Did Book of Mormon People Reach Peru?

Did Book of Mormon People Reach Peru?

by Douglas K. Christensen

(Webmaster note:  Long ago I observed in religion, politics, human relations, etc. that arriving at a conclusion and then drawing a line in the sand is often human nature and usually dangerous if not disastrous.  It seems to be a human tendency to adopt an either/or posture, choose up sides, and prepare to defend your turf (ideas).  History is replete with examples of war, murder and mayhem in the name of religion, philosophy and real estate.  With many people, the idea of considering the other position or even worse to consider the possibility that both may be not only correct but productive, is anathema.  Human history illustrates an extreme difficulty with flexibility and change, particularly when personal pride is involved.

With the recent influence of the group known as the "Heartlanders", who advocate a northeastern United States location for Book of Mormon lands, I have introspected and felt the necessity to leave room for the possibility of "both."  My perspective on the possibilities of migrations out of Mesoamerica (which is the place where events found in our Book of Mormon took place) both north and south seems more and more logical.  Several recent articles and conversations have convinced me that multiple groups  from Mesoamerica moved into the southern states area and from there as far north as the Great Lakes.  We cannot know through reading the Book of Mormon any information about these groups except the multiple references that people were migrating from their Mesoamerican homeland to the "Land Northward", and quite possibly in the case of Hagoth's ocean voyages almost anywhere on the continent. This opens up the very real possibility that some compatriot of Hagoth could also have done the same from possibly the same location to the Pacific coast of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru during late pre-Classic times, so that Nephite peoples could have intermarried with descendants of the Peruvian Chavin, Chimu, etc., and become part of the Andean cultures clear up to Inca times.  So we are left to analyzing archaeological and anthropological data to look for similarities of language, culture, art styles and religion.  What we find is fascinating, indeed.  (See "Ruins in Georgia Mountains Show Evidence of Maya Connection", "The Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican travels 'Northward'", "The Book of Mormon’s 'Mother Culture' of the New World", and "Miner & Ainsworth - Who did Mormon and Moroni 'Minister' to?"

Many Book of Mormon Mesoamericanists have been disappointed with their colleague George Potter, who did excellent work outlining the Lehi trail on the Arabian peninsula, then, shifted his attention to New World Book of Mormon locations, and has proposed Peru as Book of Mormon homelands.  I have to admit that my research and trips to Peru did remind me over and over of Mesoamerica.  Dr. Ross Christensen, a professor of archaeology at BYU (now deceased) wrote the following article which appeared in the University Archaeological Society newsletter #67, July, 1960:)
















Where did the mighty civilizations of the Incas and their predecessors come from, and what do they have to do with those of the Nephite scripture? Did the ancient peoples of western South America have any blood relationship to those of the Book of Mormon? Let us examine some external evidences bearing on the question of whether Book of Mormon peoples from Mesoamerica reached Peru. By "external" we refer to archaeological and related materials. Let us make a few typological comparisons, that is, compare things found in Mesoamerica with those found in the Central Andes, for if ancient Mesoamericans actually migrated to Peru many similarities must eventually be discovered.


As to physical type, that is, the form of the human beings themselves, there is good reason to believe that there is an affinity between the populations of the Peruvian area and those of Mesoamerica. Some of them, at least, are rather close in physical type.
There has been something done by way of comparing the languages of Mesoamerica with those of Peru. As you may realize the linguistic picture in the New World is exceedingly complex. Some authorities have proposed that certain languages of Peru are similar to and have a common origin with certain Mesoamerican tongues.
(Comparisons between the Andean area and Mesoamerica, both as to physical type and languages, are still wide-open fields to which a great deal of intensive effort by both Latter-day Saint and other students may well be devoted.)
As to culture traits, or customs, there are a number of obvious similarities between Mesoamerica and the Central Andes. For example, the subsistence patterns of the two areas were similar in many respects. They were both based on intensive agriculture. Heavy populations, made possible by such agriculture, were involved in both cases. In both cases, irrigation was practiced wherever it was appropriate. And, as pointed out previously, the subsistence patterns in these two areas on the one hand were distinctly different from those of the remainder of the Americas on the other.
The social organization of the Central Andean and Mesoamerican areas was similar at many points. In both cases there was a strong tendency toward centralized government under kings. In most other outlying areas government and society were not anywhere near that complicated. Instead, we find chieftaincies in some areas and in others, simple bands. In Utah, for example, aboriginal social organization did not even involve actual chiefs, not in a hereditary sense at least. In the Eskimo area the social organization is very simple, extremely different from that of Mesoamerica and the Central Andes. In those two areas of high civilization there was a tendency toward setting up a rigid class system in which there were various levels, such as kings, lords, nobles, commoners, and slaves.
The subject of ceramics is a complex and intriguing one. (Ceramics include all articles made of baked clay, whether containers, which we call pottery, or non-containers, such as figurines, spindle whorls, and masks. ) There are two places in the Andean area where strong resemblance has been observed between the ceramics of that place and those of Mesoamerica of Pre-classic (Book of Mormon) times. One of these is the Esmeraldas coast of northern Ecuador. Following is a partial list of similarities between the ceramics found there and those of Mesoamerica (A. L. Kroeber in American Antiquity, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 139-140, in a review of Raoul d'Harcourt, Archeoogie de la Provinced' Esmeraldas, Equateur): clay fillets and buttons, flower-pot-shaped bowl, shoe-shaped bowl, tripod bowl, high pedestal bowl, incising of small bowls, numerous figurines, seated figurines with forearm across knees or up, atlantean figurines, human face in jaws of feline, pads or cornucopia on side of head, "Neapolitan coiffure," coffee-bean eyes, necklace knotted with loose ends down chest, plaited screen on back, men's pubic apron from belt or string, 5 or 6 holes in edge of ear, numerous animal figurines, pottery masks, mirrors of pyrites, and mirror receptacle in the shape of a feline.  There are thus some clear resemblances between the ceramics of the Esmeraldas coast of Ecuador and those of Mesoamerica.

