This Idea:
The "This Land" Series and the U.S.-Centric Reading of the Book of Mormon

Review of Edwin G. Goble and Wayne N. May. This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation.
Colfax, WI: Ancient American Archaeology, 2002. ix+ 218 pp., with bibliography and maps. $21.95.

Review of Wayne N. May. This
Land: Only One Cumorah!
Colfax, WI:
Ancient American Archaeology, 2004. ix + 225 pp., with
bibliography and maps. $21.95.

Review of Wayne N. May. This
Land: They Came from the East.
Colfax, WI: Ancient Ameri­can
Archaeology, 2005. [xi] + 225 pp., with bibliography and
maps. $21.95.

This Idea: The “This Land” Series and the U.S.-Centric Reading of the Book of Mormon

Reviewed by Brant A. Gardner

The Book of Mormon was first published in Palmyra, New York.
It was published in a young and growing country, only a scant generation removed
from the violent throes of its birth and a nation struggling to define itself
politically, geographically, and, in many ways, religiously. Those subcurrents carried the early readers of the Book of
Mormon. For those who accepted it, it became a symbol of their personal
redefinition as no longer Methodist, Baptist, or seekers. They were rather
those who accepted that the God of old was present again and that the ancient
blessing of a prophet had also become present again in the person of the man
who translated the golden plates into the miraculous text of the Book of

It didn’t take long for those early believers to extrapolate
their wonder in the Book of Mormon to their own position in a new nation and
even newer community. The very understandable reading of the Book of Mormon was
that it was about them. The Book of Mormon world was their world, not only religiously, but geographically. Nevertheless, various opinions
about where the Book of Mormon occurred developed relatively early. It is important
to remember in our discussions of geography and the
Book of Mormon that this has been left in the hands of the researchers and is
not a matter of official church doctrine or definition. There were sufficient
differences of opinion that George Q. Cannon felt it important to address the
issue in 1890. Cannon knew Joseph Smith; in fact he was living with his uncle
John Taylor during the terrible time when Taylor accompanied Joseph and Hyrum
to Liberty jail.[1] He worked with his uncle at the Times and Seasons and was
certainly in a position to know whether there was an established geography.
Later, as a member of the First Presidency, he noted:

The First Presidency have often been asked to prepare some
suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but
have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve
Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further
information they are not prepared to even to suggest. The word of the Lord or
the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points
now obscure. . . . Of course, there can be no harm result
from the study of the geography of this continent at the time it was settled by
the Nephites, drawing all the information possible
from the record which has been translated for our
benefit. But beyond this we do not think it necessary, at the present time, to

The earliest associations between the Book of Mormon and a
real-world setting were made between the land the early Saints knew and the
land described in the new book. Because the plates had been retrieved from a
hill in New York, that hill was called Cumorah,
though it appears to have required ten to twenty years for the Saints to settle
on that name for the location.[3] Once so named, however, it became even more important and merged in the minds
of the Saints with the text of the Book of Mormon to become, in popular
thought, the very hill at which the final battle between the Lamanites and Nephites took
place. Oliver Cowdery himself described the hill in
1835 and noted specifically that it was the place where “once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations.”[4]

The confluence of name, place, and familiarity virtually
assured that early Saints would look to western New York as the scene of the
last battle and use the archaeology of the area as a support. With such a
tradition behind it, it might seem surprising that there would still be books
published strenuously arguing for the New York hill to be the Cumorah. One might expect it to be an accepted fact.
Nevertheless, the location of the Book of Mormon’s Cumorah has become a controversial issue following the publication and wide scholarly acceptance
of the “Limited Geography Theory” of Book of Mormon lands, which
places all of the events in Central America, including the destructions of the Nephites and Jaredites at Cumorah (which hill was called Ramah by the Jaredites).[5] This newer geographic correlation is sometimes called the “two Cumorahs” theory in contrast with the “one Cumorah” of older and more traditional geographic

One Cumorah Theory

Wayne N. May, founder of Ancient American magazine, has published
(under the impress of his Ancient American Archaeological Foundation) three
books adamantly supporting a “one Cumorah”
correlation, as well as a particular geographic and cultural connection to the
Book of Mormon. He has published a series of three books bearing the phrase “This
Land” as part of the title.[7] Of the three, only the first deals with the arguments for a specific geography.
The other two volumes concentrate on descriptions of artifacts that are used to
support the basic geographic correlation found in the first volume.

