Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church/Chapter 12

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 12: Faith Promoting Science"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, a work by author: Simon G. Southerton
Claim Evaluation
Losing a Lost Tribe
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Response to claims made in Losing a Lost Tribe, "Chapter 12: Faith Promoting Science"

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Response to claim: 168 - LDS scholars believe that Mayan cities are prime candidates for where Lehi's people lived. The Jaredites are usually identified as the Olmec

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

LDS scholars believe that Mayan cities are prime candidates for where Lehi's people lived. The Jaredites are usually identified as the Olmec.

Author's sources: No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The assumption by critics that LDS associate the Nephites and the Lamanites with "the Maya" is an oversimplification of the facts. Most Church members view "the Maya" as a single, homogeneous group of people whom they associate with the magnificent ruins of the Classic Mayan civilization found in Mesoamerica. LDS research has focused on identifying the characteristics of the Preclassic Mayan culture, which does indeed cover the time period addressed by the Book of Mormon.

Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that Mayan cities were inhabited by the Nephites or the Lamanites?

The assumption that one can associate the Nephites and the Lamanites with "the Maya" is an oversimplification of the facts

The Maya and the Olmec are often associated with the Nephites and Jaredites. However, Dr. Michael D. Coe, a prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, stated, "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".[1]

The assumption that one can associate the Nephites and the Lamanites with "the Maya" is an oversimplification of the facts. Most Church members view "the Maya" as a single, homogeneous group of people whom they associate with the magnificent ruins of the Classic Mayan civilization found in Mesoamerica. LDS research has focused on identifying the characteristics of the Preclassic Mayan culture, which does indeed cover the time period addressed by the Book of Mormon.


Question: Were Mayan cities inhabited by the Nephites?

It cannot be stated whether a particular group, whether Nephite or Lamanite, inhabited a specific city

It cannot be stated whether a particular group, whether Nephite or Lamanite, inhabited a specific city, although there has certainly been speculation. For example, Joseph Smith once speculated that Palenque was a Nephite city. In most cases, the original names of the cities themselves are not known—they are instead known by the names assigned to them by explorers. Ironically, one of the ancient cities for which the original name is known is the city of Laman’ayin (Mayan for "submerged crocodile"). This city, usually called "Lamani," is located in Belize and is believed by archaeologists to have been inhabited as early as 1500 B.C. The city would have been inhabited during the period of time described by the Book of Mormon. While the name of this city is an interesting coincidence, there is not sufficient information given in the Book of Mormon to allow one to assume that it correlates with any city mentioned therein.


Question: Is it possible that the Nephites and Lamanites are associated with the pre-Classic Maya, and the Jaredites are associated with the Olmec?

There is circumstantial evidence related to geography and timeframe to support this association, which has been reflected in Church materials over the years

Latter-day Saints sometimes associate the Nephites and/or Lamanites with the Maya, and the Jaredite civilization with the Olmec. There is circumstantial evidence to support this:

  • The general consensus among LDS scholars that Book of Mormon events are likely to have occurred in Mesoamerica. This is the location of the ancient Maya and Olmec civilizations.
  • The fact that the Maya and Olmec civilizations are in the proper relative locations and approximate time periods required by the Book of Mormon (A detail, by the way, which Joseph Smith could not possibly have known).
  • The cover of the 2008 Gospel Doctrine manual (Book of Mormon study guide) shows the painting Christ with Three Nephite Disciples, by Gary L. Kapp. This painting portrays Jesus and the three disciples standing in front of a Mesoamerican pyramid.
  • Artwork that has appeared in Church publications and buildings for many years has depicted Book of Mormon events occurring in a Mesoamerican setting. One well-known painting of Christ appearing to the Nephites shows a Mesoamerican pyramid in the background, and to the far left, one of the "elephant-like" snouts associated with masks of the Mayan rain-god Chac.
  • A famous set of 12 paintings by artist Arnold Friberg was included in most copies of the Book of Mormon for many years. These paintings depict Book of Mormon events as occurring in Mesoamerican settings.[2]
  • The Church produced film "The Testaments" depicts Book of Mormon events as occurring in a Central American setting, with Christ appearing in front of a classic Mayan pyramid.
  • "Book of Mormon tours" which take interested members to "see the lands of the Book of Mormon" in Mesoamerica.
  • The Maya and the Olmec have a written language—a requirement for Book of Mormon peoples, who kept records. Mesoamerica is the site of the only literate pre-Columbian population.

It is easy, therefore, to see why Latter-day Saints typically associate the Nephites or Lamanites with the Maya.


Question: Who are the Maya, and how might they be related to the Nephites or Lamanites?

To simply say that Book of Mormon civilizations are associated with "the Maya" is an over-simplification of the facts

In order to fully understand the relationship, it is necessary to understand who "the Maya" actually are. There are three distinct cultural periods associated with the rise and fall of the ancient Mayan civilization:

  1. The Preclassic period: Approximately 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D.
  2. The Classic period: 250 A.D. to 900 A.D.
  3. The Post-Classic period: 900 A.D. to approximately 1600 A.D.

The Classic period of the Maya is from 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., and does not correlate with the period of the Nephites and Lamanites

Many make the simple assumption that Latter-day Saint scholars associate the Nephites and/or the Lamanites with the Classic Maya. Indeed, the circumstantial evidence present in Church materials indicates that this is often the case with the general Church membership. Since the Classic period occurred between 250 A.D. and 900 A.D., this period does not correlate well with the period covered by the Book of Mormon between approximately 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. Those who investigate the issue, however, will find that much of the LDS research centers on the Maya of the Preclassic period.

During the early part of the Preclassic period, the Maya were simple village-based farmers

During the early part of the Preclassic period, the Maya were simple village-based farmers. The late-Preclassic period marked the transition from a simple society to a much more complex society, and initiated the era of large cities, temples and high culture that we now associate with the Maya. According to Dr. Michael D. Coe, one of the world's foremost experts on the Maya, the Preclassic period marked "the first really intensive settlement of the Maya land. More advanced cultural traits like pyramid-building, the construction of cities, and the inscribing of stone monuments are found by the terminal centuries of the Preclassic."[3]:33

Effective farming centered around densely inhabited villages appeared during the Preclassic period, with evidence indicating that the change began in the area of Chiapas, Guatemala and western El Salvador.[3]:46 This change also marked the expansion into the highlands and lowlands, which occurred between 1000 B.C. and 300 B.C. The nearby Olmec civilization reached its peak during this period of time before its sudden collapse. According to Dr. Coe, the Olmec influence was found throughout Mesoamerica, "with the curious exception of the Maya domain—perhaps because there were few Maya populations at that time sufficiently large to have interested the expanding Olmecs."[3]:49-50 It seems that the Maya population was too small during this period time to have interacted much with the Olmec prior to the demise of the Olmec civilization.

The reason for rather sudden transition of the Maya from a simple agrarian society to a higher level of culture and expansion is not known

Dr. Coe states:

The all-important questions are, what happened during the intervening time covered by the Late preclassic period, and how did those traits that are considered as typical of the Classic Maya actually develop?