The other place which is important in this connection is northern Peru. The earliest discovered civilization there is called "Chavin. " There are a number of significant resemblances between the pottery and art motifs of that civilization and those of Preclassic civilizations of Mesoamerica. The site of Tlatilco in the Valley of Mexico is important in this connection (Muriel Noe Porter, Tlatilco and the PreClassic Cultures of the New World, pp. 78-79):

The Chavin period of the Andean Pre-Classic horizon shares numerous elements with Tlatilco. These include artificial head deformation, stirrup-spouted vessel forms, zoned decoration of pottery in a singular style, excising and rocker-stamping as decorative techniques, and the concept of dualism. The feline motif so characteristic of Chavin style, is equally important in the Olmec culture of Mexico which exercised considerable influence over Tlatilco. Also shared are minor features such as clay stamps, hand-modeled figurines, mirrors and whistling vessels. In some cases the specific resemblances are remarkable. For example, certain sherds from the two areas are similar enough in decoration, finish and composition as to be easily confused.  It is thus clear, from these two instances, that there is some sort of historical connection between the ceramics of Mesoamerica and those of the Central Andes and presumable therefore between the ancient peoples of the two areas.
Architecture is another interesting point of comparison. In both cases the typical arrangement is for the city to be grouped around the ceremonial or religious center, which is built on an artificial raised platform. Each temple or sanctuary within the center is built upon a further raised platform called a temple-pyramid or altar-mound. In both cases the ground plan is rectangular. In both cases there is often a walled courtyard out in front.
There are also a number of arbitrary comparisons between the two areas in the field of religion. The important feline motif (the puma or cougar in South America, the jaguar in Mesoamerica), shows up again and again in the religious art of both areas. It represented the ancient Rain and Life God of Mesoamerica, who in the opinion of some LDS scholars was the resurrected Christ of Third Nephi.
You have undoubtedly heard of the Fair God of Mesoamerica, the one whom the Aztecs called Quetzalcoatl, the god of priesthood and learning, who was conceived of a virgin after she was breathed upon by the Creator God, who was born among mortals, and who went away to the east and promised to return at some prophetic date in the future.
In South America also, but particularly in the Central Andean area, there is a parallel to this Fair God. The name there is Viracocha. The Inca Garcilasso de la Vega describes him as "... a man of good stature, with a long beard... in a wide loose robe like a cassock, reaching to the feet" (Royal Commentaries of the Ynacs, Vol. 2, p. 70. Trans—lated by C. R. Markham). He was speaking of a certain idol of that deity that existed south of Cuzco. Others mention having seen the same statue in the early days of the Spanish conquest.
Route and Dates of Migrations. And now a word as to the route and means of the migrations from Mesoamerica to the Central Andean area of South America: This undoubtedly took place by means of seagoing craft sailed along the western or Pacific coast of the intervening territory.  I much prefer this view to the theory that the contact was by land; the overland theory seems very difficult to me.
Conclusion. The question has been asked, "Did Book of Mormon peoples reach Peru?" My answer is yes. Book of Mormon peoples, that is, colonists from Mesoamerica, did reach the coasts of Ecuador and Peru. The ancient civilized peoples of those countries were therefore Book of Mormon peoples, even though the actual events of the Book took place in MesoAmerica.

(Webmaster's summation:  It would appear from the two examples above that there were mass migrations moving both north and south, probably beginning in Jaredite times and continuing more or less constantly through the Classic period.  While motivations for such migrations are only hinted at in the Book of Mormon, we can make educated guesses.  First, there are several examples of mass movements of people in the book.  A few good examples are Nephi 1 and his family and followers migrating inland from the land of first inheritance to avoid war,  Mosiah 1 and his followers migrating from Nephi to Zarahemla because of religious differences, Zeniff and his followers moving back to the highlands of Nephi possibly because of better weather and soil fertility, Limhi and his followers moving back to Zarahemla to avoid captivity, Lachoneus migrating with his followers to avoid extinction, and several more in the book of Ether.  Possibly the best description of this disapora found in the Book of Mormon is in Helaman 3:3-8:

3 ......there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land anorthward to inherit the land.

 4 And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to alarge bodies of water and many rivers.

 5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

 6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the adestruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called bdesolate.

 7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly aexpert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

 8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.

So, when we are faced with evidence that would tend to indicate the presence of Book of Mormon people anywhere on our continent; wisdom would indicate that we take careful consideration, investigate further, don't jump to conclusions and don't alienate others by our dogged insistence upon "our" interpretation(s).)

Doug Christensen

"..... Christensen's and BMAF's ideas are essentially the same - the Book of Mormon events occurred in Mesoamerica with any number of migrations away from Mesoamerica to other places."
Steve Carr, BMAF Senior Editor

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