The first volume, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation, lists two authors,
Edwin G. Goble and Wayne N. May. In this collaboration, Goble generally
provided the geographic arguments and May the artifactual material.[8] The geography described in this volume has the New York hill as the final Cumorah/Ramah of the Book of Mormon. Goble therefore
locates most of the Book of Mormon lands along the Mississippi, which he considers
to be the Book of Mormon Sidon.[9] This allows the Nephite homeland to be heavily in
Ohio and to be correlated with the Hopewell culture, the “mound builders” who occupied that land during Book of Mormon times.
Because we know that these theories are the products of mortal speculation
rather than divine revelation, we must use the tools of scholarship to examine
them and determine whether or not a particular geographic and cultural
correlation could possibly represent the place and culture behind the Book of

The claim that the Nephites can be
seen in the remains of the Hopewell culture and the Jaredites in the earlier Adena has problems, I believe, from
the perspectives of both geography and archaeology. The problems in the geography
on which Wayne May hangs his artifacts are numerous.
Perhaps the most significant problem is that the Mississippi flows south but
the Sidon must flow north. The city of Manti is south of Zarahemla and is close to “the head of the river Sidon” (Alma 22:27). That the
phrase head
of the river
should be taken for the headwaters rather than some
other definition that might allow for the river to flow south is confirmed when
we find that when Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the flight of a Lamanite attack party, he tells Zoram that “the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon
in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti”
(Alma 16:6). The Book of Mormon uses the terms up and down in ways that are consistent with topography and may be used to envision the
general lay of the land. John L. Sorenson uses this information to describe the
reasons why a north-flowing Sidon is most consistent with the Book of Mormon

We have more
information about the surface features of the land than a casual reading of the
scriptures might imply. The recordkeepers consistently wrote about going “up,” “down,” or “over.”
(Some readers have maintained that these expressions reflect mere cultural
conventions, like the Yankee expression “down South.” But in many
cases, the scripture connects the words to clear, consistent topographic circumstances;
I see no reason not to take the prepositions literally.) This information
allows us to draw a neat picture of relative elevations.

A dominant feature is the major river, the Sidon, which
flowed down out of the mountains that separated the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. This river ran “by” the local land of Zarahemla, which lay mainly on the stream’s west (Alma
2:15). The only populated part of Nephite lands
surely on the east of the river is the valley of Gideon (Alma 6:7). Since
travelers had to go “up” to Gideon, and since there was a “hill Amnihu” just across the river from the city of Zarahemla extensive but gentle enough to accommodate a
large battle, the Sidon basin must have slanted up more sharply on the east
side than on the west. We also know that the river must have been fairly long.
Its origin was deep in the wilderness above the highest Nephite city on the river, Manti (Alma 16:6). Zarahemla was

A second difficulty for the authors’ argument arises in Helaman 3:3–7:

And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was
much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly
great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla,
and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land. And they did travel
to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of
water and many rivers. 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. 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. 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.

These verses set up some very specific geographic
requirements that intersect with archaeology. The location of this land must be
“an exceedingly great distance” north of the Nephite lands. It must have “many waters” and have been “rendered
desolate and without timber”[11] by its “many inhabitants,” who could no longer use timber to build
and therefore “did build houses of cement.” If the Hopewell culture
in Ohio is to represent the Nephites, then this important
geographic feature must be farther north. There is simply nothing north of Ohio
that fits any of these requirements save the “many waters.” The Great
Lakes are clearly candidates for “many waters,” but during Book of
Mormon times, there were no great cities, no deforestation, and certainly no
houses of cement as dwelling places in that area.

The Michigan Artifacts

Other geographic problems might be brought up, but perhaps
it is sufficient to note that Goble, author of the geographic correlation upon
which these books are based, has concluded that the geography is incorrect and
has revised his position. One of the strongest elements of the original
argument, and one continued by May, is that the proposed
Sidon-equals-Mississippi argument has the support of “prophetic
statements.”[12] For example, a letter from Joseph Smith to Emma in 1834 during Zion’s March
from Ohio to Missouri suggested that they were crossing “the lands of the Nephites, viewing mounds and lands of the once beloved
people of the Lord.”[13] Goble points out that if we are really to build a geography based on “prophetic
statements,” this cannot be the land southward that the Mississippi correlation
requires: “A North American geography is impossible because of Joseph
Smith’s own clear statement in the Levi Hancock Journal about the Land of
Desolation being in the very place that [May’s] claim (and formerly mine) that
the Land of Zarahemla was.”[14]

Both for reasons of changing his opinion of geography and specifically
to distance his ideas from some of the controversial artifacts Wayne May promotes
as evidence of the Book of Mormon, Goble has requested that I present his
position, which I do without editing:

I would very much appreciate if you could include this
retraction, including my current beliefs and my intent to divest myself further
of anything else that turns out to be untrue. I only want to get to the
truth of the matter:

Just for the record, I was involved in writing This Land,
volume 1 only, and my association with May ended in 2002, after may got upset
with me for my first retraction that I made of what I wrote about the Michigan
Artifacts and Burrows Cave Artifacts that appeared in Brant Gardner’s first
is responsible for the volume 2 and 3 of the This Land series
entirely.And now it appears that Rod Meldrum is carrying on the torch
with a similar geography,[16] although I have never had association with Mr. Meldrum.Mr. May is an
advocate of artifacts that are questionable.I don’t believe they are
real, so I am retracting everything I wrote about those artifacts.I am
also retracting some of the theories presented in This Land, Volume One.I
now believe that the Narrow Neck of Land and the Land of Zarahemla in Mesoamerica.However, at this time, I still disagree with Mesoamerican
advocates that Cumorah is down in Mesoamerica.I
have always been wanting to know the truth.And
if something is not true, then obviously I want to know what the truth is, and
let go of that which is not. I will be publishing an article taking the Cumorah controversy to a new level, tentatively named “Resurrecting Cumorah.” It will go head on, rebutting David
Palmer’s Criteria for Cumorah in the book In Search
of Cumorah, as well as the other writings on the
subject of Cumorah, such as those done by John Clark
in his reviews. I’ve been working on this article for some years.And so,
I’m inviting all good scholars out there to have at it, and to either convert
me to the Mesoamerican theory for Cumorah once and
for all, or to admit my new argument real plausibility.[17]

The artifacts that Goble refers to are known collectively as
the “Michigan artifacts.” They figure prominently in This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation and are the subject of two chapters in This Land: They
Came from the East.
The history of the Michigan artifacts is
somewhat difficult to trace, as the readily available literature comes from
their apologists. A basic beginning point is noted by Fred Rydholm:

The “Michigan Tablets” tale begins around 1885,
in Big Rapids, where James O. Scotford, one-time
sleight-of-hand performer turned sign-painter, was displaying an almost
clairvoyant ability to discover Indian artifacts in prehistoric mounds.

He sold Indian “relics” (some of them
authentic), and was assisted by a Mr. Soper. No one
was suspicious until 1890, when Soper was elected
Michigan’s Secretary of State, not a very important job in those days. He got
into trouble accepting kickbacks, and was promptly fired by Governor Edwin B. Winans, in 1891.

Soper dropped out of sight until
1907, when he re-appeared in Detroit, living near Scotford.
At that time, he was selling rare Indian artifacts to collectors in Michigan,
Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Canada. He offered hundreds of
objects—copper weapons, ornaments and all kinds of copper implements as
well as clay pipes and bowls which he claimed had been unearthed by Scotford in Isabella County, near Big Rapids, at sites
within three miles of Lansing, even in back of Palmer Park.[18]

The version from This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation provides the basics
without the more interesting aspects of the backgrounds of the principal

Public awareness of the Michigan Mounds Artifacts began in
1874, in Crystal, Michigan, where a farmer, clearing some land, uncovered the
large replica of a shuttle ground black slate and highly polished. One surface
displayed the incised drawing of a man’s head wearing a helmet and the obverse
showed two lines of writing; a group of cuneiform and
a line of an unknown script. Over that 19th Century summer, more
pieces were found in the surrounding countryside, including a copper dagger, a
clay box, and some slate tablets, each item showing an unknown grouping of
script but each one bearing on it the grouping of cuneiform, the same as that
on the slate shuttle. (pp. 21–22)

The most spectacular of the artifacts were those that
included an apparently complex writing system and artistic representation of
clearly late Christian themes. All of them also bore five markings that appear
similar to the stylus used to impress cuneiform into clay (some appear on clay,
but even on slate the markings are etched to resemble the result of the
stylus), which to modern eyes might look like a two- dimensional picture of a
thin golf tee. The five markings form three “letters.” The first is
vertical, the next three form an “H” and the last is slanted (as the
slash mark: /). They form a set that some have seen as, and transliterated as, “JHS”
(IH/), a not unintentional (in my opinion) connection to Jesus Christ.

The “discovered” artifacts were disputed from the
beginning: “When the University of Michigan was given an opportunity to
buy two caskets, a prehistoric beer mug, a bowl, three goblets and some copper
coins at $1,000 and refused, the items were offered at $100, and when the
University declined, Soper left them in Ann Arbor.”[19] Nevertheless, they did acquire some notoriety, and at least one scholar
provided a translation of one of the texts. John Campbell, a philologist, was
sent photographs of some of the artifacts. He noted:

On a careful examination of the workable material before me,
I saw that I had to deal with something that was only new in the matter of
grouping, in other words, with the old Turanian syllabary. This syllabary I was
led into acquaintance with through Hittite studies, and, having mastered its
various forms and their phonetic equivalents, I have published many
decipherments of inscriptions made in its protean characters.[20]

The Association accepted my explanation, and Japanese and
Basque scholars favour my translations, in the east
of the Lat Indian and Siberian inscriptions, and in the west of the Etruscan,
Celt-Iberian, and similar documents. Unfortunately, among philological ethnologists
there are few Basque and Japanese scholars.[21]

It was perhaps fortunate
for Campbell that there were so few Basque and Japanese philological
ethnologists. When Alex Chamberlain, a linguist, examined one of Campbell’s
translations of a different language, with which he was familiar, he found that
“careful study during some nine years of a greater mass of Kootenay
linguistic material than is in the possession of any other philologist entitles
him [the writer] to an opinion on the questions involved in Professor Campbell’s
comparisons, which, as presented in this paper, violate the known rules of the
phonology, morphology and syntax of all the languages concerned.”[22]

Campbell’s translation and Chamberlain’s repudiation of his
ability as a linguist perhaps become the microcosm of the continuing
controversy over the entire set of artifacts. They still have their adherents
who, like Campbell, come up with reasons to accept them. They still have
scholars who, like the curators of the University of Michigan, find them to be
fabrications. The issue has become one of fierce amateur advocacy against
universal scholarly dismissal.

