The Book of Mormon narrative begins with a small group of people who arrived in the Americas around 600 b.c. and numbered less than 30 people. Yet, within 1,000 years, grew to a civilization of hundreds of thousands of people. While the dynamics of such a population growth seems astronomical, it has been dealt with by previous scholars. 1 What is important to realize is the vast amount of people that compose the Nephites and Lamanites in The Book of Mormon. For example, after the Nephites fled the land of Nephi and joined the Mulekites in the city of Zarahemla, it is said that the group was “exceedingly numerous” (Omni 1:17). Although, there were many people located in Zarahemla it was not even “half so numerous” (Mosiah 20:11) as the Lamanites, meaning the Lamanites were at least double the population of the Nephites.
Throughout The Book of Mormon, we begin to see hints of what “exceedingly numerous” actually means. Throughout this sacred text we see repeated mentioning of thousands 2, and tens of thousands 3 of Lehites in regard to lives lost in war, conversions, or armies. In the last battles between the Nephites and the Lamanites around 400 b.c., these numbers increase to hundreds of thousands people 4. James E. Smith, one of the creators of the Cambridge model for estimating historical populations noted that “With a moderately positive population growth rate of .1 percent per year, a population of 300,000 in Zarahemla in 87 B.C. would produce 450,000 in Mormon’s day.” 5
Any candidate for consideration to be Book of Mormon people must have a large civilization with tens and hundreds of thousands of people. If the population was not there to match these numbers, then they could not be Nephites and Lamanites.
Some groups who promote a Great Lakes setting (or Heartland Model) for The Book of Mormon, claim that the ancient Hopewell culture centered in Ohio and Illinois is the civilization explained in The Book of Mormon. I would like to examine this claim using a few requirements that any civilization must possess to be Book of Mormon populace. It is important to examine the Hopewell *during* the period of time when the majority of The Book of Mormon took place (600 BC-400 AD). Some advocates of a Great Lakes setting for The Book of Mormon use structures, events, war, etc… of later cultures that existed centuries, sometime millennia after The Book of Mormon ended, as evidence for their claim. This is nothing short of dishonest on their part. Much of the evidence they provide does not remotely come close to the time periods when they should have happened. I will be pulling evidence from the Middle Woodland period (between 1 and 500 AD), which is the same time period of the Nephites when they are most advanced, and have the largest population. This would be the best time period to find the evidences we are looking for, if the Hopewell qualify as a candidate to be the Nephites and Lamanites.
The first requirement The Book of Mormon people should have is a very large population. Do the Hopewell meet this requirement with thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of people? The answer is a resounding, no.
The Hopewell lived from “around 100 BC and lasting to AD 500.” 6 (compared to the Lehites who lived between 600 BC and 400 AD), and centered in the river valleys of Ohio and Illinois. 7 They were an advanced civilization that is known for building large and elaborate mounds, and their long-distance trade. It has been said that they were the most advanced ancient North American society. As advanced as they were, no Hopewell group increased a population enough to fill a small village, which had no more than a few hundred people residing in it during Book of Mormon times. This is even the case in the communities in the heart, and origin of the Hopewell culture.
Timothy R Pauketat, a North-Eastern archaeologist and expert on the Hopewell states:
“Middle Woodland populations were not large by modern standards. For example, estimates based on human remains and settlements in the lower Illinois River valley are in the range of 1,290 to 4,500 individuals for a 140-mile stretch of river (and a region of 2,800 square miles), a population density of between .46 and 1.6 persons per square mile. A similar estimate has been derived for Southern Ohio (Pacheco and Dancey n.d.)….population density was probably the highest along the major waterways and the overland trails that probably crisscrossed to the east.” 8
Additional research gives a similar population density:
“the maximum density range of 0.22 to 0.33 persons per square kilometer was reasonable (Asch, 1976:59)..it is interesting to note that this estimate for the Illinois Valley population density during the interval from 150 B.C. to A.D 400 is comparable to levels reported in the Southeast during historical times.” 9
In the nucleus of the Hopewell culture, we find that the Hopewell not only lack the population to match the numbers throughout The Book of Mormon, but they did not even have enough people to have fought one major battle mentioned in The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon speaks of many cities throughout the text, and rarely mentions what could be considered smaller villages. These cities are very large, and hold thousands and tens of thousands of people. Did the Hopewell build permanent large cities that hold many thousands of people? Again, the answer is no.
