Science and the Book of Mormon
by Wade E. Miller
[Editor's Note: Presented at the eleventh annual FAIR Conference, 6 August 2009.]
I appreciate the opportunity to speak here and hope that what I have to say is of interest. What you see on the screen is the cover of a book I’ve written that was just published. In fact it’s not yet in bookstores. Hopefully it will be available soon. The subject of this book pertains to something I’ve been interested in for a long time, science and the Book of Mormon. Before getting into the main subject matter of the book, I thought that I’d tell you briefly a little bit about myself. This is to let you determine whether I’ve had enough experience for you to tell if I know my subject matter or not.
If you look at the picture on the left, it was taken shortly after I first got into paleontology. You can see that I’m sitting there in the middle of nowhere, contemplating, “Do I really want to be a paleontologist?” But, as you can see in the photo on the right, I did – I’m smiling! One of these three photos was taken just last year, the one in the middle. This is in an area near Moab, Utah. Petroglyphs are shown here. Hopefully you can make them out. The photo on the right was just taken earlier this year when I was in Coahuila, Mexico. That’s a mammoth tooth I’m holding that I had just collected.
It was indicated in my introduction by Scott Gordon that I went to Brigham Young University. This photo was taken during the geology summer field camp in my senior year. In the picture on the right I am talking with professor Lehi Hintze, our field camp director. At about this point in time I realized that geology and paleontology were actually subjects I’d like to know more about. It was also indicated in my introduction that I was a research associate at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County, formerly known as the Los Angeles County Museum. I still am. This photo is of the County Art Museum in Exhibition Park on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, with an excavation of the La Brea Tar Pits in the foreground. I was privileged to help reopen the tar pits in 1969. Actually “tar pits” is a little bit of a misnomer. The material is really a natural asphalt. The photo on the left was taken in 1915, the last year that fossils were collected in earnest before 1969. Since 1969 fossils have been continuously collected until the present time. Many good fossils have been extracted since 1969 at La Brea. The life scene showing on the right is one of a saber-tooth cat attacking a trapped mammoth. If you look very closely you can see a couple of marks on the top of the head of that mammoth. There is actually a mammoth skull in the museum that has marks like that on the top of it. They match perfectly with the canine teeth of saber-tooth cat.
After coming to BYU as a professor, I started looking around for different field projects in which to be involved. The photograph here is of Gandy Mountain. It’s almost on the Utah-Nevada border. A cave inside this mountain, Crystal Ball cave, was reported to have a number of bones inside. I went to the site and determined that some were of extinct animals. The slide here shows the inside of the cave with some of the helpers involved. We collected hundreds of bones over several trips, which are now at BYU. A number of interesting animals were identified (in fact I wrote a report about them that was published by the National Geographic Society).
This photo was taken a few years later in Australia. I was privileged with an invitation to go down there and do some paleontological fieldwork. These slides are of some of the caves in which we collected. This is a picture is of an assistant who is sorting some of the bones we collected. They are mainly of fossil marsupials. Of course marsupials are the typical Australian mammals. Various kinds of animals are represented here. Some of these are extinct types of kangaroos and one animal found represents one of the largest marsupials known, about the size of a water buffalo.
When you make photo collages like this one, you can manipulate them to suit yourself. The one on the left was sort of squeezed to fit. I was able to make myself look a lot thinner. These slides are of the Dry Mesa quarry in Western Colorado. Some of you may have heard of Jim Jensen, who passed away a few years ago. He became famous mainly for the fossils he collected here. Commonly he became known as Dinosaur Jim. The Dry Mesa quarry produced some of the largest dinosaurs in the world. Along with assistants, I continued to collect dinosaurs here after Jim retired. In this photo I was working with a group of third grade students from Colorado. I’m trying to explain some things about dinosaurs to the students shown here, and to answer their questions. While I was the Chairman of the Geology Department at BYU we had an Alumni Association. Chuck Cline shown here was President of this Association. He and I invited geology alumni out to the quarry. Unbeknownst to them we had shovels and picks waiting for them. And they were put to work. Actually they enjoyed the experience of being able to collect dinosaur bones.