There have been a number of contradictory theories to account for the rise of Maya civilization. One of the most persistent holds that the previously undistinguished Maya came under the influence of travelers from shores as distant as the China coast; as a matter of interest to the lay public, it should be categorically emphasized that no objects manufactured in any part of the Old World have been identified in any Maya site, and that ever since the days of Stephens and Catherwood few theories involving trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic contact have survived scientific scrutiny.

The possibility of some trans-Pacific influence on Mesoamerican cultures cannot, however, be so easily dismissed...As oriental seafaring was always on a far higher technological plane than anything ever known in the prehispanic New World, it is possible that Asian intellectuals may have established some sort of contact with their Mesoamerican counterparts by the end of the Preclassic.[3]:57

Something happened in the late-Preclassic period sometime between 1000 B.C. and 300 B.C. which became the catalyst of the cultural change from the Preclassic to the Classic Maya civilization

In other words, something happened in the late-Preclassic period (sometime between 1000 B.C. and 300 B.C.) which became the catalyst of the cultural change from the Preclassic to the Classic Maya civilization. It was also during this period that the famous Maya calendar system began to be employed, with the earliest recorded date being 36 A.D. The location of the beginning of what Dr. Coe calls the "cultural efflorescence" in the late Preclassic period was centered in the Maya highlands and the Pacific Coast in the area around the ancient city of Kaminaljuyu, located near the present day site of Guatemala City.[3]:66-72


Response to claim: 168 - Joseph Smith declared the city of Palenque was a Nephite city, but modern scholarship indicates this city wasn't built until 600 A.D.

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith declared the city of Palenque was a Nephite city, but modern scholarship indicates this city wasn't built until 600 A.D.

Author's sources: *No source given by the author.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The statement made by the author about Palenque is incorrect. The earliest recorded ruler was K'uk Balam (Quetzal Jaguar), who governed Palenque for four years starting in the year 431 A.D. Pottery shards show that Palenque was occupied as early as 300 B.C.

If one assumes, as Joseph apparently did, that Palenque was indeed a Nephite city, and knowing as we do now the tendency for Mesoamerican conquering rulers to destroy the monuments or records of previous ones, it would not at all be surprising to see the record go back only to the time that the Lamanites conquered the Nephites (approximately 400 - 420 A.D.).

A known reference to Joseph's statement about Palenque is Joseph Smith (editor), "Extract from Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel in Central America'," Times and Seasons 3 no. 22 (15 September 1842), 915. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)



Times and Seasons (15 Sep 1842): "these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites"

NOTE: Page 926 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."

Although Joseph Smith is listed as the editor at this time, opinions vary on whether it may have actually been either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff who wrote this unsigned article.[4] [5] John Taylor later became the editor of Times and Seasons. Regardless of whether it was Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, or John Taylor who wrote this article, its publication occurred prior to the death of Joseph Smith. The subject being discussed is a very popular book by John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which Joseph Smith read and enjoyed:

Mr Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ...Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites:—and the mystery is solved...Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459-60. Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon?(emphasis added)[6]


Response to claim: 168 - The history of Book of Mormon archaeology is "littered with apostacy"

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The history of Book of Mormon archaeology is "littered with apostacy"

Author's sources: *Michael D. Coe, "Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8:40-48 (1973).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's speculation



Response to claim: 170 - Thomas Ferguson was one of the better known early "Mormon archaeologists"

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Thomas Ferguson was one of the better known early "Mormon archaeologists"

Author's sources: No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

Thomas Stuart Ferguson wasn't an archaeologist at all.



This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 77 368n145-147

Question: Was Thomas Stuart Ferguson an archaeologist?

Ferguson never studied archaeology at a professional level - he was self-educated in that area

As John Sorensen, who worked with Ferguson, recalled:

[Stan] Larson implies that Ferguson was one of the "scholars and intellectuals in the Church" and that "his study" was conducted along the lines of reliable scholarship in the "field of archaeology." Those of us with personal experience with Ferguson and his thinking knew differently. He held an undergraduate law degree but never studied archaeology or related disciplines at a professional level, although he was self-educated in some of the literature of American archaeology. He held a naive view of "proof," perhaps related to his law practice where one either "proved" his case or lost the decision; compare the approach he used in his simplistic lawyerly book One Fold and One Shepherd. His associates with scientific training and thus more sophistication in the pitfalls involving intellectual matters could never draw him away from his narrow view of "research." (For example, in April 1953, when he and I did the first archaeological reconnaissance of central Chiapas, which defined the Foundation's work for the next twenty years, his concern was to ask if local people had found any figurines of "horses," rather than to document the scores of sites we discovered and put on record for the first time.) His role in "Mormon scholarship" was largely that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither scholar nor analyst.

Ferguson was never an expert on archaeology and the Book of Mormon (let alone on the book of Abraham, about which his knowledge was superficial). He was not one whose careful "study" led him to see greater light, light that would free him from Latter-day Saint dogma, as Larson represents. Instead he was just a layman, initially enthusiastic and hopeful but eventually trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information, perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real scholarship requires. The negative arguments he used against the Latter-day Saint scriptures in his last years display all these weaknesses.

Larson, like others who now wave Ferguson's example before us as a case of emancipation from benighted Mormon thinking, never faces the question of which Tom Ferguson was the real one. Ought we to respect the hard-driving younger man whose faith-filled efforts led to a valuable major research program, or should we admire the double-acting cynic of later years, embittered because he never hit the jackpot on, as he seems to have considered it, the slot-machine of archaeological research? I personally prefer to recall my bright-eyed, believing friend, not the aging figure Larson recommends as somehow wiser. [7]


Peterson and Roper: "We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority, except countercultists"

Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper: [8]

"Thomas Stuart Ferguson," says Stan Larson in the opening chapter of Quest for the Gold Plates, "is best known among Mormons as a popular fireside lecturer on Book of Mormon archaeology, as well as the author of One Fold and One Shepherd, and coauthor of Ancient America and the Book of Mormon" (p. 1). Actually, though, Ferguson is very little known among Latter-day Saints. He died in 1983, after all, and "he published no new articles or books after 1967" (p. 135). The books that he did publish are long out of print. "His role in 'Mormon scholarship' was," as Professor John L. Sorenson puts it, "largely that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither scholar nor analyst." We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority, except countercultists, and we suspect that a poll of even those Latter-day Saints most interested in Book of Mormon studies would yield only a small percentage who recognize his name. Indeed, the radical discontinuity between Book of Mormon studies as done by Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson in the fifties and those practiced today by, say, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) could hardly be more striking. Ferguson's memory has been kept alive by Stan Larson and certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as much as by anyone, and it is tempting to ask why. Why, in fact, is such disproportionate attention being directed to Tom Ferguson, an amateur and a writer of popularizing books, rather than, say, to M. Wells Jakeman, a trained scholar of Mesoamerican studies who served as a member of the advisory committee for the New World Archaeological Foundation?5 Dr. Jakeman retained his faith in the Book of Mormon until his death in 1998, though the fruit of his decades-long work on Book of Mormon geography and archaeology remains unpublished.


