Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archaeology. Show all posts

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Evidence of Book of Mormon Historical Accuracy

One of the most persistent "faith-destroying rumors" (as I like to call them) about Book of Mormon archaeology is that we ought to have found much more "proof" (the real word is evidence) of the historicity of the Book of Mormon through archaeological discoveries by now.

Given that I am a big proponent of the well-established theory of Mesoamerica being the core of Book of Mormon civilizations and events, I'm sharing some insights from a recent article by National Geographic regarding the literally groundbreaking technology of LiDAR in the core of Classic Mayan civilization (ca. 250-900 AD), which is being used to revolutionize archaeological discoveries in our time. I'm going to do so in the context of the accusations made against Book of Mormon historicity claims.

CLAIM: "The scale of civilization as narrated in the Book of Mormon has never been discovered in Mesoamerica."

NEW EVIDENCE: “'Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,' said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. 'With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.'”

CLAIM: "No evidence has ever been found that Mayan civilizations as a candidate for Book of Mormon civilizations ever built transportation or urban infrastructure at the scale claimed by the Book of Mormon."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs."

CLAIM: "Nothing has ever been found in Mesoamerica to correlate with the idea that Book of Mormon civilizations had massive, decades-long wars involving defensive earthworks and large cities."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. 'Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,' said Garrison. 'It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.'"

To put all of this in even more perspective, this initial LiDAR survey covered a mere 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala. Imagine what else we don't know and how much bigger the population and infrastructure scale could be with further LiDAR studies!

Further, what we see under the forest canopy is what remains of the 250-900 A.D. civilizations that build on top of prior structures. That puts what we know right at the end of the peak of Nephite/Lamanite interactions. The evidence we're looking for to cover the period of the first Nephite arrival (591-589 B.C.) and, further back, the Jaredite arrival (approximately the 3rd Millennium B.C.), is subject to discovery only after we've spent decades digging through the layers of the Classic and Post-Classic Maya remnants, if it can even be found at all after being looted/repurposed/decomposed.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  those who claim archaeology will never uncover evidences of Book of Mormon historicity are simply not patient enough and/or don't have an understanding of how archaeology is a long-haul activity that often involves more uncertainty and questions the more discoveries are made. It is simply naive to think that one can sally forth into the jungles, dig a little bit, and find direct, clear, irrefutable proof of the existence of Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites. Too many confounding factors are possible through the complexities of time, the elements, and intermingling civilizations for that to be a possibility. Instead, we must take our time and carefully sift through data to find correlations that amount to a preponderance of evidence. We're far too early in our nascent understanding of Mesoamerican archaeology for that to have borne the kind of fruit that anti-Book of Mormon critics suppose should have been found by now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Fresh Perspective on Cahokia Mounds: Mayans in Our Midst?

Cahokia Mounds Aerial Illustration

Since I visited Cahokia Mounds in 2012, I've been fascinated by many parallels between what I witnessed as a missionary in Guatemala and as a tourist in the Yucatan and what I saw at Cahokia. Check out this article on Cahokia Mounds. It goes into how the Cahokia civilization just up and abandoned their urban project, and for a lot of the same reasons for which Mayan civilizations abandoned their urban centers and lifestyles.
Sacred meetings and ceremonies – the city’s purpose – took place on the plazas and in buildings inside the palisade. “There was a belief that what went on on Earth also went on in the spirit world, and vice versa,” says James Brown, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Northwestern University. “So once you went inside these sacred protocols, everything had to be very precise.”
Further, the article states,
...it appears the Mississippians may have conducted ritual human sacrifices, judging by what appears to be hundreds of people, mostly young women, buried in these mass graves. Some were likely strangled; others possibly died of bloodletting. Four men were found with their heads and hands cut off; another burial pit had mostly males who had been clubbed to death.
Did post-Book of Mormon era Yucatecan Mayans travel northward across the Gulf of Mexico, or along its Western coast, to the Mississippi river and influence or even directly establish the Mississippian cultures, urban centers, and places and methods of worship and sacrifice?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Bible vs. Book of Mormon Archeaology

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: The Bible is archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's true without question. The Book of Mormon isn't archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's false.

Response: Read The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Archaeology Question which illustrates and summarizes the fallacy of archaeological verification = theological verification arguments. The first comment at the end is a good one as well as the huge number of archaeology and evidence-of-authenticity articles linked in the footnotes.