This slide was taken in Japan. I was invited to go over there to help with a major dinosaur exhibit to be displayed in Tokyo. Again I was able to work with little kids as you can see. This photo was taken in the Utah Governor’s office in 1988. You might recognize former Governor Bangerter. He is accepting a cast of the skull of a dinosaur named Allosaurus. It had just been declared as Utah’s state fossil. I’m holding a drawing of a restoration of what this dinosaur might have looked like in life. The actual skull from which this cast was made was collected at the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry. This quarry is about 20 miles south of Price, Utah. Mainly this quarry had been collected by University of Utah paleontologists going back to 1924. In 1987 we (BYU) received permission to collect there for a couple of years. It seems that we more or less wiggled in there in getting permission. The University of Utah paleontologists had lost interest in collecting at this site. Later I want to show you something that I think made them regret we were able to obtain permission from the BLM to collect there.
This photo shows me and a few others that were on the governor’s counsel regarding the paleontology of Utah. It was interesting working with State people and also learning about some of the politics involved. Relative to Utah fossils, I’m here with a high school student named Doug Miller, no relationship, who had reported some dinosaur tracks. I’m pointing out one here. This locality is in Washington County not far from the newest dinosaur track site that’s in St. George. There are more dinosaur tracks than can be seen in this photo. It was good that this high school student was conscientious enough to report his find to BYU.
You probably can’t recognize him from the back, but the person in the blue shirt is someone you may have seen on TV. He is Ed Yates who is the science reporter for KSL. I have worked with him a number of times on paleontological findings that he reported. He’s really a nice person, and was a geology major at the University of Utah years ago. I am working on a dinosaur bone in this photo. And I’m here working with BLM personnel at this newly found dinosaur site. You will recognize the person in this photo. It was really my pleasure to work with Walter Cronkite, who just passed away very recently. As most of you know he was invited to conduct the Tabernacle Choir several years ago. Anyway, I
found him to be a really nice person. He came out to the Dry Mesa quarry to narrate a special program for television. I had been invited to work with him on this special. It was produced by a Canadian company A&E, and this special was called “Dinosaur.” While he was at the quarry site, he said the surrounding area was one of the prettiest spots he’d seen. It was in a National forest. That night a few of us sat around the campfire sharing stories. It was nice to get to know Mr. Cronkite personally. I worked with him both at the quarry and then at BYU, going through all the dinosaur bones in the collection there.
This photo is one from Mexico where I have done a lot of work for many years. This is typical of what some field sites look like. You may wonder why most of these pictures are in desert areas. This is because that’s where the exposures of sediments and rocks are, and where fossils can be seen. However, it is not always easy to see the fossils, they often blend in with the rocks. This is such a case here. By looking closely you can see that there is a mastodon tooth in this photo. So, you sometimes really have to look closely to find fossils. If it’s this hard to spot a mastodon tooth, think what it would be like to pick out rodent teeth! Anyhow that’s part of what we do. It is important to find all the fossils possible, large and small, in order to determine what age and environment is represented. Bart Kowallis, who was the chairman of the geology department at BYU after me, is in this photo. He specializes in radiometric dating, and is here collecting ash samples so that they can be dated. This then tells us the age in years of the fossils we’ve collected in the area. The photo here is of another area in Mexico where I did paleontological field work. It is in the state of Durango. I want you to burn this scene into your photographic memories as I will show some fossils from this site later, after they have been prepared. This little area here (pointing to a spot on the photo) produced hundreds of fossil bones and teeth. The fossils from this site range from mammoths to fish. In all about 15 different types of animals, mostly mammals, have been identified. In this one section of sediment (about 4 by 4 feet) there are probably a couple of dozen bones. There is the jaw of a horse, and that’s a jaw of a camel, actually a llama which is a type of camel. If you look closely, there are many other bones by these. I have had plant fossils from this site dated by radiocarbon (C-14) means, and it showed that the fossils found here are about 12,000 years old.
I did some lecturing as shown here at a museum in Mexico, describing the fossil finds that I made there with Mexican colleagues. This picture was taken this year in Coahuila, Mexico. I discovered a mammoth tooth at this site just before the photo was taken. It is by my left foot. It might be hard to believe, but that’s a single tooth. A mammoth molar can be over a foot in length for the last tooth in the upper and lower jaws. Mammoths are equipped with a pretty good set of grinders. In this picture I am pointing to a spot where a mastodon tusk was found and collected earlier this year. It is in the Mexican state of Michoacan.