Wayne May is certainly aware of the controversy concerning
the Michigan artifacts, though just as clearly dismisses contrary evidence. In This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation,
he notes (apparently using some caution Goble encouraged):

We are quite careful in the way we treat controversial artifacts.
The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies makes mention from James E. Talmage’s journal the story about the step-daughter of Scotford (the discoverer of some of the Michigan relics),
who stated that he had fraudulently manufactured many of the relics. They call
this “critical evidence”. The fact is either the girl fabricating the
story, or she was telling the truth. It can go one way or the other, especially
if she had something against him. In our own families, we have seen false accusations
made, and it is certainly not out of the question.[23]

Although the confession of the daughter-in-law might not be
sufficient by itself, May’s suggestion that she was fabricating the story doesn’t
seem to fit with a similar story from a different person (published in Wayne
May’s Ancient

Perhaps it was Granny Mary Robson who really gave the “Dawn
Race of Caucasians” [a tabloid name for the putative people behind the
Michigan artifacts] their quietus. She told The News on September 6th that one winter she had a room at 313 ½ Michigan, next to the one occupied
by Percy Scotford and his brother, Charles, age 21.

She said “Hammering went on
day and night.” She went to the boys’ room to borrow something and “they
warned me out.” Then they relented and told her that she was in Detroit’s
ancient relic factory.

Next day, Charles denied this and said that Percy had hypnotized
Granny Robson using skills gained in a correspondence course. “Never
hypnotized me in their lives,” said Granny firmly.[24]

J. Golden Barton and Wayne May had this to say of the responses
to the Michigan artifacts:

The so-called “men of letters” in America’s
contemporary scientific community condemned Soper and
Savage as conspirators of an archeological hoax. For every published report
even mildly in favor of the two hapless investigators, some university-trained
scholars would issue a charge of fraud. So unrelenting was the official campaign
of academic hysteria that anyone even remotely associated with the Michigan artifacts
distanced themselves from the bitter controversy.
Eventually, any discussion of the artifacts’ possible genuineness was no longer
considered. And over the decades, the Michigan Tablets fell into almost complete

Today, however, they are being re-examined in the new light
of unprejudiced investigation. Many collections private and public are being
photographed and catalogued for the first time. Their illustrated texts have
been preserved for present and future researchers into the lost history of
North America.[25]

The battle lines have thus been drawn between scholars and ardent
amateurs, with the implication of some cabal on behalf of the scholars that requires
them to dismiss what the amateurs are finding to be more convincing. This is
behind the plea in This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation: “We have shown things are
controversial and have not been redeemed by science yet. We recognize that
these cannot be regarded as ‘evidence’ yet. In spite of that, these artifacts
still demand further research and cannot be dismissed out of hand, as they have
a high probability of being real. Just test them is all we ask.”[26]

Unfortunately for his
association with May, Goble was unaware that such testing had already been
done. Goble read a note in the Journal of Book of
Mormon Studies
about the BYU Studies article, not
the original. This means that he, and probably May, had not read the full
article that indicated that Talmage had sent samples
of one of the artifacts that he participated in retrieving for scientific
analysis, and the results were that it was factory-smelted copper, hardly the
type of material that could have been used by an ancient preindustrial population.[27]

More importantly, whoever
entered the information about James Talmage (and I
presume it would have been May) neglected to mention the next article in the
very same issue of BYU Studies: precisely the modern scientific examination of
the artifacts, just as May requested be done. The results were certainly
nothing May wanted to reproduce.

Richard B. Stamps ran several types of examinations on
multiple examples of the Michigan artifacts. When examining the clay artifacts,
he found that the type of clay and temper was not representative of that found
in Michigan. In addition, several of the clay pieces have the “IH/”
symbol on one side and marks of saw-cut wood on the other. As Stamps notes, “Because
modern tools leave modern marks, it is logical, with these additional examples,
to agree with Kelsey and Spooner that the clay artifacts having the ‘IH/’
symbol on one side and historic period woodprints on the other date to the
historic period.”[28]