Neither the Bible or the Book of Mormon have ever claimed to be primarily texts that can be physically verifiable by physical evidences. Both have the cause of converting people to the Gospel, not proving or disproving this or that archeaological or anthropological theory.

The fact that historical places of the Bible have been more adequately preserved while the Book of Mormon's have not is not evidence that the Book of Mormon is false. Lots of civilizations and their records have been lost to history. I'm sure there are plenty of subcultures in, say, Mongolia or China or Indonesia that we'll never know about because of the tendency of time and human activity to erase those evidences.

Central America is quite well regarded by archaeologists as a place where evidence of past civilizations is in rapid decay because of three factors: 1) climate (jungle rot being a key result), 2) foliage (huge trees with enormous root systems that overtake and pulverize mounds of rock placed by humans), and 3) human activity (later cultures overtaking and erasing the history of earlier cultures).

Here are some well-known examples of these three factors:
  1. Anything carbon-based or organic (i.e. that isn't rock) will either disintegrate in a few months to a few years, or it will grow. With the exception of gold, this is true of metal as well. Iron or copper implements will simply cease to exist in a couple hundred years due to high humidity, heavy rain, and acidic soils. The iron and copper weapons that were preserved in Mesoamerica were the extreme exceptions or were found in more arid areas.
  2. Guatemalans erect high fences by simply cutting the limb off of a tree, sticking the newly cut ends of the limbs into the highly fertile ground, and then waiting a year. That's how quickly foliage can grow there. Huge rainforest trees have massive root systems that hold the soil together, but also displace any solid objects in their path of growth.
  3. Pyramids built by earlier Mayan and pre-Mayan inhabitants were "repurposed" and built upon to create ever larger pyramids. In fact, a very familiar sounding name is given to some ruins in Belize that features this "stacking". The name the city's ancient inhabitants gave it was Lamanai (Lam'an'ain), which is identical to the Hebrew pronunciation for Laman (minus the suffix). We have only uncovered a few of these but there are many more out there we've not yet explored. In each one we've explored, we've been astonished at the amount of knowledge about preveious cultures through inscriptions and other evidences hidden in the layers.
I have personally witnessed the effects all three of the above phenomena. I saw #2 and #3 in the then-recently discovered Abaj Takalik dig near Coatepeque, Guatemala. In terms of uncovered ruins, I've personally seen dozens of pyramid-shaped mounds, and hiked on a few, that were completely out of character with the surrounding landscape. They were absolutely human-made but were covered by tons of earth and vegetation all around before the trees covering them were cut down as cattle farmers took over the area in recent history.

The conditions under which the Nephites were exterminated in 420 A.D., with Lamanites spitefully and simultaneously erasing every part of Nephite culture and history, then what is the likelihood that we would find a remnant of their culture nearly 1600 years later? Don't forget also that zealous Spanish missionaries destroyed all but four Mayan codices. We're lucky to have what we have about ancient Mayans and their evidences more closely align with the decline of the Lamanites after the Nephite genocide.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Colorado State University Archaeologist Discovers Ancient Lost City in Mexico

A new mesoamerican archaeological site is in the beginning stages of study and excavation. Christopher Fisher, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Anthropology, and his team used handheld GPS devices to map out the site in just one month, accelerating the development of the site as an archaeological find by orders of magnitude compared to using traditional methods of seasonal mapping.

ReadWriteWeb.com reports:
This thousand-year-old urban center stands, overgrown with scrub and soil, in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin in the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Fisher's team used four Trimble Recon rugged handheld computers in conjunction with GeoXH and GeoXT GPS receivers, to do real-time, on-site mapping of over 1,300 architectural features, including hundreds of "house mounds," in just one square kilometer of the site. They took 25 to 30 data points on each feature but were still able to complete the initial full-coverage mapping in a month.
The use of GPS and handheld devices promises to discover and open more mesoamerican sites currently unsurveyed or yet undiscovered, but suspected to exist in great numbers.

The University's office of public relations says:
At the time of European contact, the Purépecha Empire - sometimes called the Tarascan Empire - controlled much of western Mexico with a mutually fortified frontier shared with their rivals, the Aztecs to the east.
The settlement may be as large as 5 square kilometers and dates to A.D. 1000-1520. Initial results suggest the peak occupation of the newly discovered urban center occurred just prior to the formation of the Purépecha Empire, further indicating that results from the study may yield new clues regarding the empire’s formation.

