26 August 2018

Ancient horse bones found in Utah

Last year, a family in Utah came across some unexpected bones while digging in their back yard. After some inspection and having experts take a look, it was determined to be the unfossilized bones of an ancient breed of horse, dating to the Ice Age. It appears to have died about 16,000 years ago. The size is about that of a Shetland Pony. Paleontologists came in to excavate it professionally, and will do further work on the skeleton to find out more about it.

We find this to be an interesting find. Because of its age, it cannot have any direct connection to Book of Mormon events. We doubt that the events related in it extended as far as the western United States, but these finds should be a constant reminder that there is so much ancient history in this part of the world yet to be discovered. The existence of early horses in American prehistory is now commonly known, but it should be remembered that this was not always the case. When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, the common knowledge then was that there were no horses or similar large fauna at all until after European contact. Daniel has spoken and written extensively regarding the evolution of belief about ancient American horses and the evidence for pre-Columbian horses in this hemisphere. Click the links below to read more details about this find.

Read about this discovery on Live Science.
Read about this discovery at the NY Times.

20 February 2018

More undiscovered Maya cities and large populations

Recent articles show that LIDAR has been used to see through the dense jungles of northern Guatemala and find what still lies underneath. Palaces, elevated highways, and the ruins of more than 60,000 houses have been discovered. What is now seen is a society that is far more complex and interconnected than previously thought.

Ten parcels of land, totaling more than 800 sq. miles was mapped, but this is just a small part of the large northern jungles of Guatemala, known as the Petén. It is likely that much more would be discovered if the unmapped areas were to be scanned. Because of these latest finds, the current estimate for the Maya population at its height is between 10 and 15 million. This is a surprisingly high number when compared to previous estimates.

The final battles of the Book of Mormon record large numbers involved in the fighting. In the past, these numbers seemed hard to justify, but as finds like these keep being announced, they are easier to believe. It should be pointed out that much of the Maya civilization existed after the end of the Book of Mormon, so these finds don't related directly to its history. But large populations among the Nephites, Lamanites, and other groups mentioned in this scripture are no longer a strong reason to discount it.

Read more about these discoveries at National Geographic.

20 January 2018

Ancient elephants and horses in the Yucatán?

More unexpected artifacts have been found in caves in the Yucatán Peninsula. A recent article on the Latin American news site teleSUR tells of explorations by INAH of cenotes and the underwater tunnels linking them. The Yucatán is riddled with caves and tunnels going all through its limestone foundation. Many of them are filled with water and were the primary water source for the ancient Maya. They were also ritual and sacred spaces, seen as an entrance to Xibalba, the underworld and land of the dead, according to Maya religious beliefs. So, they were also commonly used as ceremonial centers and places of sacrifice.

In one of these cave systems, well preserved ceramic vessels and bones of sacrificial offerings have been found. In addition to human skulls, bones of extinct animals like giant sloths, elephants, and horses have been found. It's interesting how casually these animals are mentioned in the article, especially since many people still think they were never in Ancient America. Horses and elephants are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and are still the source of much criticism against it, even though discoveries like this latest one keep happening from time to time. We explored the Loltún Caves, where ancient horse and mammoth bones were found many years ago, but these finds apparently are still not common knowledge. We find it especially noteworthy that this article mentions 'elephants' specifically (not mammoths or mastodons), not even bothering to comment on how revolutionary this idea must be to some people. It's obvious that these finds are likely prehistoric, long before the time period of the Book of Mormon, but it is nonetheless additional evidence supporting its veracity. Sadly this information will likely go ignored by our critics.

Click here to read the full article on teleSUR.

10 October 2017

Some ideas on deity and the Old Testament

This post isn't about the Book of Mormon specifically, but more about LDS theology concerning God. Our rejection of traditional trinitarian creeds is unusual among mainstream Christianity, regardless of what individual Christians may believe. The idea that members of the Godhead are three distinct individuals has led some to declare that Mormons cannot be Christians, as this concept seems too close to polytheism. But the belief in gods that are literally father and son may have some surprising and ancient origins.

