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Category:Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Culture/New World/Cement
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Cement in the New World
Parent page: Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Culture/New World
Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon
Evidence for the Nephite record extends tangibly beyond the words in the record itself. Helaman 3:7–11 reports that Nephite dissenters moved from the land of Zarahemla into the land northward and began building with cement: "The people . . . who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement," "all manner of their buildings," and many cities "both of wood and of cement." The Book of Mormon dates this significant technological advance to the year 46 BC.
Here we have several testable facts: the Book of Mormon tells us that people in ancient America became very skillful in the use of cement at a precise historical time. No one in the nineteenth century could have known that cement, in fact, was extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time, the middle of the first century BC.58
One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacn, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. And yet its earliest sample "is a fully developed product." The cement floor slabs at this site "were remarkably high in structural quality." Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still "exceed many present-day building code requirements."59 This is consistent with the Book of Mormon record, which treats this invention as an important new development involving great skill and becoming something of a sensation.
After this important technological breakthrough, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, which very well may have been close to the Nephite heartlands. Cement was used in the later construction of buildings at such sites as Cerro de Texcotzingo, Tula, Palenque, Tikal, Copn, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza. Further, the use of cement is "a Maya habit, absent from non-Maya examples of corbelled vaulting from the southeastern United States to southern South America."60
Mesoamerican cement was almost exclusively lime cement. The limestone was purified on a "cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product."61 The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement once again "attests to the ability of these ancient peoples."62
John Sorenson has further noted the expert sophistication in the use of cement at El Tajn, east of Mexico City, in the centuries following Book of Mormon times. Cement roofs covered sizable areas: "Sometimes the builders filled a room with stones and mud, smoothed the surface on top to receive the concrete, then removed the interior fill when the [slab] on top had dried."63The presence of expert cement technology in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica is a noteworthy archaeological fact inviting further research. Cement seems to take on significant new roles in Mesoamerican architecture close to the time when the Book of Mormon mentions the importance of this apparently new mode of building. The dating by archaeologists of this technological advance to the precise time mentioned in the book of Helaman seems far from knowable to anyone in the world in 1829.
Material culture in the Book of Mormon: Cement
Cement is specifically discussed in Helaman 3:7–11. Nephite colonists from the land of Zarahemla who settled in the land northward in the first century BC are credited with becoming expert "in the working of cement," from which they constructed "houses in the which they did dwell" and built "many cities . . . of cement" (vv. 7, 9, 11). The Book of Mormon dates this significant technological advance to the year 46 BC. Here we have several testable facts: the Book of Mormon tells us that people in ancient America became very skillful in the use of cement at a precise historical time. No one in the nineteenth century could have known that cement, in fact, was extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning at about this time, the middle of the first century BC.40A lime cement was in frequent use in southern Mesoamerica, especially in the lowland Maya area in the period after AD 200.41 However, central and Gulf Coast Mexico was the scene of the culmination of concrete engineering. Particularly at the vast ruins of Teotihuacn, near Mexico City, large constructions of this material can still be seen.42 (That area lies, of course, northward from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which most LDS scholars consider to be the dividing point between the Nephite lands southward and northward.) The earliest concrete known is from the Valley of Mexico and dates to perhaps two centuries BC. Chemically, early Mexican concrete was "much the same as present-day concrete."43 The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement "attests to the ability of these ancient peoples."44 These constructions date a little earlier than the reference in the book of Helaman; we may assume that the Nephites' expertness in cement work was taught to them by people who were already living in the "land northward" and had earlier experience in that technology.
- John W. Welch, "A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 11, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
- John W. Sorenson, "How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization?," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 9, references silently removed—consult original for citations.