Peterson: "Thomas Stuart Ferguson's biographer...makes every effort to portray Ferguson's apparent eventual loss of faith as a failure for 'LDS archaeology'"

Daniel C. Peterson: [9]

In the beginning NWAF was financed by private donations, and it was Thomas Ferguson's responsibility to secure these funds. Devoted to his task, he traveled throughout California, Utah, and Idaho; wrote hundreds of letters; and spoke at firesides, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, and wherever else he could. After a tremendous amount of dedicated work, he was able to raise about twenty-two thousand dollars, which was enough for the first season of fieldwork in Mexico.

Stan Larson, Thomas Stuart Ferguson's biographer, who himself makes every effort to portray Ferguson's apparent eventual loss of faith as a failure for "LDS archaeology,"22 agrees, saying that, despite Ferguson's own personal Book of Mormon enthusiasms, the policy set out by the professional archaeologists who actually ran the Foundation was quite different: "From its inception NWAF had a firm policy of objectivity. . . . that was the official position of NWAF. . . . all field directors and working archaeologists were explicitly instructed to do their work in a professional manner and make no reference to the Book of Mormon."


Gee: "Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies is minimal"

John Gee: [10]

Biographies like the book under review are deliberate, intentional acts; they do not occur by accident.4 Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies is minimal.5 So, of all the lives that could be celebrated, why hold up that of a "double-acting sourpuss?"6 Is there anything admirable, virtuous, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy, or Christlike about Thomas Stuart Ferguson's apparent dishonesty or hypocrisy? Larson seems to think so: "I feel confident," Larson writes, "that Ferguson would want his intriguing story to be recounted as honestly and sympathetically as possible" (p. xiv). Why? Do we not have enough doubters? Yet Larson does not even intend to provide the reader with a full or complete biographical sketch of Ferguson's life, since he chose to include "almost nothing . . . concerning his professional career as a lawyer, his various real estate investments, his talent as a singer, his activities as a tennis player, or his family life" (p. xi). In his opening paragraph, Larson warns the reader that he is not interested in a well-rounded portrait of Ferguson. Nevertheless, he finds time to discourse on topics that do not deal with Ferguson's life and only tangentially with his research interest.


Response to claim: 172- There is no evidence of iron or steel smelting in the ancient New World

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

There is no evidence of iron or steel smelting in the ancient New World

Author's sources: *Michael D. Coe et al., Atlas of Ancient America (1986).

FairMormon Response

The work repeats itself on p. 8, 172., and 199.

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The use of iron in Mesoamerica is not anachronistic.

Question: What was known about iron in ancient America?

Iron is documented among the pre-Columbian peoples: They used exposed iron sources or meteorite iron

Iron is documented among the pre-Columbian peoples. Even if they did not practice smelting (extracting iron from ore), they used exposed iron sources or meteorite iron. Production of iron artifacts from such sources is documented in San Jose Mogote by 1200 B.C.[11] Several tons of Olmec-era iron artifacts are known:[12] "the Olmec were a sophisticated people who possessed advanced knowledge and skill in working iron ore minerals."[13] Mesoamerica did use quite a bit of iron ore, but much of it was used without smelting, establishing a cultural/religious connotation that would have retarded experimentation with the ore for any other purpose (ascription of religious value to any physical artifact delays changes in that artifact).


Sorenson: "Iron use was documented in the statements of early Spaniards, who told of the Aztecs using iron-studded clubs"

John L. Sorenson:[14]

Iron use was documented in the statements of early Spaniards, who told of the Aztecs using iron-studded clubs. [15] A number of artifacts have been preserved that are unquestionably of iron; their considerable sophistication, in some cases, at least suggests interest in this metal [16]....Few of these specimens have been chemically analyzed to determine whether the iron used was from meteors or from smelted ore. The possibility that smelted iron either has been or may yet be found is enhanced by a find at Teotihuacan. A pottery vessel dating to about A.D. 300, and apparently used for smelting, contained a "metallic-looking" mass. Analyzed chemically, it proved to contain copper and iron. [17]


Sorenson: "Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca"

John L. Sorenson:

Without even considering smelted iron, we find that peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley. These were carried to a workshop section within the site of San Jose Mogote as early as 1200 B.C. There they were crafted into mirrors by sticking the fragments onto prepared mirror backs and polishing the surface highly. These objects, clearly of high value, were traded at considerable distances.[18]


Response to claim: 172 - There were no wheeled vehicles in ancient America

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

There were no wheeled vehicles in ancient America

Author's sources: No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

There is no mention of wheels in the Book of Mormon (save an Isaiah citation).



Question: In what context are chariots mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon mentions "chariots," which one assumes to be a wheeled vehicle. It is also claimed that no draft animals existed in the New World to pull such chariots. It should be remembered that chariots do not play a major role in the Book of Mormon. They are mentioned in the following contexts:

Quotations from Old World scriptures

Apocalyptic teachings in Old World style

  • 3 Nephi 21:14 - Jesus speaks of "horses and chariots" in a symbolic and apocalyptic address

Used in conjunction with horses

  • Alma 18:9 - Ammon feeds the Lamanite king's horses, which are associated with his "chariots."
  • Alma 20:6 - Lamanite king uses horses and chariot for visit to neighboring kingdom
  • 3 Nephi 3:22 - Nephites "had taken their horses, and their chariots" to a central fortified area for protection against robbers

(It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality or ritual importance in war, since they brought chariots to the siege.)

Conspicuously absent is any role of the chariot in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.


Gardner: "a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast"

Wrote Mesoamerican expert Brant Gardner, who believes the Book of Mormon was situated in Mesoamerica:

Regardless of the reason for the presence of "horse" and "chariot" in the text, we must still deal with the question of what the original text might have meant the animal and conveyance that Joseph translated as "horse" and "chariot" to be. From this point on, all is speculation—but speculation consistent with the Mesoamerican world.

The wording describing horses and chariots is at least suggestive that the king would be transported in connection with the horse and chariot: "they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth." "Conduct him" does not necessarily mean that Lamoni was conducted in the horse/chariot. Indeed, verse 9 mentions horses and chariots, but only the king is "conducted." It is possible that we are dealing with several ritual objects rather than a conveyance. Verse 12, however, does suggest that conveyances are available for the king and his servants; but if would be highly unusual for servants to ride in a culture where everyone walks. Riding would confer upon them the same social status as the king—not to be thought of unless chariots were so common that they were in universal use. And nothing in the text suggests that they were.

If we are dealing with a conveyance, there is a Mesoamerican possibility. A king might be conveyed in a litter, but the litters were carried by men, not pulled by animals. However, an interesting connection between the litter and an animal occurs on what has been termed a battle litter. Freidel, Schele, and Parker note:

Lintel 2 of Temple 1 shows Hasaw-Ka'an-K'awil wearing the balloon headdress of Tlaloc-Venus warfare adopted at the time of the Waxaktun conquest, and holding the bunched javelins and shield, the original metaphors for war imported from Teothuacan. He sits in majesty on the litter that carried him into battle, while above him hulks Waxkluha=un-Ubah-Kan, the great War serpent.... Graffiti drawings scratched on the walls of Tikal palaces, depicting the conjuring of supernatural beings from the Otherworld, prove that these scenes were more than imaginary events seen only by the kings. Several of these elaborate doodles show the great litters of the king with his protector beings hovering over him while he is participating in ritual. These images are not the propaganda of rulers, created in an effort to persuade the people of the reality of the supernatural events they were witnessing. They are the poorly drawn images of witnesses, perhaps minor members of lordly families, who scratched the wonders that they saw during moments of ritual into the walls of the places where they lived their lives.