Judaism has long been considered as containing the earliest form of monotheism. But some secular scholars see evidence of polytheistic beliefs in the original text of Jewish scripture that has since been edited out. One example is in Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

The immediate assumption is that 'Most High' (El-Elyon in Hebrew), a common title for God in the Old Testament, refers to the the Lord or Jehovah (YHWH). However, some scholars see a connection between the Hebrew 'El' and the supreme Caananite deity, El. The oldest versions of Deuteronomy, including the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, don't have the phrase 'children of Israel,' but instead say 'sons of El.' The idea behind this passage is that El divided up the world's people into different ethnic groups to be ruled over by his divine sons. To Jehovah (the Lord), a Son of God, was given the nation or people of Jacob (Israel) as his people. So the Hebrew God wasn't the only God, but a son, and not the only one.

Latter-Day Saints have long identified the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a pre-mortal Jesus Christ, and refer to his Heavenly Father as Elohim, a Hebrew word meaning 'God' or 'Gods.' There is even a belief of a divine council of elohim meeting to create the world, an idea not found in traditional Christianity, but found in many ancient texts from the Middle East. Perhaps this possible evidence of earlier polytheism among the monotheistic Israelites seen by some non-religious scholars is fragments of this original understanding. This Mormon belief has been mocked by Christians and agnostics alike, but there may yet be some support for it, hiding under our noses in familiar scripture. Many of the Biblical 'contradictions' about the multiple gods El and Yahweh (Jehovah) that could be troubling to Christians are easily explained by LDS theology. Maybe there is something to this multiple gods idea after all.

Read more from Robert Wright, Professor of Science and Religion.
Click here for this Contradiction in the Bible.

10 July 2017

Gold artifacts among the Aztecs

In April of this year, a cache of what has been described as 'some of the finest Aztec gold ever found' was uncovered near the main square in Mexico City. The capital city of Mexico, long known as a center of three cultures: Aztec, Colonial Spanish, and modern, seems an unlikely place for a new discovery of this magnitude. But like the new excavations at Chichén Itzá, this find shows that no matter how much we think we know about these famous and commonly-visited sites, there still exists the opportunity to find something new which increases our understanding of these ancient cultures.

Buried in a stone box and situated behind a Catholic cathedral in the vicinity of the principal Aztec temple, the gold was part of a buried offering and adorned a sacrificed wolf. The ceremonial items were interred some 500 years ago. It's obvious that the Aztec culture is far removed from any direct Book of Mormon involvement, but we find discoveries such as this one interesting in that they show the technology and inclination to create such items did exist in ancient America, even if it hasn't been connected to the Book of Mormon yet. The fact that such discoveries continue to be made and were unknown in the 19th century are also encouraging. Our curiosity is always piqued when we hear about pre-Columbian gold buried in stone boxes.

Admittedly, ancient American metallurgy is a complex and difficult topic, one that does not currently support many of the claims made in the Book of Mormon. We have discussed these issues many times and have found that, along with the lack of evidence, there are also some encouraging but little-known finds that show that there was more metal working going on in the New World than has previously been thought. We will look forward to further developments in this area.

Click here to read more about the discovery of this discovery of Aztec gold.
Click here to read about the current understanding of metallurgy in pre-Columbian America.

12 June 2017

Recreating the Book of Mormon plates

A big part of the Book of Mormon story depends on the plates described by Joseph Smith. We have all seen paintings or representations of them, but they aren't all necessarily accurate. While we don't have the plates for scrutiny (even if we did, it's obvious that critics would still not be satisfied), we do have contemporary descriptions of them. There is a good bit we understand, but there is still space for individual interpretation on what they looked like, how many plates there were, and how deep the collection of records was.

The Church's Museum of Church History and Art has a representation of the plates on exhibit, made from historical descriptions by those who saw or handled them. Whatever our critics and detractors might say, it seems obvious that some physical object was possessed by Joseph. Even his enemies believed the stories enough to attack him and his household several times, attempting to steal them. We may never know exactly what they looked like, but the following facsimile gives a good idea and the accounts given by those who had personal experience with them should help to weed out false ideas that may have crept up over the years. However, any modern representation of them must of necessity be based partly on conjecture and educated guesses. There are some frustrating gaps in details that modern enthusiasts would like to have, but the goals of 19th-century observers of the plates in describing them would be different than ours today.
Of course, the Church's critics have all sorts of reasons the plates could not have existed as described, but most of their complaints can be resolved by relying closely on the words of those who supposedly interacted with them, rather than Mormon traditions and imaginings that have evolved over more than a century and a half. To read more about the exhibit, how this model was made, and accurate quotes by Joseph Smith and his associates, read this article on LDS.org.