The settlement may be as large as 5 square kilometers and dates to A.D. 1000-1520. Initial results suggest the peak occupation of the newly discovered urban center occurred just prior to the formation of the Purépecha Empire, further indicating that results from the study may yield new clues regarding the empire’s formation.
“Much of this settlement is similar to a modern-day suburb with hundreds of small house mounds where ordinary families lived and carried out activities. By today’s standards this urban center seems small but by documenting these ruins, my team and I are helping anthropologists identify different aspects of ancient cities,” said Fisher. “The Lake Pátzcuaro Basin was the geopolitical core of the empire with a dense population, centralized settlement systems, engineered environment and a socially stratified society.”
More info:
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Brant Gardner on the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica

One of my favorite Book of Mormon scholars Brant Gardner has recently delivered this lecture on the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. Because it was a fireside inside of a chapel, it could not be recorded. However, my friend Tyler Livingston of FAIR was able to audio record the lecture and post it on FAIR's youtube channel


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Monday, August 25, 2008

"First to Cross the Ocean"

As I was traveling by plane last month from New York City to home on a business trip, the National Geographic program playing in the built-in screen on the head rest in front of me was called "Naked Earth: Prehistoric Americans". If you have access to an archive of this show via your National Geographic subscription, I highly recommend it. Evidence examined in the last 20 years blows out of the water that antiquated and increasingly laughable notion that it was purely by the Bering Strait land bridge that only Asians arrived here and were the sole progenitors of the inhabitants found in 1492 by Columbus.

Another show along the same theme is scheduled to air on Thursday, August 28th. It is called "Naked Science: First to Cross the Ocean". My pet peeve about "establishment science" is that it is, perhaps unintentionally, condescending to ancient humans. It says that they were smart enough to do, think, and create many surprisingly sophisticated things, but not to lash together some logs and float across the ocean on currents. In "Prehistoric Americans", at least three probable routes were proposed for migration between oceans: Bering Strait, kelp "highways" extending along the coasts of the Pacific Rim, and a fishing route following the ice-to-sea interface of an ancient glacier in the North Atlantic.

Mormon scholars are often accused of a priori thinking based on inherent prejudices when forming conclusions about ancient history. It's true. We admit that. It's an inevitable part of human nature. But so-called "mainstream scientists" are no different in that they often fall prey to their own cultural biases.

According to establishment science, ancient humans were either stupid or blind. They were simply too primitive to have an original, inventive thought about anything. They had never seen a log float down a river and thought, "Gee, I wonder if I could sit on that and get from point A to point B a lot faster than walking." or "If I tie my cloak to a stick and spread it out, maybe I can use the wind to go even faster." According to the mainstream textbooks, the wheel didn't exist in America until the Spaniards brought it with them. Apparently, no ancient human living on the American continent had ever seen a rock roll down a hill and thought, "Hmm, if I carved that a bit and put a stick through it, like I do with arrowheads and obsidian clubs, I could wheel this pile of dirt on a platform easier than I can carry it in a basket."

If "First to Cross the Ocean" is as good as "Prehistoric Americans" at summarizing the latest research, I guarantee it will knock your socks off.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Article(s) of the Week: Gardner and Bokovoy Clean House!

I wish to begin a new series here at the blog, which I have called Article(s) of the Week. This new series will begin today and every Sunday (if time and circumstance permits) I wish to post something new. My purpose in doing this is two fold:

1. I wish to share with the reader what I think are some excellent papers on issues surrounding the Book of Mormon

2. I wish to discuss some of themes or ideas presented in the paper(s).

For the inauguration of this new series, I wish to post two essays written by two of my new favorite Book of Mormon scholars; Brant Gardner, Mesoamerican Anthropologist, and David Bokovoy, Biblical/Hebrew scholar. These two essays are reviews of the anti-Mormon video The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon which is a screed produced by Living Hope Ministries. This particular Evangelical anti-Mormon group has also produced another video entitled DNA vs. The Book of Mormon.*

The basic argument of the video runs as follows:

1. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim to be historical texts.
2. The Bible has been proven to be historically trustworthy by archaeology. Therefore, we should accept it as the Word of God.
3. The Book of Mormon has no such archaeological evidence for its behalf, and we therefore should not accept it as the Word of God or historical. 
4. This means that Mormons should therefore abandon Mormonism and convert to fundamentalist Protestantism.