So, how did the book I just wrote come about? Well I mentioned to you earlier about the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, and how that we were operating it for a couple of years beginning in 1987. Well, one of my assistants, Dee Hall, found a dinosaur egg, the only one that’s ever been found there. That’s why I said that the University of Utah probably regretted that they had enabled us to obtain permission; this through the Bureau of Land Management (whose land the quarry is on), to collect fossils there. Very little dinosaur egg material has ever been found in Utah; and usually that has been just pieces of shell. But as you can see, this is pretty much a complete egg. However, it is crushed a little bit. After the fossil egg was collected, we discussed the possibility that there could be something inside. So, the American Fork Hospital staff kindly and freely donated their CAT-scan machine in order to determine this. You can probably see in this photo of the CAT-scan that there is a very small embryo inside the egg. This made the news, both nationally and internationally. Because of this I was invited to go to Italy to discuss the find on a nationally broadcast (RAI) TV show. The same person who put on that show (Mino Damato), later arranged for an exhibit on Jurassic Park in Rome. He even got to use some of the original equipment used in the movie for his exhibit. Mr. Damato asked me if I would help out with his planned exhibit. Well, we all know how one thing can lead to another and to another, and so on. I’m really building up here how this book came about. So, when I was in Rome, working with Mino Damato, I became associated with some LDS people. One of his chief assistants, Giancarlo Dicarolo, was a Latter-day Saint who later became a good friend of mine. (He later became a stake president in Italy.)
Years after the Jurassic Park exhibit in Rome, I was invited back to Italy by the CES (Church Education System) director, Felice Lotito. He had heard of me being in Italy earlier, and learned that I was a Church member. He wrote to me at BYU and said that they were having Church problems in Italy. He said that the Church youth there that were going to universities were falling away from the Church. He said many of the professors at these Italian universities were either atheists or agnostics, and they would teach that religion was just for the uninformed and the ignorant. They would say that science has taken the place of religion. Felice said that far too many Church youth were falling away from the Church and that something needed to be done about it. As CES director he said, he wanted to have a nationwide conference in Italy for the Church youth. Brother Lotito then invited me to this 3-day youth conference which was first held in 1996. So I was invited to speak on science and how it was compatible with the LDS religion. He told me that there wasn’t anybody in Italy at that time who had a background in both science and the LDS religion who could explain things for the students. And so, then I spoke at this youth conference first in 1996 and then in 1997. I was also invited to come back in 1998, to the last of these national youth conferences, but I wasn’t able to come then because of other commitments. The students were very attentive, even though my talks had to be translated into Italian. However, I was surprised when I found out that over half of them understood English. After classes were over many of the youth would say that they needed to have something that they could read about, on what I was presenting. They said I should write a book about this. At this point I thought well, that’s a possibility. I kept hearing this after each class, and also at the end of the 3-day conference in 1996. The same thing happened in the 1997 conference which was held in a pretty area near Lake Garda, not too far from Verona in the northern part of Italy. It was an enjoyable place to be. During this conference as well, many of the youth came up and said I had to write a book about what I was presenting in the classes. After resuming teaching at BYU the following school year, I passed out surveys to my geology classes. These had questions for the students, asking if they had any problems relating the LDS religion and science; if they had any concerns or anything that bothered them in this regard. I got a lot of response back, indicating that many students had concerns and questions on this. Also, from time to time, I’d hear these students say, you know, you ought to write a book about this. Well, after hearing this same sentiment for a number of years I thought okay, I will write a book. You saw the cover of this book in the first slide. Actually, as it turned out two books were written. This was the smaller of the two, “Science and the Book of Mormon.” The more inclusive book dealing with science and religion just now is being published. It’s titled “Creation of the Earth for Man.”
Here is a photo of the first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. This Book is the keystone of our religion. From the very beginning people began criticizing the Book of Mormon. Many people began saying that it can’t be true for various reasons. They were also saying that how could Joseph Smith, a young and uneducated man, be a prophet of the Lord.
If we check with the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88 (and I believe starting with verse 77), the Lord said, I command you to teach one another diligently. Well, you can’t teach unless you’ve learned first. The Lord went on to say to teach not only the law of the Doctrine of the Kingdom, and the Law of the Gospel, but said I want you to teach about things that are on the earth, in the earth and under the earth. After reading this last part I had a big smile, because that’s what I do, I work with things under the earth.
