Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons
Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural
Reviewed by Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper
“Thomas Stuart Ferguson,” says Stan Larson in the opening chapter of Quest
for the Gold Plates,1 “is best known among Mormons as a popular fireside
lecturer on Book of Mormon archaeology, as well as the author of One Fold
and One Shepherd, and coauthor of Ancient America and the Book of Mormon”
(p. 1).2 Actually, though, Ferguson is very little known among Latter-day Saints.
He died in 1983, after all, and “he published no new articles or books after
1967″ (p. 135). The books that he did publish are long out of print. “His role
in ‘Mormon scholarship’ was,” as Professor John L. Sorenson puts it, “largely
that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither
scholar nor analyst.”3 We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority,
except countercultists, and we suspect that a poll of even those Latter-day
Saints most interested in Book of Mormon studies would yield only a small percentage
who recognize his name.4 Indeed, the radical discontinuity between Book of Mormon
studies as done by Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson in the fifties
and those practiced today by, say, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon
Studies (FARMS) could hardly be more striking. Ferguson’s memory has been kept
alive by Stan Larson and certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, as much as by anyone, and it is tempting to ask why. Why, in fact, is
such disproportionate attention being directed to Tom Ferguson, an amateur and
a writer of popularizing books, rather than, say, to M. Wells Jakeman, a trained
scholar of Mesoamerican studies who served as a member of the advisory committee
for the New World Archaeological Foundation?5 Dr. Jakeman retained his faith
in the Book of Mormon until his death in 1998, though the fruit of his decades-long
work on Book of Mormon geography and archaeology remains unpublished.6
The professional countercultists John Ankerberg and John Weldon will serve
to illustrate this initially puzzling phenomenon. In their memorable tome Behind
the Mask of Mormonism, they persist in trumpeting the story of the late
Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an example of an authority on archaeology and a “great
defender of the faith” who lost his testimony when he learned that the Book
of Mormon was merely a work of American frontier fiction.7 They do this despite
the fact that Ferguson, a lawyer based in northern California, was neither an
archaeologist nor, for that matter, a scholar.8 (In our judgment, based on conversations
with several of those who knew him, as well as on a fair amount of reading,
Ferguson seems, among other things, to have lacked patience, or the scholar’s
temperament. He apparently expected that conclusive evidence would emerge almost
immediately to “prove” the Book of Mormon true. But archaeology simply does
not work that way—not in the world of the Bible and certainly not in the far
more imperfectly understood world of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.) The object
of Ankerberg and Weldon’s exercise seems to be to increase the potentially shocking
effect on Latter-day Saints of Ferguson’s apparent loss of faith by overstating
his prominence as a scholar and intellectual.9
Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s interest in the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica did
not begin with his 1946 trip to Mexico in the company of J. Willard Marriott.
Rather, it seems to have originated during his student days at Berkeley in the
1930s, where he associated with Jakeman and with his future collaborator, the
eventual General Authority Milton R. Hunter. So far as any mortal can know,
Elder Hunter, who earned a PhD in history from the University of California
and served as a director of the New World Archaeological Foundation, also believed
in the Book of Mormon until the day of his death in 1975. Isn’t Elder Hunter’s
career at least as interesting and significant as Thomas Ferguson’s? “One needs
to examine all the relevant evidence,” declares Larson, “in order to have as
well-rounded a picture of Ferguson as possible” (p. 6). But why should anybody
outside of his family care about having a “well-rounded picture of
Ferguson”? In the discipline of Thomas Stuart Ferguson studies, the final state
of Ferguson’s testimony may be, as Larson puts it, “a major enigma” and a subject
of “intense controversy” (p. 3). But it remains unclear why it should be of
anything more than peripheral interest anywhere else—except, again, to his
family and perhaps one or two specialist intellectual historians of contemporary
What we seem to have in Larson’s book is a hagiography of a doubting Thomas
Ferguson, a depiction of Ferguson as a role model. Listen to the author’s occasionally
almost reverent language: Ferguson possessed a “deep-seated desire to follow
the truth wherever it led him—even if it took him far from the fervent convictions
of his youth” (p. 213). “His legacy is a commitment to the search for truth”
(p. 218). (Is that not the legacy of, say, Wells Jakeman?) Echoing
Eric Hoffer’s classic study of Nazis and other fanatics, Larson says that the
early Ferguson “expect[ed] with the certainty of the true believer that he would
find archaeological proof of the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon”
(p. 217).10 But in the last thirteen years of his life Ferguson became much
more “broad-minded” (p. 217). He “developed a more tolerant attitude about the
opinions of others, felt that religion served a genuine need in human life,
found relaxation in working in the garden, and enjoyed life immensely” (p. 218).
“The bottom line of Ferguson’s position was that whatever works for a person
and gives meaning to life was, by definition, good for that person” (p. 218).
Larson’s work is strikingly partisan in its defensiveness toward a doubting
Thomas Ferguson. Do we really have any direct evidence, for example, of precisely
how much Bruce Warren knew about the state and history of Ferguson’s testimony?
Larson provides none but still paints Dr. Warren as disingenuous for having
supposedly engaged in a cover-up of Ferguson’s faltering religious belief (pp.
269-74). But this seems unjustified and, very probably, unfair. Given Thomas
Stuart Ferguson’s evident lack of candor about his views—it is noteworthy that
Larson refuses to call him “deceptive”—can Warren really be blamed
if he was wrong about them? Especially in light of the fact that, as Larson
himself observes in another context (where, once again, it is taken to count
against Warren), Warren’s “total association with Ferguson during the last thirteen
years of his life”—the very time, be it noted, of Ferguson’s apparent doubts—”consisted
of a five-minute conversation in 1979″ (p. 272)? In a letter to one of the authors,
Warren puts it at about two minutes and remarks that his statement in the preface
to The Messiah in Ancient America “was written in the spring of 1987
before I knew anything about Tom Ferguson’s problems with the Book of Abraham
or the various negative letters he had written between 1970 and the time of
his death.” Warren had been led to believe that Ferguson was in touch with Bookcraft
and was revising the book for publication when he died.11
At several points in Larson’s book, judgments are pronounced without a
clear basis to justify them. For example, Ferguson was convinced that we now
have the original ancient manuscript from which the Book of Abraham purportedly
derives and dismissed any contrary opinion as “a dodge” (p. 112).
But this is, at best, disputed. Yet Larson picks up the same notion. “Now
that all the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri have been translated,” he reports,
not “even the name of Abraham is found anywhere among the papyri”
(p. 105). Consider, too, the following: “Disenchanted, he became
a Mormon ‘closet doubter'”—that is, someone who “privately
disbelieves some of the basic teachings of the Church but keeps that disbelief
hidden from his/her public image. Typically this state of skepticism is preceded
by an extended period of strong belief in those same tenets” (p. 134).
What undergirds Larson’s judgment here? A survey? Personal experience?
(Mark Hofmann might serve as a potential counterexample.) More importantly,
after noting that Ferguson’s beliefs subsequent to the early 1960s can
be known only from “his conversations and letters” (p. 135).
Larson declares that the years 1969-70 “are a documentary blank
with no known letters” (p. 136). Undeterred by this lacuna, though,
he proceeds to tell us what happened during that time period: Ferguson went
through “a period of soul-searching and reflection” and “agonized
to find a spiritual meaning to his beliefs. He reexamined his assumptions about
the Book of Abraham and even began to question the historicity of the Book of
Mormon” (p. 136). Fawn Brodie herself could hardly have bettered
Nevertheless, we are quite prepared to entertain the idea that Thomas Stuart
Ferguson lost his faith. It seems the most plausible reading of some of the
evidence. There are, however, several contrary indications that muddy the waters
a bit. For instance, the 1975 symposium paper on which Larson places such weight
can be read, in a few passages, as expressing at least a hope that the Book
of Mormon might be true. And Thomas Ferguson’s son Larry recalls sitting
on a patio with his father shortly after his father had returned from a trip
to Mexico with Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
It was only one month before the senior Ferguson’s entirely unexpected death.
“For no apparent reason, out of the blue,” Larry recalls, Thomas Stuart Ferguson
turned to his son and bore his testimony. “Larry,” he said, “the Book of Mormon
is exactly what Joseph Smith said it is.” Sometime earlier, Ferguson
had borne a similar testimony to his wife, Larry’s mother, and, during the year
before he died, he had participated in an effort to distribute the Book of Mormon
to non-Latter-day Saints.13 He included his photograph along with the following
testimony in several copies of the book:
We have studied the Book of Mormon for 50 years. We can tell you that it follows
only the New Testament as a written witness to the mission, divinity, and resurrection
of Jesus Christ. And it seems to us that there is no message that is needed
by man and mankind more than the message of Christ. Millions of people have
come to accept Jesus as the Messiah because of reading the Book of Mormon in
a quest for truth. The book is the cornerstone of the Mormon Church.
The greatest witness to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is the book itself.
But many are the external evidences that support it.14
Ferguson also called Robert and Rosemary Brown of Mesa, Arizona, and told them
that, yes, the writings of the amateur Egyptologist Dee Jay Nelson had caused
him a brief period of doubt about the Book of Abraham. But, he said, their devastating
exposé of Nelson’s charlatanry had turned him right around.15 Shortly
before his death, he also told the Browns that Jerald and Sandra Tanner had
been publishing material from him without his permission and indicated that
he was contemplating a lawsuit against them. He even declared that some of what
had been published as coming from him was a forgery.16
Let us, however, accept the possibility that Ferguson may indeed have lost his
faith in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon for a time. We don’t wish
to seem callous. As believers, we care about the fate of Thomas Ferguson’s
soul. As human beings, we are concerned about the pain that a discussion like
this might cause to members of his family, who are still very much alive. But
having said that, the question that frankly comes to our minds when we consider
the claim that Thomas Ferguson lost his faith is “So what?”
The apostasy of prominent religious figures is hardly a novelty. One thinks
of the Talmudic sage Elisha Ben Abuyah, for example, or perhaps even of the
spectacular instance of Sabbatai Zevi. The founder of Neoplatonism was an apostate
Egyptian Christian by the name of Ammonius Saccas. St. Augustine apostatized
from the anthropomorphizing Christianity in which he had been raised and became
a Manichaean. Then he apostatized from Manichaeism, converting to the Neoplatonized
and anti-anthropomorphic Christianity of Bishop Ambrose of Milan. C. S. Lewis
was an apostate from the atheistic naturalism that reigned almost unquestioned
among Oxbridge intellectuals of the 1920s. Early Latter-day Saint history certainly
has no lack of apostates, as even the most casual student of the subject knows.
Every conversion is presumably an apostasy from something.