During The Book of Mormon period, the Ohio “Hopewell settlements were small villages or hamlets of a few rectangular homes made of posts with wattle and daub walls and thatched roofs” 10
These small villages were generally made up of immediate and extended families that would either be sedentary, or be a seasonal camp, always moving to a new location. 11
While some of these ancient Indians would congregate into a small village, there were many households that were “dispersed over the landscape rather than concentrated within villages.” 12
“Overall, the Ohio Hopewell appear to be compiled of small groups most likely extended families, who practiced early horticulture and lived in small dispersed communities.” 13
In the Illinois Valley, which many scholars believe to be the origin of the Hopewell, we find a similar situation. Their “villages could not have held more than a hundred people.” And their living quarters were “rectangular or oval shaped;” and “were built of wooden posts and were probably covered with mats or with sheets of bark, like the wigwams of contact period Indians.” 14
They also lived in “small, sedentary, one to three-household hamlets, rather than large villages” just as in Ohio and elsewhere. 15
Therefore, what are we to think of the great earthen works that this culture built? Wouldn’t there have to be a city of people to work on these massive mounds? Scholars had originally thought that the “Ohio Hopewell resided in large complex villages adjacent to, or within, the monumental earthwork/mound centers. After extensive site survey and limited excavation in the central Scioto Valley, Prufer rejected the existence of such villages. Instead, he characterized the Ohio Hopewell settlement pattern as an example of what he termed the Vacant Ceremonial Center-Dispersed Agricultural Hamlet pattern. By this he meant that the earthwork/mound complexes were isolated ceremonial centers surrounded by interacting networks of small farming settlements. The members of these dispersed ‘earthwork societies’ interacted at the centers but did not live there on a permanent basis.” 16
In other words, some of these small villages and hamlets “During the summer months when food sources were at their highest, the Ohio Hopewell would gather at the ceremonial areas to work on the mounds.” 17
This is verified in an area with the biggest and most elaborate groups of mounds called Mound City, located in Chillicothe, Ohio, was excavated and archaeologists expected to find evidence of a large permanent city nearby. Instead, they “found low-density clusters of Hopewellian artifacts but no nucleated village debris…Similarly, a survey of the Hopewell site and environs by Seeman (1981) produced no evidence of nucleated sedentary village debris.” These archaeologists also stated that the lack of sites found was not due to “modern land use”, but only that they simply did not exist. This was also the case in several other mound sites.” 18
War is a common theme in The Book of Mormon. Commencing soon after the arrival of the Lehites into the New World until it caused the destruction of the entire Nephite population. Book of Mormon wars lasted for years, sometimes decades at a time, with casualties that reached over a quarter-million people. If you are looking for Book of Mormon people in a certain group of ancient inhabitants of the Americas, extensive war is something that you should find.
The Hopewell do not match this Book of Mormon description. As mentioned earlier, they did not have the population that The Book of Mormon requires for battles or civilizations, but they also did not have wars. They were generally a peaceful people, and since they lived in such small groups, no large wars or battles are even recorded during Book of Mormon times.
In Ohio, it may be that there were no battles because “Most [clans] were roughly similar in size and wealth, and had fairly equal access to the social roles of importance of one kind or another… because there is no evidence of interpersonal or intercommunity violence, which social competition might produce.” 19
If your neighbor did not have something you wanted, and you were equal with them pertaining to goods, then what would be the reason to go to war against him which you would lose some of the very few, valuable men in your small village?
Proponents of the Heartland geography theory that centers around the Great Lakes area claim that enclosure mounds among the Hopewell were used as military fortification against raiding Lamanites. While The Book of Mormon does speak about the Nephites casting up dirt walls to protect a city 20 , this rudimentary look at the Hopewell mounds does not align with the evidence that trained archaeologists have found. They are learning that many of these Hopewell mounds were not built in a hurry to thwart off invading enemies, but were slowly built over several centuries, and used for worship purposes. Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that “it is unlikely than any of them would have been effective militarily.” 21 especially since these enclosures were not complete, but had several large gaps in them, which would expose the defenders to the enemy. 22
In relation to war, the Nephites and Lamanites used the bow and arrow as a major weapon in their battles. One should be able to find evidence of this common weapon, in the right time period, among Book of Mormon peoples. But again, the Hopewell do not pass this test. While the bow and arrow were used by later civilizations, the Hopewell did not have a knowledge of the weapon until after Book of Mormon time period. 23
Scholars have noted that “The invention of the bow and arrow was too late in time to be relevant to the end of the Scioto Hopewellian lifeways. Moreover, signs of violence and death by bow and arrow are missing from the Scioto Hopewell record.” 24
This major weapon of war that is mentioned throughout The Book of Mormon, wasn’t adopted by Great Lake cultures until after the disappearance of the Hopewell Indians.