Thus, Maya art represents the king riding on a litter. In battle, capturing the litter was tantamount to capturing that king's gods. However, the graffiti litters at least open the possibility that these were simply formal litters and not limited to battle context. These litters were accompanied by a "battle beast," or an animal alter ego, embodied in the regalia of the king and litter. Thus, a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast.

If Joseph Smith, while translating, came upon an unfamiliar idea but which seemed to describe a kingly conveyance associated with an animal, would it not have seemed logical to him to describe it as a horses and chariot for the king? I see the plausible underlying conveyance as an elaborate royal litter, accompanied in peacetime by the spiritual animal associated with the king. This animal was a type of alter-ego for the king, and was called the way [pronounced like the letter "Y"]....[19]

Gardner's case may be strengthened by the mention of chariots being brought to the lengthy siege in 3 Nephi—suggesting again a possible ritual use associated with warfare.


Response to claim: 172 - There were no draft animals to pull wheeled vehicles

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

There were no draft animals to pull wheeled vehicles

Author's sources: *No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The Book of Mormon does not describe draft animals pulling wheeled vehicles.



Question: In what context are chariots mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon mentions "chariots," which one assumes to be a wheeled vehicle. It is also claimed that no draft animals existed in the New World to pull such chariots. It should be remembered that chariots do not play a major role in the Book of Mormon. They are mentioned in the following contexts:

Quotations from Old World scriptures

Apocalyptic teachings in Old World style

  • 3 Nephi 21:14 - Jesus speaks of "horses and chariots" in a symbolic and apocalyptic address

Used in conjunction with horses

  • Alma 18:9 - Ammon feeds the Lamanite king's horses, which are associated with his "chariots."
  • Alma 20:6 - Lamanite king uses horses and chariot for visit to neighboring kingdom
  • 3 Nephi 3:22 - Nephites "had taken their horses, and their chariots" to a central fortified area for protection against robbers

(It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality or ritual importance in war, since they brought chariots to the siege.)

Conspicuously absent is any role of the chariot in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.


Gardner: "a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast"

Wrote Mesoamerican expert Brant Gardner, who believes the Book of Mormon was situated in Mesoamerica:

Regardless of the reason for the presence of "horse" and "chariot" in the text, we must still deal with the question of what the original text might have meant the animal and conveyance that Joseph translated as "horse" and "chariot" to be. From this point on, all is speculation—but speculation consistent with the Mesoamerican world.

The wording describing horses and chariots is at least suggestive that the king would be transported in connection with the horse and chariot: "they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth." "Conduct him" does not necessarily mean that Lamoni was conducted in the horse/chariot. Indeed, verse 9 mentions horses and chariots, but only the king is "conducted." It is possible that we are dealing with several ritual objects rather than a conveyance. Verse 12, however, does suggest that conveyances are available for the king and his servants; but if would be highly unusual for servants to ride in a culture where everyone walks. Riding would confer upon them the same social status as the king—not to be thought of unless chariots were so common that they were in universal use. And nothing in the text suggests that they were.

If we are dealing with a conveyance, there is a Mesoamerican possibility. A king might be conveyed in a litter, but the litters were carried by men, not pulled by animals. However, an interesting connection between the litter and an animal occurs on what has been termed a battle litter. Freidel, Schele, and Parker note:

Lintel 2 of Temple 1 shows Hasaw-Ka'an-K'awil wearing the balloon headdress of Tlaloc-Venus warfare adopted at the time of the Waxaktun conquest, and holding the bunched javelins and shield, the original metaphors for war imported from Teothuacan. He sits in majesty on the litter that carried him into battle, while above him hulks Waxkluha=un-Ubah-Kan, the great War serpent.... Graffiti drawings scratched on the walls of Tikal palaces, depicting the conjuring of supernatural beings from the Otherworld, prove that these scenes were more than imaginary events seen only by the kings. Several of these elaborate doodles show the great litters of the king with his protector beings hovering over him while he is participating in ritual. These images are not the propaganda of rulers, created in an effort to persuade the people of the reality of the supernatural events they were witnessing. They are the poorly drawn images of witnesses, perhaps minor members of lordly families, who scratched the wonders that they saw during moments of ritual into the walls of the places where they lived their lives.

Thus, Maya art represents the king riding on a litter. In battle, capturing the litter was tantamount to capturing that king's gods. However, the graffiti litters at least open the possibility that these were simply formal litters and not limited to battle context. These litters were accompanied by a "battle beast," or an animal alter ego, embodied in the regalia of the king and litter. Thus, a correct approach to a Mesoamerican battle required all three elements: king, litter, and battle beast.

If Joseph Smith, while translating, came upon an unfamiliar idea but which seemed to describe a kingly conveyance associated with an animal, would it not have seemed logical to him to describe it as a horses and chariot for the king? I see the plausible underlying conveyance as an elaborate royal litter, accompanied in peacetime by the spiritual animal associated with the king. This animal was a type of alter-ego for the king, and was called the way [pronounced like the letter "Y"]....[20]

Gardner's case may be strengthened by the mention of chariots being brought to the lengthy siege in 3 Nephi—suggesting again a possible ritual use associated with warfare.


Response to claim: 172 - There are no archaeological remains of wheat or barley in Mesoamerica. The barley found in Arizona doesn't count because it was only in a limited region

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

There are no archaeological remains of wheat or barley in Mesoamerica. The barley found in Arizona doesn't count because it was only in a limited region.

Author's sources: *No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The fact that barley was unknown in the Americas before the 1980s demonstrates that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Would we want to bet on barley never being found outside that restricted area?

Sorenson and Smith: "three types of wild barley have long been known to be native to the Americas"

Pre-Columbian New World barley was first reported in the scientific literature in 1983.

The December 1983 issue of the popular magazine Science 83 reported the discovery in Phoenix, Arizona, by professional archaeologists of what they supposed to be pre-Columbian domesticated barley. That same month, F.A.R.M.S. carried a preliminary notice of the discovery. This Arizona find is the first direct New World evidence for cultivated pre-Columbian barley in support of the Book of Mormon. Mosiah 9:9 lists barley among several crops that were cultivated by the Nephites in the land of Nephi, and Alma 11:7 singles out barley as the primary grain into which silver and gold were converted in the Nephite system of weights and measures.