Further evidence of the impossibility of the clay objects’
antiquity is that they dissolve in water and thus could not have survived in
Michigan ground

with its rainy springs, humid
summers, and cold, snowy winters. The winter frost action, combined with the
day thaw–night freeze sequence in early spring destroys low-fired prehistoric
ceramics from the Woodland period. Water penetrates the porous pottery and,
when the temperature drops low enough, it freezes, forming crystals that split
the pottery. Many of the unfired Michigan Relic clay pieces have survived for
more than one hundred years only because they have been stored in museums or
collectors’ cabinets, protected from the harsh Michigan weather. If placed in
the ground, they would not survive ten let alone hundreds of years.[29]

Stamps also examined some of the copper pieces, yielding the
same microscopical conclusion as the report to Talmage. The pieces are modern smelted copper.[30] In addition:

In cross-section, I observed that the temperature difference
on the surface differs slightly from the temperature at the center. This difference
is another evidence that the piece was made from smelted ingots that had been
hot-rolled. Additionally, the piece I studied was too flat to have been built
up by the cold-hammer, folding, laminating process that we see in Native
American artifacts. This piece clearly has no folds or forging laps. It is also
extremely regular in thickness, with a range of .187 to .192 inches. A
measurement of .1875 equals 3/16 of an inch—a Standard English unit of
measurement and common thickness for commercially produced rolled stock. Even
the edges have been peaned (hammered to remove the
straight edges), the sides are parallel, and the corners are right angles. The
cross-section is rectangular, whereas most traditional pieces are diamond
shaped with a strong ridge running down the center of the blade or point. The
blank piece of copper from which this artifact was made appears to have been
cut from a larger piece with a guillotine-style table shear or bench shear.[31]

Stamps notes that criticism of the metal artifacts early on
centered on the need for files and chisels to produce the artifacts, tools not
in evidence in prehistoric North America. After the criticisms were leveled,
exactly such artifacts were produced. Stamps examined a “file” and
some “chisels.” He notes that the “file” is “something
that looks like a file but has no cutting capability.”[32] Similarly,
the “chisels” have the mushroomed-out end that one expects of a
chisel that has been hit with a hammer, but the chisel end itself could not
cut, and shows no sign of the wear that would have caused the mushrooming of
the blunt end of the “chisel.”[33]

Many of the artifacts are on slate. Talmage had earlier seen clear evidence of modern saw cuts on a slate artifact, an
observation Stamps confirms.[34] Michigan does not have slate quarries, but there was a large business importing
slate roofing tiles during the appearance of the Michigan relics. Many of the “relics”
clearly demonstrate the markings of commercially cut and milled slate.[35] On this point, May is clearly aware of the problem and provides the following “solution”:

The black slate which is very common in
the collections comes in all sizes. Some items are thin; others are
quite uniformly thick. The claim was made that ancient men could not have
produced such uniformity of surface to leave their history upon. And secondly,
the slate must have been cast-offs from the printing industry or slate roofers
in the state who both get their slate from New York or the Carolinas. The slate
does indeed come from Michigan. The ancient open-pit mine is located at Baraga,
Michigan. I have been there and by reaching in with little effort, broken off
pieces of black slate that were uniformly even and smooth as glass. The shaping
of the tablet would have to be cut by some means. The saw marks that show up on
the tablets are claimed to be modern cuts, yet we find hardened copper saws all
over the ancient world and here in the Michigan collection too.[36]

Of course, May neglects to mention that the slate originates
from the Upper Peninsula, not close to where the slate was found in southern
Michigan. The task of importing the slate from the Upper Peninsula to southern
Michigan would be just as arduous as importing it from states farther east. It
is interesting, of course, to note that May’s defense of the saw marks refers
to other places in the world. The only place we find the “saws” is in
the Michigan artifact collection itself, and Stamps tells us that the tools
that were “discovered” right after their incongruity was noted, have
never done any work, nor could they. Using a forged collection to prove that it
is not a forgery is a fascinating piece of logic.

Nevertheless, in May’s argument, it is still the scholars
who dismiss the artifacts without sufficient consideration: “They dogmatically
reject the Michigan Relics based on an extremely flawed methodology. A careful
examination of that article reveals that FARMS scholars continue to dismiss the
Michigan Relics based not on any evidence, but on the claims, allegations and
hearsay of the people that dismissed the tablets in the first place almost 100
years ago.”[37]

May has since learned that the evidence for forgery is so
strong that even he cannot deny it. The newer approach is slightly different:

Did the Scotford brothers make
some fake artifacts? Somebody did. All the men I have visited who have seen the
collection in Salt Lake City or now in Lansing, Michigan, agree there are fakes
in the collection. The Scotfords may or may not have
been forgers, but someone surely was. However, just as courts of law require
two or more witnesses to convict or identify the accused, so we have witnesses
who have testified on behalf of some of the Michigan relics. Thanks to Rudolf Etzenhouser, we have signed testimonials by several witnesses
as to the discovery and disclosure of such artifacts.[38]

