Firesides/28 November 2010 - Sweden/14

Table of Contents

Response to questions about Viking evidence in the New World

1: BoM translation2: Polygamy and Polyandry3: Polygamy forced?4: Book of Abraham5: "Lying for Lord"6: Mark Hofmann7: Blood atonement8: First Vision9: Sanitized history10: "Not all truth is useful"11: Angelic affidavits12: Blacks and priesthood13: Temple concerns14: Evidence of Vikings15: Adam-God16: Kinderhook

The attendees of The "Swedish Rescue" fireside ask the following question:

We had some Vikings visit North America about 1000 years ago, and today we know exactly where they lived actually, there are archeological evidence that they leave there, etc. So what about all the millions of people who have been Lamanites or Nephites … What kind of evidence can you show that actually exist? Every single small Indian tribe in the whole of America we know about today because they all leave buildings and tombs and anything which we can prove that they are there, have been there. And as far as I know there is nothing prove there have been Lamanites or Nephites in America. If we have time also could you comment on the American Indians and the DNA, and the connection to Lamanites, Nephites, and then back to the Jewish people. Interesting to hear.

  • Question: If we can see evidence of Viking visits to North America, why don't we have evidence of Nephites and Lamanites?
    Answer: There are ruins all over the Americas. The question is which of these might be associated with Book of Mormon peoples.

Why isn’t there all this specific evidence of Nephites and Lamanites? You know, I’m going to combine it with Indian DNA because the answers are really quite similar. You may be able to find some evidence of Viking culture on the coast, but if Vikings went to the new world many, many times, you probably can’t find evidence of all the people who went there.

As you know, there are cultural ruins all over the Americas. The question is, were these Book of Mormon peoples or not? Some people have tried to answer that using the DNA to say maybe these were Book of Mormon people, maybe they were not. Are there any DNA experts here? I’m gonna give you my best short answer on DNA.

—Brother Turley's response to this question at the Sweden fireside.
  • Question: Are Vikings analogous to the Nephites/Lamanites?
    Answer: No.

The Viking settlements were discovered because there were written texts which led investigators on where to look. The Vikings established a settlement in an area in where there were no contemporary Amerindian settlements. This means that the Vikings imported their cultural artifacts, structures, etc., and were not assimilated into the Amerindian population either genetically or culturally. They built homes like Vikings, not like Amerindians. They were an isolated enclave, and though Vikings used it as a base for ranging further south into North America, no other evidence of their presence has yet been found. By contrast, Book of Mormon peoples arrived in a densely populated area, lived and intermingled with indigenous peoples immediately, and could bring little of their material culture with them. Viking settlement dates to AD 1000 in an isolated area whose relatively chill climate is conducive to preservation of artifacts. Lehites arrived more than 1,500 years earlier, in areas already thickly settled, in a humid tropical climate that would quickly degrade any distinctive artifacts. The situations are simply not analogous in some important ways.
  • Question: What about millions of Lamanites and Nephites?
    Answer: Lehi was a small addition to a large gene pool.
The vast majority of Lamanites and Nephites were not from the Middle East--they were indigenous peoples who were co-opted into the Book of Mormon's Lamanite and Nephite categories. The trick is finding out what they believed, because that is the key way in which they differed from those around them. However, due to how human population genetics work, if Lehi has any descendants now alive, all Amerindians share him as an ancestor even if they share none of his DNA.
  • Question: Can we prove Lamanites and Nephites were or weren't in America?
    Answer: No, not at present.
How would we recognize Lamanite or Nephite remains if we found one? How does a Nephite pot (for example) look different from a Lamanite pot or a non-Book of Mormon pot? Without written records (which are very scarce for the time and place of interest, save the Book of Mormon) such things can be almost impossible to determine. For example, archaeology shows no evidence of an entire Old World society converting to Christianity:

A telling case in point is communicated in the archaeology of Nubia, the area up the Nile from Egypt. See William Y. Adams et al., “On the Argument from Ceramics to History: A Challenge Based on Evidence from Medieval Nubia,” Current Anthropology 20/4 (1979): 727–44. This research found that when extensive archaeological data are compared with the substantial historical record for the area, “a close connection between the two cannot safely be assumed” (p. 727). Thus, “if we were to allow pottery to define the major turning points in Nubian cultural history, . . . each of the major [ceramic groupings] would tell us a different story, and none of these would be historically accurate” (p. 733). For example, the Nubian archaeological record fails to make at all clear the changes (including the instituting of human sacrifice) shown by the documents as having taken place after the waning of Egyptian dynastic influence around [AD] 350. And of the rapid conversion to Christianity recognized as having taken place in the sixth century ad, archaeology has left no hint. — John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex (Salt Lake City, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 13. ISBN 9781609073992..

If we were searching for Christians in Nubia, or human sacrifice in Nubia, archaeology would lead us to deny they happened. Yet, written records tell us that both did. This problem plagues the New World even more:

were it not for the written record, conquest as the major variable in the expansion of the Aztec state would never have been known [to us]. Aztec history spanned some 200 years, and they conquered 250 major centers. These centers had their own tributaries [dominated communities]; therefore, they in essence conquered approximately 1,000 to 2,500 places. . . . But they placed governors and some of their own population at only eight of these conquered centers. [Only at those eight would there be any archaeological evidence for the Aztec conquest.]

Therefore, without the written record, how could we demonstrate [widespread] conquest? We could not.

This likewise means that conquests for the earliest states [those for which we have no written history] cannot be documented in the archaeological record. [Terry Stocker, “Conquest, Tribute and the Rise of the State,” in Studies in the Neolithic and Urban Revolutions: The V. Gordon Childe Colloquium, Mexico, 1986, ed. Linda Manzanilla, BAR International Series 349 (Oxford: BAR, 1987), 367; emphasis in original. Cited in Sorenson, Mormon's Codex (2013), 11.]

This major theme of Aztec life is invisible in the archaeology; only when combined with written texts can we see it. The same is true of the Maya: "if we had to rely only on archaeological materials, we would dismiss as inconsequential one of the most important components [i.e., warfare] . . . of . . . [Maya] society" (David Webster, “Warfare and Status Rivalry: Lowland Maya and Polynesian Comparisons,” in Archaic States, ed. Gary M. Feinman and Joyce Marcus (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1998), 350–51; cited by Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 65).

In a similar way, we would have no way of knowing that Israelites were monotheists with much different religious ideas than their Canaanite neighbors without written texts. It is the Bible texts that distinguish a monotheistic keeper of the Law of Moses from a pagan Canaanite, not the pots and houses found in the dirt of archaeology. For the Book of Mormon time period, we don't have the texts--just what we find in the dirt.
  • Question: Is there evidence of "every small Indian tribe" in the Americas?
    Answer: No.
How would we know a tribe existed if we don't have artifacts for them? New groups or settlements are constantly discovered; this did not mean they did not exist before we knew about them. In Peru for decades, "large-scale agriculture, complex art, and cities had been thought to appear only after 1000 BC." This all changed only within the last decade an a half, with new discoveries pushing these back by more than a thousand years (Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 68).
  • Question: What about DNA?
    Answer: DNA data does not harm the Book of Mormon account.
We know that Vikings inhabited North America. Yet, there is no evidence for "Viking DNA" that has been identified. The first of many problems is identifying what DNA signature we ought to seek. Lehi and his fellow travelers were not Jews; they were of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Yet, we do not even know what Jewish DNA before the Babylonian captivity was, much less that of Ephraim and Manasseh. We know nothing about the DNA of the women in Lehi's party. There is also the problem of sampling: DNA studies have almost all focused on living samples, rather than ancient DNA. Ancient markers from the Middle East could be confused with later mixture after Columbus. The Lehite party was also small enough that a genetic signature would not be expected to persist. No studies have been performed to test the hypothesis that Lehites came to the New World, and it is not clear that enough is known at present to even perform one. Those who claim that DNA "disproves" the Book of Mormon are ignorant about the science and what it can and cannot tell us at present. There is a large literature on these matters.