Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Discovery Shakes More Mesoamerican Paradigms

Recently we had a discussion about what I called the infancy of knowledge about ancient Mesoamerica, where I argue that Mesoamerica has been much less explored and studied than Bible lands (partly due to the relative lack of ancient written documents since so many were destroyed by the Spanish). This makes it premature to rule out the Book of Mormon based on what we think we know about the area. One further example to illustrate that point comes from "The Dawn of Maya Gods and Kings" by William Saturno, National Geographic, Vol. 209, No. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 68-77, which just came to my home. This short article describes new discoveries at a Guatemalan site, San Bartolo, where an ancient mural yielded surprising information. The explorer makes this comment on the significance of a beautiful ancient mural he found inside a royal tomb dated to about 150 B.C.:
Clearly Maya painting had achieved glory centuries before the great works of the Classic Maya, in the 7th century. In Western terms, it was like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on a Michelangelo or a Leonardo.

The far end of the mural held another surprise. Some scholars thought that at this early stage in Maya history, the Preclassic, city-states had not yet evolved into full-fledged monarchies, with all the trappings seen later. But here was a king, named and titled, receiving his crown. In short, this one chamber upended much of what we thought we knew about the early Maya.
Interestingly, the Book of Mormon teaches that full-blown monarchies were in place among Nephites and Lamanites at the same time Mesoamerica (e.g., King Mosiah and King Noah among the Nephites and King Lamoni and many other kings among the Lamanites).

A mere mural showing a king being crowned has "upended much of what we thought we knew about the early Maya." That's food for thought.(Fortunately, if anything, this upending slightly enhances rather than weakens the case for plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document.) Stay tuned for more paradigm shifts, for there are still many large voids in knowledge about ancient Americans during Book of Mormon times.

To save some of you a little effort, let me note in advance that this finding does not prove the Book of Mormon to be true, and that we are not aware of carvings stating such things as "Welcome to Zarahemla, City of Nephites. Lamanites may not loiter on walls." That doesn't mean that there was not an ancient Mesoamerica city that called itself Zarahemla, but we typically do not know what locals called their cities in Book of Mormon times, or how they pronounced their names at all. The great ancient city Kaminaljuyu (now largely buried under Guatemala City), for example, was given that Mayan name in this century. We simply don't know what its ancient name was. That's part of why our knowledge of ancient Mesoamerica is so much less than it is of the ancient Old World in Bible lands - but both regions offer us the potential for many surprises as more research is done. Be patient.

20 comments:

James P said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Guy Murray said...

Thanks Jeff for this heads up. It's an article I'll be interested in picking up to read. I also agree with your caution about reading too much into this discovery. The Book of Mormon's power is in its testimony of Christ, and its ability to bring about a "mighty change" in our hearts. It is not, and never was a geography text.

Shadow Spawn said...

I agree. How often has science been proven to have been wrong on something, by later discoveries?

BYU alter ego said...

Without having seen the entire artwork, I'll have to assume that the cited article's description is accurate. If that is the case then indeed there is a parallel there.

For those of you who believe in Limited Geography Theory, does this mean that the "Maya," out of all the meso-american civilations, are in fact the children of Lehi?

Which specific geographic location are we going to go with? Which, of all the known meso-american civilizations best fits the BOM history?

Or are we just going to embrace all positive correlations regardless of how they contradict the previous logic of our theories?

I mean, there is so much about the Maya that doesn't correlate with the Nephites/Lamanites, shouldn't they already be scratched off the list of possibles?

Anecdotal support doesn't outweigh obvious contradiction.

To Shadow Spawn,

It's the very nature of science to be in constant refinement. The fact that science ever admits it's wrong, and embraces a new paradigm, (albeit very slowly at times) is more than many who post here can claim.

Daniel Peterson said...

BYU AE: For those of you who believe in Limited Geography Theory, does this mean that the "Maya," out of all the meso-american civilations, are in fact the children of Lehi?

I'm unaware of any serious advocate of a limited Mesoamerican model for the Book of Mormon (e.g., Sorenson, Clark, Palmer, Gardiner, Christenson, etc.) who asserts a simple equation of "Maya" with "the children of Lehi." Nobody who is familiar with the relevant literature and understands the argument would be likely to say such a thing.

BYU AE: I mean, there is so much about the Maya that doesn't correlate with the Nephites/Lamanites, shouldn't they already be scratched off the list of possibles?