Individual apostasies have little or nothing to say, in themselves, about the
truth claims of the systems that the apostates have left behind. We note this,
once again, only because a considerable number of polemicists against the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have sought to use the case of Thomas Stuart
Ferguson to score points against the church. We do not intend to take up this
particular (and, in our opinion, largely illegitimate and irrelevant) issue
any further, but only to suggest that every tradition (religious or nonreligious)
has its apostates—emphatically including evangelical Protestantism. (One
thinks of the many fundamentalists who shed their childhood faith in liberal
divinity schools, or of the recent and ongoing emigration of certain evangelical
intellectuals to Rome, or Franky Schaeffer’s recent, noisy defection to
Eastern Orthodoxy. Ernest Hemingway was raised in an evangelical Protestant
Still, Stan Larson apparently sees the doubting Thomas Stuart Ferguson as
a significant harbinger, a role model, and wants his readers to see him in the
same way. But is this justified? “The odyssey of Ferguson,” wrote Larson in
the earlier printed version of this work, “is a quest for religious certitude
through archaeological evidences.”17 Precisely. And there’s the rub. Larson
refers to Ferguson’s growing conviction of his personal role to demonstrate
to the world the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, “His major goal in life”
was “proving that Jesus Christ really appeared in ancient Mexico after his crucifixion
and resurrection” (p. 69). This sort of language, if it accurately reflects
Ferguson’s self-image, perhaps offers a clue to the reason for his possible
loss of faith. He was distressed, for example, that inscriptions related to
the Book of Mormon were not forthcoming. But it is only within the past few
years that any inscriptional evidence even of the biblical “house of David”
has been found. The earlier incarnation of Larson’s book quotes a letter from
Ferguson to his friend Wendell Phillips, telling about his plans for a trip
to the Near East in April 1961. Ferguson intended to travel, among other destinations,
to Oman, where, he said, he would “climb to the top of the mountain nearest
the sea in Oman and look around for any inscriptions that might have been left
on the mountain by Nephi, where he talked to the Lord.”18 Was he serious?
Ferguson’s feeling that one of his early manuscripts “would be a powerful influence
for world peace” (p. 16), if it is accurately reported, suggests some degree
of estrangement from reality. Likewise, his prediction—following brief remarks
about the problem of identifying the Preclassic inhabitants of the Upper Grijalva
River basin—that “the solution may well have far-reaching implications and
results for the general welfare of the present inhabitants of the earth” clearly
seems to ask of archaeology far more than it can ever possibly deliver.19
“My personal experience with Tom Ferguson and his evangelism,” recalls
Professor John L. Sorenson,
crystallized in a period of 10 days that he and I spent in intensive archaeological
survey in April 1953 in the Chiapas central depression. In the field, out of
my academic training I saw a host of things which did not register with him.
His primary concern was to ask wherever we went if anyone had seen “figurines
of horses.” That epitomized his unsubtle concept of “proof.”
I could only cringe at this jackpot-or-nothing view of archaeology. No wonder
the man’s “quest” failed! He began with naive expectations
and they served him right to the end.20
“He wondered,” reports Larson, “why the evidence for the antiquity
of the Book of Mormon was not coming forth as expected. He was genuinely disappointed
that the archaeological support for the Book of Mormon was not being discovered
at the rate he had anticipated” (p. 69). Again, though, progress
in Mesoamerican archaeology did not destroy the testimony of M. Wells Jakeman.
An interesting future question for research would center on why a professional
expert in the field remained evidently undisturbed by matters that may have
proved troubling to the faith of an amateur. Were Ferguson’s expectations
unrealistic? As Sorenson said in 1996 of Professor Jakeman, whose Berkeley dissertation
dealt with “the ethnic and political structure of Yucatan immediately
preceding the Spanish conquest,” “he remained methodologically cautious
his whole life regarding ‘proof’ of the Book of Mormon,” yet
“he also still remains a believer in the Book of Mormon.”21 Are
the two facts related?
We argue that Thomas Ferguson was methodologically incautious in his believing
days and that this continued into his apparent time of doubt. He was uncritical
even as a critic. In 1970 and 1971, we are told, Ferguson was troubled by the
“new data on the First Vision” (p. 119). In fact, Larson seems
to buy into this when he tells us that “a forthright attitude by the LDS
Church leaders about . . . the First Vision would radically alter
the perceptions of most members” (p. 119). Ferguson seems to have
been likewise troubled by evidence for Joseph Smith’s legal examination
before a justice of the peace in South Bainbridge, New York, in 1826 (pp. 142-44).
Yet subsequent research suggests that these may be nonissues.22
The Book of Abraham
The Pearl of Great Price looms large in Ferguson’s story, as Larson tells
it (pp. 85-132). Ferguson’s entire religious outlook changed,
he says, “because of the rediscovery and translation of some of Joseph
Smith’s original papyri of the Book of Abraham” (p. 85). But
was it really so simple? Were there no other contributing factors? Larson himself
may have unwittingly suggested one: “During the Civil Rights Movement,”
he says of Ferguson, “he questioned the rightness of the Mormon Church’s
ban on priesthood for the blacks, and due to that position he developed a quiet
skepticism concerning the Book of Abraham, which speaks of someone being cursed
‘as pertaining to the Priesthood’ (Abr. 1:26). The stage was set
for a radical change in his understanding of that Mormon scripture” (p. 70).
While this alleged position of Ferguson’s does establish him on the side
of the progressive angels, it also suggests that he may have been predisposed
to reject the Book of Abraham. Sorenson says that Ferguson was “eventually
trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information,
perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real
Does the Book of Abraham controversy provide solid grounds for Ferguson’s
loss of faith? Larson seems to think so. We do not. Leonard Lesko and John A.
Wilson told Ferguson that the standing figure in Facsimile 1 should have the
head not of a man but of the jackal-god Anubis (pp. 95-99). But,
as Professor John Gee has pointed out, the question is really moot: Whether
the figure had a human head or an Anubis mask, it would still be a priest.24
This leads to a broader critique of Larson’s work: It is not balanced. He
cites Stephen Thompson as a Latter-day Saint Egyptologist who rejects the Book
of Abraham (pp. 98-99, 116, 121, 124, 125, 131, 194, 226), but he takes no account
of John Gee, a Latter-day Saint Egyptologist who emphatically does not. He never
confronts Gee’s writing on the Pearl of Great Price.25 Are Thompson’s criticisms
of the Book of Abraham fatal to its historical claims? Let’s look at a couple:
Thompson claims that religious persecution did not exist in the ancient world
until the time of Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the second century BC; the Egyptians,
he says, were remarkably tolerant religiously. And human sacrifice, he says,
was never practiced by ancient Egyptians. However, Thompson seems to have missed
a Thirteenth Dynasty text stipulating that unauthorized intruders into the temple
should be burned alive. And he overlooks a Twelfth Dynasty execration ritual
that includes human sacrifice and was found at Mergissa, in Nubia, accompanied
by a disarticulated skeleton with the skull upside down, smashed pottery, and
the remnants of burnt red-wax figurines. But then, it is noteworthy (especially
for an argument that relies heavily on charges of anachronism) that all
of Thompson’s evidence comes from the Egyptian New Kingdom, whereas Abraham
almost certainly lived in the considerably earlier Middle Kingdom.26
And this, in turn, suggests an even broader problem: Larson appears to be
ignoring a sizeable body of positive evidence for the historicity of both the
Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. What is more, the evidence continues
to accumulate. Critics of the Book of Abraham have long claimed that there was
no Egyptian cultic influence in Syria at the time of Abraham, as the book seems
to suggest. But over the past fifty years, historians have come to recognize
that Egypt “dominated” Syria and Palestine during the Middle Kingdom. Moreover,
Gee and Ricks have located published evidence of the worship of Egyptian gods
in the Middle Bronze II period at Ebla, in Syria.27 This is the right time for
Abraham, it is the right place, and it even includes (among others) the right
god—the Fayyum crocodile god Sobek, who seems to appear in Facsimile 1. He
has also identified a possible reference in Egyptian materials to the place-name
Olishem, previously attested only in Abraham 1:10 and an ancient inscription
near the site of Ebla.28
Dr. Larson recounts Thomas Ferguson’s encounters with Bay area Egyptologists
Henry L. F. Lutz and Leonard Lesko, as related by Ferguson (pp. 92-99).
Professor Lutz died in 1973. It would be useful, however, to have Professor
Lesko’s side of the story, if he still recalls it. A Latter-day Saint
former graduate student and associate of Professor Lesko says that the subject
of Joseph Smith and Mormonism had never come up in their exchanges until just
after Ferguson’s visit to Lesko in late 1967 or early 1968. But he recalls
Lesko asking him, one day in his office, if he (the student) knew a Tom Ferguson.
Was he a Mormon? Professor Lesko explained that Ferguson had come into his office
with some pictures and asked if he could identify them. Yes, he could. Do they
have anything to do with Abraham? Ferguson asked. No. Whereupon Ferguson, still
not identifying himself as a Latter-day Saint, left. But the encounter bothered
Professor Lesko, whom his Mormon student remembered as being “virtually
apologetic” as it dawned on him what the conversation had really been
about. Lesko thought it was a setup. The student recalls that Lesko went to
a file cabinet and got out a fat folder of materials about the Book of Abraham,
which he showed to him. If Ferguson had been forthright, Lesko said, he could
have told him a lot more. He would, he said, have referred him to Hugh Nibley.
The student remembers Lesko as being at pains to tell him that he would never
have said anything negative about Joseph Smith or Mormonism.29
Larson devotes a considerable amount of space to citations of Egyptological
opinions on the Book of Abraham and recent critiques of the Book of Mormon that
have little or nothing to do with Thomas Stuart Ferguson. For this and other
reasons, it is manifestly apparent that critiquing recent defenders of Latter-day
Saint belief is the real purpose of his book and that its rather cursory biography
of Thomas Stuart Ferguson is only a convenient (and largely neglected) vehicle
for that critique. But how much value do non-Mormon critiques of the Book of
Mormon really possess? Larson cites a very negative appraisal by Yale’s
Michael Coe. Recently, however, Sorenson has taken Professor Coe to task for
brushing aside the Book of Mormon “without studying it more than casually”—ironically
doing to it what Coe had accused Sir J. E. S. Thompson of doing to the Grolier
Codex, a document whose unorthodox discovery was allowed to stand in the way
of recognition that it is, indeed, an ancient Mesoamerican book.30
Ferguson’s 1975 Paper on Book of Mormon Geography
Larson calls Ferguson’s 1975 paper, entitled “Written Symposium
on Book of Mormon Geography,” an “insightful document” that
is still worth examining (pp. 177-78). Actually, though, what Ferguson
had to say in 1975 was of little scholarly value, and the kindest and most appropriate
response would be to politely ignore it. Unfortunately, though, some critics
of the church continue to cite the paper with glee, praising it as an enlightened
commentary on the imminent collapse of the Book of Mormon. “All the rest
of us who participated in that exchange (not just me) were embarrassed by the
utter naïveté of what Tom wrote,” Sorenson has stated.
For example, in his list of “archaeological tests” for which he
would expect to find American “evidence,” he did not even distinguish
between statements about the Old World (e.g., reference to “glass”
and “grapes,” in quotations from Isaiah) and statements about the
Nephite setting in the New World. His whole dashed-off little “paper”
was full of methodological and epistemological over-simplicities. It appeared
that his mind was by then closed to “the search for truth,” for
he paid not the slightest attention to what other, better qualified LDS scholars
said on the same occasion concerning what he considered the damning lack of
Warren recalls feeling “pleased that Tom was being more cautious with
his statements about Book of Mormon geography but [sensed] that he was leaning
over backwards toward the critical side of the issues involved.”32 In
his book, Larson focuses on four issues or “tests” mentioned by
Ferguson that he feels are still relevant to the current discussion on the Book
of Mormon: plants, animals, metals, and script and language (pp. 175-234).