Returning to the Book of Mormon and its authenticity, many people were challenging it, as most of you know, from the very beginning. One of the first things that was challenged concerned the ancient writings or hieroglyphics on gold plates. These critics would say, we don’t know of anything like that ever existing, and that right there proves the Book of Mormon is false. Yet look what’s happened after Joseph Smith’s time. These plates you see in this photo are ancient gold plates from Iran, and from Italy and Bulgaria. I think they have now been found in other places too. And look at the times involved. Some of these gold plates are dated at about 600 B.C., the same time that Lehi and his group left Jerusalem. So, we can see that there are actually ancient writings on golden plates from several localities – something not known during the time of Joseph Smith. Note that some gold plates were found in a stone box as you can see here. Now, one of these early criticisms of the Book of Mormon has fallen by the wayside. We will find out now that other criticisms no longer are valid as well.
The Prophet Joseph Smith, who was the prophet that brought the Book of Mormon to us, said that it is the keystone of our religion. Our religion of course is based strongly on the Book of Mormon, and the gospel that’s taught within it. And this was further elucidated by President Ezra Taft Benson who, as most of you know, was a strong advocate for the Book of Mormon throughout his presidency and before. He too said, like the Prophet Joseph Smith, that this Book is the keystone of our religion. President Hinckley stated, as you can read here (and this is especially interesting to me), that critics through generations have worn out their lives, writing books trying to refute the Book of Mormon. This is still going on as you know. I won’t have time to get into this now, but one of the more recent things critics of the Book of Mormon are trying to use to refute it is DNA. Well, you can’t really prove or disprove the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon with DNA. But as President Hinckley said, people still are wearing out their lives, trying to refute the Book of Mormon.
We all know that the Book of Mormon is meant to be another witness of Jesus Christ. It was not meant to be a document on science. Nevertheless, science is one of the things that has been used by the opponents of the LDS Church to attack the Book of Mormon. These critics have said that there are things relating to science in the Book of Mormon that can’t be true. So, what I want to do is point out that these objections like the ancient gold plates, shown you a minute ago, just don’t hold up now. Getting to some of these objections that relate to science, this slide is a document put out by the Smithonian Institution, a complex of our national museums. If you have eagle eyes you can probably read what’s on it. This wasn’t really meant for you to be able to read, but to show how long the list of objections to the Book of Mormon they put out is. I was surprised to find out a number of years ago that many, many thousands of people have written to the Smithsonian over the years. They’ve written to the Smithsonian asking if this or that item is true or not that’s listed in the Book of Mormon. These people who have written are both LDS and non-LDS. Some have wanted to find verification from archaeologists at the Smithsonian and others, for their belief. Critics have wanted to find information that would refute statements made in the Book of Mormon from scientists at the Smithsonian. This has been going on for a long time. There have been a lot of statements made by Smithsonian’s archaeologists as shown here, and I want to go over some of them now. These are ones you can’t really see collectively on the pages shown on this slide.
I wrote to the Director of Communications at Smithsonian, Ann Cobb, a few years ago. Here is what she wrote back. “Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution’s alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the office of communications. The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide.” (Well I can’t argue that, it’s true). “The Smithsonian Institution has never used it [Book of Mormon] in any archaeological research, and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.” Okay, so now I started to get a little negative feel for what they’re saying. This negative aspect was further compounded by what you see here with the statement that I got back. It reads, “Smithsonian archaeologists see no connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book of Mormon.” So, that certainly is no ringing praise for the veracity of the Book of Mormon. It’s definitely a negative comment for those who believe in the Book of Mormon.
Well, let’s see what some of the statements from the Smithsonian were that you couldn’t read before (because of the small size of pages on the screen). Some of them relate to iron, steel, glass and silk that were not used in the New World before 1492. Of course you realize that’s the time that Columbus came to America and brought Old World items and information over to the New World. Another objection related to horses being here, although they admitted that they were in the Americas along with the bison, mammoth and mastodon. However, they claimed that all these animals became extinct around 10,000 years ago. I’ll show you how that no longer holds true. Another objecting statement by the Smithsonian to the Book of Mormon was that American-Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chicken, horses, donkeys or camels before 1492. Most of these items were things that were not thought to be in the New World before, at least during Book of Mormon times, until the people from Columbus’ voyages and later brought them over. Columbus brought horses over to America on his second voyage. I think that was in 1493. But actually, he reintroduced them, he did not bring them for the first time as I’ll explain later.