That there are copious samples of cultivated barley at pre-Columbian sites in Arizona seemed a first for the Western Hemisphere, but Professor Howard C. Stutz of the BYU Department of Biology tells us that three types of wild barley have long been known to be native to the Americas. The real surprise is that this barley is of a cultivated ("naked") type, although the ethnobotanist for the Arizona project, Dr. Vorsila Bohrer (Eastern New Mexico University, Portales), says that it is not yet clear whether the samples were truly naked (unhulled) or simply naturally degraded in context.[21]


Response to claim: 173 - The author claims that deer or tapir were never ridden by Native Americans, therefore they could not be the "horses" referred to in the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that deer or tapir were never ridden by Native Americans, therefore they could not be the "horses" referred to in the Book of Mormon

Author's sources: *No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Horses are never described as being ridden in the Book of Mormon. They never act like "old world" horses. They appear to be treated as a food source. This might match some other animal quite well. The author has here proven the Book of Mormon advocates' point.
The work repeats itself on p. xiv, 7-8., 173., and 199.

Response to claim: 173 - Dee Green said in 1973 that Book of Mormon archaeology does not exist

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Dee Green said in 1973 that Book of Mormon archaeology does not exist

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Green argued—in 1969—that the requisite work had not been done (the author also gets the date wrong by four years).  Citation error: Dee F. Green, "Book of Mormon Archaeology: The Myths and the Alternatives," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4:71-80 (1973).
  • The correct citation is: Dee F. Green, "Book of Mormon Archaeology: The Myths and the Alternatives," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 3 (Summer 1969), 72-80.
  • This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 66, 362n88

Question: Did Dee F. Green say that there is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology?

Green argues that the concept of "Book of Mormon archaeology" is inadequate, and that a broader anthropological perspective is necessary

Dee F. Green wrote the following in 1969:

I am not impressed with allegations that Book of Mormon archaeology converts people to the Church. My personal preference in Church members still runs to those who have a faith-inspired commitment to Jesus Christ, and if their testimonies need bolstering by "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon (or anything else for that matter), I am prone to suggest that the basis of the testimony could stand some re-examination. Having spent a considerable portion of the past ten years functioning as a scientist dealing with New World archaeology, I find that nothing in so-called Book of Mormon archaeology materially affects my religious commitment one way or the other, and I do not see that the archaeological myths so common in our proselytizing program enhance the process of true conversion….

What then, ought to be our approach to the Book of Mormon? In the first place it is a highly complex record demanding knowledge of a wide variety of anthropological skills from archaeology through ethnology to linguistics and culture change, with perhaps a little physical anthropology thrown in for good measure. No one man outside the Church, much less anyone inside, has command of the necessary information. Furthermore, it isn't just the accumulation of knowledge and skill which is important; the framework in which it is applied must fit. Such a framework can be found only by viewing the Book of Mormon against a picture of New World culture history drawn by the entire discipline of anthropology. Singling out archaeology, a sub-discipline of anthropology, to carry the burden, especially in the naive manner employed by our "Book of Mormon Archaeologists," has resulted in a lopsided promulgation of archaeological myth.

We have never looked at the Book of Mormon in a cultural context. We have mined its pages for doctrine, counsel, and historical events but failed to treat it as a cultural document which can teach something about the inclusive life patterns of a people. And if we are ever to show a relationship between the Book of Mormon and the New World, this step will have to be taken. It is the coincidence of the cultural history of the Book of Mormon with the cultural history of the New World that will tip the scales in our favor....

Several years ago John Sorenson drew an analogy with the Bible which bears repeating:

Playing "the long shots," looking for inscriptions of a particular city, would be like placing the family bankroll on the gambling tables in Las Vegas. We might be lucky, but experience tells us not to plan on it. After lo, these many years of expensive research in Bible lands, there is still not final, incontrovertible proof of a single Biblical event from archaeology alone. The great value of all that effort has been in the broad demonstration that the Bible account fits the context time after time so exactly that no reasonable person can suppose other than that it is genuinely historic. Twenty years or less of systematic "painting the scenery" can yield the same sort of convincing background for the Book of Mormon, I believe. For too long Mormons have sought to "prove" the Book of Mormon authentic by what is really the-- most difficult kind of evidence--historical particulars. In the light of logic and the experience of Biblical archaeology it appears far safer to proceed on the middle ground of seeking general contextual confirmation, even though the results may not be so spectacular as many wish. In any case such a procedure-- the slow building up of a picture and a case--will leave us with a body of new knowledge and increased understanding of the times, manner, and circumstances when Book of Mormon events took place which seems to some of us likely to have more enduring value than “proof.”(italics in original) (emphasis added)

A dated source

The reference is from 1969. Green was a believing archaeologist; believing archaeologists now have more positive things to say about whether archaeology can tell us anything about the Book of Mormon. For a more current assessment, see:

The manner in which critics of the Church use this quote distorts Green's message and intent

The manner in which critics of the Church use this quote distorts Green's message and intent. A few representative quotes demonstrate that Green is not dismissing the possibility of Book of Mormon archaeology. Instead, Green insists that the approaches taken up to 1969 were inadequate, and misdirected:

  • Among the morass of archaeological half-truths and falsehoods which we have perpetrated in the name of Book of Mormon archaeology, only Jakeman's suggestion of a limited geography and Sorenson's insistence on a cautious, highly controlled trait-complex approach are worth considering. The ink we have spilled on Book of Mormon archaeology has probably done more harm than good.
  • I am not impressed with allegations that Book of Mormon archaeology converts people to the Church. My personal preference in Church members still runs to those who have a faith-inspired commitment to Jesus Christ, and if their testimonies need bolstering by "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon (or anything else for that matter), I am prone to suggest that the basis of the testimony could stand some re-examination. Having spent a considerable portion of the past ten years functioning as a scientist dealing with New World archaeology, I find that nothing in so-called Book of Mormon archaeology materially affects my religious commitment one way or the other, and I do not see that the archaeological myths so common in our proselytizing program enhance the process of true conversion.
  • The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists. Titles on books full of archaeological half-truths, dilettanti on the peripheries of American archaeology calling themselves Book of Mormon archaeologists regardless of their education, and a Department of Archaeology at BYU [note 16 reads: Fortunately now changed to the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, with such qualified men as Merlin Myers, Ray T. Matheny, and Dale Berge giving students a sound and realistic education in anthropology.] devoted to the production of Book of Mormon archaeologists do not insure that Book of Mormon archaeology really exists. If one is to study Book of Mormon archaeology, then one must have a corpus of data with which to deal. We do not. The Book of Mormon is really there so one can have Book of Mormon studies, and archaeology is really there so one can study archaeology, but the two are not wed. At least they are not wed in reality since no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography. Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are. It would seem then that a concentration on geography should be the first order of business, but we have already seen that twenty years of such an approach has left us empty-handed (italics in original).
  • Another myth which needs dispelling is our Lamanite syndrome. Most American Indians are neither descendants of Laman nor necessarily of Book of Mormon peoples. The Book itself makes no such claim....
  • Finally, I should like to lay at rest the myth that by scurrying around Latin America looking for horses and wheels we can prove the Book of Mormon.