Since Larson’s discussion represents an expansion on Ferguson’s
earlier criticisms as well as a partial critique of work by John Sorenson, we
will examine each of these in turn.
Much of Larson’s discussion of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” (pp. 175-234)
appears to be dependent on Deanne Matheny’s 1993 critique of John Sorenson’s
book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.33 Shortly
after Matheny’s critique appeared, however, it received a thoughtful and careful
review and response by Sorenson.34 In reading Larson’s book, one comes away
with the impression that Larson wrote much of this chapter under the influence
of Matheny’s critique, somewhat prematurely and without awareness of the fact
that Sorenson’s response would appear as soon as it did. The careful reader
will find traces of hasty and superficial revision in this section, apparently
made after the author encountered that response. In our view, though, Sorenson’s
critique seriously undermined many of Matheny’s arguments, and Larson should
have paid greater attention to it. While Larson occasionally gives grudging
acknowledgment to some of Sorenson’s points, his treatment overlooks other significant
ones. This is evident in his discussion of plants as they may relate to the
Book of Mormon (pp. 179-81).
Larson refers to Matheny’s citation of a survey of pre-Columbian crops
in Chiapas, Mexico (p. 180). Since few of the crops mentioned in the Book
of Mormon text were identified in this survey, Larson, following Ferguson’s
lead, suggests that this poses a serious problem for the Book of Mormon. In
his 1994 article, however, Sorenson addressed the inadequacy of this plant survey
cited by Matheny and provided cogent reasons for believing that the botany of
pre-Columbian Mesoamerica was probably far more diverse than is generally
assumed.35 Oddly, Larson simply cites the Matheny article; he does not address
Sorenson’s careful response.
Larson likewise neglects to address significant issues relating to Book of Mormon
grains. For example, Sorenson showed in his 1994 article that a variety of New
World plants that would easily fit the ambiguous references to “grain”
in the Book of Mormon were known in ancient Mesoamerica.36 Two grains, however,
which are mentioned by name—barley and wheat—suggest at least two
possibilities: (1) Those terms could refer to New World grains that were
identified by Old World names, even though they were not biologically the same,
or (2) they could refer to genuine New World barley and wheat.
Sorenson suggested that edible New World seeds may have been labeled with
names like barley, wheat, or sheum, and he proffered
amaranth as one example of a New World grain that could potentially have been
designated by any one of those names. Larson’s complaint that amaranth
cannot refer to all three Book of Mormon terms (p. 221 n. 28) is a red herring
since Sorenson was not claiming definitive identifications for any of these
crops, but merely suggesting possibilities. In fact, Larson knows better because
Sorenson has since documented at least seven possibilities—of which amaranth
was only one. Why does Larson obscure this issue? It is a well-known fact that,
when the Spaniards first encountered the New World, they often employed Old
World terms to designate American crops, even though, botanically speaking,
these were often of a different variety or species. It is neither unreasonable
nor without historical parallel that Book of Mormon peoples from the Old World
might have adopted a similar practice. In fact, the Book of Mormon text itself
seems to provide evidence for such word borrowing at Mosiah 9:9, where sheum
is said to have been cultivated by Zeniff’s people, in addition to
barley and wheat. As Robert F. Smith first observed, sheum is a perfectly
good Akkadian cereal name, dating to the third millennium BC, which in ancient
Assyria referred to barley.37 Regardless of its New World application, however,
an obvious question arises: Just how did the author of the Book of Mormon happen
to come up with a term like sheum for the Zeniffites and just happen
to use it in an agricultural context? Was this simply a coincidence?
In addition to the suggestion that they may be loan words, Sorenson and others
have argued that Book of Mormon references to “barley” and “wheat”
may indeed refer to actual varieties of those species of grain that at one time
existed in the New World but have not yet been identified by archaeologists.
Sorenson, for example, cites the astonishing discovery of pre-Columbian domesticated
barley at various North American sites in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Illinois.
So here was a domesticated barley in use in several parts of North America over
a long period of time. Crop exchanges between North America and Mesoamerica
have been documented by archaeology making it possible that this native barley
was known in that tropical southland and conceivably was even cultivated there.
The key point is that these unexpected results from botany are recent. More
discoveries will surely be made as research continues.38
In spite of this, Larson continues to insist that “the lack of evidence for
the existence of wheat in the New World remains a major difficulty in verifying
the antiquity of the Book of Mormon” (p. 181). We think, rather, that reference
to sheum in an 1830 Book of Mormon, thirty-seven years before Akkadian
could be deciphered, poses a greater “problem” for those who choose to view
that text as nineteenth-century fiction. In fact, as we have noted already,
reference to wheat may not pose a problem at all if, like sheum, that
term was applied to some other New World crop—for which there are various plausible
candidates. Still, doesn’t the case of pre-Columbian domesticated barley suggest
the wisdom of a little patience and vindicate the reasonableness of a faith
that similar evidence for wheat may one day be forthcoming as well?
It is vitally important that those seeking to draw broad conclusions from archaeology
(whether regarding the Book of Mormon or with respect to other matters) understand
the severe limitations of currently available data and that they realize how
much work remains to be done. Tentativeness and humility are very much in order.
A recent article by Anthony P. Andrews and Fernando Robles Castellanos will
serve to illustrate our point. Writing about a relatively small region, the
northwestern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula between the coast and Merida,
Andrews and Castellanos report:
To date, we have gathered data on 249 pre-Hispanic and 154 historic sites, and
visited most of these in the field. When the project began in 1999, only 69
pre-Hispanic sites had been reported in our survey area. We have obtained surface
collections from more than 220 localities, and sketch maps of approximately
50 sites, have made detailed maps of 39 sites, and have excavated 29 test pits
at 15 sites.39
Thus, according to Andrews and Castellanos, in 1999—just five years ago—only
69 of the 249 pre-Hispanic sites (28 percent) that they have now identified
in this relatively small region were even known to archaeologists. Of the 249
pre-Hispanic sites mentioned in their article, 207 were from the Preclassic
era (ca. 700 BC-AD 250), which is essentially the period of the Book of
Mormon Nephites.40 Their group prepared “sketch maps” of only one-fifth,
or twenty percent, of the 249 sites, leaving the other eighty percent as yet
unmapped. Those who insist that, if the Book of Mormon were true, we would have
a museum full of artifactual evidence proving it, vastly overestimate the completeness
of current archaeological knowledge about pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
Elephants. Larson believes that the single reference to “elephants”
in the Book of Mormon (at Ether 9:19) poses a problem for Latter-day Saint belief
(pp. 184-88). He cites the currently accepted view of scholars that elephants
such as the mammoth and mastodon were extinct more than ten thousand years ago,
long before even the Jaredite era (p. 187). A minority of scholars, however,
have suggested that some few species of elephant may have survived in isolated
regions of the Americas into later historical times. Larson’s argument here
does not address much of the evidence supportive of this view.41
In 1934, W. D. Strong published a significant article summarizing numerous North
American Indian traditions suggesting historical knowledge of the mammoth.42
Strong divided these traditions into two groups: (1) “‘myths
of observation,'” so called because they were based upon “the
observation of fossil bones, objects which would appear to have always excited
human interest,” and (2) actual “‘historical traditions,’
[which] seem to embody a former knowledge of the living animals in question,
perhaps grown hazy through long oral transmission.”43 It is this later
group of traditions that tends to support the idea of late survival of the mammoth
or mastodon. These traditions, which can be found among Native Americans from
the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of Mexico, led Ludwell H. Johnson to conclude
not only that man and elephant had coexisted, but that the mammoth and the mastodon
may have survived until as late as 2000 BC in certain regions of North America.44
Other scholars have discussed pictographic evidence of trunked animals found
at several sites in North America and also in Mayan codices and other artistic
representations found in Mesoamerica and Central America. Zoologist W. Stempel
claimed on the basis of such a representation at Copan that these could not
be tapirs, but that the images must represent mammoths.45 No less an authority
than Eric Thompson found some of these elephantine-like representations to be
“a difficult thing to be explained away by non-believers.”46 In
1930, an “elephant-like” stone statue was discovered near the Tonolá
River on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.47 Although certainly not definitive, such
evidence may be suggestive of the late survival of mammoths or mastodons into
this tropical region of southern Mexico, for which Sorenson and others have
suggested links between the Olmec cultural tradition and the Jaredites.
In 1993, three Russian archaeologists announced the discovery that a species
of dwarf mammoth had survived until as recently as two thousand years ago on
Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic.48 Oddly, Larson feels that this remarkable
discovery has no relevance to the question of the elephant in the Book of Mormon.
Instead, he writes that “the evidence that neither the mammoth nor the mastodon
of North America survived the last Ice Age is strong” (p. 188). But his statement
misses the mark on several counts. Mammoths were not supposed to have survived
so late anywhere, yet a minority of scholars have suggested that some
few species of elephant may have survived in scattered or isolated regions into
relatively recent historical times. As the Russian archaeologists noted in one
report, “hardly anyone has doubted that mammoths had become extinct everywhere
by around 9,500 years before present”; however, these new discoveries “force
this view to be revised.”49 And if the mastodon did survive into recent historical
times in one place, it is not unreasonable to suppose that it might have survived,
in at least limited numbers, in other regions as well.
Larson’s statement likewise shows unawareness that some American elephant
remains have, in fact, been dated much later. The mastodon at Devil’s
Den, Florida, has been dated to 5000 BC50 and, in the Great Lakes region, to
4000 BC.51 Jim Hester suggests that, while the general picture of late Pleistocene
extinctions may be true, samples such as the above apparently reflect “lingering
survival [of the mastodon] in isolated areas.”52 Some time ago, Sorenson
summarized similar evidence for survival of the mastodon as late as 4000 BC
in southern Arizona. Sorenson makes the reasonable observation that “in
the moist lands of Mesoamerica elephants and other large Pleistocene animals
certainly lived later than in the drying Southwest.”53
Of course, the Book of Mormon only requires that some species of mammoth or
mastodon survive into the middle of the third millennium BC, and nothing in
the Book of Mormon text requires that Jaredite “elephants”
were ever abundant or numerous. Latter-day Saints could reasonably hypothesize,
based on current scientific evidence, that, shortly thereafter, during the great
dearth in the reign of Heth (Ether 9:30-35), the small surviving population
of the elephants finally became extinct. Be that as it may, the idea of late
survival of the elephant does not now seem so unlikely as it once did.
Horses. An even better known Book of Mormon question involves the
text’s reference to “horses.” According to Larson, the apparent absence of the
horse from America during the Jaredite and Nephite periods poses a serious challenge
for defenders of the historicity of the book (pp. 188-94). In his 1975 critique,
Ferguson had stated, “That evidence of the ancient existence of these animals
is not elusive is found in the fact that proof of their existence in the ancient
Old World is abundant” (p. 246).
