Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cement in Ancient Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon, Cement

Ancient Mesoamericans made a type of “cement” out of limestone. It was then used as a plaster overcoat on top of rubble and stonework. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the book Life in the Ancient Maya World, by Lynn V. Foster, that explains:

“The Maya constructed cities with complexes that could cover many football fields and pyramidal ones that rose to heights of 70 meters (231 feet), yet they built their cities with Stone Age technology. No steel beams supported pyramids or vaults, no metal tools were available to quarry stone or to carve it. Instead, wooden beams, stone, and lime cement were the structural building blocks; rope-and-water abrasion and stone and obsidian tools provided the basic technology of Maya cities. (238)

Lime Plaster and Cement

Limestone was burned under intense heat to make plaster, or stucco, and cement. To make a small pile of plaster (0.9 meters, or 3 feet high), 20 trees had to be felled and burned. Plaster on exterior walls weather poorly, so little is recovered during excavation. There is enough evidence, however, to indicate that some buildings were colored red or cream by the addition of either iron oxide or organic materials to the plaster. Lime cement was used as mortar or fill at many sites, including Palenque and Uxmal. (239)

The following verses in the Book of Mormon refer to cement, and, according to apologists, caused criticism in the past:



Many Nephites migrate to the land northward—They build houses of cement and keep many records—Tens of thousands are converted and baptized—The word of God leads men to salvation—Nephi the son of Helaman fills the judgment seat. Between 49 and 39 B.C.

4 And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers.

5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

Apologists believe that this is a significant “hit” for the Book of Mormon. They claim that cement appeared ‘suddenly’ in ancient Mesoamerica around 100 AD.

“The use of cement appears abruptly in Mesoamerican archaeology around the first century A.D., as, for example, in these cement buildings at Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico. The Book of Mormon states that some Nephite dissenters who moved in a land northward “became exceeding expert in the working of cement” and “built cities of both wood and of cement” beginning in 46 B.C. (Hel. 3:7, 11). Courtesy John W. Welch.”


In reality, the use of limestone cement as a plaster overlay was used long prior to that period, and prior to Teotihuacan’s famous use of it. The only reason the BoM apologists want to connect Teotihuacan to the cited scriptures is due to the noted “lack of trees”. Teotihuacan did, indeed, experience an ecological catastrophe that probably contributed to its demise around 500 AD. However, there are problems with trying to connect this to Helaman.

One – Helaman notes the construction of cement cities as an unusual phenomenon. Yet the use of limestone plaster was in use long before this date. In one of the earliest Mesoameican cities, Nakbe, demonstrated the architectural style:

Complex societies flourished in the Petan region during the Middle to late Formative Period (600/500-300 BC). Monumental architecture was established in Nakbe as early as the 8th century BC. By 750 BC Nakbe had some structures that reached the height of 20 meters (66 feet) high. By 800 BC, Nakbe had grown to extend to over 50 hectars (124 acres). During this time the city replaced its collection of low platforms of rough stones surmounted by wattle-and-daub structures with a number of high platforms and temples covered in plaster.


Two – the BoM has the cause/effect reversed. In Teotihuacan, it was the excessive use of limestone plaster that CAUSED the deforestation, due to the high number of trees needed to produce the prerequisite heat.

Teotihuacan at the Time of the Fall

In dividing up the chronology of Teotihuacan, archaeologists identify the last two periods as being the Xolalpan Phase (A.D. 450-650) during which time the city reached dizzying heights in art, architecture, and cultural influence, and the Metepec Phase (A.D. 650-750), during which time the Empire went into sharp decline before it suddenly and mysteriously combusted.

Scholar G. C. Valliant wrote of the final period of Teotihuacan, that "Teotihuacan was built over hastily with the maximum use of original construction. The abrupt change in figurine styles suggests new gods were being honored. The drain on human resources implicit in such large scale construction, would lead readily to revolt under the strain"20. Villiant was also the first to suggest that the massive deforestation of the surrounding area to produce limestone caused the drying up of streams and erosions of fields, ruining the surrounding farmland.”