As I watched this video, I was taken aback by the many distortions, misrepresentations and flawed logic that it exhibits. I was further taken aback by the libelous comments of Thomas Murphy against Dan Peterson (at one point in the video he flat out calls Dr. Peterson a liar) and the fact that he and the other participants never really engaged in LDS research on this subject. 

At one point, for example, a prominent Israeli archaeologist commented on how the Book of Mormon has "no authority" at all or does not fit in an ancient Near Eastern background. I was left to wonder if this scholar was familiar with the book Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem edited by J. Welch and D. and J. A. Seely or Lehi in the Desert by H. Nibley. These tomes show powerfully how the Book of Mormon fits nicely in an ancient Near Eastern background.

At another point in the video, a British scholar comments on how the presence of Greek names and words (such as Timothy, Baptism or even Christ) in the Book of Mormon compromises it as an ancient text. However, considering that 1) the presence of Greek names amongst ancient Hebrews from Lehi's time and earlier is well attested** and 2) the Book of Mormon is a translation, which would account for Joseph Smith applying familiar terms such as baptism or Christ to the original word in reformed Egyptian, I was startled that this scholar would claim such. 

One of the major flaws in this video, therefore, is that the scholars interviewed make dogmatic and triumphant judgments without giving any attention to the work of Latter-day Saint scholars. Like the group of Egyptologists gathered by Rev. Spalding in 1912 who blasted the Book of Abraham***, so these scholars make proud and rash assertions without looking at the Latter-day Saint response to such.

There is much more that I could be write on this subject, but I will allow Messers. Bokovoy and Gardner fill in for now. They show the flaws and shortcomings of The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon and why this anti-Mormon propaganda piece fails miserably to take into account the real evidence and the facts. In his review, Gardner demonstrates how this video has failed to handled the data regarding the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology/anthropology while Bokovoy, in his review, shows the poor methodology of the video and its claims regarding Biblical archaeology. 

Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion in the FARMS Review (17/2. 2005. 145-195) by Brant Gardner.

The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon: Still Losing the Battle in the FARMS Review (18/1. 2006. 3-19) by David Bokovoy.

* I have addressed some of the claims in this video in my post on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

** Thanks to Robert Boylan for pointing this information out to me.

*** In 1912, Rev. F Spalding sent the 3 facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, along with Joseph Smith's offered translations, to the top Egyptologists of the western world to test the Prophet. These scholars did little more than pass their hasty opinions and judgments on the matter without looking at all the evidence and data. When pressed by Mormon scholars such as B. H. Roberts, John A. Widtsoe and Janne Sjodahl on areas in which they were wanting, these same Egyptologists responded by simply flashing their PhDs and asserting their rank and academic record. In effect, they glibly waved their credentials without doing a complete analysis of the Mormon arguments or all of the evidence. For an excellent overview of this, the reader is recommended Joseph Smith and the Critics and Joseph Smith and the Sources by Hugh Nibley and the original responses to Rev. Spalding by the Latter-day Saint scholars.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

First mention of suffering Messiah on stone tablet from before 1 A.D.

To anyone who has been told that not one shred of evidence exists that the Jews knew anything about a Messiah who would suffer, die, and be resurrected prior to Christ's birth and ministry, there is now evidence to the contrary literally written on stone.

This has been a favorite argument of anti-Mormons since they began to rail against Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Joseph must have made it all up because the Jews had no concept of a suffering, dying, resurrecting Messiah until after it was taught to them by Christ's disciples in the New Testament from Acts onward. Right?


More debate and study is sure to follow, and not everything on the tablet is legible, but a number of experts are quite certain that this tablet, discovered 10 years ago in the Zurich home of an Israeli-Swiss collector, says, in part:
"In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you."
and that statement is addressed to "Sar hasarin," or prince of princes.

Read more in the article to get the full balance of the scholars' take on this discovery.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Book: Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World

Book of Mormon scholarship under the prominent LDS researchers today has been the mainstay of arguments for a different understanding of pre-Columbian populations in the Americas. At a certain point in recent history, that began to change as new publications, often independently authored, brought to light other theories and evidences that have the potential to change the consensus of typical American Indian studies.

One of those publications is "Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World" by Charles C. Mann. Published in 2005, this book outlines an alternative to previously held conclusions about pre-Columbian American civilizations as well as a new way of viewing the events that followed European contact with the Americas.

Mann is not LDS, which makes his work all that more interesting to me. I find it refreshing to see that we are not the only ones who question the status quo when it comes to ancient American research. There is much more to be discovered that will cast new light on our currently held understanding about ancient American civilizations.