29 May 2022

Delving deeper into the Blythe Intaglios

Sharing the previous post generated a lot of pushback, surprisingly from a Facebook group on the Book of Mormon and archaeology. The suggestion that this particular figure of the geoglyphs in the southern California desert known today as the Blythe Intaglios could possibly be a horse was met primarily with criticism. The common answer was that it was a mountain lion and could not be a horse. Why would an animal design like this be identified with a predator like a puma or cougar and not some prey animal more closely resembling its actual shape?

the other Blythe Intaglios Quadruped
The prevailing interpretation is that the humanoid figure is Mastamho, the creator of life. He had a companion and helper known as Hatakulya, a mountain lion. Some legends say that Hatakulya could also transform into a man. Other legends state that there were two mountain lions: Hatakulya and Numeta. Hatakulya has a tail that hangs down and Numeta has one that goes up over his back. If this interpretation is correct, then both quadrupeds would have to represent Hatakulya. These creation stories come from the Mohave and Quechan tribes that live in the region today.

This is the most common interpretation of these giant images, but in searching websites that explain or describe the Blythe Intaglios, most appear to have copied their text from the same source, as they all say the same thing. The quadrupeds are often described in scientific literature as 'mountain lion-like.' This is odd, because even if they do represent such an animal, they certainly do not look like mountain lions. This connection relies considerably on ethnographer Boma Johnson's work (1985, 2003). We can find no additional support for this idea; all later interpretations appear to be using Johnson's work as their reference. The human and animal figures are closely grouped together as though they had a symbolic connection. Each human/animal pair is traditionally identified as Mastamho and Hatakulya respectively, but since Hatakulya is a mountain lion that can transform into a man, perhaps each set represents both aspects of one being. Based on the accepted iconography, neither of the animals can be Numeta. A third humanoid is nearby, but without an accompanying animal. 

LegendsofAmerica.com has a page on the Blythe Intaglios and repeats the same story as all the rest do, but also suggests that the figures instead may represent powerful individuals in a clan interacting with their surroundings. It also includes the observation that "Part of the dating problem is that the animal figures appear to be horses. If so, they must have been carved either before American horses went extinct some 10,000 years ago or more recently after the Spaniards arrived in California in 1540.

"Another theory holds that some modern horses did exist in North America before the Spaniards, but were regarded as food sources rather than bests [sic] of burden."

Our point is that it really is not clear what these figures were originally created to represent. Since no Native American group in the region claims to have made them, it is reasonable to look at alternative interpretations. We have seen several possibilities. The problem is, as LegendsofAmerica states, the animal figures (particularly one of them) appear to be horses. The two quadrupeds are not identical; they have some differing details, such as head shape, neck length, and suggestion of paws (or hooves) at the feet, one looking more horse-like than the other. We aren't stating definitively that they are horses, just that this idea is something to consider. We aren't the first to suggest this. They may be the mountain lion(s) that assisted in the creation, but if they are, we must ask why the people who made them did not make them look more like predators instead of prey animals, since ancient cultures in this region (and even worldwide) were certainly adept at doing that. Regardless of what the giant figures may represent or the role they played in their original culture, without the pre-conceived idea that they are mountain lions in a specific creation story, any untrained observer would classify them as some sort of large prey animal, likely an ungulate. 

20 May 2022

Ancient horse in the southern California desert?

We always find items like this interesting. Many may not know about what are now called the Blythe Intaglios, discovered in 1932 by a pilot flying from Nevada to California. They are geoglyphs, large works of art created in the earth that are mainly discernible from the air, quite similar to the Nazca Lines in Peru, even in their construction. Their current name comes from their location near Blythe, CA in the Colorado Desert.

Blythe Intaglio Quadruped

In addition to some spiral and geometric designs, the five main figures are humanoid and animal; two of them are officially known as 'quadrupeds,' the most interesting of which is shown here. Two questions should immediately come to mind: what animal is being represented and what is the age of this and the other large figures? Thinking of large American fauna, this image could easily be seen as a horse to the untrained eye. How likely is that? 

