Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources

Ancient Earth and Timber Works of Western New York

"Blinded by the gold of the pharaohs and the mighty ruins of Babylon, Book of Mormon students have declared themselves "not interested" in the drab and commonplace remains of our lowly Indians. But in all the Book of Mormon we look in vain for anything that promises majestic ruins." (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Melchizedek Priesthood manual, 1957), appendix section titled "Looking for the Wrong Things", pp. 440-441) 

Iroquois Fortification in NY

Depicted above: An unsuccessful attack conducted by Champlain and allied Huron braves on an Iroquois palisade fortification in New York. Champlain retreated and became lost for a while in the “southern Ontario lake country” of New York. (Champlain and the French in New York, University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany 1959, pp. 24-25; researched by Phyllis Carol Olive)  

The ravages of nature, scavenging and demolition have taken a heavy toll on archaeological sites in western New York . A comment made by Nephi and Isaiah applies:

"...the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away..." (2 Nephi 26:19, Isaiah 29:5)

In the appendix of An Approach to the Book of Mormon (under the section titled "Vanished Worlds"); Professor Hugh Nibley discourses on the loss of monuments of the past and of antiques:

"Northern Germany was rich in megalithic monuments at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but now they have vanished. In every civilized country societies were founded in the nineteenth century to stem the tide of destruction that swept away monuments of the past with the increase of population, the opening of new lands to cultivation by new methods, the ceaseless depredations of treasure and souvenir hunters. But the antiquities went right on disappearing. [Carl Schuchardt, Alteuropa (Berlin: De Grunter, 1935)] "

"The same thing happened in America . We too easily forget what a wealth of imposing ruins of the Heroic type once dotted the eastern part of the country. "Not content with having almost entirely exterminated the natives of this continent," an observer wrote at the beginning of this century, "unsatisfied with the tremendous fact that we have violated covenant engagements and treaty pledges with the Indians a hundred times over, we seem to be intent on erasing the last vestige of aboriginal occupation of our land." [Warren K. Morehead, Fort Ancient (Cincinnati: Clark, 1890), pg. 107] This was written in an appeal to save some of the great mounds of Ohio: "There are a number of structures of earth and stone scattered throughout our state...All such earthworks are, of course, placed on summits of high hills, or on plateaus overlooking river valleys." At fort Miami , "it seems as if blockhouses or bastions of wood had been burned down when once protecting the gateway." [Ibid, pp 102-103]  This is not only an excellent description of Book of Mormon strong places, but it also suits exactly the picture of the standard fortified places of the Old World . Hundreds of such hill forts have been located all over Europe and the British Isles , where they seem to represent the normal life of the people over, long periods of time." (An Approach to the B. of M, pp 438-439)

Professor Hugh Nibley summarizes the archaeological problem:

"...Book of Mormon archaeologists have often been disappointed in the past because they have consistently looked for the wrong things. We should not be surprised at the lack of ruins in America in general. Actually the scarcity of identifiable remains in the Old World is even more impressive. In view of the nature of their civilization one should not be puzzled if the Nephites had left us no ruins at all. People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear, and do not realize that the ancients almost never built of stone. Many a great civilization which has left a notable mark in history and literature has left behind not a single recognizable trace of itself. We must stop looking for the wrong things." (An Approach to the B of M, pg. 431)

Seneca Timber Palisade

Site of an ancient breastwork of timber surveyed by E. G. Squier in Ontario County, New York

"...small forts, or places or resort..." (Alma 48:8)

The Bible lacks archaeological support for many of its claims. This has not prevented Bible maps from featuring, for instance, "the traditional route of the Exodus", or "Mt. Sinai". These are not generally agreed upon by religious and secular authorities.

The northern American setting of the Book of Mormon, deserves to be mapped. Book of Mormon maps should be based chiefly on scripture. LDS scripture and the statements of Joseph Smith, show that at least some lands of the Book of Mormon are in the neighborhood of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes (Cumorah in its land of many waters). The emphasis placed here on LDS scripture and verifiable statements of Joseph Smith should not be taken to mean that archaeological correlations have not been found in the region of the Finger Lakes.