Where are the Book of Mormon lands? This is still something that a lot of people in the Church, even archaeologists in the Church, debate. We know it’s in the New World, we just don’t know where for sure. One person whom I respect a lot, and some of you know him too, is Dr. John Sorenson. He has written several books and one of them is titled “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon”, written in 1985. He’s done a lifetime of study on Book of Mormon archaeology, and he feels that the Book of Mormon lands, that is during the time when the main records were being kept, were actually in Mesoamerica. This would involve southern Mexico and Guatemala, and probably not much more. Other LDS archaeologists that I have talked with who are very competent say, “Well, we just don’t know for sure.” Nevertheless, a majority that I’m familiar with think that there is more evidence to support Mesoamerica than any place else. I know that other people will argue against this, but I feel that it’s a strong possibility. In this slide John Sorenson is indicating that possibly here (pointing to spot on map) is where Lehi and his group landed. Jaredites may have landed here according to Sorenson, but that, too, has to be conjecture. We do know for sure, though, from the Book of Mormon itself, that the Nephites and Jaredites had occupied some of the same lands. In this case it is a fairly restricted area which can be seen on the present map. I think John Sorenson said that the area involved is not much more than 500 miles long, and maybe 150 miles or so across at this point.
For items related to science in the Book of Mormon “that shouldn’t be there”, here are some things that are mentioned in it, things that the Smithsonian archaeologists have criticized. These are things that are not supposed to be in the New World before the time of Columbus. Some of these items are linen and silk, barley and wheat, cattle and swine or pigs, domestic sheep and goats, elephants, horses and asses, steel and glass. I would like now to go over these items one by one, and show how these criticisms as far as I am concerned just no longer hold up. And they no longer can be used in disproving the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
We’ll look at steel in the Book of Mormon first. That has been considered one of the big issues. Let’s consider the Smithsonian statement again, that iron and steel were not used in the New World before 1492. Actually, iron is present all over the world in abundance. Some of the first workings of iron by man, though, had been with the iron from meteorites. This goes back many thousands of years. But since iron deposits are plentiful in many parts of the world, and certainly here in the New World including Mesoamerica, there should be no problem with Jaredites and Nephites using this metal. Steel is another matter, though, because steel has to be manufactured. I might point out, too, that steel comes in different grades, from low grade steel to high grade steel. And all it takes to produce steel is just to take iron and apply enough heat in the presence of charcoal. This will produce a low grade of steel. It was probably done accidentally at first, when somebody took some iron that they extracted from iron ore, dropped it in a fire by accident, and then fished it out after it had been in contact with the coals of the fire for some time. The carbon and heat acting on the iron would have produced a metal that was harder than the iron was by itself. It was a low grade of steel. And that’s probably how steel was invented in perhaps many different parts of the world and at different times.
So, what about steel in the Book of Mormon? Well, we find it mentioned both in the Jaredite and Nephite records. In the Book of Ether it is stated that Shule did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel. Shule was a great-grandson of Jared. Again, critics of the Book of Mormon objected, and said that this couldn’t be true. But I don’t see a big objection since that technology should have been available to them. This next photo surprised me (possibly some of you have seen this picture before). This looks like it could be a modern pick head that’s been out in the weather for a couple of years or so. And yet it has been dated to about the 12th Century B.C. It was discovered in Israel. This is a rare find because the problem with iron and steel is that, as you know, they quickly rust. The reason that this steel pick head survived all these years is because of the dry conditions in this part of the world. If the Jaredites (and Nephites) lived in Mesoamerica, the humidity would destroy any iron or steel in a relatively short time. So it’s no wonder that there is no evidence for iron or steel artifacts for either the Jaredites or Nephites.
