Are There Archaeological Correlations to the Book of Mormon?


Are There Archaeological Correlations to the Book of Mormon?

by F. Richard Hauck, Ph.D.



I could not imagine in 1981, as I packed our hammocks, boots and ponchos into the motorhome in a frozen BountifulUtah (the fourth Land of Bountiful), that I might soon identify a massive fortification complex in the highlands of Guatemala.  I had no conception that the fortified complex at Manti instead of being one or two miles square actually extends for over ten miles along the ancient Nephite-Lamanite trail that gives access through that mountainous wilderness.  Nor could I guess the size of the primary fortifications protecting the main settlement of Manti; a complex that fortifies the entire southern perimeter of the Coban valley for a distance of at least nine miles.  One could not begin to imagine that evidences of the timber palisade walls would still be identifiable, or that the narrow passage leading into the heart of the principal Manti settlement would still largely intact and exposed to view.

Nor could I imagine that within the coming weeks, portions of the Land of Zarahemla would be opened to our view and assessment.  Who could have guessed that that three day experience in the vicinity of Nueva Cerros would have to suffice for the next 11 years due to the threat posed by the Communist guerrillas that infested the region?  Who could have thought that the next time that I would enter that vast archaeological site would be in early 1993 as a guide to the Proctors preparatory to their publication, Light from the Dust?

I could not imagine in 1981, the jungles to cut through, the roads to be driven, the rivers to canoe, the mountains to climb. 

Nor could one imagine the rain storms, the food, the mosquitoes and ticks, the mud, the illness, the anger, the fear, blistering heat, cold nights--terrible jungle nights, treacherous seas in a dugout, breathtaking scenery, hiding from military attack helicopters searching for Communist guerrillas, hiding from the guerrillas, searches at gun point, field gear confiscations by military and customs, night travel in rented cars, night travel in armored vehicles through countless checkpoints controlled by armed and poorly trained Indians, broken down vehicles in safe places, broken down vehicles in guerrilla zones where people unknown would stop and wait through the night as protection, endless hours in garages, bad beds in worse hotels, wonderful beds in too costly hotels, Guatemalan fast food, the kindness and caring of the Indians, the love and giving of the Saints, the loneliness of being far from wife and children.

Could I have imagined exploring the possible ancient settlements of Cumeni, and Desolation, or the lands of Cumorah, Desolation, Bountiful (East Sea Bountiful and West Sea Bountiful), Nephihah, and Nephi? 

Could I have imagined three years of manuscript preparation leading to the 1988 publication by Deseret Book of my initial volume on the theoretical basis of this research, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon?  Nor could one begin to imagine the support and assistance from strangers, friends, and associates that would make that publication a reality.  I could not anticipate kindness of its readers, nor the venom of its detractors.

On those cold January days of 1981, as we traveled south in the motorhome gradually leaving behind our family and all of the snow and ice of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and then Texas, how could we have guessed all that was about to begin?

At the Crossroads

A group of people stand at the crossroads trying to determine which route to take.  As I approach, an individual calls out to me: "What can you tell us about archaeology?"

"Archaeology," I respond, "is a learning process, it is all about understanding man and his cultures by studying the remains of everything that has been made, or done, or written.  Archaeology is both simple and complex; it is as diverse as the individuals who follow its path.  Archaeologists, for all their differences, seek a common goal: the goal of learning something that has been lost, or forgotten, or unknown sometimes for generations, the goal of returning that knowledge to the world of the living.  How we arrive at that goal and what we do with the knowledge gained after its realization depends on the individual.

Another person asks: "What can you tell us about the setting of the Book of Mormon?" 

"The Book of Mormon is also a learning process," I respond.  "It is as simple as understanding joy, and faith, and hope; it is as complex as understanding man, and life, and struggle.  It is a mirror of mankind: it reflects both our vanity and our sincerity, our goodness and our depravity.  Although that book is sweeping in its temporal scope, covering a thousand years of Nephite progress linked to several thousand years of Jaredite endurance, it is restricted in its geographic scope.  All its years of ancient history are encompassed within the modern states of Guatemala, Belize and southeastern Mexico -- an area no larger than Utah and Colorado combined but much more diverse and tortured. 

"Although restricted in its geographic scope," I continue, "the book is subtly expansive in its cultural and social depth.  It demonstrates the existence of primitive tribes inhabiting territories that they claimed long before the arrival of the intrusive Jaredite, Mulekite and Nephite/Lamanite peoples.  Those primitives, existing from day to day by hunting, fishing and farming, were cultural sponges absorbing the discontented from the more complex civilizations that are the actual focus of the book.  Sometimes the violent interaction within and between these peoples reveals aspects of their cultures that are not directly addressed by the historians.  Such is the case of the 72 to 60 B.C. war, which is contained in Alma Chapters 47 through 62.  That saga of war, rebellion and bloodshed provides wonderful descriptions concerning geography, fortifications, and tactics, descriptions which would never have been included within the text under more tranquil circumstances."

"Like archaeology," I continue, "The Book of Mormon is all about discovery.  Just as each time it is opened we learn anew the concepts of its religion, it also contains within its core a knowledge of its people and its places.  It is not enough to sample its wisdom and taste again the compassion of its Deity.  That very Deity that created both them and us -- that very Deity intended for us to use all our unique capacities to reach within that book and bring forth all of its meanings, all of its knowledge, all of its purposes." 

Someone in the group catches my attention and asks, "What can tell us about discovery!  Tell us about using archaeology to find and understand the places of the Book of Mormon."