Daniel has long researched the topic of ancient American horses, as recorded in the Book of Mormon. This is obviously a controversial topic that goes against the current line of thinking, both common and scientific, but that is slowly changing. There is actually a good bit of information about these geoglyphs, but none of it suggests that this could be a pre-Columbian depiction of an ancient horse; that would be going too far. Attempts have been made to connect this and the other nearby figures to Yuman oral history and cosmology, however, it is not known who created them, although later native nations knew about and attached significance to them.

Is there any danger in seeing a horse in this figure? The claim can be made that imagery from other cultures must be interpreted using the understanding of that culture. This is definitely true and quite often pseudoscientific claims are made by taking artifacts out of context and interpreting them with a modern understanding. We should be careful to guard against this, but it must be pointed out that from prehistoric cave paintings to zoomorphic representations from ancient cultures all over the world, animals can usually be readily identified. Ancient people knew what animals familiar to them looked like and were quite skilled at representing them through painting, sculpture, and other means. While we may not know much about the culture that created the aforementioned Nazca Lines, we can easily recognize the spider, monkey, hummingbird, and other representational art they made, even if we do not understand their meaning.

Blue Mesa, AZ
Oddly enough, this figure is most often identified as a mountain lion, companion to the Creator in an ancient creation myth. Other safe and more visually likely candidates would be a deer, elk, or another common North American ungulate. Our first reaction to the mountain lion label is that it could only be true if the creators of this figure had never seen such an animal, but are there culturally similar examples known to represent cougars or pumas for comparison? While it is not known exactly who created the Blythe Intaglios or even when, there is a plethora of ancient and even prehistoric rock art examples from this region of the United States. Shown here is a well-known petroglyph, which is easily recognizable as a feline. Notice salient features such as the ears and claws. Interestingly enough, a common feature of indigenous images in the Southwest of mountain lions is the long tail going over the back.

Coso Mountains, CA
Other examples of non-controversial animals are quite common. As can be seen in these petroglyphs from the Mohave Desert, animal forms are surprisingly recognizable, even cross culturally. It is not hard at all to make out horned sheep/goats, a lizard, and some sort of canine, perhaps a coyote or dog. More specific identification may not be possible, but the overall general type of animal is easy to see.

Bluff, UT
In this prehistoric example, large horned animals are depicted. What are obviously antlers are shown on what is likely a deer. Also identifiable are a bird and the human hunting with a bow and arrow. Countless such petroglyphs and pictographs are known all across the United States, but these are all chosen from the American Southwest in an attempt to be as culturally relevant as possible to the Blythe Intaglios. However, it should be noted that even in ancient rock art worldwide, the modern viewer can almost always tell at least the general type of animal depicted. Humans have a way of successfully representing animals, even across wide ranges of time and distance.

Indian Creek State Park, UT
As a contrast, there is North American rock art that obviously shows horses, even being ridden. Newspaper Rock in Utah is a well-known example. We are not suggesting that this is a pre-conquest depiction of an Ancient American horse. It was likely created long after horses had been re-introduced to the Americas and plains tribes had adopted them into their culture. When non-native scientists see horses depicted, they assume a historical date without further investigation. It should be noted that some First Nations people have oral histories and traditions that they have always had horses, long before the white man arrived. 

Rock art can be dated using a variety of techniques, including the growth of lichens and weathering or varnish on the rocks, but as we have often seen if the image is undeniably a horse, no effort is taken to determine a date because its age can automatically be assumed. This is safe enough and scientifically sound, but notice the circular reasoning involved: If it is a horse, then it must be post-conquest and only if it is post conquest, then can it reasonably be a horse. This approach is used by Michael J. Harner in his study of the Blythe Intaglios. In "GRAVEL PICTOGRAPHS OF THE LOWER COLORADO RIVER REGION," he states '...if one considers the quadrupeds to be horses, then all five figures can be considered to be historic...' He also suggests they may be a coyote, wolf, or dog. A safe and non-controversial assumption, but again, it begs the question (since we know there were no horses in the Americas before they were introduced by Europeans, any ancient horse-like depiction must be something else) instead of researching it out fully with an open mind. However, even in this study, we see that interpreting the quadruped as a horse is not unreasonable.