"The museums in New York State are filled with the instruments of warfare that had been fashioned by the red men and so freely used in that historic era. The opinion is expressed in those relic halls that western New York was the site of an ancient battlefield. There is more evidence of a well planned defensive warfare in that locality than there is in any other region on the American continent." (I. H. Smith, History of Duchess County, pg. 13)

Prior to their demolition, the remains of numerous earth and timber fortresses could be found throughout the counties of New York State. Ephraim George Squier, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution, documented this fact.

In 1848, E. G. Squier devoted eight weeks to searching out these remains. He had no exact means of dating the various earth and timber works which he surveyed. He erroneously proposed that the irregular shape of the earth-works (compared to more geometric earth-works of the Mississippi Valley) suggested that the New York earth-works were of "the period succeeding the commencement of European intercourse." (ABORIGINAL MONUMENTS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, by E.G. Squier, pg. 10)

But upon concluding his report Squier states:

"By whom were the aboriginal monuments of Western New York erected, and to what era may they be ascribed? The consideration of these questions has given rise to a vast amount of speculation... If the results arrived at have been erroneous, unsatisfactory, or extravagant, it may be ascribed to the circumstance that the facts heretofore collected have been too few in number and too poorly authenticated to admit of correct conclusions..."

"In respect to date nothing positive can be affirmed. Many of them [old fortified towns and citadels] are now covered with forests... I have seen trees from one to three feet in diameter standing upon the embankments and in the trenches; which would certainly carry back the date of their construction several hundred years, perhaps beyond the period of the discovery in the fifteenth century..." (A. M. of the S. of N. Y., pp. 81-82)

Certainly some of the fortifications Squier visited were constructed in more recent centuries. Evidently native peoples of New York continued to build earth and timber fortresses long after Book of Mormon times. Their entrenchments, banks of earth and timber palisades are a far better match for the constructions described in the Book of Mormon than any of the stupendous stone buildings found in Central and South America.

Contrasting the works of the mound builders with Mesoamerica stone ruins, Hugh Nibley observes: “A closer approximation to the Book of Mormon picture of Nephite culture is seen in the earth and palisade structures of the Hopewell and Adena culture areas than in the later stately piles of stone in Mesoamerica… Though such piles as the great pyramid-temple of Chichen Itza are surpassed by few buildings in the world in beauty of proportion and grandeur of conception, there is something disturbing about most of these overpowering ruins… The great monuments do not represent what the Nephites stood for; rather they stand for what their descendents, mixed with the blood of their brethren, descended to…” (Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, pp. 272-273)

The great Chichen Itza temple-pyramid of Kukulcan features in the background of the popular LDS painting "Christ in America", and the "The TESTAMENTS". The scene may be interpreted to depict a visit by Kukulcan to the people of the Yucatan in the 11th century AD or later, but a scene from the Book of Mormon, it most certainly is not.

Squier points out that the ancient stockades of Western New York are not unlike structures made by natives of Australia, the British Islands, Mexico, Peru, the Pacific Islands, and the Steppes of Russia. The general nature of such defenses is not unique to any one culture.  (Ezekiel 17:17)  

Opposed to the theory that the "Mound-builders" were an advanced race not related to "the Indians", Squier contends that the ancient fortresses of Western New York were constructed entirely by ancestors of indigenous people. The Book of Mormon does not disagree. Squier, however, seems incredulous towards the idea that natives of New York might have some connection to peoples of the Middle East. Squier is willing to concede that some of the earth-works could be very old, as long as no credence is given to the idea of a lost race:

"...if the earth-works of Western New York are of remote ancient date, they were not only secondarily but generally occupied by the Iroquois or neighboring and contemporary nations..." Squier remarks. (A. M. of the S. of N. Y., pg. 82)

According to Squier, nearly all of the earth and timber works served as defenses:

"...Their positions, general close proximity to water, and other circumstances no less conclusive, imply a defensive origin. The unequivocal traces of long occupation found within many of them, would further imply that they were fortified towns and villages, and were permanently occupied. Some of the smaller ones, on the other hand, seem rather designed for temporary protection, - the citadels in which the builders sought safety for their old men, women, and children in case of alarm or attack." (A. M. of the S. of N. Y., pp. 81)

As for the number of ancient works in New York State, Squier informs us that:

"In the short period of eight weeks devoted to the search, I was enabled to ascertain the localities of no less than one hundred ancient works, [including works in Seneca, Wayne, Niagara and Wyoming counties, pg 11] and to visit and make surveys of half that number. From the facts which have fallen under my notice, I feel warranted in estimating the number which originally existed in the State at from two hundred to two hundred and fifty. Probably one half of these have been obliterated by the plough, or so much encroached upon as to be no longer satisfactorily traced." (A. M. of the S. of N. Y., pp. 11-12)

Squier surveyed works which enclosed areas ranging from less than an acre to over twenty acres.  He notes burial pits and mounds containing numerous human skeletons. He mentions artifacts of silver, copper and brass found at various New York sites.

"Probably no county in the State had originally a greater number of aboriginal monuments within its boundaries, than the county of Onondaga", remarks E. G. Squier.  Squier realized that much evidence of New York 's ancient civilization had already vanished. In his own words, Onondaga County had "been so long settled, and so generally brought under cultivation, that nearly all vestiges of its ancient remains have disappeared. The sites of many are, however, still remembered; but even these will soon be forgotten." (A. M. of the S. of N. Y., pg. 27)

Onondaga County refers to the local tribe. The similarity to the name "Onandagus" ("Onendegus", or "Omandagas", variously spelled) revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith during Zion 's Camp, is noteworthy. The fact that "Onandagus" is never mentioned in the Book of Mormon is certainly not proof that this notable individual was unknown to Book of Mormon peoples. The archangel Raphael is never mentioned in the Bible and yet was as well known to the Jewish people as Gabriel. The striking similarity between the name "Oneida" (county and ancient people of New York) and the Book of Mormon place name "Onidah", is also noteworthy.  (Alma 32:4; 47:5)

Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York Surveyed by E. G. Squier


Pyramid of Kukulcan, Yucatan
The Central American Pyramid of Kukulcan, built between the 9th and 12th Centuries A.D.

“An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me… in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar...” (Exodus 20:24 - 26)

Familiar Patterns in Temples Made to Strange Gods

Even with the recent discovery of a 10th century B.C. wall at Jerusalem, there is still little archaeological proof that Solomon’s Temple existed. On the other hand, similar temples have been found throughout the Levant (the eastern Mediterranean region). The physical similarity between these temples and the one built by Solomon described in the Bible, does not mean the GOD of Israel was worshiped at these sites. 

In Northern Syria the excavation of a temple dating back before Solomon’s, has excited Bible scholars. Though erected to the worship of another deity (or dieties), the architectural similarities between the Syrian temple and Solomon’s is described as nothing short of “striking”. The close architectural and decorative parallels between the two temples leads some scholars to posit that temples like the one in Northern Syria (‘Ain Dara), may have influenced the Phoenician engineers and craftsmen who later built Solomon’s temple. (John Monson, “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel”, Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 2000; see also ‘Ain Dara TempleNorthern Syria, BAR, 200th Issue)

No Central or South American edifice or temple complex holds a menorah to the Solomonic similarities of the pagan ‘Ain Dara temple. What can be said then for alleged parallels between Solomon’s temple and the temple complex at Izapa Mexico? (Michael De Groote, “Hebrew design in Mesoamerica: Temples match”, Mormon Times, October 2009) No single building at this Central American complex matches Solomon’s temple. If you cleverly size and impose make-believe rectangles on a whole layout of buildings, clipping and cutting through a building here and there, you may convince yourself that part of the complex fits proportions (certainly not the size) of Solomon’s temple.