Third – as seen in the link above, Teotihuacan actually was at its prime in 450-650 AD. The problematic deforestation occurred past the BoM time period. BoM apologists Brant Gardner attempts to “correct” this problem by asserting that the editor Mormon engaged in “presentism” by inserting information about Teotihuacan from HIS time period into the ancient text, and there is no way the authors of Helaman would have actually known about this area in the first place. This is completely unsupported by the text, and moreover, even this time adjustment does not put the severe deforestation in the right BoM time period.

Mormon and Teotihuacan

People during JS’ period were aware of the astounding discoveries in Central America. The pyramids were receiving press already by that period. In addition, other authors of JS’ time period implied the use of similar materials. An example can be found in the Spalding Manuscript, as noted here:

“28. Some modern building methods were used. MS -- The inside of the walls of the houses of the Ohons "were formed of clay, which was plastered over with a thin coat of lime" The chimney of their fireplaces were built of split timber on the inside "(with wet dirt or clay) of which they plaster, dirt or clay -- which compleatly covers & adheres to the timber & prevents the fire from having any operation upon it." (p. 23) BM -- "And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in which they did dwell." (Helaman 3:7) Cf. also Helaman 3:9, 11. 9

Comment summary on item #28: ** It is probably incorrect to view the structures and building methods of either source as being exclusively "modern." About the only Spalding building element that would be an out-of-place addition to known pre-Columbian homes would be his fireplace with a draft chimney. But this is not found in Book of Mormon structures. The "cement" mentioned in the Book of Mormon may have been similar to Spalding's "plaster," but such building materials were known in the ancient Americas (see also Bown's item #29).

28. Some modern building methods were used. Full comments on item #28: It is probably incorrect to view the structures and building methods of either source as being exclusively "modern." About the only Spalding building element that would be an out-of-place addition to known pre-Columbian homes would be his fireplace with a draft chimney. But this is not found in Book of Mormon structures. Exactly what the Book of Mormon writer meant by the word "cement" is unclear. Presumably he did not mean reinforced concrete construction, but rather the cementing of stones to produce structural walls. Joseph Smith, jr. used the term with this general meaning when he spoke of finding a cemented stone box of Nephite construction. Structures built of cemented stone, plastered over on the outside and roofed with wood, sod, or additional rock work could have been erected by Book of Mormon peoples and Spalding's Ohians with equal ease. The civilized peoples of both accounts appear to have reached about the same level of technology and both would have generally had the same building materials to work with. Bown is thus incorrect in seeing this type of building as being exclusively "modern." Primitive cement can be made from a mixture of ground limestone, sand, clay and a bit of vegetable fiber. Such a material would weather and deteriorate in most climates, leaving little evidence in the
archaeological record.

29. Some of the people built houses of wood. Full comments on item #29: If Bown meant this generality to serve as a parallel, he should have said something similar to my comments given for his item #28. It is a bit unclear whether Book of Mormon peoples built houses of wood and houses of cement, or whether they built some houses exclusively out of wood and others of both wood and cement. Houses like those described by Spalding, built of plastered wood, could easily be essentially the same as structures built both of wood and cement. Perhaps Book of Mormon "cement" was little more than a structurally stronger version of Ohian "plaster." At any rate, pre-Columbian houses of Spalding's exact type have never been uncovered. These fictional structures probably find their closest real equivalents in some of the highland constructions of ancient South America.”


