Rejecting the Mormon Claim
Part 9B
Specific Archaeological Problems

As the Book of Mormon relates what are supposedly historical events, it makes mention of a number of specfic things that archaeologists should be able to find in the places where these events supposedly occured. In that regard, the two theories that I mentioned in the "Part 9a" posting both work against the Mormons. Specifically, as I said in that posting, most Mormons today have adopted the "limited geography" model because the "hemispheric" model has some very serious problems. But if you accept the smaller model, then possible "sitings" of artifacts outside of Mesoamerica do nothing to support the Book of Mormon's historical claims.

The Mormon-sponsored New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) developed a list in the mid-1970's about various items that should correspond between the Book of Mormon and archaeological finds, if the Book of Mormon is indeed a historical book. How has the Book of Mormon fared with regard to these tests?

With regard to plant life, the Book of Mormon states that the Book of Mormon peoples had plow agriculture of mainly wheat and barley. By contrast, the animal-drawn plow was absent in the pre-Columbian world, and the only cultivated crops were domesticated corn, beans, squashes, potatoes, tomatoes, and manioc.

The Book of Mormon also mentions a wide variety of animals, including elephants and domesticated horses. Neither of these animals existed anywhere in the Americas during the supposed Book of Mormon time period, and they certainly have not been found in Central America.

With regard to metallurgy and the like, the Book of Mormon describes its people as an advanced iron age people, able to work with and commonly using things like bellows, metal chains, steel, and swords. It postulates much more than simple metalworking, which is defined as the simple hammering and shaping of cold or slightly heated metal. Instead it presents the picture of a metallurgical society, with mining operations separating iron from ore, and high-temperature (700 to 800 degrees) processes including smelting, casting, and alloying. These are absolutely nowhere to be found in pre-Columbian Central America. Instead, this area had an advanced stone age culture that made only a very minimal use of simple metals. This problem extends to the numerous mentions of swords with hilts in the Book of Mormon. Nothing of the sort has ever been discovered in pre-Columbian America, while we should expect to find a great number of these based upon the large casualties sustained in Book of Mormon battles.

The final major test relates the evidence of "scripts", or preserved writing. The reasonable expectation from the Book of Mormon, based upon the languages and scripts mentioned there, is that the Book of Mormon lands should be full of archaeological evidence of Hebrew cuneiform, Hebrew scripts, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Almost nothing of the sort has ever been found, and the few artifacts that seem to be like this are seriously debated among scholars as to their dating and authenticity.

The founder and long-time director of the NWAF was a man named Thomas Stuart Ferguson, and he compared various theories relating to where the Book of Mormon lands were with the archaeological evidence. His own conclusions with regard to the tests:

Barley, figs, grapes, wheat, ass/donkey, bull, calf, cattle, cow, goat, horse, ox, sheep, sow, elephants, bellows, brass, breast-plates, chains, copper, gold, iron, mining ore, plowshares, silver, metal swords, swords with hilts, engraving, steel, cuneiform, carriages, carts, chariots, glass: in all of these area there is no evidence of any of things occurring in suggested Book of Mormon lands in Book of Mormon times. At the end of this particular paper he wrote: "We have the cylinder seal from Chiapa de Corzo, the cylinder seal from Tlatilco and the toys with wheels. That's about all. This paucity of specific support presents, at least to me, a dilemma. One way out of the dilemma is to say that everything was scrambled and lost because of the upheavals described in 3 Nephi for the time of the crucifixion. In my personal opinion, this is not a satisfactory escape hatch. Virtually all of the data in the Book of Mormon must be credited to Mormon and his abridgment of the "larger plates." He and Moroni, writing in the fourth century (over 300 years after the crucifixion), were responsible for the last 400 pages of the text. And it is in those 400 pages that most of the geographical data appear. Mormon doesn't say that his references to geography are useless and hopeless. Further, innumerable excavations made in the area we are dealing with, and in the time span (3000 B.C.—400 A.D.) with which we are involved, reveal great undisturbed architectural structures, extensive relatively undisturbed ancient strata, etc., etc.—right through the time of the crucifixion. I don't have the answer to the dilemma. I just call it up. I'm afraid that up to this point, I must agree with Dee Green [a Mormon archaeologist], who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography. I, for one, would be happy if Dee were wrong."

The bottom line is that the Book of Mormon claims to be the historical record of millions of people who lived in the Americas for a thousand years, and includes all kinds of detailed descriptions of their everyday lives. These descriptions do not match any known archaeological evidence, with the exception of a small handful of archaeological "anomalies" that are out of sync with the overwhelming amount of evidence. These "anomalies" have been often trumpeted by lay Mormons as proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but as one Mormon archaeologist writes: "The past 20 years have been momentous ones for Book of Mormon scholarship. The Church currently upholds what Dee Green calls its Back- Door Policy, that of avoiding direct statements about archaeological corroborations of the Book of Mormon. Church members unfortunately have not achieved the same degree of objectivity. Presumptuous claims-the Jack West slide presentation, Mesoamerica "proofs," or much advertised Book of Mormon travel tours-are ubiquitous. Who has not seen copies of the polyurethane replica of the "Tree of Life" stone or Dewey Farnsworth's heavily illustrated Book of Mormon Evidences in Ancient America (listed by Green as among those "which most flagrantly ignore time and space and most radically distort, misinterpret or ignore" yet are invariably the most popular)? Even with extensive efforts to prove conclusively the events and details of the Bible, there is "still not final, incontrovertible proof of a single biblical event from archaeology alone," summarizes FARMS's [a Mormon apologetic foundation at BYU] Sorenson. "In light of logic and the experience of biblical archaeology, it appears far safer to proceed in the middle ground of seeking general contextual confirmation, even though the results may not be so spectacular as many wish."" I hate to see Sorenson's final quote here, where he lumps the Book of Mormon archaeological problems in with the broader field of biblical archaeology, and then tries to make it sound like the problems encountered by Book of Mormon supporters is unique. While archaeologists do have questions about some biblical events, particularly miraculous ones, there is no comparison whatsoever between the two fields of study. Everyone knows where hundreds of Biblical sites actually are; while nobody can point to even a single archaeological site and say that "that is such-and-such mentioned in the Book of Mormon in (book, chapter, verse)." Archaeological evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon and proves that it is not the actual historical record of a real people.

Dean Brown
Avon, Indiana, USA

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