But this is extraordinarily naïve. Archaeology is a very chancy business
at best. Most ancient artifacts, buildings, animal and human remains, and the
like, are gone forever, leaving not a trace behind. Although the Bible, Crusader
accounts, and other records as late as the sixteenth century mention lions in
Israel, for example, it was not until 1983 that a single skeletal specimen dating
to the biblical period was discovered.54 Other large mammals that still survive
in that land but were unattested until the 1960s and 1970s include the desert
leopard and the oryx. “It is probable,” writes Jacques Soustelle, “that the
Olmecs kept dogs and turkeys, animals domesticated in very early times on the
American continent, but the destruction of any sort of bone remains, both
human and animal, by the dampness and the acidity of the soil keeps us from
being certain of this.”55 Some years ago, Bruce Warren pointed out to one
of us in conversation that, although hundreds of thousands of cattle were driven
from Texas to Wyoming between 1870 and 1890, an archaeologist would be hard
pressed to find even a trace of them. As Professor Edwin Yamauchi has remarked,
in an aphorism that should preface every critique of the Book of Mormon on these
grounds, “The absence of archaeological evidence is not evidence of absence.”56
And even if artifacts do survive, the odds are that we either will not find
them or will not know what to do with them or how to interpret them when we
do. Professor John E. Clark, a well-respected field archaeologist, makes the
practical limits of archaeological research painfully clear in a memorable image:
“Suppose that the town of Provo, Utah, has been completely covered for many
years, and long forgotten. Dig three excavations about the size of telephone
booths. Now reconstruct the history of Provo.”57
Consider the case of the Huns of central Asia and eastern Europe. They were
a nomadic people for whom horses were a significant part of their power, wealth,
and culture. It has been estimated that each Hun warrior may have owned as many
as ten horses. Thus, during their two-century-long domination of the western
steppes, the Huns must have had hundreds of thousands of horses. Yet, as the
Hungarian researcher Sándor Bökönyi puts it with considerable
understatement, “we know very little of the Huns’ horses. It is
interesting that not a single usable horse bone has been found in the territory
of the whole empire of the Huns. This is all the more deplorable as contemporary
sources mention these horses with high appreciation.”58
Accordingly, if Hunnic horse bones are so rare despite the vast herds of horses
that undoubtedly once inhabited the steppes, why should we expect extensive
evidence of the use of horses in Nephite Mesoamerica—especially considering
how limited are the references to horses in the text of the Book of Mormon?
Zoo-archaeologist Simon J. M. Davis notes that the majority of bones found in
archaeological sites are those of animals that were killed for food or other
slaughter products by ancient peoples. It is rare to find remains of other animals
in such locations. “Animals exploited, say, for traction or riding [such
as horses], may not necessarily have been consumed and may only be represented
by an occasional bone introduced by scavenging dogs.” Thus, “the
problem of correlating between excavated bones and the economic importance of
the animals in antiquity is far from being resolved.”59 In fact, “One
sometimes wonders whether there is any similarity between a published bone report
and the animals exploited by ancient humans.”60
In his discussion of horses, Larson claims that Sorenson tried to buttress “his
position that the horse might have survived into Book of Mormon times”
(p. 190). He concludes that “Sorenson’s three arguments for
a late survival of the horse do not hold up under scrutiny” (p. 192).
And, in fact, one of the three propositions does indeed seem to be incorrect.
After close study of the topic and discussion with Sorenson, we believe
that it rests on a simple note-taking error. We are grateful to Larson for his
careful proofreading, which will ensure that the error is not perpetuated. But
what of his other objections?
Hester did report that horse remains from St. Petersburg, Florida, had been
dated to 2040 BP (before present), or just before the time of Christ. While
he calls this date “anomalous” and says that it is “suspect”
because “the strata are unconsolidated and the fauna may have been redeposited,”61
it is difficult to see how stratigraphic uncertainties would affect radiocarbon
Larson maintains, against Sorenson, that Ripley Bullen did not claim that horses
could have survived until 3000 BC in Florida. Rather, he says, “Bullen
spoke in general of the extinction of mammals in Florida” and, contrary
to Sorenson’s assertion, “not specifically of the horse” (p. 191).
We disagree. A careful reading of the document in question indicates that Bullen
did include horses in his general statement about the possible survival of Pleistocene
fauna. Sorenson never said that Bullen believes in such survival, merely that
he allows that it might have occurred.
Larson claims that Sorenson takes Paul Martin’s statement about the theoretical
possibility of horses and certain other Pleistocene fauna surviving to as late
as 2000 BC out of context, since, in fact, Martin says that only extinct species
of bison have been indisputably demonstrated to have survived into the postglacial
period (p. 191). But Martin’s view of the current state of the empirical
evidence (with which, by the way, Sorenson tells us he tends to agree) does
not rule out (even for him) the theoretical possibility of future evidence that
may mandate revision of current ideas. Dr. Sorenson is only saying that Martin
did not regard the question as definitively closed. And his reading of Martin
appears to us to be correct.62
Although horses are generally thought to have been extinct by the Preclassic
period, several Mesoamerican sites have yielded horse remains found in a context
suggesting later survival. Mercer excavated horse remains that showed no signs
of fossilization from several sites in southwest Yucatan.63 Additional tooth
and other bone fragments, heavily encrusted with lime, were discovered by Robert
T. Hatt at another site in Yucatan that may have been pre-Columbian.64
As his next target, Larson turns to a find of horse teeth from a site in the
Yucatan called Mayapan (p. 192). Larson claims that Sorenson “misrepresented
the evidence” (p. 192). The find is not really pre-Columbian, he
says, but prehistoric Pleistocene. He points out that the horse teeth were “heavily
mineralized [fossilized]” (p. 192) and were the only materials at
the site showing that characteristic. He notes that “the reporting scholar
did not suggest that the Mayan people had ever seen a pre-Columbian horse, but
that in Pleistocene times horses lived in Yucatán, and that ‘the
tooth fragments reported here could have been transported in fossil condition’
by the Maya as curiosities” (p. 192). Thus, Larson concludes, Sorenson’s
“assertion about pre-Columbian horses must be corrected to refer to ancient
Pleistocene horses” (p. 192), which would put them thousands of years
before the Jaredites (pp. 31-32).
We are at a loss, however, to see where the article “misrepresented the evidence.”
Every item that Larson cites as a corrective to it is mentioned in
it. (It is true that Sorenson was unimpressed with the idea of Pleistocene curios,
for which, he says, the biologist proposing the idea can cite neither evidence
nor precedents.) Furthermore, although Larson seems to be saying that Sorenson
misapplied the term pre-Columbian to the Mayapan finds, the term comes
from the original “reporting scholar” himself—Clayton Ray, of the Museum of
Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Massachusetts—who was using it to say, at
a minimum, that the horse remains do not derive from the colonial or postcolonial
period. The title of Ray’s article, from the Journal of Mammalogy,
is “Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan,” and he applies the label “pre-Columbian”
not only to the discoveries at Mayapan but to those made in three caves in southwestern
Yucatan—excavated by H. C. Mercer and later studied by Hatt—in which horse
material was found associated with pottery and showing no sign of fossilization.
Ray concludes, “The [Mayapan] tooth fragments reported here could have been
transported in fossil condition as curios by the Mayans, but the more numerous
horse remains reported by Hatt and Mercer (if truly pre-Columbian) could scarcely
be explained in this manner.”65
Incidentally, horse bones were also found in association with cultural remains
at Loltun Cave in northern Yucatan. There, archaeologists identified a sequence
of sixteen layers numbered from the surface downward and obtained a radiocarbon
date of about 1800 BC from charcoal fragments found between layers VIII and
VII.66 Significantly, forty-four fragments of horse remains were found in the
layers VII, VI, V, and II—above all in association with pottery. But the
earliest Maya ceramics in the region date no earlier than 900-400 BC.67
Archaeologist Peter Schmidt notes,
What clearly results is that the presence of the horse, Equus
conversidens, alone is not sufficient evidence to declare a stratum totally
Pleistocene given the long series of combinations of this species with later
materials in the collections of Mercer, Hatt and others. Something went on here
that is difficult to explain. [Difficult to explain, that is, in light of current
theories about the extinction of the pre-Columbian horse.] If a late survival
of the horse and other Pleistocene animals is postulated as an explanation of
the situation, it would have to be extended almost to the beginnings of the
ceramic era, which will not please the paleontologists.68
The point here is, simply, that the question of pre-Columbian horses is not
closed. That’s all. And it seems to us that Professor Sorenson’s
caution here is better grounded than Larson’s certainty.69
Tapir as “Horse.” As Professor Sorenson and others have repeatedly
pointed out, the practice of naming flora and fauna is far more complicated
than critics of the Book of Mormon have been willing to admit. For instance,
people typically give the names of familiar animals to animals that have newly
come to their attention. Think, for instance, of sea lions, sea cows, and sea
horses. When the Romans, confronting the army of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 280 BC,
first encountered the elephant, they called it a Lucca bos or “Lucanian
cow.” The Greeks’ naming of the hippopotamus (the word means “horse of the river”
or “river horse”) is also a good example. (Some will recall that the hippopotamus
is called a Nilpferd, a “Nile horse,” in German.) When the Spanish
first arrived in Central America, the natives called their horses and donkeys
tzimin, meaning “tapir.” The Arabs’ labeling of the turkey as an Ethiopian
or Roman rooster (dik al-abash or dik rumi), the Conquistadors’ use of the
terms lion and tiger to designate the jaguar, and the fact that several Amerindian
groups called horses deer represent but a few more examples of a very
well-attested global phenomenon. The Nephites too could easily have assigned
familiar Old World names to the animals they discovered in the New.
Larson dismisses Sorenson’s suggestion that the Mesoamerican tapir may have
been considered by some Book of Mormon writers to be a kind of “horse” or donkey,
declaring that the tapir is much more like a pig (pp. 192-93). Here, though,
it is important to remember that Sorenson was comparing the horse to the larger
Mesoamerican tapir (Tapiris bairdii) and not one of the smaller species.
It is also noteworthy that Sorenson is not the only scholar to suggest the similarity.
Kamar Al-Shimas notes that in contrast to pigs, the tapir is one of the cleanest
of animals.70 Hans Krieg likewise feels that the comparison with the pig is
Whenever I saw a tapir, it reminded me of an animal similar to a
horse or a donkey. The movements as well as the shape of the
animal, especially the high neck with the small brush mane, even the expression
on the face is much more like a horse’s than a pig’s. When watching a tapir
on the alert, . . . as he picks himself up when recognizing danger, taking off
in a gallop, almost nothing remains of the similarity to a pig.71
“At first glance,” note Hans Frädrich and Erich Thenius, “the
tapirs’ movements also are not similar to those of their relatives, the
rhinoceros and the horses. In a slow walk, they usually keep the head lowered.”