It is really not surprising that there were witnesses to the
“discovery.” This was nothing new. When James E. Talmage went to see Soper and Father Savage, he was taken to
a site where an artifact was successfully found. Thus Talmage himself could witness that the discovery had been found, just as the testimonials
May cites indicate. Nevertheless, the test isn’t in the discovery (though modern
archaeologists would consider it the highest of luck to be able to dig and find
on demand precisely what they were looking for), but in the artifacts
themselves. It is on that point that May appears to be deliberately blind. The
scientific studies have been done. Stamps’s examination
is devastating. Every artifact examined bore marks of modern manufacture. May
might call for further scientific study, but he is apparently prepared to find
a way around it, were it to be presented. We are left with the question of why
May would continue to believe that some artifacts might be authentic when every expert he has consulted calls them forgeries and every piece that has undergone
testing is clearly a forgery. If every expert and all scientific analysis show
them to be forgeries, which specific pieces are so different that they might be
the only authentically ancient ones?

Perhaps even more telling is the story of the artifacts that
May does not relate. As part of his conclusions on the artifacts, Stamps
provides the following information about the discovery of these artifacts:

The finds appeared only when Scotford or Soper were on the scene. Gillman, who worked
extensively in southeastern Michigan, reports that none were found before 1890.
From 1890 to 1920, they were found only by Scotford, Soper, or family and
associates. The Michigan Relic phenomenon follows Scotford in time and space. After Scotford’s death and Soper’s retirement to Chattanooga, Tennessee, no new examples
were dug up. Al Spooner, long-time member of the Michigan Archaeological
society who as a youth dug with Soper; John O’Shay of the Anthropology Museum at the University of
Michigan; and John Halsey, state archaeologist of Michigan, all concur that no
new finds have been reported since the 1920s. Halsey’s office has documented
some ten thousand prehistoric sites in Michigan. None of them have produced
Michigan Relics.[39]

The insistence on using the Michigan Relics as evidence for
Book of Mormon peoples in Michigan (though, of course, not Ohio, where his geography
indicates they should have been) is indicative of the difference between the
way May handles artifactual evidence and the way
scholars do. It is not a question of whether there are “gee-whiz”
appearances, but whether an actual case can be made to associate the artifact
with the argument.

It is at this point that the discipline of the scholars must
come into play again. In order for any geography to elucidate the Book of
Mormon, it must meet a complex set of rigorous conditions. If we have the
correct geographic correlation, the cultural data will also fit. If we have an
otherwise plausible geography but the cultural data do not correspond to what
we find in the text, then we likely have the wrong geography. On this level, as
well as that of the geography, the Cumorah/Mississippi
correlation cannot be the correct real-world setting behind the Book of Mormon.

Just as the Mississippi flows in the wrong direction for May’s
geography to work, the cultural information about population movements doesn’t
fit textual descriptions. The most important textual data that contradicts the
Mississippian correlation to the Book of Mormon comes from the relationship of
the Nephites to the Jaredites.
The Nephites are never in direct contact with the living Jaredites. The people of Zarahemla were in contact with Coriantumr in approximately 200 bc, but that was before the Nephites had arrived in the land of Zarahemla (see Omni 1:18–21). The text requires that the Jaredites live north of the narrow neck of land and not have any inheritance in the lands
south of the narrow neck (see all references to the land of Desolation, or the
land of the Nephites).[40]

The Hopewell tradition along the Mississippi that May
equates with the Nephites is certainly in the area in
approximately the right time, though the beginning date is usually given around
200 bc rather than 600 bc.[41] The real
problem is the correlation May makes of the earlier culture, the Adena, with the Jaredites.[42] Most problematic is that the Adena lived in the same
area as the Hopewell tradition.[43] Not only are they not north of the narrow neck, but they are also not physically separated in space (nor perhaps in time) from the
later Hopewell tradition. Those facts completely disqualify the Adena as possible Jaredites. When
combined with the requirements of finding large cities north of the narrow
neck, and particularly the land northward where the lack of trees created the
need to build with cement, both the geography and the archaeological
information of the Mississippi correlation fail to fit the Book of Mormon

The lack of an official answer to where the Book of Mormon
took place requires that we must use our best understanding of the text in our
search for an answer. Multiple answers have been given, some better than
others. How should we judge any given geography? We must use the text as a
guide. Any theory that violates what the text tells us also disagrees with
those who really did know where the Book of Mormon took place—those who
wrote the text.

