the 6th century BC, during the same time period the Book of Mormon events are purported to have taken place.. See also the Copper Scroll as a type of record written on metal from the Biblical Era. However, no records have been found on metal plates to date which approach the size of the record in the Book of Mormon and no such records have been found on the American continents.