This brings us to the real question, can these geoglyphs be dated? They have been, with some interesting results. Jay von Werlhof and Harry Casey authored a study on these and other rock art in the region. On the Blythe Intaglios quadruped in particular, the AMS C-14 age is 1145 +/_ 65 with a Total Error of 203. The Calibrated Age (1 sigma) is AD 668 (892) 1152. This may be a bit hard to decipher, but later in the study, they conclude that the minimum ages of these geoglyphs, referred to as the 'Blythe Giants,' are in the time range of AD 550-1150 and according to the table in the study, the quadruped has a highest probabilistic date of AD 892. This is important, as Harner states that, 'The uniformity of style of the anthropomorphic and quadruped representations suggests that they were constructed contemporaneously.'

Based on the results of these studies, the Blythe Intaglios quadruped was created at least 400-500 years before the traditional timeline of the re-introduction of horses to the region, and probably much earlier. Comparing it to other rock art examples in the American Southwest, it does not easily resemble a mountain lion, deer, bighorn sheep, elk, or other animals commonly known to Native Americans, although it could represent a mythical animal. As stated in scientific studies, it has at times been interpreted as a horse. The only point of contention is its age if indeed it actually is a horse. We realize that we are swimming against the current here, but all things considered, suggesting that this Blythe Intaglios quadruped might be a pre-conquest horse is not all that outrageous.

Plaque at the site, suggesting a possible interpretation as a horse, the shape at end of each leg may be a paw or hoof

24 December 2021

The Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace

We have some new interesting information to share for your consideration and this is a nice time of year to do it. This is an Iroquois legend about the Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace. His origin is an interesting one:

"The Peacemaker was born a Huron, to a young virgin woman who had not yet gone through here puberty rites. The young woman had not yet reached her time for the ceremony when she became pregnant. Her mother was worried of what the people of the village might say, so she hid her away during her pregnancy until she gave birth. She convinced her daughter that she had to get rid of the baby. The grandmother tried three times to kill the baby and failed each time. She then realized that he must be someone special and with special powers and knew that they should raise him carefully."

The Peacemaker brought together five warring nations. Even after this success, he noticed that they still carried their weapons. So he saw a tall evergreen tree and uprooted it, creating a cavity. He then instructed the men to cast their weapons of war into it and he replaced the tree, burying them, saying, "Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under earth currents of water flowing into unknown regions, we cast all weapons of strife. We bury them from sight forever and plant again the tree. Thus shall all great peace be established and hostilities shall no longer be known between the Five Nations but only peace to a united people."

Christlike similarities are immediately obvious. It is interesting how many gods and heroes in mythologies around the world come from a virgin birth with an unknown father. But the Book of Mormon also tells a story of Lamanites that once converted to belief in God, buried their weapons of war as a symbol of their newfound faith. "...all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth." (Alma 24:17)

The Book of Mormon does not teach about the origins of the Iroquois necessarily, but we find these similarities to be quite intriguing and worthy of further study. If it records true events that took place anciently, it's possible that these stories survived in some form and were adopted by later cultures, who appropriated them and made them their own.

Click here to read more about the Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace.

15 November 2020

More thoughts on the origin and significance of Quetzalcoatl

Latter-Day Saints have long been interested in establishing a connection between ancient American legends of Quetzalcoatl (and similar deities from a variety of cultures) and Jesus Christ's visit as told in the Book of Mormon. It should be noted that this idea is not new; Spanish chroniclers wrote down these beliefs and noted their similarity. So, this idea is not something that was created in support of the veracity of the Book of Mormon account, but perhaps latched onto because it was appealing. 

Obviously, the scientific world does not think much of this view, pointing out the need to be skeptical of the Spanish, who may have had other interests in mind. The native populations they met may have also altered their stated beliefs for reasons of their own as they related them to their conquerors. This may explain the examples of seemingly Biblical stories and practices found among the Maya, Aztecs, and other later cultures, or it may not. Even some LDS scholars and commentators, such as Brandt Gardner, not only discourage making these connections, but even affirm there is no support for a Christlike Quetzalcoatl (or Gukumatz, or Kukulcan, or Viracocha) older than Spanish records, asserting that this similarity was basically a Spanish invention.