In the case of the
proposals Wayne May argues in his trilogy of books, the correlations fail
significantly to pass important tests. The geography cannot fit with the text’s
descriptions, particularly for the direction of flow of the Sidon and the
description of the land northward. The archaeological information fails because
it requires that the Adena/Jaredites occupy the same
lands south of the narrow neck as do the Hopewell/Nephites, something directly contradicted by consistent
textual descriptions. Finally, May’s interesting insistence on attempting to
bolster his case with discredited forged artifacts cannot provide any support
at all. Interestingly, May says of these discredited artifacts: “We feel
that a proper scientific frame of mind would require that we presume them
potentially feasible until we are constrained to reject the hypothesis due to
the evidence to the contrary.”[44] This comes in spite of the fact that all of those who have the training to deal
with either the physical or cultural aspects of the artifacts have uniformly
declared them fakes. All rigorous scientific tests have declared them
forgeries. The testimony of witnesses to the forgeries and the absence of any
artifacts since the time of the
forgers, coupled with the absence of artifacts from known sites, all tell us
that a “proper scientific frame of mind” requires that we declare
them forgeries and look for our support of the Book of Mormon in firmer ground,
geographically, culturally, and archaeologically.


[1] “George
Q. Cannon,” Wikipedia,
(accessed September 2008).

[2] George Q.
Cannon, Juvenile
(1 January, 1890); reprinted in The Instructor 73/4 (April 1938): 159–60. Quotation copied from Matthew Roper, comment
on “Examining the Secular Side,” FAIR blog, comment posted 13
September 2008,

[3] Martin H. Raish, “Encounters with Cumorah:
A Selective, Personal Bibliography,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1–2 (2004): 39. Raish notes (p. 40, sidebar)
that while a very late remembrance by David Whitmer claims that a mysterious stranger was “going to Cumorah”
in 1829, there is no corroboration that this name was used that early. Neither
Oliver Cowdery in his 1835 description of the hill
nor Joseph Smith’s history of 1838 uses Cumorah as the name of the hill.

[4] Raish, “Encounters,” 41. B. H. Roberts continued
to hold this opinion of the hill as the final battle location described in the
Book of Mormon: “Meantime I merely call attention to the fact which here
concerns me, namely, that central and western New York constitute the great
battle fields described in the Book of Mormon as being the place where two
nations met practical annihilation, the Jaredites and Nephites; and of which the military fortifications
and monuments described by Mr. Priest are the silent witnesses.” B. H.
Roberts, New
Witnesses for God
(Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1951),
3:73–74; quotation from GospeLink 2001 CD (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000).

[5] John Clark,
“The Final Battle for Cumorah,” review of Christ in
North America
, by Delbert W. Curtis, FARMS Review of Books 6/2
(1994): 79, suggests: “Reacting to John L. Sorenson’s view of two Cumorahs printed in the Ensign in 1984, Curtis addresses
the questions of (1) whether there are two Cumorahs or just one, and (2) where the final Nephite and Jaredite battles really occurred. He argues for a limited
geography in the area of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and is convinced that there
is only one Cumorah.” A similar reaction has
Wayne May retitling his expansion of a book by E.
Cecil McGavin and Willard Bean. Originally titled The
Geography of the Book of Mormon,
publication details are now Wayne
N. May, This
Land: Only One Cumorah!
(Colfax, WI:
Ancient American Archaeology Foundation, 2004).

[6] William J.
Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to
the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of
Book of Mormon Studies
2/1 (1993): 177, describes the issue from the
viewpoint of the scholarly consensus about the location of the Book of Mormon
in Central America: “Actually, the Limited Geography Model does not insist
that there were two Cumorahs. Rather, there was one Cumorah in Mesoamerica, which is always the hill referred
to in the Book of Mormon. Thereafter, beginning with Oliver Cowdery (possibly based on a misreading of Mormon 6:6), early Mormons began to
associate the Book of Mormon Cumorah with the hill in
New York where Joseph Smith found the plates. The Book of Mormon itself is
internally consistent on the issue. It seems to have been early
nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint interpretation of the text of the Book of Mormon which has caused the confusion on this point. Thus,
advocates of the Limited Geography Model are required only to show that their
interpretations are consistent with the text of the Book of Mormon itself, not
with any nineteenth-century interpretation of the Book of Mormon.”

[7] Wayne N.
May and Edwin G. Goble, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation; May, This Land: Only One Cumorah (an expansion of E. Cecil McGavin and Willard Bean’s The Geography of the Book of
); and May, This Land: They Came From the East.

[8] Edwin G.
Goble, in an e-mail to me dated 23 September 2008,
makes the following claim: “I was involved in writing This Land volume 1
only.” He is responsible for all of the geography in that particular book.
According to Goble, “May is an advocate of artifacts that are

[9] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 11, attributes the correlation of the River Sidon as the
Mississippi to Duane Erickson: “We have built on his pioneering.”

[10] John L.
Sorenson, An
Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon
(Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 23.

[11] There is
also a time element attached, though that is somewhat unclear. The text
requires that this be the description of the land just before the time of
Christ. I have suggested that it represents Mormon’s present description of the
land he knew about, imputed to the earlier time. See Brant A. Gardner, Second
Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon
Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 5:17–18.

[12] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 50, uses as a chapter heading “Prophetic Statements
about Geography.”

[13] Goble and May, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation, 63, as paraphrased in the
caption to the map.