When one observes them running, however, this changes:
In a trot, they lift their heads and move their legs in an elastic manner. The
amazingly fast gallop is seen only when the animals are in flight, playing,
or when they are extremely excited. The tapirs can also climb quite well, even
though one would not expect this because of their bulky figure. Even steep slopes
do not present obstacles. They jump vertical fences or walls, rising on their
hindlegs and leaping up.72
While most species of tapir are much smaller, Baird’s tapir, the Mesoamerican
species native to Mexico and Guatemala, is rather large. Adult tapirs of this
species are about a meter high, nearly two meters in length, and can weigh over
300 kilograms.73 As one authority notes, “This is the largest of the Tapirs,
equaling a small donkey in bulk and sometimes almost so in size.”74
Likewise, A. Starker Leopold describes Baird’s tapir as “the size of a pony
but chunkier and with much shorter legs.”75 Ernest P. Walker describes them
as “about the size of a donkey.”76 Tapirs can also be domesticated
quite easily if they are captured when young.77 Young tapirs who have lost their
mothers are easily tamed and will eat from a bowl. They like to be petted and
will often allow children to ride on their backs.78 “Ordinarily, the tapir makes
no vocal sound, although when alarmed or excited it emits a sharp squeal like
that of a horse.”79 Since many authorities on animals have compared the
tapirs to horses or donkeys, one cannot so easily dismiss the suggestion that
Nephi and others might have as well.
Following and expanding upon Ferguson’s critique, Larson discusses the
issue of metals in the Book of Mormon (pp. 195-204). The conventional
view, which Larson accepts, is that metallurgy was unknown in Mesoamerica until
about AD 900. In several publications, however, Sorenson has questioned the
adequacy of this opinion for explaining Mesoamerican culture.80
“The reconciliation of archaeological evidence with ancient written sources,”
notes Miriam Balmuth, “is one of the more frustrating and, at the same
time, tantalizing exercises both for the historian and for the classical archaeologist.”81
Take, for example, the question of tin. Ancient Near Eastern documents seem
to refer to tin, yet, because no archaeological specimens have been found, some
scholars argue that tin was not really known. “If Assyriologists were
asked to confine their translations to the material culture recovered through
excavation,” observe J. D. Muhly and T. A. Wertime, “they
would be in serious trouble.” The written record refers to tin, but archaeology
has apparently not caught up with the historical sources. Consequently, “The
absence of actual objects made of metallic tin from excavations in Mesopotamia
is a problem, but not a serious one.” They further note that since tin
was considered a precious metal, it was frequently controlled by rulers and
recycled by being melted down for reuse.82 Similarly, P. R. S. Moorey reiterates
that, in societies like ancient Mesopotamia where metals were imported,
they were often recycled. He also observes that metal finds tend to be rare
in settlement and temple excavations anyway. “What evidence there is,
is primarily mortuary. When an archaeological period is ill-represented in the
mortuary record its metalworking is likely to be more than even obscure.”
“Consequently the actual amount of metal recovered through excavation
at any period is no guide to the scale of contemporary use nor to the full range
of techniques and the repertory of forms.”83
The observation that the discovery of metal artifacts is often rare even when
historical sources indicate their use in a particular site or region is equally
true of pre-Columbian America. “The chroniclers give the impression that
in many parts of America metal objects were in common circulation at the time
of the Conquest, and the detailed inventories of the loot sent back to Spain
during the conquests of Mexico and Peru emphasize how inadequately the archaeological
discoveries reflect the actual situation.”84 “At the time of the
Spanish Conquest, the Totonac had a certain amount of precious metals. . . .
Nevertheless, as far as we know, metal artifacts have not appeared in archaeological
sites definitely identified as Totonac.”85 “Mayapan, as the result
of looting, is so poor in objects of metal that it is difficult to say that
the few objects that remain really give an adequate picture of what was once
to be found there.”86 “The total absence of metal during the Toltec
period [i.e., at Tula] is inexplicable, since this was already in the full epoch
of the use of gold, silver and copper. This presents a mystery that up to now
none have been able to explain; was the use of metal much later or have the
archaeologists not had the luck to find it? The only two objects which have
been found correspond undoubtedly to the Aztec Horizon.”87 “The
Aztec testimony that the Toltecs were mastercraftsmen has not yet been confirmed
by archaeology. . . . Tula has yielded no metal of any kind,
neither copper nor gold, but this need scarcely surprise us, for as yet no fine
tombs, where one would expect such treasures, have been located there. On the
other hand, many of the ornaments portrayed in stone are painted yellow, a color
reserved for gold in the Mexican canon.”88
Larson argues that the lack of evidence for metallurgy in ancient Mesoamerica
during Book of Mormon times “constitute[s] a major problem for the historicity
of the Book of Mormon” (p. 204), yet there are likewise substantial
intellectual challenges in accepting the currently prevailing scholarly view
at face value.89 Metals were known and worked in northwestern South America
from at least 1500 BC.90 It is also well established that there was regular
maritime trade between Ecuador and West Mexico from at least 1500 BC.91 This
and other evidence has led some Mesoamerican scholars to question the currently
accepted picture that ancient Mesoamericans had no knowledge of or interest
in metals until AD 900.
At Nayarit in western Mexico, Chinesca earrings have been found that date to
between 100 BC and AD 250. “Carelessly rendered openwork ear ornaments
curiously suggest multiple metal rings,” although so far “no metal
from the Protoclassic period has been found.”92 These and similar clay
ornaments are in a style commonly found in northern South America, where similar
figurines have earrings of the same style in metal. As one scholar explains:
The earrings may have been made of perishable material such as fiber or cordage,
but this seems unlikely. An interesting possibility is that some of these multiple
earrings might have been metal. We know of no metal objects of the antiquity
we ascribe to the West Mexican shaft-chamber tomb figures, though metal was
in common use in South America by that time. The oldest dated metal objects
in West Mexico are placed at about AD 600-700, three to five centuries
later than the dated shaft-chamber tomb figures, and a great abundance of metal
artifacts is characteristic of the Postclassic after AD 900. Nevertheless
the oldest metallurgy in Mesoamerica appears to occur in West Mexico, and this
is one of the features convincingly attributed to an introduction from South
America by sea. Furthermore, later contexts do yield a considerable number of
small rings made of copper wire.
Given that metal is the most obvious material to use for the earrings portrayed
and that nothing else in the archaeological record could represent such earrings,
the multiple earrings shown on West Mexican shaft-chamber tomb figures are intriguing
indications of some interesting possibilities. First, the use of metal may be
older in West Mexico than is now known. Second, some of the tomb figures may
continue later than our present dating evidence would indicate. Neither possibility
is proven; however, it would not be surprising to find one or both borne out
when fuller information is acquired.93
Ferguson and Larson suggest that Book of Mormon references to “chains”
pose a problem for the Book of Mormon (p. 195). Of course, chains were
known at a late period in pre-Columbian times. Some of these seem to have been
associated with Mesoamerican elite. “When the king went to war, he wore
besides his armour, particular badges of distinction,” which included
such ornaments as “a necklace, or chain of gold and gems.”94 Ixtlilxochitl,
brother of the king of Texcoco, is said to have given Cortés “a
golden chain as a sign of peace.”95 Obviously, in Aztec times, a metal
chain of gold and gems was part of the royal regalia. Actual links from chains
that appear to date to ad 1100-1550 have been unearthed in west Mexico.96
Were chains known in ancient Mesoamerica before AD 900? According to the standard
view, no, but enigmatic references in the literature dealing with pre-Columbian
art describe representations of “chains” on Classic and Preclassic
monuments.97 Perhaps the earliest known example can be found at Abaj Takalik
in Guatemala. “A feature of the individual on this stela [Stela 2], as
well as that on Stela 1, is a chain which hangs diagonally to the rear from
the belt.”98 Were these chains of precious metal and gems similar to those
worn by later Aztec rulers? This seems a reasonable interpretation.99
Specimens of metal bells are well known in late pre-Columbian history after
AD 900. In some places where metals were scarce, Mesoamericans sometimes
made artistic imitations of such objects in clay and sculpture. At Chachalcas
and Zempoala in Central Veracruz, Mexico, at the time of the Spanish Conquest,
“they had so little copper that they imitated metal bells in pottery.”100
Such imitations of metal bells show a knowledge of metal bells even if the artists
themselves did not possess any metal. Similar clay bells known from some Toltec
sites have been said to “tantalizingly suggest metal prototypes.”101
Other specimens are known from North America dating from AD 900 to the 1500s.102
Similar clay bells are also known in Mexico from the Postclassic period.103
Nine pottery bells, part of a lavish mortuary offering, were found in a tomb
near the town of Columba, Guatemala, and date to the Late Classic.104 Additional
specimens from Mexico date to the Preclassic period.105 A small ceramic vase
“in the form of an acrobat or juggler wearing bells attached to his ankles”
was found at Monte Alban and dates to the Monte Alban II period (100 BC-AD
300).106 During excavations at Gualupita near Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, archaeologists
discovered a “carefully grooved pendant perforated at the neck”
in the manner of a metal bell. The archaeologists who excavated the find argued
that the object was “probably of Gualupita II date,” around 400-100
BC.107 Other archaeologists have discussed a stone pectoral found in the Maya
lowlands. Carved on the pectoral is a seated figure attired in elaborate regalia
of the Izapan style. Joined to the left armband is an elongated object to which
are “attached bell-shaped objects with pendant beads.” On stylistic
grounds, Coe dates the piece to 300 BC.108 Significantly, there was a word for
bell in the Proto-Mixe-Zoquean language as early as 1500 BC.109
One aspect of the issue of Mesoamerican metallurgy that was unknown to Ferguson
and is still often ignored is the question of linguistic evidence. In 1985 Sorenson
cited an early study by Robert E. Longacre and René Millon indicating
that there were words for metal in Proto-Mixtecan.110 “In identifying terms
that must have been in use before the descendant tongues split apart,” he wrote,
summarizing their article, “the researchers were puzzled by the fact that a
word for ‘metal’ seemed to have existed in the proto-language at about 1000
BC. Of course metalworking is not supposed to have been going on then.”111 Larson
claims, however, that Sorenson’s statement that the researchers were “puzzled”
misrepresents his source (p. 197), but we do not see any evidence of misrepresentation.
Longacre and Millon found that the linguistic evidence for these terms was considered
“solid” (p. 197).112 As far as we can see, the only reason they questioned it
was on the basis of the apparent absence of archaeological evidence for metals
at so early a period. Unwilling to grant that metals could have been known so
early, they suggested that the original meaning of the terms for bell
may have been rattle, but they note that this possibility is remote
and that “it is impossible to be certain of this.”113 This suggests not only
puzzlement but also discomfort at countering the accepted paradigm. More recent
linguistic research, however, has yielded additional evidence that Larson has
chosen to ignore. Since Longacre and Millon’s study was published, Lyle Campbell
and Terrence Kaufman have found words for metal in Proto-Mixe-Zoquean, which
is thought to have been the language of the Olmecs.114 Roberto Escalante has
also discovered words for metal in Proto-Mayan, Proto-Proto-Huaven, and Proto-Otomanguean.115
In short, there is now solid linguistic evidence that all of the major proto-languages
of Mesoamerica had words for metal. This evidence should be confronted and not
Larson complains about the complete absence of iron in ancient Mesoamerica (p. 197).