Aside from the Spalding manuscript, the Mound Builders also used plaster, and remnants from this ancient culture were being discovered during Joseph Smith’s time period and area. Here’s one example:

Evidences of the work of these people are found in many of the eastern states and as far south as Tennessee in great abundance. The mounds are numerous along the Mississippi Valley in Iowa, extending from Dubuque at intervals through Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Muscatine, Louisa and other counties. Many of these when opened are found to contain skeletons partially preserved,
with various implements, vessels, pipes and ornaments. One opened near Dubuque disclosed a vault divided into three cells. In the central cell
was found eight skeletons sitting in a circle, while in the centre of the group was a drinking vessel made of a sea shell. The whole chamber was covered with logs preserved in cement.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Comment Section

When I initially decided to do this blog, I did not intend to allow comments. I spent a significant amount of spare time, over the years, debating individual points with believers defending the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It often devolved into a series of hoops that were set for me to jump through - prove this, prove that, cite this, cite that - that had no apparent point. Often the challenges set for me had little to do with the primary point I was trying to make, yet I felt some sort of obligation to provide the requested material. In response, the material was often ignored. I am not willing to allow this blog to devolve into that type of experience. For that reason, the earlier posts on this blog do not allow comments. Since then, I have decided to allow comments with the understanding that I will not allow myself to engage in the pointless banter of the past, but will respond to meaningful questions that are salient to the issue. However, I cannot reformat the earlier posts to allow comments attached to the specific posts. So my solution is this comment section, which is intended to deal with any points I address on this blog or my website, or to alert me to possible errors. Of course, this is a topic that does not generally attract a wide audience, so there may be no comments at all!

Comments will not post until I review them, which will allow me to delete spam or offensive material.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

About Me

First, let me be clear that I have no formal training in anthropology, archaeology, or Mesoamerican studies. I am simply a layperson who became intrigued enough by the ancient Maya to take the time to obtain a certain level of background information regarding that culture in specific, and Mesoamerica in general. I do have a masters degree, but not in this field. I do not intend any reader to simply take my word for any of the assertions I make, which is why I refer so heavily to the texts I have read. Those texts were written by the true experts. My intent is not to present myself as an expert, but simply to refer to their findings through citations and bibliography.

My interest in the topic was piqued due to past conversations with LDS believers about whether or not the Book of Mormon could reasonably be set in Mesoamerica. I realized that I did not have adequate background knowledge to make an informed judgment on that point, so began reading, starting at a basic level with Michael Coe’s The Maya. After that, I was hooked, and eventually accumulated a personal library of over 30 texts devoted either specifically to the Maya, ancient Mesoamerica, or general archaeology. I always enjoyed reading about human evolution as well as religion, and the ancient Maya combined both explorations in one fascinating study. If I could understand, even at a very basic level, such a foreign society, I reasoned, it could help me to understand the core of “what it is to be human” in finding commonalities with the ancient Maya. While there are aspects of their culture that strike modern humans as barbaric, the more I read about their religion and way of life, the more persuaded I was that they were no more barbaric than any human culture, including our own. Yes, they committed human sacrifice, which is horrific, but it was an integral part of their religion and warfare, and had the effect of minimizing the number of deaths social conflicts entail. Our modern warfare results in far higher numbers of casualties. In addition, the Maya royalty were also military leaders, at the forefront of battle, at highest risk to be captured for the purposes of ritual sacrifice. Compare this to our modern political leaders, who sit behind comfortable desks making decisions that endanger the lives of thousands without the slightest risk to self. I am certainly not justifying the Maya practice of human sacrifice, but rather trying to put their “barbarity” into perspective as compared to our own.

While I spent several years obsessed with the ancient Maya and Mesoamerica, in the past year I have felt that I reached my goal of basic understanding, and have moved back towards my primary interest, human evolution in general, in particular combined with religious expression. For this reason, I intend to be somewhat restrictive in regards to how much time I will continue to invest in this personal interest.