Green also praises some aspects of the approach taken by the Church and a few scholars

  • ...only Jakeman's suggestion of a limited geography and Sorenson's insistence on a cautious, highly controlled trait-complex approach are worth considering.
  • Considerable embarrassment over the various unscholarly postures assumed by the geographical-historical school resulted in the Church Archaeological Committee's attitude that interpretation should be an individual matter, that is, that any archaeology officially sponsored by the Church (i.e., the monies for which are provided by tithing) should concern itself only with the culture history interpretations normally within the scope of archaeology, and any attempt at correlation or interpretation involving the Book of Mormon should be eschewed. This enlightened policy, much to the gratification of the true professional archaeologist both in and outside the Church, has been scrupulously followed. It was made quite plain to me in 1963 when I was first employed by the BYU-NWAF [New World Archaeological Foundation] that my opinions with regard to Book of Mormon archaeology were to be kept to myself, and my field report was to be kept entirely from any such references.

Some of my colleagues and students, both in and out of the Church, have wondered if perhaps the real reason for the Church's involvement in archaeology (especially since it is centered in Mesoamerica with emphasis on the Preclassic period) is to help prove the Book of Mormon. While this may represent the individual thinking of some members of the Church Archaeological Committee, it has not intruded itself on the work of the foundation except to limit its activities to the preclassic cultures of Mesoamerica. Regardless of individual or group motives, however, the approach of the BYU-NWAF has been outstandingly successful. My numerous non-Church colleagues in Mesoamerican archaeology hold high regard for the work of the foundation and for most of its staff. Gareth Lowe, director of the BYU-NWAF, is as good a Mesoamerican archaeologist as there is in the country, and the foundation's outstanding publication series (which never mentions the Book of Mormon) consistently received good reviews in the professional literature.

Green is calling for a different approach

  • What then, ought to be our approach to the Book of Mormon? In the first place it is a highly complex record demanding knowledge of a wide variety of anthropological skills from archaeology through ethnology to linguistics and culture change, with perhaps a little physical anthropology thrown in for good measure. No one man outside the Church, much less anyone inside, has command of the necessary information. Furthermore, it isn't just the accumulation of knowledge and skill which is important; the framework in which it is applied must fit. Such a framework can be found only by viewing the Book of Mormon against a picture of New World culture history drawn by the entire discipline of anthropology. Singling out archaeology, a sub-discipline of anthropology, to carry the burden, especially in the naive manner employed by our "Book of Mormon Archaeologists," has resulted in a lopsided promulgation of archaeological myth.
  • We have never looked at the Book of Mormon in a cultural context. We have mined its pages for doctrine, counsel, and historical events but failed to treat it as a cultural document which can teach something about the inclusive life patterns of a people. And if we are ever to show a relationship between the Book of Mormon and the New World, this step will have to be taken. It is the coincidence of the cultural history of the Book of Mormon with the cultural history of the New World that will tip the scales in our favor.

Not surprisingly, it is this approach recommended by Green that has borne fruit in the thirty-five years since his article.

Also not surprisingly, this fact is carefully hidden from the critic's audience.

  • For an up-to-date assessment of the Book of Mormon and archaeology, see:
    • John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki


Response to claim: 175 - "Book of Mormon archaeology" has yielded little credible evidence

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

"Book of Mormon archaeology" has yielded little credible evidence

Author's sources: *John E. Clark, "Book of Mormon Geography," Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992).
  • Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (1964).
  • Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert: The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites, (1988).
  • Bruce W. Warren, Review of F. Richard Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon: Settlements and Routes in Ancient America, and John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon in BYU Studies 30:127 (1990).
  • David J. Johnson, "Archaeology" Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

If the author is going to cite these sources, he needs to engage their evidence, not simply declare it not credible.



Question: What criticisms are raised with regard to Book of Mormon archaeology compared to that of the Bible?

Sectarian critics who accept the Bible claim that the Bible has been "proven" by archaeology

Sectarian critics who accept the Bible, but not the Book of Mormon, sometimes claim that the Bible has been "proven" or "confirmed" by archaeology, and insist that the same cannot be said for the Book of Mormon.

The claim that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon is incorrect

The claim that, unlike the Bible, there is no archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon is based on naive and erroneous assumptions. Without epigraphic New World evidence (which is currently extremely limited from Book of Mormon times), we are unable to know the contemporary names of ancient Mesoamerican cities and kingdoms. To dismiss the Book of Mormon on archaeological grounds is short-sighted. Newer archaeological finds are generally consistent with the Book of Mormon record even if we are unable (as yet) to know the exact location of Book of Mormon cities.

  • What would a "Nephite pot" look like? What would "Nephite" or "Lamanite" weapons look like?
  • Think about the Old World--how do you tell the difference between Canaanite pots and houses and garbage dumps, and Israelite pots and houses and garbage dumps? You can't. If we didn't have the Bible and other written texts, we'd have no idea from archaelogy that Israelites were monotheists or that their religion differed from the Canaanites who lived along side them.
  • We also know very little about the names of cities in the New World from before the Spanish Conquest. So, even if we found a Nephite city, how would we know? We don't know what the pre-Columbian name for a city was (or how to pronounce them)--so, even if we had found, say, "Zarahemla," how would we know?

Note: Many of the topics sometimes addressed in archaeological critiques of the Book of Mormon are treated in detail on the Book of Mormon "anachronism" page.


Question: What archaeological evidence might be considered the minimal irrefutable proof needed to convince a non-believing world of the authenticity of the Nephite scripture?

For critics, every time something is found that correlates with the Book of Mormon, it is considered a "lucky guess" and dismissed

A reasonable question for those suggesting that there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon would be “What archaeological evidence might be considered the minimal irrefutable proof needed to convince a non-believing world of the authenticity of the Nephite scripture?”

Some people might suggest that finding the existence of horses or chariots would constitute proof for the Book of Mormon. This is doubtful. Finding such items would merely demonstrate that such things existed in the ancient New World, and while such discoveries may be consistent with the Book of Mormon, they hardly amount to “proof.”

As an example, the Book of Mormon mentions barley which, until recently, was thought not to exist in the ancient Americas. Critics considered barley to be one of the things that “Joseph Smith got wrong.” However, pre-Columbian New World barley has now been verified, without people flocking to join the Church because of this discovery. For critics, finding such items are too often seen as “lucky guesses” on the part of Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon mentions cities, trade, warfare, towers, and the use of armor—all of which did exist in the ancient Americas—yet their existence has not convinced critics that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text.


Question: How would an archaeologist distinguish a Christian's pot from that of a non-Christian?

Physical evidence doesn’t provide much information unless it is placed within a context

When examining ancient evidence archaeologists work with a very fragmentary record. In general, they find physical evidence, but such evidence in and of itself doesn’t provide much information unless it is placed within a context—a framework by which it can be understood. For instance, if an archaeologist finds a pot (or, more likely, a fragment of a pot), it provides little evidence concerning the civilization that created or used the pot. Contextual clues—such as other artifacts uncovered near the pot—may provide some clues about the timeframe in which the pot was last used, but it certainly doesn’t provide conclusive evidence as to what the civilization, or the individuals in that civilization, were like.

Critics, for example, sometimes deride the idea that Nephites were, for much of their written history, “Christians.” In the critics' view, there should be archaeological remains indicating a Christian presence in the ancient New World. How, exactly, would an archaeologist distinguish a Christian's pot from that of a non-Christian? What would a Christian pot look like? One must also keep in mind that, according to the Book of Mormon, the New World “Christians” were a persecuted minority who were wiped out over fifteen hundred years ago. How much archaeological evidence would we really expect to have survived the intervening centuries?