No. For, among other reasons, the reason given above.

Daniel Peterson said...

BYU AE:For those of you who believe in Limited Geography Theory, does this mean that the "Maya," out of all the meso-american civilations, are in fact the children of Lehi?

To the best of my knowledge, no scholar who advocates a limited Mesoamerican geography for the Book of Mormon -- not John Sorenson, not Brant Gardiner, not John Clark, not Allen Christenson, not M. Wells Jakeman, not Ross Christensen, not David Palmer -- asserts a simple equation of "the 'Maya'" with "the children of Lehi." Nor, I think, would anyone familiar with the relevant literature and conversant with the actual arguments suggest such an equation.

BYU AE:I mean, there is so much about the Maya that doesn't correlate with the Nephites/Lamanites, shouldn't they already be scratched off the list of possibles?

No. For, among other reasons, the reason given above.

Daniel Peterson said...

For complex and rather obscure reasons, you get two versions of the above post.

Oh well. The point bears repeating.

Bookslinger said...

DP: Get a Blogger ID, and you can delete your own comments, and repost an edited version.

BYU alter ego said...

Someone over at the RfM board was kind enough to email Professor Houston, the man responsible for finding our mural. I figure this could save us all a lot of time.

The exchange is as follows:

"Dear Professor Houston,


I admire your most recent find and published work on the Mayan ruins. I would
like to ask you a question utilizing your expertise in the field of
Mesa-American archeology, Europe, antiquity, writing systems, epigraphy and
decipherment. Have you any evidence, finds or opinion that anything from
Mesa-America originated from old world. I have several associates who are
looking for elusive evidence that Hebrew or old world linguistics, art, culture
and writings originated from old world travelers to America in the past as
recently as 2,500 years ago and had the ability to possibly read and write
Hebrew and/or Egyptian. They continue to believe this even after Dr Mary E
Pohl's statement that in her work all of Mesa-American finds have indigenous
sources in the Americas which are most distinct from old world culture, language
and writing.



Would you please share your finding in this matter? Your professional
understanding would be very greatly appreciated.

BNAUR
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

No, don't really see Old World influence.

Stephen Houston
Professor of Anthropology
Dept. of Anthropology
Box 1921
Providence, RI 02912

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"


Straight from the horse's mouth...

Bookslinger said...

BYU-AE:
I think the proper rejoinder should be "So what?"

You're mischaracterizing what Jeff was illustrating in his post about the mural.

BNAUR's question, and Houston's response, merely re-asserts what many LDS scholars have been saying all along, that there is no, and probably will be no smoking gun proof of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

You're trying to counter a point that has never been asserted here.

Moreover, I don't think any faithful LDS want to accept your point, which appears to be that we shouldn't believe in something unless there is archeaological evidence to support it. If that's your point, I think you're being inconsistant by not trying to inform all Christians and Jews that there is no archeaological evidence of the Exodus from Egypt, and therefore must logically abandon any religion founded by Moses, and by extension , all derivative religions, too.

Walker said...

Well that's one jolly roger of a red herring, AE. Unfortunately, Book beat me to this punch by a matter of a seconds (nice work though, Book). Jeff's claim was not that these monarchies were reminiscent of the Old World, but that monarchies were part of the Mesoamerican life in BOM times (however, work by Stephen Ricks notes the parallels between kingship rituals such Mosiah 1-2 and those of the Old World, so it's probably fair to say that Houston's response was not fully researched--daring of me to disagree it's true, but I'm on solid ground I believe).
Additionally, the classic Mayan period began immediately after the Book of Mormon peoples. We should therefore not expect but the most tangential of parallels between the Mayans and the BOM peoples.

At best, Houston's comment is limited in scope and inconclusive.

Anonymous said...

AE forgot to ask the good professor if or any other professional archaeologist he knows was aware of any proof that the Exodus from Egypt occurred as described in Genesis.

Daniel Peterson said...

If Steve Houston's response conflicts with any position held by any Latter-day Saint scholar, I guess I missed that.

Steve taught at BYU for many years, and still has lots of friends at the University -- including me. (I've even been down with him to his dig site at Piedras Negras, in the Petén area of lowland Guatemala.) I think he's being abused in this case, exploited to make a fairly bogus point in someone else's argument.

Clark said...