Once having obtained a certain basic understanding of the ancient Maya, I combined this with my understanding of the Book of Mormon, which was based on reading that particular text at least once a year during the years I remained an active, believing Mormon. In addition, I have a pretty good familiarity with the current apologetic arguments defending the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon. I converted to the Mormon church at the age of 19, along with my parents and sisters, graduated from BYU, served a mission, married in the temple, had three children that I proceeded to raise as active, believing Mormons. However, after well over a decade of being an active, devout believer, I began to gradually discover the “other” side of Mormon history, initially through reading Mormon Enigma, Emma Hale Smith. Through the next several years, I obsessively read whatever I could find about early church history, and gradually lost all faith in that religion. I moved back towards my childhood roots in the Protestant faith, but the skeptical habit I had acquired while analyzing my cherished LDS beliefs was not easily discarded, nor did I want to discard it. The painful, humiliating experience of losing faith in a church I once viewed as “the only true church on the face of the earth” convinced me to remain willing to question my beliefs, no matter how basic. I eventually lost all belief in any godbeing. Today I consider myself an agnostic atheist. I am agnostic in that I do not believe it is possible to know, one way or the other, whether or not any godbeing exists, since that godbeing, by normal definition, exists outside human dimensions or comprehension, and I am atheist in that I lack belief in any godbeing.

On a personal level, I obtained a much-needed divorce shortly after leaving the LDS church. My divorce had nothing to do with my loss of faith in the LDS church. I have raised my children outside any faith, and their beliefs vary from vague theism to atheism. They have grown into delightful, intelligent young adults. I have been involved for over ten years with a man I view as my soulmate, although obviously I understand that term in a different way than LDS or other believers would. He is a fellow exmormon atheist, and while we lived most of our lives on separate sides of the American continent, it seems our lives were practically designed to bring us together one day.

Losing my faith in the LDS church was one of the most traumatic events of my life, and during that painful process, I was very grateful towards other exmormons who took the time to reach out, through the written word, to share information, experiences, and feelings with me. I desperately needed their community. The effort I have put into making this information about the Book of Mormon and ancient Mesoamerica is my way of repaying that community.

Translation of the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon,Translation

Part of the strength of Book of Mormon apologetics depends upon carefully qualifying how the Book of Mormon was translated. The traditional view of the translation process is that Joseph Smith concentrated on the text written on the gold plates, and the power of God somehow told him what those words meant. However, contemporary evidence demonstrates that Joseph Smith was not using the actual plates during the translation process at all, and, instead, was usually looking at his seer stone (the same stone that had formerly been the peep stone he used to find buried treasure) in the bottom of a hat. In addition, apologists have other ideas that contradict the idea of God directly provided exact words to Joseph Smith.

What is the contemporary evidence for how Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Mormon?

Polities and Power in the Book of Mormon and Ancient Mesoamerica

Book of Mormon, City, PowerArtist's rendition of the ancient Mesoamerican polity El Mirador

While the Book of Mormon may primarily be a religious text, it does offer quite a bit of background information about the type of civilizations that the Lehites created. This information can be utilized for comparative purposes to ancient Mesoamerica. We can ascertain very basic elements of this civilization such as social complexity, political power, and type of warfare, to name just a few. So how well does the civilization described in the Book of Mormon correlate to ancient Mesoamerica?

Read more:

What Mesoamerican polities could qualify as the "City of Nephi"?

What kind of class division existed in ancient Mesoamerica, as compared to the Book of Mormon?

How do the endtimes described in the Book of Mormon correlate with the timeline from ancient Mesoamerica?

How does the extended political control described in the Book of Mormon correlate with ancient Mesoamerican polities?

How well does the story of the land of Jershon correlate with ancient Mesoamerica?

How well does the description of Lamanite warfare correlate with ancient Mesoamerica?

Can one infer the existence of pre-existent "others" in the Book of Mormon?

How well does the description of war provisions in the Book of Mormon correlate with ancient Mesoamerican practices?

How well does the social complexity described in the Book of Mormon correlate with ancient Mesoamerica?

How well do the armies described in the Book of Mormon correlate with warfare practices of ancient Mesoamerica?

Does the territorial expansion described in the Book of Mormon correlate with ancient Mesoamerica?

How well does the destruction described in the Book of Mormon at the time of the death of Christ correlate with ancient Mesoamerican history?

How well does the warfare described in the Book of Mormon correlate with the warfare practices of ancient Mesoamerica?

What ancient Mesoamerican polities could qualify as "Zarahemla"?