For the archaeologist, the strongest contextual clues come from writing or markings that are sometimes found on the physical evidence. These are of two general types: epigraphic and iconographic. Epigraphic evidence consists of a written record, such as this text you are reading, while iconographic evidence consists of pictures, or icons. For instance, the word “cross” is epigraphic, but a picture of a cross is iconographic. Epigraphic evidence, providing it can be translated, provides a record of what people thought or did. Iconographic evidence is much more symbolic and its interpretation depends on the context in which the image is used.

The only way archaeologists can determine names is through written records

As noted by Dr. William Hamblin, "the only way archaeologists can determine the names of political kingdoms, people, ethnography, and religion of an ancient people is through written records."

"Iconography can be helpful, but must be understood in a particular cultural context which can only be fully understood through written records. (Thus, the existence of swastikas, for example, on late medieval mosques in Central Asia or on Tibetan Buddhist temples in Tibet does not demonstrate that Muslims and Buddhists are Nazis, nor, for that matter, that Nazis are Buddhists. Rather, medieval swastikas demonstrate that different symbolic meanings were applied to the same symbol in early twentieth century Germany, Muslim Central Asia, and in Tibet.)"[22]

Many ancient peoples, however, wrote on perishable materials that have deteriorated through the centuries. Egypt, for example, wrote on materials that have survived through the ages, whereas the kingdom of Judah generally did not.

"[F]rom archaeological data alone," notes Hamblin, "we would know almost nothing about the religion and kingdom of ancient Judah. Indeed, based on archaeological data alone we would assume the Jews were polytheists exactly like their neighbors. Judaism, as a unique religion, would simply disappear without the survival of the Bible and other Jewish written texts."

"...Methodologically speaking, does the absence of archaeologically discovered written records demonstrate that a certain kingdom does not exist? Or to put it another way, does the existence of an ancient kingdom depend on whether or not twenty-first century archaeologists have discovered written records of that kingdom? Or does the kingdom exist irrespective of whether or not it is part of the knowledge horizon of early twenty-first century archaeologists? Or, to state the principle more broadly, does absence of evidence equal evidence of absence?"[23]


Question: What do we find when we turn to the records of the ancient (i.e. before A.D. 400) Americas?

Of the approximately half dozen known written language systems in the New World only the Mayan language can be fully read

Understanding that a written record (epigraphic or iconographic) is necessary for building archaeological context, what do we find when we turn to the records of the ancient (i.e. before A.D. 400) Americas?

Of the approximately half dozen known written language systems in the New World (all of which are located in Mesoamerica), only the Mayan language can be fully read with confidence. Scholars can understand some basic structure of some of the other languages, but they cannot fully understand what the ancients were saying. In other words, there is a problem with deciphering the epigraphic record. According to the experts, “the pronunciation of the actual names of the earliest Maya kings and other name-glyphs from other writing systems is not known with certainty.”[24]

For the time period in which the Nephites lived, scholars are aware of only a very limited number of inscriptions from the entire ancient New World that can be read with any degree of certainty. Even with these fragments, however, scholars are still uncertain from these inscriptions just how the ancients pronounced the proper names and place names (toponyms). Four of these readable inscriptions merely give dates or a king’s name—a very limited cultural context. Another five inscriptions contain historical information and proper names—the mention of the cities Tikal and Uaxactun (for which the ancient pronunciation remain uncertain) and five kings from these two cities (whom we know by iconographic symbols and whose ancient pronunciation remains uncertain).[25]

With such sparse epigraphic information, how could we possibly recognize—even if they we discovered archaeologically—that we had found the location of cities we know as Bountiful and Zarahemla, or if the religious rulers were actually named Nephi or Moroni? The critics like to claim that there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, but the truth is that there is scant archaeological data to tell us anything about the names of ancient New World inhabitants or locations—and names are the only means by which we could archaeologically identify whether there were Nephites in ancient America.


Question: How would Book of Mormon archaeology compare to that of the Bible?

There is a lack of readable New World inscriptions from Nephite times

Religious critics frequently like to compare the lack of archaeological support for the Book of Mormon with what they are certain is voluminous archaeological support for the Bible. There is a drastic difference, however, between the two worlds (Old and New) when it comes to epigraphic data, iconographic data, the continuity of culture, and toponyms.

We have already noted the dearth of readable New World inscriptions from Nephite times. From biblical lands, however, we know of thousands of contemporary inscriptions that have survived to modern times. We have pointed out that very few toponyms (place-names) can be read in the surviving few epigraphic fragments from the Nephite-era New World. In contrast, we find for the Bible lands not only scores of epigraphic records identifying ancient Mediterranean cities, but we also sometimes find a “continuity of culture” that preserves city names. In other words, many modern Near Eastern cities are known by the same name as they were known anciently (this is not the case for ancient America). Knowing the exact location of one city helps biblical archaeologists locate other cities, simply by calculating the distances.[26]

Even acknowledging the archaeological advantages for determining the location and historical actuality of biblical lands, we find that only slightly more than half of all place names mentioned in the Bible have been located and positively identified.[27] Most of these identifications are based on the preservation of the toponym. For biblical locations with no toponym preserved, only about 7% to 8% of them have been identified to a degree of certainty and about another 7% to 8% of them have been identified with some degree of conjectural certainty.[28] The identification of these locations without place names could not have been made were it not for the identification of locations with preserved toponyms. If few or no Biblical toponyms had survived in a continuous, unbroken "language chain" from the Bible's era to our own, the identification of biblical locations would be largely speculative.

Despite the identification of some biblical sites, many important Bible locations have not been identified. The location of Mt. Sinai, for example, is unknown, and there are over twenty possible candidates. Some scholars reject the claim that the city of Jericho existed at the time of Joshua. The exact route taken by the Israelites on their Exodus is unknown, and some scholars dispute the biblical claim that there ever was an Israelite conquest of Canaan.[29]


Response to claim: 176-177 - The Smithsonian issues a statement that discredits the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The Smithsonian issues a statement that discredits the Book of Mormon. LDS apologists claim that the simplification of the Smithsonian statement indicates that the original statement is now inconsistent with the current knowledge of Mesoamerican archaeology

Author's sources: Smithsonian Institution.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The Smithsonian altered its statement because it did not have a way to back up its previous claims.

Question: Does the Smithsonian Institution send out a letter regarding the use of the Book of Mormon as a guide for archaeological research?

In response to inquiries from Mormons and non-Mormons, the Smithsonian Institution sends out a standard letter denying that they use the Book of Mormon as a guide for archaeological research

The Smithsonian Institution sends a form letter to those who inquire about their use of the Book of Mormon for archaeological purposes. The National Geographic Society has a similar letter. The content of the letter has changed over the years; the current version (revised 1998) reads:

Your inquiry of February 7 concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in this office for response.

The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research, and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.

Your interest in the Smithsonian Institution is appreciated.

The letter is correct: The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide

Taken at face value, the letter is correct: The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. Its purpose is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title Page), not to give a history of all (or even most) ancient Americans.

