John E. Clark of the New World Archaeological Foundation gave a riveting presentation that explored the origins of Mesoamerican civilization. Arriving late to the Spencer W. Kimball tower meant that I was one of the many that had to sit on the floor in the aisles. I am glad nobody called the fire marshal. From my vantage point I saw several young students diligently taking notes on lap tops, something I wish I had done for this report.
Dr. Clark began his lecture by observing that when the Spanish explorers encountered native Americans, they had no book like Genesis that could explain the origins of the civilization they saw. Clark defined civilization so that the essential component is that the community had a government that had authority to tax and put to death its subjects, usually in that order.
Then, Dr. Clark segued into a personal history about his involvement in archaeological studies in Mesoamerica. We learned about some of his adventures in digging in the dirt while taking 10 years to get a dissertation together and we applauded the sacrifices of his wife throughout this ordeal. He talked about his role in the New World Archaeological Foundation that was started in the early 1950’s and was later funded by LDS Church. Interestingly, Clark mentioned that most of those who worked for the Foundation were non-Mormon or were on their way to becoming such.
A transcript of Dr. Clark’s lecture will never do it justice. Someone asked if his slides will be made available, but Dr. Clark declined, estimating that the photography and art had a value of around $50K. The pictures we saw were visually engaging. John Clark led us around on a virtual tour of ruins in the area like Teotihuacan, San Lorenzo, Monte Alban, Tikal, and other places I don’t recall. He showed us pottery that was reserved for corn beer, noting tha many of his discoveries involved Word of Wisdom violations. He showed us stone carvings of fat men sitting, obviously a symbol of leadership, with the quip that not much has changed over the centuries.
Towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Clark surveyed different theories for origins of new civilizations before discarding most of them in favor of his current findings, which he noted are tentative. He mentioned that the NWAF has the research cornered on Mesoamerican origins, while other outfits concentrate on the later periods where the finds are often more sensational.
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Clark addressed a question about what all this archaeological study has to do with the Book of Mormon. Here he referred to earlier presentation he has given such as his Library of Congress address and FAIR’s 2005 conference (a transcript of which has recently been posted on FAIR’s site). In sum, Dr. Clark finds the trajectory of increasing archaeological finds that corroborate the Book of Mormon encouraging and the opposite of what one would expect if the Book was fraudulent. He cautioned that critics will fail to be impressed by statistical analysis of Book of Mormon hits and missed, because of different assumptions about what constitutes evidence. The best way to find out the Book is authentic remains praying about, if it means shutting yourself in a closet until you get the job done.