"I will tell you about discovery and the book," I reply, "but you should realize that there is no quick fix, no simple and easy explanation.  The quick fixes and easy explanations are readily available, but in the end, they do not expand our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, but rather restrict our capacity to expand our science.  You need at least half as much patience to understand me--as I must have to relate my quest into the unique world of the past that exists on the far side of the horizon."

Moments of Discovery

Whenever anyone mentions archaeological discovery, I remember the ancient Book of Mormon fortifications of Manti discussed in Alma Chapter 58 and a moment of discovery that occurred for me some 12 years ago.  Although the intervening years have been filled with exploration and research at a variety of North and Central American locations, most of which are not associated with the peoples of the Book of Mormon, my memory still vividly recalls the identification of the Nephite fortifications at Manti.  It is one of the high points in my career as an archaeologist.

The discovery of the Manti fortifications happened on a January afternoon in 1981.  My father, Forrest Hauck, and I had just returned to his motorhome after a day of difficult hiking through the shadowed forests of highland Guatemala.  The experience is permanently etched in the corridors of my mind.

The motorhome is parked in the center of a large, grassy terrace ringed by dense pine woodlands and perpendicular mountain slopes.  My eldest son, Greg is waiting for us at the vehicle.  It is late in the day and Greg, at age 11, does not wait easily when hungry, bored, and tired. Dad and I are also tired, muddy and hungry.  Slightly irritable, I am hungry and mildly disappointed with our first day of exploration.  
Nearly two years of analyses of the geographic locations of the Book of Mormon have pinpointed this strategic place as the most probable setting for the land and settlement of ancient Manti.  Moroni's fortifications at Manti for the 72 to 60 BC war included "retreats and strongholds" or fortresses of some type as identified by Helaman during his quest to reconquer the land. (see Alma 58:1,6).  In addition to these "strongholds," Moroni fortified the Nephite positions using "forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone" (Alma 48:8, 50:1-6).  The settlements of Noah and Ammonihah were protected by deep ditches or trenches, high banks of earth and timber stockades or palisades as recorded in Alma 49. 
My military experience assures me that this highly strategic location is the place that the Nephites would fortify to protect the entrance into the land of Manti, if my tentitive correlation of ancient Manti with this region is correct.  My archaeological training is emphatic: if forts, trenches, and stockades were erected here over two thousand years ago, I can identify the remnants of those constructions within the present land surfaces.  The skeptic in me states that this is an expensive wild goose chase that has brought us far from home into a politically unstable and potentially dangerous environment.  
Right now, as I use my trowel to pry the black mud from my soaked boots I am discouraged and listen to the skeptic.
Oh, we have seen some strange things this day.  It has not been a total bust.  We have seen some refilled depressions in the mountain slopes and ridge lines.  Linear depressions that end as abruptly as they begin in the wooded, fern covered hills.  They have been there for some years but it is difficult to know how old they are, perhaps 50 years old, possibly 100, maybe 2000 years old; it is impossible to know their age without finding associated datable material. 
None of it makes much sense to me at this time in the late afternoon; the skeptic says forget it.
Dad and Greg are inside the motorhome.  Dad is preparing supper.  Greg is rattling on about his boring day and not having anyone with whom to play.  I am not ready to go in.  I am reluctant to close down the day.  Tuning out the skeptic, I turn away from the vehicle to watch the sinking sun.
This time in the late afternoon has always been my favorite part of the day; it is the time when the slanted shafts of sunlight turn the world a golden hue.  It is a time that gives the promise of a better day.  Here in Guatemala, the richness of the rays are almost too intense.  For relief, my gaze veers toward the tall pines on the slopes above--pines that stand almost black in their shadowed thickets.  But on this open terrace, the rich light illuminates the emerald grassland painting and highlighting every ripple, every depression on the earth's surface.

It is then that I begin to see it.  A very subtle change is occurring across the landscape.  It is not what I see so much as what I cannot see.  The angled shafts skip across the grassy fields revealing the shadowed outline of a massive archaeological complex. It is not a complex of mounds and terraces riding on the earth's surface, but rather a complex of ancient excavations within the earth.  These excavations are too shallow to warrant much attention during full light, but now are all revealed by the display of shadows in opposition to the lighted surfaces.  

The excavations are wide, linear channel depressions.  They are too large to be ditches and the way they extend both up-slope and down-slope demonstrates that they are not canals used for directing the flow of water.  No, water control was not the purpose behind this extensive channel network.  These subterranean channels are trenches that carefully and with extensive effort have been dug by many men into the surfaces and slopes of these meadows.

I realize that I am standing next to one of these shadows.  It reveals a six to eight foot wide depression that advances westward across the terrace to the slope of the hill.  There the shadow turns an abrupt 90 degree angle and moves off to the north up the slope. As I peer into the shadows where the sun cannot penetrate, I can trace the outline of this long depression to another abrupt turn to the east.  At this moment, the sun reveals with other shadows additional trench-like depressions that extend off the terrace beyond my vision.  
I realize also, that these depressions are not recent constructions.  They are too subtle, too weathered, too lost in time.  Their antiquity is demonstrated by the extent to which they have been filled through years of erosional processes.  Time, weather, and man have contributed to refill these depressions to within a foot of the original surface.  
My hunger forgotten, my skeptic stilled, I move into the ancient trench and begin the process of archaeological evaluation.  Within minutes I have identified broken sherds of pottery that, based on their shapes, surface decoration and colors, are Late PreClassic or about 2000 years old.
Someone calls.  My father stands at the door of the motorhome announcing that supper is on the table.  I wave him off and turn back to the shadowed complex.

These are my memories of that experience in 1981.  But this discovery is not the beginning and it is certainly not the end.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this experience marks for me the end of the beginning; it also may be the beginning of the end.


Hauck, F. Richard