For much of the 20th century, Maya experts followed the lead of Carnegie Institution of Washington archaeologist J. Eric Thompson, who argued that the Maya were peaceful philosophers and extraordinary observers of celestial events content to ponder the nature of time and the cosmos. Thompson, who died in 1975, theorized that Tikal and other sites were virtually unpopulated "ceremonial centers" where priests studied planets and stars and the mysteries of the calendar. It was a beautiful vision-but nearly all wrong.If scholars were ignorant of the most basic aspects of Mayan life until recent years, it should come as no surprise that much still remains poorly understood. Other paradigms may yet be shaken. A critical problem is that nearly all of the written documents from the ancient literary peoples of Mesoamerica were destroyed by the Spaniards. It sickens me to read of Friar Diego de Landa burning the books of the Mayan people because they were felt to be evil. Michael D. Coe laments that "our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress)." (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, p. 161.)
When, in the 1960s, the hieroglyphs-the most sophisticated writing system created in the New World-were at last beginning to be deciphered, a new picture of these people emerged. Mayan art and writing, it turned out, contained stories of battles, sacrificial offerings and torture. Far from being peaceful, the Maya were warriors, their kings vainglorious despots. Maya cities were not merely ceremonial; instead, they were a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms bent on conquest and living in constant fear of attack.
A knowledge of ancient Mesoamerica - the region many of us LDS folks see as the epicenter of Book of Mormon lands - is still in its infancy. Archaeological research is decades behind work in Israel and the Middle East in general. Documents are rare. Digs are hindered by many factors, not the least of which have been political chaos. And scholars have only recently figured out the most basic aspects of ancient life in Mesoamerica, such as the fact that they faced many wars and indeed had to spend a lot of time making weapons and fortifications, including some in Book of Mormon style. So for those of you who think a clear knowledge of Mesoamerican warfare, fortifications, and human sacrifice would have been readily available to Joseph Smith to include in his vain little attempt at plagiarism, think again.
Please note that non-LDS Mesoamerican scholars ARE NOT coming out in support of the Book of Mormon. It's utter silliness to them and provides no compelling reason to believe to anyone who will not read it seriously and ponder. But to those who will look and understand what it really says and does not say, there are increasing grounds for accepting its plausibility, and the impossibility that Joseph Smith just made it up based on what was known in 1830.