Finally, the end of the Nephite civilization came because of years of bloodshed and war, ending the Nephite civilization desolate abruptly within a few years. What we find among the Hopewell is a very different story. “The great Hopewell culture thrived for 600 years. Then, around 500 AD., the culture disappeared with no signs of violence.” 25 and seems to have “dissolved” rather “than collapsed.” 26
The Hopewell have been shown to fail the test as a qualifying society for The Book of Mormon by lack of population, lack of cities, no large wars, destruction not coming from war, mounds not used for military functions, and no knowledge of weapons of war mentioned in The Book of Mormon. The list could go on, but just one of these points disqualifies the Hopewell culture.
The question must be asked, if the Hopewell do not line up with the description of The Book of Mormon civilization, then who does? If we take this same list of qualifiers and apply them to the Mayan people, who most LDS scholars believe to be, or at least be part of, Book of Mormon people, we find that they parallel each other in many ways.
Mesoamerican cities during Book of Mormon times were large enough to hold hundreds of thousands of people. “The region politically controlled by Teotihuacan extended beyond the Basin of Mexico, but it’s core area was probably only 25,000 to 50,000 square kilometers, with a population perhaps around one-half million to one million…there is strong Teotihuacan presence in the Tula region, and a major center at Chingu. Control may have been strong in the Valley of Toluca, but it probably did not extend much farther north or west.” 27
Contrasted with the .22-.33 people per square kilometer among the Hopewell, Mayan cities like El Mirador had “548-570 persons per square kilometers.” 28 These kinds of numbers would are consistent with the numbers mentioned in The Book of Mormon.
Many of the Maya lived in these large cities which sometimes spanned up to 8-square miles, but controlled smaller cities hundreds of miles away. War among the Maya seems to have been a constant problem for them. There were wars for power, goods, trade, and sometimes just to get captives to use as sacrifice. To prevent invading armies from overtaking their city, some Mayan cities would cast up a dirt wall around their city and would even place a timber palisade on top of the mound. 29 “Southern lowland sites with defensive walls include Tikal, Calakmul, Becan, El Mirador, Dos Pilas, Aguateca, and Punta de Chimino, among others. Dahlin describes a defensive wall around Chunchucmil in relation to walls around nine other sites in the northern Maya lowlands.” 30
Erecting defensive fortifications of dirt is exactly what Moroni was doing while preparing for war. He caused that the Nephites “should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities…And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.” (Alma 50:1-2)
Some of these defensive mounds completed the task of warding off the arrows that were shot by the Lamanites (Alma 49:2). So, candidate civilization must have a knowledge of the bow and arrow during the right time periods. This is exactly what we find . “Paul Tolstoy, claims that there is evidence for “the limited use of the bow and arrow in central Mexico” during Book of Mormon times. In fact recent archaeological findings confirm that the bow was used in parts of Mesoamerica as early as the time of Christ.” 31
In summary, the Hopewell were a well advanced culture in North America, but cannot be Book of Mormon peoples for many reasons, a few of which have been shown here. While we do not know exactly what ancient groups were the Nephites and Lamanites or where they lived, we can look for parallels between The Book of Mormon and ancient cultures. Thus far, the evidence seems to be in favor of the Mayan civilization.