Leaving aside why the idea of a deity similar to Christ would appeal to the Catholic conquerors (after all, they weren't Mormons), we can look at the widely-held indigenous belief in a feathered serpent deity, which is found among many ancient cultures and combines unexpected animal aspects. An admittedly non-scientific article on Ancient Origins deals with this very topic. It discusses the idea that these (bearded?) gods of the Americas may have been the resurrected Jesus, even mentioning LDS beliefs and the account of his visit in the Book of Mormon. This assertion is no longer as widely ridiculed as it has been in the past. But it delves into what is perhaps a more important question of why the serpent, a creature from the ground, was combined with a bird, a creature from the sky, to form a singular god.

The symbol of the eagle and the snake is also important to Aztec origin legends and is found on the flag of Mexico. As stated in the article, this legend was misinterpreted by the Spanish as the eagle representing good and the serpent evil, which fits in nicely with European heraldry and Christian theology. But a more accurate representation of these attributes may be much more complex. The suggestion in this article is that the earthly and heavenly creatures may represent different states of consciousness together in one being. Another idea we suggest is that the idea of a feathered serpent god is to represent a deity combining heavenly and earthly attributes, or we might say, divine and mortal. Looking at it in this way, it's not too hard to think of Jesus Christ the Son of God, who embodied both the divine and the mortal in his person, as necessary in carrying out his atoning sacrifice. 

In conclusion, perhaps Quetzalcoatl doesn't need to be a bearded white man after all. Perhaps the symbolism of the earthly and the divine combined in one individual is enough. Just something to think about.

12 March 2020

More support for Ancient American horses

Out of all the criticisms of the Book of Mormon, its mention of horses keeps coming up. Such has been the case for 190 years. Daniel has written papers and given presentations on strong support for the presence of horses in the Americas far before previously held beliefs. There may not be a definite answer yet, but more support from non-LDS sources keeps appearing. Of particular interest is research into Native American traditions and histories

Yvette Running Horse, an indigenous scholar, has a good bit of current research supporting native traditions that they have always had the horse. Many of her findings are very similar to the paper that Daniel had published in BYU Studies.  She doesn't seem to have any interest in supporting the Book of Mormon narrative, so we recommend her work for consideration. As more time goes by, our stance on the reality of horses in Ancient America far before the Spanish conquest becomes more commonplace.

Click here to read about Yvette Running Horse's dissertation

08 July 2019

A steel sword from 7th century BC Israel

Steel in the Book of Mormon is a common target for critics. The first mention is the sword of Laban, with its blade of 'precious' steel. The common thinking for quite a while is that this is an anachronism, several centuries out of date. We have found ancient examples of Middle Eastern steel: an 11th century BC dagger from Cyprus and a 12th or 13th century BC pick from Mt. Adir in northern Galilee (click here to read about them). However, an actual steel sword dating to Lehi's time has been found.

Now residing in the Israel Museum, a sword from the Vered Jericho fortress was found in the 1980s. It's over three feet long and is described as being made of mild steel. Some listings may describe it as iron, but because steel is so close to iron (up to 99%), academic descriptions often don't distinguish between the two materials. But articles delving into the details will mention the difference. According to Popular Mechanics and the Biblical Archaeology Review, it is indeed iron hardened into a mild steel (click here to read the article). According to the museum's 1992 journal, "Metallurgical analysis of a sample taken from the blade proves that it was made of mild steel, and that the iron was deliberately hardened into steel, attesting to the technical knowledge of the blacksmith."

Shad Brooks, an Australian swords and ancient weaponry expert, explains the significance of this find on his YouTube channel, Shadiversity. He defends its description as steel and explains just how close iron and steel are, especially in ancient metallurgy. Using the Vered Jericho sword as a base, he has even reconstructed a probable design of the sword of Laban, based on Nephi's description.

The sword of Laban can now safely be removed from any list of Book of Mormon controversies. No longer do we need to try and explain it away, as it fits fully into the historical record of the time, without any hit of anachronism.

Click here to watch Shad's recreation of the sword of Laban.
Click here to watch Shad's defense of the Vered Jericho sword as steel.