Previous editions of the letter contained a detailed list of alleged "problems" with the Book of Mormon

A previous edition of the letter contained a detailed list of alleged "problems" with the Book of Mormon. Critics of the Church use this older letter as proof that the Book of Mormon has no archaeological support and is therefore false. One critic even claims that "generations of youth" in the Church have been taught that the Smithsonian uses the Book of Mormon to guide their research.

John Sorenson, an LDS anthropologist, wrote a detailed critique and encouraged the Smithsonian to update their letter to reflect the latest scientific evidence:

For many years, the Smithsonian Institution has given out a routine response to questions posed to them about their view and relation between the Book of Mormon and scientific studies of ancient American civilizations. Statements in their handout pointed out what somebody at the Institutions claimed were contradictions between the text of the scriptures and what scientists claim about New World Cultures.

In 1982 John Sorenson wrote a detailed critique of the Smithsonian piece that was published by FARMS. It pointed out errors of fact and logic in the statement. He revised that in 1995 and included the recommendation that the Smithsonian Institution completely modify their statement to bring it up-to-date scientifically. FARMS officers later conferred with a Smithsonian representative who indicated a willingness to make changes. More recently members of Congress have questioned the Institution about the inappropriateness of a government agency taking a stand regarding a religious book. - Anonymous, "Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revisited," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 77–77. off-site wiki

While archaeology could be useful in determining where the events of the Book of Mormon took place, the Book of Mormon does not contain the sort of historical detail that would make it useful for non-Mormon archaeologists.

That the Smithsonian does not use the Book of Mormon in its research says nothing about the book's divinity and truthfulness.

For further details, see: John L. Sorenson, "A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution "Statement regarding the Book of Mormon," FARMS (1995).


Response to claim: 177 - There is little evidence of a cultural link between Polynesia and the Americas. A linguistic link between a South American variety and Polynesian variety of sweet potato is not yet explained

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

There is little evidence of a cultural link between Polynesia and the Americas. A linguistic link between a South American variety and Polynesian variety of sweet potato is not yet explained.

Author's sources: No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

It is not necessarily reasonable to expect much of a cultural link if a small group (e.g., Hagoth) entered the larger Pacific cultural sphere.

Question: Why do modern day prophets and Church members in general believe that Polynesians are Lamanites?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #171: Why Did Mormon Mention Hagoth? (Video)

This belief, at least in part, that Polynesians are Lamanites stems from the story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon

Many Latter-day prophets and apostles have stated that the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific are considered to be Lamanites. This belief, at least in part, stems from the story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon, who built ships which eventually carried an undetermined number of people to geographical regions outside the scope of the Book of Mormon narrative. Critics insist, however, that modern evidence, including DNA data, precludes the islanders from being descendants of Book of Mormon people.

The story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon talks of groups of people who set sail in ships and were never seen again

The Book of Mormon talks of groups of people who set sail in ships and were never seen again.

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.

And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not. Alma 63:5-8

This story has traditionally been used to explain why the Pacific islanders are considered to be Lamanites.

Statements by Church leaders have reflected this belief that the Polynesians are Lamanaites

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, while he was the Acting President of the Council of the Twelve, said in 1971,

With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea…they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand…Today we have many Lamanite leaders in the Church. For example, in Tonga, where 20 percent of all the people in the islands belong to the Church, we have three large stakes. Two of them are presided over wholly by Lamanites and the other almost wholly by them. There are three stakes in Samoa and another is to be organized in those small Samoan islands. Four more stakes with Lamanite leaders![30]

The approach by the critics, therefore, is very simple: If the islanders can be proven to have no connection to the New World, then Polynesians cannot be considered to be Lamanites. The statements made by Elder Kimball and other Church leaders would therefore be incorrect, thus proving that these leaders are not inspired. Proving a negative, however, is extremely difficult to do. Many critics' arguments against the Book of Mormon rely upon proving that something does not exist. In the case of Polynesia, there is at least one well known anomaly, the presence of the New World plant the Sweet Potato, tying Polynesia to the New World that is acknowledged by non-LDS scientists.


Notes

  1. Michael D. Coe, "Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 2 no. 2 (Summer 1973), 40-48.
  2. [citation needed] Swanson?
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Michael D. Coe, The Maya, 6th edition, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999).
  4. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki Godfrey believes that the author was either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff.
  5. John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki Clark believes that the author was Joseph Smith.
  6. "Extract from Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel in Central America'," Times and Seasons 3 no. 22 (15 September 1842), 911–915. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  7. John L. Sorenson, "Addendum," to John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors (Review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 93–119. off-site
  8. Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper, "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons," The FARMS Review 16:1 (2004)
  9. Daniel C. Peterson, [https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1458&index=12 "On the New World Archaeological Foundation," The FARMS Review 16:1 (2004).
  10. John Gee, "The Hagiography of Doubting Thomas," FARMS Review of Books 10:2 (1998).
  11. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 285.
  12. Richard A. Diehl, The Olmecs: America's First Civilization (Thames & Hudson, 2004), 93–94. FairMormon link
  13. John B. Carlson, "Lodestone Compass: Chinese or Olmec Primacy? Multidisciplinary Analysis of an Olmec Hematite Artifact from San Lorenzo, Veracruz, Mexico," Science 189, No. 4205 (5 September 1975): 753-760.
  14. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 284.
  15. H.H. Bancroft, The Native Races (of the Pacific States), vol. 2 (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Co., 1882), pp. 407-8.
  16. Rene Rebetez, Objetos Prehispanicos de Hierro Y Piedra (Mexico: Libreria Anticuaria, n.d.).
  17. Sigvald Linne, Mexican Highland Cultures, Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Publication 7, n.s. (Stockholm, 1942), p. 132.
  18. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 285.
  19. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:287–288. Footnotes and one obvious typographical error have been silently omitted. Italics added to the internal quotation.
  20. Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 4:287–288. Footnotes and one obvious typographical error have been silently omitted. Italics added to the internal quotation.
  21. John L. Sorenson and Robert F. Smithh, "Barley in Ancient America," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), Chapter 36.
  22. William J. Hamblin (posting under the screen-name, “MorgbotX”), posted 29 January 2004 in thread, “What Would Be Proof of the Book of Mormon,” on Zion’s Lighthouse Bulletin Board (ZLMB) off-site(accessed 10 April 2005).
  23. Hamblin, "What Would be Proof...."
  24. Hamblin citing Joyce Marcus, Mesoamerican Writing Systems (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), 212–220 and Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings (New York: William Marrow & Company, 1990), 440, n28.
  25. See Hamblin, posted 29 January 2004 in thread, “What Would Be Proof of the Book of Mormon,” on Zion’s Lighthouse Bulletin Board (ZLMB) off-site(accessed 10 April 2005).
  26. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  27. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems," 164.
  28. William G. Dever, “archaeology and the Bible: Understanding Their Special Relationship,” Biblical archaeology Review (May/June 1990) 16:3.
  29. Daniel C. Peterson, "Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness (Review of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon)," FARMS Review of Books 5/1 (1993): 1–86. off-site
  30. Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign (July 1971), 7.


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