1. The logistics of this kind of population growth will not be dealt with here, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=6&num=1&id=141. However, it wasn’t uncommon to find large population growths in Mesoamerica. “A considerable population increase (350%) is suggested from the Middle to Late Preclassic periods in northern Belize…”Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions By Richard E. Blanton pg 170
2. Words of Mormon 1:14, Mos. 9:18, Alma 4:5, Alma 23:5, Alma 24:22, Alma 26:13, Alma 28:10-11, Alma 37:9, Alma 37:19, Alma 49:23, Alma 50:22, Alma 51:11,19, 56:27, 57:6, 57:14, 60:7, 62:5,12, 17, 63:4, Hel. 3:24, 5:19, 11:6, 3 Nephi 4:27, 17:25, Mormon 2:9, 4:9
3. Alma 2:19, Alma 3:26, Alma 28:2, 60:22, Hel. 3:26, 3 Nephi 3:24, 4:21, Mormon 1:11, 2:25
4. Mormon 6:11-14, 220,000
5. Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon, James E. Smith, FARMS Review vol. 6.1 pg 255-296
6. Encyclopedic dictionary of archaeology By Barbara Ann Kipfer Springer; 1 edition (April 1, 2000), pg 242
7. Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History, Volume I: To 1500, Craig A. Lockard, Wadsworth Publishing; 1 edition (January 10, 2007)pg 245
8. North American archaeology, Timothy R Pauketat, Diana DiPaolo Loren, Wiley-Blackwell (January 4, 2005) pg 113 emphasis mine
9. Late-Quaternary Environments of the United States, ed. Herbert Edgar Wright, Prentice Hall Press (June 1984) 2:258, emphasis mine
11. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of the Ohio Hopewell of the Hopewell Mound Group. PhD Dissertation by Lisa A. Mills, Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, 2003. Pg 13
12. The Scioto Hopewell and their neighbors: bioarchaeological documentation and Cultural Understanding (Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology)
By D. Troy Case, Christopher Carr, Springer; 1st Edition. edition (July 24, 2008) pg 8
13. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of the Ohio Hopewell of the Hopewell Mound Group. PhD Dissertation by Lisa A. Mills, Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, 2003. Pg 30
14. Prehistory of the Americas By Stuart J. Fiedel, Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (May 29, 1992) pg 242
15. Hamlets “are characteristic of Middle Woodland/Hopewell settlement systems in Ohio, the lower Illinois river valley, the American Bottom of the Mississippi river valley, and the Duck river valley of central Tennessee.” Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual and Ritual Interaction (Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology), Community Organizations in the Scioto, Mann, and Havana Hopewellian Regions, by Bret J. Ruby, Christopher Carr, and Douglas K. Charles. Edited by Christopher Carr and D. Troy Case, pg 132
16. Ohio Hopewell Community Organization, William S. Dancey, Paul J. Pacheco, Kent State University Press (January 1997) pg 42
17. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of the Ohio Hopewell of the Hopewell Mound Group. PhD Dissertation by Lisa A. Mills, Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, 2003. Pg 13
18. Ohio Hopewell Community Organization, William S. Dancey, Paul J. Pacheco, Kent State University Press (January 1997) pg 16
19. The Scioto Hopewell and their neighbors: bioarchaeological documentation and Cultural Understanding (Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology) By D. Troy Case, Christopher Carr, Springer; 1st Edition. edition (July 24, 2008) pg 25
20. Alma 49:2, 53:4
21. North American archaeology, Timothy R. Pauketat, Diana DiPaolo Loren Wiley-Blackwell (January 4, 2005) pg 123
23. “In most of eastern North America, a shift from notched or stemmed to triangular bifaces occurred between 1500 and 1200 B.P. This shift is commonly linked to the introduction of the bow and arrow to the region (Blitz 1988:131; Christenson 1986a; Griffin 1978:254; Hall 1980; Justice 1987: 224-229; Kelly et al. 1984; Morse and Morse 1990; Muller 1986). That is, small triangular bifaces are considered prima facie evidence for the adoption of the bow and arrow. This adoption is believed to involve a corresponding abandonment of, or at least a drastic reduction in the use of, earlier device.”
Spears, darts, and arrows: late woodland hunting techniques in the upper Ohio Valley. Article from: American Antiquity | July 1, 1993 | Shott, Michael J
24. The Scioto Hopewell and Their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding (Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology, by Daniel Troy Case, Christopher Carr, C.A. Johnston, and B. Goldstein Springer; 1st Edition. edition (July 24, 2008), pg 319
25. Archaeological Society of Ohio By Archaeological Society of Ohio, Ohio Archaeological Society, Ohio Indian Relic Collectors Society, Volumes 44-45, pg 17
26. North American archaeology, Timothy R. Pauketat, Diana DiPaolo Loren Wiley-Blackwell (January 4, 2005) pg 131
27. Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia , by Susan Toby Evans, Routledge; annotated edition edition (November 27, 2000), pg 729. While Teotihuacan spanned over a half of a century in Book of Mormon times, it should be noted that the end of its society post-date The Book of Mormon. The population would no doubt be very large, but may not be as high as the figures stated.
28. Past and Present in the Americas: A Compendium of Recent Studies, edited by John Lynch, Manchester University Press (September 1984), pg 132
29. “Bruce Owen discusses such fortifications at Becan in central Yucatan (5 meter deep moat, a 12 meter high earth embankment, with a timber palisade on top), and at other settlements” http://bruceowen.com/worldprehist/3250s18.htm Ross Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica (1992), 219 n. 34
30. The Ancient Maya: new perspectives, By Heather Irene McKillop, ABC-CLIO (August 19, 2004), pg 189
31. Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica, Pt. 1, 282-283, quoted in William J. Hamblin, “The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon,” Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company and FARMS, 1990), 379.