Yet he does not appear to have addressed all of the evidence. In 1938, for example,
archaeologist Sigvald Linné found a tomb that included an “iron
plate.” According to Linné, “The iron plate is no doubt to
be counted among the most remarkable objects that have at any time been discovered
in Mexico seeing there is nothing to indicate that it is of post-Columbian origin.”117
In another find, which dates before AD 400, Linné found more iron artifacts
in another tomb—including an iron pyrite mirror and a “metal-resembling
substance,” in “small, irregular shaped pieces. Analysis has shown
them to contain copper and iron.”118 René Rebetez noted several
pre-Columbian artifacts such as mirrors, necklaces, and a pendant from the Tarascan
region, which consisted of iron stuck to slate stone. It is not yet understood
how the artificial bonding was done, but the presence of iron in the find is
noteworthy. Some nineteen other similar objects are in private collections.119
Edwin M. Shook and Alfred V. Kidder reported an interesting find—three
lumps of iron oxide, “moulded to conical form”—from a tomb
at KaminaljuyÃº, which dates to the Miraflores period (100-200 BC).120
A companion tomb in the same structure contained two or three other “cones”
of a similar nature.121 Since molding iron oxide to a particular form would
be exceedingly difficult, the lumps are almost certainly oxidized iron objects.
Significantly, KaminaljuyÃº is considered by Book of Mormon students to
be the most likely candidate for the immediate land of Nephi,122 the only region
for which the Book of Mormon states that iron technology was known to the Nephites.
Iron was probably also used in the weaponry of the Mesoamerican elite. Ixtlilxochitl
states that the Toltecs had “clubs studded with iron.”123 Another
tradition relates that Cuaomoat and Ceutarit, the ancestral heroes of several
west Mexican tribes, “taught them to make fire and gave them also machetes
or cutlasses of iron.”124 The question of Mesoamerican swords has, of
course, been discussed elsewhere.125 Larson dogmatically insists that the blades
encountered by Limhi’s party had to have been similar to Europeans ones,
but they could just as easily have been macuahuitl or cimeter-like weapons inset
with blades of iron—meteoric or otherwise.
Larson’s suggestion that Book of Mormon references to metallurgy imply
some kind of massive “ferrous industry” is totally unjustified (p. 196).126
The text implies nothing of the kind. “The Book of Mormon does specify
the practice of smelting [iron into steel] among the Jaredites” (p. 196).
True enough, but the practice is only mentioned once in early Jaredite history—where
it was considered one of the notable deeds of Shule, who is described as “mighty
in judgment” (Ether 7:8). “Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim,
and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom
he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned
to the city Nehor, and gave battle unto his brother Corihor” (Ether 7:9).
In spite of this great achievement by Shule, there is no subsequent mention
of steel among the Jaredites (Ether 9:17). Perhaps the skill of making steel
may not have been passed down to later generations.
Nephi’s metallurgical skills included the ability to make some form of
steel, a skill already known in the ancient Near East. He indicates that he
taught these and other skills to some of his people shortly after his arrival
in the land of promise, yet there is no further mention of steel after the time
of Jarom (Jarom 1:8). When the Zeniffite colony returned to the land of Nephi,
they are said to have used iron and some other metals for decorative purposes,
but not steel (Mosiah 11:8). What this may suggest is that the ability to make
steel among Book of Mormon peoples was limited to a few individuals or lineage
groups and that it could have been lost after only a few generations.
In many African villages, for example, one family of artisans might supply the
metallurgical needs of thousands, yet the ferrous skills possessed by those
few could easily be lost in just one raid. It seems reasonable to suggest that
a similar situation occurred among the early Jaredites and Nephites in ancient
Mesoamerica. In a recent study of North American copper pan pipes, one scholar
attempted to explain why certain copper technologies, if once available in North
American Middle Woodland cultures, were not passed down to subsequent groups.
She reasoned, “The technological information must have been restricted
to a limited number of individuals and artisans. Following the disruption of
the interaction sphere, this information in the hands of so few artificers and
entrepreneurs was not passed on and was consequently lost. There was no retention
of that knowledge and when, half a millennium later new societies developed,
it was with new copper techniques and new artifact styles.”127
Script and Language
Following Ferguson’s critique, Larson conjectures why no pre-Columbian
Hebrew or Egyptian scripts have yet been uncovered in Mesoamerica and suggests
that this poses a major problem for the historicity of the Book of Mormon (pp. 204-6).
Still, while it would certainly be interesting to find examples of such scripts,
it is hardly surprising that we have not. Surviving examples of Mesoamerican
writing from the Preclassic period are extremely rare, even though it is believed
that such records were at one time numerous, and it is not difficult to catalog
reasons why this should be so. Records written on perishable materials would
not be expected to survive. Mormon indicates that the Nephites’ enemies
systematically tried to destroy any records possessed by the Nephites (Mormon
6:6), and the deliberate mutilation and destruction of records for political
and ideological purposes is well known in Mesoamerican history.128 In reference
to an inscribed stela in a hitherto unknown script recently found in a river
in Veracruz, distinguished Mayanist Linda Schele suggests, “There may,
in fact, have been many such writing systems that for one reason or another,
did not survive.”129
The issue of potential influences of Old World Semitic languages upon Mesoamerica
is an interesting one that has yet to receive serious scholarly attention by
Mesoamerican scholars. In a preliminary study made over thirty years ago, Pierre
Agrinier, a non-Mormon Mesoamerican archaeologist, compiled evidence suggesting
a potential relationship between Zapotec and Hebrew.130 In 1964, Professor William
Shipley, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, reviewed Agrinier’s
work, which had been forwarded to him by Thomas Stuart Ferguson. In a letter
written that year, Shipley stated:
The evidence presented in the report, particularly that having to do with possible
indications of common origin for Hebrew and Zapotec, are certainly adequate
to demonstrate the desirability of further research in this same, and other
similar, directions. The recurrence of certain consonants in the two languages,
notably the highly stable bilabial series, is suggestive of some historical
relationship or other meaningful tie. The general technique so far used may
certainly be refined as work progresses, yielding ever more dependable results.
I should say that this research points to possible results of a highly important
and dramatic nature. If valid evidence of the type sought could be found, then,
certainly, a major reorganization of the history of the Old World-New
World relationships would be necessary. Current general research in historical
linguistics is consonant with the methods and aims of your work—its value
cannot be overestimated.131
Agrinier published a brief synopsis of his preliminary studies in 1969.132 Following
up on that report, Robert F. Smith uncovered even closer correspondences between
Zapotec and Egyptian.133 Unfortunately, these preliminary studies did not receive
wide circulation and are not yet well known. More recently, anthropologist Mary
Foster, apparently independent of the earlier work by Agrinier and Smith, has
compiled extensive linguistic evidence suggesting similar influences upon New
World languages. According to Foster,
Linguistic reconstruction across hitherto postulated genetic boundaries demonstrates
that Afro-Asiatic languages, and in particular ancient Egyptian, are genetically
close, and possibly ancestral, to a group of geographically distant languages
in both the Old and New Worlds. In the Old World these include Dravidian of
southern India, Chinese, Malayo-Polynesian; and in the New World, Quechua of
the Southern American Andes, and such Mesoamerican languages as Zoquean, Mayan,
Zapotec, and Mixtec.134
Apparent connections with certain pre-Columbian New World languages are of particular
interest. “Specifically, the Mixe-Zoque languages of southern Mexico,
hypothesized to derive from the language spoken by the Olmec peoples, as well
as the Mayan languages of Mexico and Central America, are demonstrably closely
related to, and probably descended from, ancient Egyptian.”135 “Because
some connections between Old and New World languages are so close as to throw
doubt on an exclusive scenario of ancient Bering Straits crossings, migration
theories will need revision.”136 Based upon her own analysis of these
languages, Foster believes that “a wider Egyptian influence in the New
World is very probable, with languages both splitting off from an Olmec prototype,
or perhaps introduced through successive oceanic crossings.”137 Brian
D. Stubbs has also marshalled substantial evidence of a Semitic influence on
It has been observed that the past is, in a very real sense, “another
country.” Moreover, it is a foreign country that we cannot visit. We must
rely, for our knowledge of it, on scattered surviving documents written by a
tiny minority of those who lived there—in pre-Columbian America, by and
large, we must do without even such meager documentary resources—as well
as a more or less random collection of tangible but mute souvenirs. And we are
all too prone to imagine that foreign country in terms mistakenly borrowed from
our own. Clearly, attempts to reconstruct the past, and particularly the distant
past, must be undertaken with considerable caution, circumspection, even humility.
In historiography as in travel, dogmatism interferes with appreciation; openness
to even surprising differences is vitally important.
If Thomas Stuart Ferguson really lost his faith in the Book of Mormon, even
temporarily, he appears to have done so too hastily, on the basis of a small
and inadequate collection of often fuzzy snapshots—some of which don’t
even pertain to the right country. Ferguson’s doubts are not a reliable
guide, and Stan Larson’s biographical polemic, based on and seeking to
amplify those doubts, is not a trustworthy guidebook.
- For another review of this book, see John Gee, “The Hagiography of
Doubting Thomas,” FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 158-83.
- Other Larson publications on Ferguson include Stan Larson, “The Odyssey
of Thomas Stuart Ferguson,” Dialogue 23/1 (1990): 55-93; and Larson,
“Thomas Stuart Ferguson and Book of Mormon Archaeology,” in Mormon Mavericks:
Essays on Dissenters, ed. John Sillito and Susan Staker (Salt Lake City:
Signature Books, 2002), 243-83.
- John L. Sorenson, in addendum to John Gee, review of . . . By His Own
Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, by Charles
M. Larson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 118.
- Professor William Hamblin asked a history class in spring 1996 if they had
ever heard of Thomas Stuart Ferguson. Out of ninety students, none had. There
is no reason to suppose that Ferguson’s name-recognition has increased
- For further information on the founding and purposes of the New World Archaeological
Foundation, see Daniel C. Peterson, “On the New World Archaeological Foundation,”
in this number of the FARMS Review , pages 221-33.
- For a brief sketch of Professor Jakeman’s contribution to research
on the Book of Mormon, see “Memorial: Max Wells Jakeman,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 79.
- See Peterson, “Chattanooga Cheapshot,” 55-56. As their
frequent and very displeased allusions to it in Behind the Mask of Mormonism make unmistakably clear, Ankerberg and Weldon were well aware of the critique
to which they had been subjected in “Chattanooga Cheapshot.” Although
they quietly changed a number of passages to evade that critique, they appear
to have consciously decided to repeat their incorrect claims about Thomas Stuart
- Compare Janis Hutchinson, The Mormon Missionaries: An Inside Look at Their
Real Message and Methods (Grand Rapids: Kregel Resources, 1995), which speaks
of “BYU’s Stuart Ferguson,” although Ferguson never worked
for BYU. Kurt Van Gorden, Mormonism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 9 n.