Daniel said:

"If Steve Houston's response conflicts with any position held by any Latter-day Saint scholar, I guess I missed that."

Original question to Houston: "Have you any evidence, finds or opinion that anything from
Mesa-America originated from the old world."

His response was that he doesn't see any Old World influence in Mesoamerica.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but are we now saying that LDS scholars do not believe that there is any Old World evidence in Mesoamerica?

Is this the official position?

ltbugaf said...

Does anyone really think the need for faith will someday be done away with by archaeology? That seems to be what BYUAE and some others want. I don't suppose there will ever be a generation of God's children that he will not require to exercise faith. I therefore doubt that archaeological research, no matter how extensive or expert, will ever "prove" the Book of Mormon true, any more than it proves the Bible true. If you don't accept the idea that faith is required, then I don't see why you're interested in discussing matters of faith, such as the Book of Mormon.

Bookslinger said...

Clark,
There is no "official position" on archaeology. AFAIK, the church takes no stance on it.

Even if every BYU scholar agreed on something, that would not make it an official church position, any more than a consensus of non-LDS scholars.

However, I noticed a strong similarity between the clothing on statues at Teotihuacan (part of the carved statue, not actually cloth put on a statue) and temple clothes.

BYU alter ego said...

The quote is relevant to this thread and is not a red herring because ultimately Jeff is trying to link BOM influence with the Mayan.

Dr. Houston says there is no Old World influence, something you would expect if the BOM peoples did exist.

As far as him being abused, well read the question that was asked him. The person mentions Hebrew influence, reading Hebrew and Egyptian, and gives a date of roughly 2500 years back.

For someone like Dr. Houston, this is obviously a question about the BOM. The person asking didn't pull a fast one...lol.

Maybe, just maybe, the guy is just being honest.

Bookslinger said...

BYUAE: "Dr. Houston says there is no Old World influence, something you would expect if the BOM peoples did exist."

Uh, no, not necessarily. That's another red herring. It also is based on false assumptions: 1) that the BoM is a complete historical record (which the book itself denies), and 2) that a clear picture of the history of the Western Hemisphere is known to historians and archeaologists.

It's also a red herring because Jeff made no assertion that the newly discovered mural has ties to the old world. The point of mentioning the mural is whether the mural has any BoM parallels that might lend plausibility to the BoM.

As far as Heberw and Egyptian writing, the Book of Mormon implies that the Lamanites did not keep records. The Book of Mormon also makes clear that the Lamanites wanted to destroy all records (ie writings) of the Nephites. And yes I know, the rejoinder to that point is "How convenient!"

The Lamanites could have been either an illiterate people, or were subsumed into an illiterate larger non-Lehite population. That could have happened either before the destruction of the Nephites or after.

The Book of Mormon does not say there were no non-Lehites in the hemisphere, it just does not address the point at all. And of course, what happened after Moroni, from 421 AD to the conquistators is still up to conjecture.

The Mayans with their pictograph writing system are the only known exception, that I'm aware of, to all native peoples (of the Western Hemisphere) not having writing sytems.

I now see a parallel. That if the Lamanites were absorbed into a larger non-Lehite population, that could account for both the DNA issue and the seeming lack of obvious cultural ties to the old world.

However, BNAUR's question, and your history on this blog, also seem to ignore the SCORES of parallels between archaeological finds and the BoM which Jeff lists over on his Book of Mormon Evidence pages.

Mormanity said...

AE, I was not trying to link Nephites or Lamanites with the Mayans. The main point was that we don't know everything about ancient Mesoamerica if one little mural can change so much of what we thought we knew. A weaker secondary point is that full-blown monarchies were present in Mesoamerica earlier than some scholars thought, consistent with the Book of Mormon but hardly proving it or hardly linking Mayans directly to any Book of Mormon peoples.

The Mayans were one of many ancient Mesoamerican peoples.

Anonymous said...

This related item just came up on CNN.

Earliest Mayan writing found beneath pyramid
Archaeologists struggle to decode 2,300-year-old hieroglyphics

ANTIGUA, Guatemala (Reuters) -- Archaeologists excavating a pyramid complex in the Guatemalan jungle have uncovered the earliest example of Mayan writing ever found, 10 bold hieroglyphs painted on plaster and stone.

The 2,300-year-old glyphs were excavated last April in San Bartolo and suggest the ancient Maya developed an advanced writing system centuries earlier than previously believed, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Science.