What is this supposed to prove? That Israel’s God was worshipped at Izapa? That the temple complex was built by Hebrews? That Book of Mormon real-estate lies in southern Mexico? None of these notions fit the facts. Israelite temple proportions are three dimensional, not just 2-D. This fact alone tends to flatten the whole claim.

The peoples of Izapa predate the Nephites of the Book of Mormon. The temple of Solomon and the earlier Tabernacle of the Congregation incorporated architectural elements found in other cultures, i.e. Egyptian and Phoenician. So even if an architectural analog to Solomon's temple could be found in Mesoamerica, or even in temperate North America, it wouldn't prove an Israelite connection.

But, what about sacred ratios? How impressed should we be with the proposition that some architectural ratios at the Izapa complex match Israelite temples? 

The sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…, in which each number is the sum of the previous two, is called the Fibonacci sequence. Ratios of these numbers can be found in nature, art and architecture. One special ratio resulting from Fibonacci numbers is called “the Divine Proportion” or “the Golden Ratio”. The ratio of a Fibonacci number to the one just before it in the sequence is approximately the Golden Ratio. As the ratio is taken of greater and greater Fibonacci numbers the result gets closer and closer to the Golden Ratio (about 1.618).

The ratio of the breadth of Noah’s Ark to its height is approximately the Golden Ratio. (Genesis 6:15) The ratio of the length of the Ark of the Covenant to its width or to its height is approximately the Golden Ratio. (Exodus 25:10, 17) The same is true for the ratio of any side of the Levitical altar to its height. (Exodus 27:1) Does this mean that everything in nature, art and architecture that approximates the Golden Ratio ties back to ancient Hebrew culture? Of course not! No more than the ratios of other Fibonacci numbers present in the architecture of Solomon’s Temple, e.g. 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 3:2 etc. Izapa complex proportions are therefore not uniquely Hebrew.

It seems that some continue to fixate on hewn stone ruins, even though the Book of Mormon does not lead us to believe that Nephi had the means or manpower to build, in a timely way, a hewn stone reproduction of Solomon’s Temple. (See 1 Kings 5:13-18, and scripture reference to 17a)

According to the Bible, the Jerusalem Temple involved tens of thousands of laborers. Wood and metalworking are the only skills mentioned in connection with Nephi’s American temple. (2 Nephi 5:15-16, Mosiah 11:8-10) Nephi directed the construction of other buildings besides a temple. Stone masonry is nowhere mentioned. The Bible, on the other hand, repeatedly lists hewn stone, wood and metalworking. (1 Chronicles 22:2-5)

The Mesoamerican stone ruins fixation; draws from the influence of John Lloyd Stephens’ bestseller, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan; published more than a decade after the Book of Mormon.

Copyright © 2008 by W. Vincent Coon

Similar TemplesThe 'AIN DARA temple and Solomon's Temple share very similar plans. (Biblical Archaeological Review, 200th ISSUE, pg. 81)

Corbelled Stone Chamber, North Salem, NYCorbelled Stone Chamber found in North Salem, New York. A nearby barn and farmhouse were constructed in 1710 and 1730 by the ancestors of the family that presently owns the land. Family records indicate that at the time of the first field clearing, the chamber was already standing. (The Search for Lost America - The Mysteries of the Stone Ruins, Salvatore Michael Trento, Fig. 2.7)

Izapa Temple ComplexImaginary lines, superimposed on a collection of several buildings located at Izapa, Mexico - an unconvincing attempt to fit the plan of Solomon's Temple.  (Mormon Times, October 2009)

Ohio Temple Mound

A “temple mound” situated above the Ohio River near Cincinnati. “Fragments of burnt limestone may still be seen on the top. The mound is a rectangle two hundred and twenty-five feet long by one hundred and twenty feet broad, and seven feet high.” In contrast to the hewn stone buildings and altars of Mexico, the Ohio mound has the right dimensions to have accommodated a timber and burnt lime plaster ("cement") building of the size and proportions of Solomon’s Temple. (J. P.  Maclean, The Mound Builders – Archaeology of Butler County, Ohio, 1904, pp. 222-223)

Israelite Compass


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