9, makes “Thomas Steward [sic] Ferguson” the “founder of the
Archaeology Department at Brigham Young University.” Jerald Tanner and
Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 140-41,
356, and Tanner and Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? 332-33,
also make much of the Ferguson case. See, however, the statement of John L.
Sorenson in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 117-19.
- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements
(New York: Harper, 1951).
- Bruce Warren, e-mail to Daniel C. Peterson, 7 May 1996.
- On her propensity to read Joseph Smith’s mind, see Hugh Nibley, “No, Ma’am,
That’s Not History: A Brief Review of Mrs. Brodie’s Reluctant Vindication
of a Prophet She Seeks to Expose,” in Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass:
The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 1-45.
- Larry Ferguson, telephone conversation with Daniel C. Peterson, 15 April
2004; see Larry Ferguson, “The Most Powerful Book,” Dialogue 23/3
- The statement is reproduced in Bruce W. Warren and Thomas Stuart Ferguson,
The Messiah in Ancient America (Provo, UT: Book of Mormon Research
Foundation, 1987), 283. As can be seen from its publication date, this book
appeared several years after Ferguson’s death. It is a reworking of Ferguson’s
much earlier work One Fold and One Shepherd (San Francisco: Books
of California, 1958).
- See Robert L. Brown and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive:
“A Study of Anti-Mormon Deception,” ed. Barbara Ellsworth (Mesa, AZ:
Brownsworth, 1981). This hilarious and truly devastating book is now available
online at www.fairlds.org/pubs/liw/liwv1.html (accessed 28 April 2004).
- Robert Brown, telephone conversation with Daniel C. Peterson, 15 April 2004.
- Larson, “Odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson,” 57.
- Ibid., 67; Larson, “Ferguson and Book of Mormon Archaeology,”
- Thomas Stuart Ferguson, “Introduction concerning the New World Archaeological
Foundation,” Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation 1
(Orinda, CA: NWAF, 1956), 6.
- John Sorenson, e-mail to Daniel Peterson, 23 April 1996. Compare Sorenson,
in addendum, 118 (see note 3 above).
- Sorenson to Peterson, 23 April 1996.
- See, for example, Gordon A. Madsen, “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal
Setting,” BYU Studies 30/2 (1990): 91-108; Milton V. Backman Jr.,
Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts,
2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980).
- Sorenson, in addendum, 119 (see note 3 above).
- John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995): 79-82.
- See, for example, John Gee, “Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri,”
FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 46-59; Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac
and Jacob,” 19-84; Gee, “‘Bird Island’ Revisited, or the Book of Mormon through
Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon
7/1 (1995): 219-28; Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” Review of Books on the
Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 93-117; Gee, “Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,”
Ensign, July 1992, 60-62; Gee, “Notes on the Sons of Horus” (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 1991); and Gee, “References to Abraham Found in Two Egyptian Texts,”
Insights (September 1991): 1, 3. Also significant, but appearing
after the publication of Larson’s book, are John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay,
and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in The Disciple as
Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard
Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H.
Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 175-217; and John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks,
“Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case
Study,” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul
Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001), 63-98.
- Gee and Ricks, “Historical Plausibility,” 80.
- Ibid., 78-80.
- Ibid., 75-76, 78-80.
- Incidentally, if the Egyptologists really said that the Book of Abraham
papyri were just garden-variety pieces of the Book of the Dead, they were wrong.
Perhaps Ferguson misunderstood them. For, at a very minimum, the papyri include
materials from the Book of Breathings.
- John L. Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” in Book
of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed.
Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 391-521, especially 482-87.
- Sorenson to Peterson, 23 April 1996.
- Warren to Peterson, 7 May 1996.
- Deanne G. Matheny, “Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec
Geography,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical
Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
- John L. Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 297-361.
- Ibid., 339-40.
- Ibid., 338-39.
- Robert F. Smith, “Some ‘Neologisms’ from the Mormon Canon,” in Conference
on the Language of the Mormons (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Language
Research Center, 1973), 66. This point has been noted by John L. Sorenson
in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 185-86; Sorenson, “Viva Zapato!” 338.
- Sorenson, “Viva Zapato!” 341-42.
- Anthony P. Andrews and Fernando Robles Castellanos, “An Archaeological Survey
of Northwest Yucatan, Mexico,” Mexicon 26/1 (2004): 12. Our thanks
to John A. Tvedtnes for bringing this article to our attention.
- See the table at Andrews and Castellanos, “Archaeological Survey,”
- A good starting point would have been the annotated sources on elephants
compiled in John L. Sorenson, “Animals in the Book of Mormon: An Annotated
Bibliography” (FARMS paper, 1992).
- W. D. Strong, “North American Indian Traditions Suggesting a Knowledge of
the Mammoth,” American Anthropologist 36 (1934): 81-88.
- Ibid., 81.
- Ludwell H. Johnson III, “Men and Elephants in America,” Scientific Monthly
75 (1952): 215-21.
- W. Stempel, “Die Tierbilder der Mayahandschriften,” Zeitschrift für
Ethnologie 40 (1908): 704-18.
- Eric Thompson, “The ‘Children of the Sun’ and Central America,” Antiquity
2/6 (1928): 167.
- Gladys Ayer Nomland, “Proboscis Statue from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec,”
American Anthropologist 34 (1932): 591-93.
- S. L. Vartanyan, V. E. Garutt, and A. V. Sher, “Holocene Dwarf Mammoths
from Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic,” Nature 362 (25 March
- Vartanyan, Garutt, and Sher, “Holocene Dwarf Mammoths,” 337,
- Robert A. Martin and S. David Webb, “Late Pleistocene Mammals from the Devil’s
Den Fauna, Levy County,” in S. David Webb, Pleistocene Mammals of Florida
(Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1974), 144.
- Jim J. Hester, “Late Pleistocene Extinction and Radiocarbon Dating,” American
Antiquity 26/1 (1960): 71, 74.
- Ibid., 74.
- John L. Sorenson, “The Elephant in Ancient America,” in Progress in
Archaeology: An Anthology, comp. and ed. Ross T. Christensen (Provo,
UT: Brigham Young University, 1963), 98.
- Louise Martin, “The Faunal Remains from Tell Es-sa >Idiyeh,” Levant
20 (1988): 83.
- Jacques Soustelle, The Olmecs: The Oldest Civilization in Mexico
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 23, emphasis added.
- Edwin Yamauchi, “The Current State of Old Testament Historiography,” in
Faith, Tradition, and History: Old Testament Historiography in Its Near
Eastern Context, ed. A. R. Millard, James K. Hoffmeier, and David W.
Baker (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 34.
- John E. Clark, conversation with Daniel C. Peterson, 26 May 2004.
- Sándor Bökönyi, History of Domestic Mammals in Central
and Eastern Europe, trans. Lili Halápy (Budapest: Akadémiai
Kiadó, 1974), 267.
- Simon J. M. Davis, The Archaeology of Animals (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1987), 24. We would like to thank John A. Tvedtnes for providing
- Ibid., 23.
- Hester, “Late Pleistocene Extinction,” 65; cf. 70.
- On the issue of the horse, Sorenson states, “Larson’s premature
certainty on questionable points recalls Ferguson’s own premature certainties.
On [p. 190], Larson says, ‘No depictions of the horse occur in any
pre-Columbian art.’ Maybe, and maybe not. There are those (non-Mormons)
who believe there are such depictions. Larson just happens not to know enough
about the matter. A great deal of care and effort deserves to be exercised in
further research before the question can be settled. (‘Negative evidence’
is particularly problematic in any area of science.) Merely to quote some authority
who agrees with one’s presupposition is not a substitute for the exhaustive
study that still ought to be done.” Sorenson to Peterson, 23 April 1996.
- Henry C. Mercer, The Hill-Caves of Yucatan: A Search for Evidence of
Man’s Antiquity in the Caverns of Central America (Philadelphia: Lippincott,
- Robert T. Hatt et al., “Faunal and Archeological Researches in Yucatan Caves,”
Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 33 (1953): 71-72.
- Clayton E. Ray, “Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan,” Journal of Mammalogy
38/2 (1957): 278, emphasis added.
- Peter J. Schmidt, “La entrada del hombre a la PenÃnsula de Yucatán,”
in OrÃgenes del Hombre Americano (Seminario), comp. Alba González
Jácome (México: SecretarÃa de Educación PÃºblica,
1988), 253. We would like to thank John L. Sorenson for providing us with
a copy of this reference.
- Ibid., 255, translation by John L. Sorenson.
- On this side issue, Sorenson claims: “Nowhere have I ever claimed that ‘horses’
in the sense of Equus equus (the horse as we know it colloquially) survived
from the Pleistocene down to Book of Mormon times. My position has always
been that other animals could have been termed ‘horses’ in the English translation
of the Book of Mormon yet that perhaps a true Equus form survived down to
‘historical’ times. The FARMS Update of June 1984, ‘Once More: The
Horse,’ ended with the appropriate qualification (penned by me) to which I
still adhere: ‘A careful study of the reported remains . . . ought to be done.
Radiometric dating might also be worthwhile. Full references to related material
will be furnished to any qualified person who desires to carry out such a
study.’ No such study has yet been done, regardless of the confidence with
which establishment scholars may claim that late survivals were impossible.
They have never examined the relevant scientific evidence.” Sorenson to Peterson,
23 April 1996.
- Kamar Al-Shimas, The Mexican Southland (Fowler, IN: Benton Review
Shop, 1922), 112.
- Hans Krieg, cited by Hans Frädrich and Erich Thenius, “Tapirs,” in
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, ed. Bernhard Grzimek (New York:
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1972–75), 13:19–20, emphasis added.
- Ibid., 20.
- Ibid., 18–19.
- Ivan T. Sanderson, Living Mammals of the World (Garden City, NY:
Hanover House, ), 224, emphasis added.
- A. Starker Leopold, Wildlife of Mexico: The Game Birds and Mammals
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 488, emphasis added.
- Ernest P. Walker, Mammals of the World (Baltimore: John Hopkins
Press, 1964), 2:1347, emphasis added.
- Al-Shimas, Mexican Southland, 112.
- Frädrich and Thenius, “Tapirs,” 28–29.
- Leopold, Wildlife of Mexico, 491, emphasis added.
- John L. Sorenson, “Preclassic Metal?” American Antiquity 20/1 (1954):
64; Sorenson, “Indications of Early Metal in Mesoamerica,” Bulletin of
the University Archaeological Society 5 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University,
1954): 1–15; Sorenson, “A Reconsideration of Early Metal in Mesoamerica,”
Katunob 9/1 (1976): 1–21; Sorenson, Ancient American Setting,
278–88; Sorenson, “Metals and Metallurgy relating to the Book of Mormon Text”
(FARMS paper, 1992).
- Miriam S. Balmuth, “Remarks on the Appearance of the Earliest Coins,” in
Studies Presented to George M. A. Hanfmann, ed. David G. Mitten,
John G. Pedley, and Jane A. Scott (Mainz: Von Zabern, 1971), 1.
- J. D. Muhly and T. A. Wertime, “Evidence for the Sources and Use of Tin
during the Bronze Age of the Near East: A Reply to J. E. Dayton,” World
Archaeology 5/1 (1973): 117.