To read more, please visit:
Polities and Power

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Holy Lords - Religion and Politics in Ancient Mesoamerica

Book of Mormon, Kingship, Kings Lady Xoc Bloodletting

Politics in ancient Mesoamerica was completely enmeshed within the pan-Mesoamerican religious world-view. Kings were religious leaders who participated in sacred rituals, including human sacrifice and bloodletting. The most powerful polities heavily influenced other, less powerful polities. Where would Book of Mormon polities fit into this world?

Read more:

How important were ancestors and lineage to the ancient Mesoamericans?

What was the animal spirit companion of royals in ancient Mesoamerica?

What was the significance of the ballgame in ancient Mesoamerica?

What was royal bloodletting in ancient Mesoamerica?

What kind of polity would the City of Nephi be?

What social differences existed in ancient Mesoamerica and how did the culture deal with this issue?

Who were the early Olmec?

What kind of political power did ancient Mesoamerica polities possess?

How would the Jaredites have fit into ancient Mesoamerica?

How would a Judeo-Christian culture have fit into ancient Mesoamerica?

What did ancient Mesoamerican kings do?

What kind of luxury items did ancient Mesoamerica have?

Did ancient Mesoamerican polities imitate more powerful polities?

What was ancient Mesoamerican mythology?

What about John Sorenson's claims about ancient Jaredites?

How would Zarahemla fit into ancient Mesoamerica?

Metallurgy in the Book of Mormon and Ancient Mesoamerica

mesoamerica, book of mormon, archaeology, ancient america, mormons, metallurgy and the book of mormon, metal working, was there metal in ancient america
The Book of Mormon contains many references to either the process of metallurgy or to items that were created through the metallurgic process. Yet there is no archaeological evidence that ancient Mesoamericans possessed the skill of metallurgy during the Book of Mormon time period.

Read more:

Is the "absence of evidence" really evidence of absence?

What metal artifacts have been discovered in ancient Mesoamerica?

Could the "swords" in the Book of Mormon really be an atlatl or macuahuitl?

What verses in the Book of Mormon explicitly refer to the process of metallurgy?

What were the breastplates and armor described in the Book of Mormon?

What is the difference between simple metalworking and metallurgy?

Does the Book of Mormon's references to gold correlate with the use of gold in ancient Mesoamerica?

What did early church members like Oliver Cowdery "see" in Hill Cumorah?

What is the general history of metallurgy, and how can we detect it in ancient cultures?

What kind of heat is required for metallurgy?

Is there linguistic evidence in ancient Mesoamerica for metallurgy?

How are metal swords described in the Book of Mormon?

Did ancient Mesoamericans use simple metalworking or metallurgy?

What metal Nephite artifacts did early church members see?

Can we detect the presence of any process or technology in ancient Mesoamerica?

Do the precious metals described in the Book of Mormon correlate with precious metals from ancient Mesoamerica during the specified time period?

What evidence is there for smelting in the New World?

What about John Sorenson's claims that there is archaeological evidence for metallurgy in ancient Mesoamerica during the Book of Mormon time period?

What tools did the ancient Mesoamericans use?

To read more about metallurgy and the Book of Mormon, please read:
Mormon Mesoamerica

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book of Mormon and Ancient Horses

book of mormon, ancient america, mormon, horses, archaeology, archeology, horses and the book of mormon, mesoamerica,

The following Book of Mormon scriptures are those that reference horses:

1 Ne. 18:25 And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men. And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.

2 Ne. 12:7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.

2 Ne. 15:28 Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

Enos 1:21 And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.

Alma 18:9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.

Alma 18:10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

Alma 18:12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.

Alma 20:6 Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.

3 Ne. 3:22 And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.

3 Ne. 4:4 Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.

For reference, the following scriptures are those discussing horses in the Book of Mormon:

3 Ne. 6:1 And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.

3 Ne. 21:14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;

Ether 9:19 And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.

To read more on Horses and the Book of Mormon, please read: Mormon Mesoamerica