[14] Goble,
personal e-mail in my possession, dated 23 September 2008. Goble posed this
issue to Rod Meldrum (who is also a proponent of a similar geography for
similar reasons). Meldrum included the question with his response,,
post 40 (accessed 25 September 2008). Goble wrote: “Mr. Meldrum, if you
put stock in Joseph Smith’s statements, then once again, I directly challenge
you to address the Land of Desolation statement in the Levi Hancock journal and
how you believe it does not devastate your geography. Or will you discount it
entirely? Explain yourself clearly and how you intend to get around Joseph
Smith’s own statement.” Meldrum replied: “Dear Brother Goble, The
difference lies in first hand accounts (such as the Wentworth Letter) and
second hand accounts that have been ‘filtered’ through others (Levi Hancock’s
journal). First hand account are certainly better
evidence than second hand accounts. Do you not agree with this?” This argument
might be more impressive if only autographic statements were used in these
geographies. However, the Zelph incident is often
used as a key “prophetic statement,” and it is that incident to which
Hancock refers. As with Hancock’s statement, other descriptions of that
incident are similarly secondhand. Joseph Smith rarely wrote himself, dictating
history to others who did the recording. Suggesting that the Wentworth Letter,
which treats a different subject, is a contradiction to Hancock is simply playing
fast and loose with the evidentiary materials, accepting only those that
conform to the selected geography.

[15] Brant A.
Gardner, “Too Good to Be True: Questionable Archaeology and the Book of
Mormon,” (accessed September 2008).

[16] Rod
Meldrum, “DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography,” (accessed September 2008).

[17] Edwin G.
Goble, personal e-mail in my possession, dated 23 September 2008.

[18] Fred Rydholm, “Trashing America’s ‘Politically Incorrect’
Prehistory,” Ancient American 32/229, (accessed September 2008).

[19] Rydholm, “Trashing
America’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ Prehistory,” 230.

[20] John
Campbell, “Recently Discovered Relics of the American Mound-Builders (Read
25th May 1898).” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada,
Section II, 1898
, 3, (accessed
September 2008).

[21] Campbell, “Recently Discovered Relics,” 4.

[22] Alex F.
Chamberlain, untitled articles in Review of Historical Publications Relating
to Canada
, ed. George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton (Toronto: William
Briggs, 1899), 4:197,,M1
(accessed 10 November 2008). Earlier on this page, Chamberlain speaks
specifically of Campbell’s translation of the artifact but dismisses it with

[23] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 19.

[24] Rydholm, “Trashing
America’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ Prehistory,” 230–31.

[25] J. Golden
Barton and Wayne May, “The Michigan Tablets: An Archaeological Scandal,”
in Discovering
the Mysteries of Ancient America: Lost History and Legends, Unearthed and
, contributions by David Hatcher Childress, Zecharia Sitchin, Wayne May,
Andrew Collins, and Frank Joseph (n. p.: New Page Books, 2006), 36.

[26] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 12.

[27] Ashurst-McGee, “Mormonism’s Encounter with the
Michigan Relics,” BYU Studies 40/3 (2001): 193.

[28] Richard B.
Stamps. “Tools Leave Marks: Material Analysis of the Scotford-Soper-Savage Michigan Relics,” BYU Studies 40/3 (2001): 217.

[29] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 217–19.

[30] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 220.

[31] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 220–22.

[32] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 224.

[33] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 225.

[34] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 226.

[35] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 228.

[36] Wayne N.
May, This
Land: They Came from the East
(Colfax, WI: Ancient American
Archaeology Foundation, 2005), 150–51.

[37] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 47.

[38] May, This Land:
They Came from the East
, 148.

[39] Stamps, “Tools Leave Marks,” 231.

[40] Alma
22:29–30 notes that the land of Desolation is north of Bountiful. Verse
32 places it in the land northward. The Nephites do
not enter this land until after approximately ad 200. Alma 46:17 has Captain Moroni declaring the land south of Desolation the “land of liberty,” which
was the same as the Nephite holdings at that time.
Alma 50:34 places the land of Desolation north of the narrow pass leading into the land northward.

[41] Goble and
May, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation,
99, equates the Nephites with the Hopewell tradition
but gives the dates as 600 bc to ad 400, which are the Book of Mormon
dates, not those from archaeology. For more accepted dating of the Hopewell
culture (200 bc to ad 500), see “Hopewell Tradition,”
/Hopewell_culture (accessed September 2008), and “Hopewell Culture,”
National Historic Park Service, (accessed September

[42] Goble and
May, This
Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation
, 99. May again provides dates for the Adena from the Book of Mormon rather than from archaeology. He gives 2200 bc to 600 bc, where the accepted cultural range is 1000 bc to 200 bc; see “Adena Culture,”
Wikipedia, (accessed September

[43] “Adena Culture.” “The Adena lived in a variety of locations, including: Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia,
Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York.”

[44] Wayne N.
May, This
Land: They Came From the East
, 187.