- P. R. S. Moorey, “The Archaeological Evidence for Metallurgy and Related
Technologies in Mesopotamia, c. 5500–2100 BC,” Iraq 44/1 (1982):
- Warwick Bray, “Ancient American Metal-Smiths,” Proceedings of the Royal
Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland for 1971 (London:
The Institute, 1971), 32.
- Isabel Kelly and Angel Palerm, The Tajin Totonac: Part 1. History, Subsistence,
Shelter and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Institute of Social Anthropology
Publication 13 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952–),
- William C. Root, “Report on Metal Objects from Mayapan,” in Mayapan,
Yucatan, Mexico, ed. H. E. D. Pollock et al., Carnegie Institution of
Washington Publication 619 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington,
- Jorge R. Acosta, “Los Toltecas,” in Los SeñorÃas y Estados
Militaristas (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de AntropologÃa e Historia,
- Michael D. Coe, Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, 4th ed.
(New York: Thames & Hudson, 1994), 141, 142.
- “It is surprising that contacts which may have spread new types of maize,
peanuts, etc., about 1450 BP did not also spread metal artifacts as curiosities
or trade pieces.” Barbara Pickersgill and Charles B. Heiser Jr., “Origins
and Distribution of Plants Domesticated in the New World Tropics,” in Origins
of Agriculture, ed. Charles A. Reed (The Hague: Mouton, 1977), 826. “The
majority of scholars,” notes Dudley Easby, an authority on Mesoamerican metallurgy,
“relying on circumstantial evidence, believe that fine metallurgy in ancient
Mexico was limited to a few centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Perhaps they are right, but it seems to me that their theory leaves much to
be explained. I daresay the historical aspect of the problem merits more investigation.”
Dudley T. Easby Jr., “Aspectos técnicos de la orfebrerÃa de
la Tumba 7 de Monte Albán,” in El Tesoro de Monte Alban (Mexico:
Instituto Nacional de AntropologÃa e Historia, 1969), 393–94, translation
by Matthew Roper.
- Dorothy Hosler, “Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy: South and Central American
Origins and West Mexican Transformations,” American Anthropologist
90/4 (1988): 835.
- Allison C. Paulson, “Patterns of Maritime Trade between South Coastal Ecuador
and Western Mesoamerica, 1500 BC–AD 600,” in The Sea in the Pre-Columbian
World: A Conference at Dumbarton Oaks, October 26th and 27th, 1974, ed.
Elizabeth P. Benson (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections,
- Elizabeth K. Easby and John F. Scott, Before Cortés, Sculpture
of Middle America: A Centennial Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970), fig. 99.
- Michael Kan, Clement Meighan, H. B. Nicholson, Sculpture of Ancient
West Mexico: Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima (Albuquerque: Los Angeles County
Museum of Art in association with University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 65.
- Abbé D. Francesco Saverio Clavigero, The History of Mexico,
trans. Charles Cullen (London: Robinson, 1787), 2:365.
- Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old
Mexico (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), 458.
- Mountjoy and Torres, “Production and Use of Prehispanic Metal Artifacts,”
- Tatiana Proskouriakoff, A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture, Carnegie
Institution of Washington Publication 593 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution
of Washington, 1950): 65, 70, 154–55.
- J. Eric S. Thompson, “Some Sculptures from Southeastern Quezaltenango, Guatemala,”
Notes on Middle American Archaeology and Ethnology 17 (30 March 1943):
- For example, representations of chains in art from the arctic Ipiutak culture
have been taken to be “imitations of similar metal objects.” Helge Larson,
“The Ipiutak Culture: Its Origin and Relationships,” in Indian Tribes
of Aboriginal America, ed. Sol Tax (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1952), 26; likewise Froelich Rainey states that such ivory carvings of chains
were clear indications that the Ipiutak “had been in touch with metal working
people.” See Rainey, “The Ipiutak Culture: Excavations at Point Hope, Alaska,”
Current Topics in Anthropology 2 (1971): 26.
- José GarcÃa Payón, “Archaeology of Central Veracruz,”
in Handbook of Middle American Indians (Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1964–76), 11:542.
- George C. Vaillant, The Aztecs of Mexico: Origin, Rise and Fall of the
Aztec Nation (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1950), 149.
- Nathaniel Spear Jr., A Treasury of Archaeological Bells (New York:
Hastings House, 1978), 203–5.
- Ibid., 227.
- Alfred V. Kidder and Edwin M. Shook, “A Unique Ancient Maya Sweathouse,
Guatemala,” in Amerikanistische Miszellen, Mitteilungen aus dem Museum
für Völkerkunde in Hamburg 25 (Hamburg: Appel, 1959), 70.
- Spear, Treasury of Archaeological Bells, 206–7.
- Frank H. Boos, The Ceramic Sculptures of Ancient Oaxaca (South
Brunswick, NJ: Barnes, 1966), 466 fig. 435.
- Suzannah B. Vaillant and George C. Vaillant, Excavations at Gualupita
(New York : American Museum of Natural History, 1934), 98, 99 fig. 29.
- Michael D. Coe, An Early Stone Pectoral from Southeastern Mexico, Studies
in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology 1 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks,
1966), 11, 14, 17.
- Robert E. Longacre and René Millon, “Proto-Mixtecan and Proto-Amuzgo-Mixtecan
Vocabularies,” Anthropological Linguistics 3/4 (1961): 29.
- Ibid., 22, 29.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 279.
- Larson’s quotation of Longacre and Millon is taken from “Proto-Mixtecan
and Proto-Amuzgo-Mixtecan Vocabularies,” 22.
- Longacre and Millon, “Proto-Mixtecan and Proto-Amuzgo-Mixtecan Vocabularies,”
- Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman, “A Linguistic Look at the Olmecs,” American
Antiquity 41/1 (1976): 80–89.
- Roberto Escalante, “El vocabulario cultural de las lenguas de Mesoamérica,”
in La Validez Teorica del Concepto Mesoamerica: XIX Mesa Redonda de la
Sociedad Mexicana de AntropologÃa (Mexico: Instituto Nacional
de AntropologÃa e Historia, 1990), 155–65.
- Hosler, an authority on metals in pre-Columbian west Mexico, cites this
same linguistic evidence for metals in Mesoamerica but fails to note the antiquity
of these terms in “Ancient West Mexican Metallurgy,” 833.
- Sigvald Linné, Zapotecan Antiquities and the Paulson Collection
in the Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Ethnographical Museum of Sweden
(n.s.) 4 (Stockholm: Bokförlags Aktiebolaget Thule, 1938), 53; cf. 75.
See Alfonso Caso and D. F. RubÃn de la Borbolla, Exploraciones
en Mitla, 1934–1935 (Mexico: Instituto Panamericano de GeografÃa
e Historia, 1936), 10, 34, translation by John L. Sorenson.
- Sigvald Linné, Mexican Highland Cultures, Ethnographical Museum
of Sweden Publication 7 (Lund, Sweden: Ohlssons, 1942), 132.
- René Rebetez, Objetos Prehispánicas de Hierro y Piedra
(Mexico: LibrerÃa Anticuaria, n.d.), 6–8, 14–15.
- Edwin M. Shook and Alfred V. Kidder, Mound E-III-3, Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala,
Contributions to American Anthropology and History 53 (Washington DC:
Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1952), 33.
- Ibid., 118.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 141–46, 167-75.
- Alfredo Chavero, Obras Históricas de Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl
(Mexico: Editora Nacional, 1952), 1:56, translation by Matthew Roper.
- Robert H. Barlow, “Straw Hats,” Tlalocan: A Journal of Source Materials
on the Native Cultures of Mexico 2/1 (1945): 94.
- Matthew Roper, “Swords and ‘Cimeters’ in the Book of
Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 34–43.
- Quotation from Ray T. Matheny, “Book of Mormon Archaeology: Sunstone
Symposium #6, Salt Lake Sheraton Hotel, August 25, 1984,” typescript,
1984, David J. Buerger Collection, MS 622, box 33, fol. 17, Manuscripts Division,
J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Claire G. Goodman, Copper Artifacts in Late Eastern Woodlands Prehistory,
ed. Anne-Marie Cantwell (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Center for
American Archeology, 1984), 73, quoting Anne-Marie Cantwell, “Pan Pipes in
Eastern North America” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society
for American Archaeology, Minneapolis, 1982).
- For historical examples from recent pre-Columbian history, see Joyce Marcus,
Mesoamerican Writing Systems: Propaganda, Myth, and History in Four Ancient
Civilizations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 146–52,
265–66, 269, 351.
- “Stone Slab in Mexico Reveals Ancient Writing System,” New York Times,
8 March 1988.
- Pierre Agrinier, “Memorandum on Linguistic Evidence for the Presence
of Israelites in Mexico,” unpublished paper in possession of Matthew
- William Shipley to Thomas S. Ferguson, 24 June 1964, Berkeley, California,
copy in possession of Matthew Roper.
- Pierre Agrinier, “Linguistic Evidence for the Presence of Israelites in
Mexico,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 112 (28 February
- Robert F. Smith, “Report on the Sawi-Zaa Linguistic Memorandum of
Pierre Agrinier” (unpublished manuscript, 13 March 1969); Smith, “Sawi-Zaa
Word Comparisons” (unpublished manuscript, September 1977).
- Mary L. Foster, “Old World Language in the Americas: 1″ (unpublished
paper prepared for the George F. Carter honorary session, Pre-Columbian Transoceanic
Transfers, Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, San Diego,
California, 20 April 1992), 1.
- Mary L. Foster, “Old World Language in the Americas: 2″ (unpublished
paper delivered at the annual Meeting of the Language Origins Society, Cambridge
University, England, September 1992), 2.
- Ibid., 3. See also her article, “The Transoceanic Trail: The Proto-Pelagian
Language Phylum,” Pre-Columbiana 1/1–2 (1998): 88-113. The hypothesis
that early America was populated entirely by migrations of prehistoric hunter-gatherers
across a land bridge that once spanned the Bering Strait is itself coming
under fire. See Michael W. Robbins and Jeffrey Winters, “Land Bridge Theory
Tested,” Discover 25/1 (2004): 32.
- Foster, “Old World Language in the Americas: 2,” 3.
- See “Was There Hebrew Language in Ancient America? An Interview with
Brian Stubbs,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 54–63;
and Stubbs, “Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let’s
Void the Void,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1995): 1–49.
John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Behind the Mask of Mormonism (Eugene,
OR: Harvest House, 1992), 289-90, quoting Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism–Shadow
or Reality? 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987), 332;
compare John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
about Mormonism (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992), 289-90. Behind the
Mask of Mormonism is a quietly revised reprinting—it even bears the same
copyright date as its original, although it was actually published roughly three
years later—of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism.
One of the present reviewers examined Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism in considerable detail, in Daniel C. Peterson, “Chattanooga Cheapshot,
or the Gall of Bitterness,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993):
1-86, and, when they stealthily revised it and reissued it as Behind the Mask of Mormonism, examined it again in Daniel C. Peterson, “Constancy amid Change,”
FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 60-98.