Okay, let’s look at the Nephite record. Roughly about 400 BC (according to Jarom’s record), the Nephites became skilled in making machinery. Iron, copper, brass and again steel are mentioned. Now, what is the connection with the steel in Israel? Here is a picture of a short Philistine sword with a steel blade found at Ekron in Israel. It was dated at about 600 B.C. You might say, “Well, what’s the connection with this steel in the Old World to the Nephites?” So where did Lehi and his family live? In Israel. And so they must have been familiar with steel. In fact they apparently brought some with them to the New World, because we know that Nephi had a bow made of fine steel. This was reported as they were traveling for eight years in the wilderness before they left for the New World. In Nephi’s own words he said, “I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel.” It was not just steel, not a low grade of steel, but fine steel. It probably was some type of spring steel. We don’t know what happened to the bow after it was broken, or if there was more steel in some form which they brought to the promised land with them. But I assume that they brought metal (and possibly steel) tools as well as the technology to manufacture things of steel once they arrived in the new land and found iron ore there. In fact Nephi said that he did make tools out of the ore that he did molten out of rock. This of course was done so that a ship could be built to take them across the ocean to the promised land.
I wonder how carefully some of the Smithsonian archaeologists read the Book of Mormon. They have overlooked certain items—and I’ll get back to that. In Second Samuel, and I have forgotten the chapter and verse now [22:35], King David stated, “So that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.” David lived about 1,000 BC. It can be seen that the presence of steel goes way back. Now this photo is of an ancient Indian bow of steel. It’s an Indian-Indian, not an American-Indian bow. I don’t know how old it is other than it’s been listed as ancient. Maybe somebody here knows. Look at the fine work that has been done on this bow, its ornamentation. So you can see if Nephi had something like that, no wonder the people with him were upset. Of course, they were most upset because he couldn’t get food for them.
The mention of glass in the Book of Mormon is interesting. I don’t know really why the Smithsonian archaeologists did much criticizing here. Because, if they read the Book of Mormon carefully, they would find out it never does make a claim of having glass in the New World. However, I assume they probably did have it, and I’ll explain why. The Smithsonian statement again was that glass was not used in the New World before the time of Columbus. The first inference of this is found in the Book of Ether, “For behold, ye cannot have windows for they will be dashed in pieces.” Of course having glass for windows is an assumption. We just associate windows with glass, but there are windows of other materials too, like a type of mica. It’s called isinglass, but that would probably be smashed as well. However that doesn’t really matter. Consider where the Jaredites were at this time. They were in the Old World still, as they made their barges in preparation to cross the ocean to the New World.
And then also in the Book of Ether it is stated that the brother of Jared did, molten a number of rocks, 16 small stones to provide light. The brother of Jared did molten these stones and they appeared like glass – “And they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” So they weren’t really glass per se, they were probably a quartz like substance after he melted them. Then the Lord blessed them so that they would shine. Still this was done in the Old World. This was done probably in the Middle-East or maybe even in Asia, possibly eastern Asia as Hugh Nibley thought. But we don’t know for sure. But again, all this is in the Old World. So again saying that the Book of Mormon mentions the presence of glass in the New World during its time of record is not really a valid criticism. And then the other mention of glass in the Book of Mormon is found in the Nephite record. The statement here is of glass and fine linen and hoods and the veils [2 Nephi 13:23]. This of course was actually repeated from the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Most of you know that much of Isaiah is repeated in the Book of Mormon. So again, this is talking about glass in the Old World. So, I’d have to say that the Smithsonian archaeologists in question weren’t very careful readers.
Now glass has been known for a very long, long time. There are records of ancient glass in Egypt. Egypt is important because there has been an intercourse between Egypt and Israel at least since Abraham’s time. Obviously, when people go from one culture to another they take their information back and forth, including the technology. For me it seems that because of this, glass certainly was known to the ancient people of Israel. This slide shows glass beads from Egypt that look like something you could see somebody wearing today. But these glass beads date back to about 3,100 B.C. I was amazed when I ran across this picture of glass fragments dated to 1,600 B.C. Look at the patterns and the colors there that still hold up. So glass was noted and known to the ancient Israelites, and glass certainly could have been brought over by both the Jaredites and Nephites, as well as the technology to make it. Nevertheless, neither culture does make mention of glass in their Book of Mormon record for the New World.
Reporting of linen and silk in the Book of Mormon is another thing that the Smithsonian people objected to. According to them these items just weren’t in the New World before 1492. All right, let’s look at this. Jaredites, as stated in their record, did have silks and fine-twined linen. So, it’s not just linen but it is fine-twined! Just like in the Nephite record. It wasn’t only just steel but fine steel. They must have known how to work with these materials. Now, where does linen come from? This is where the objection comes in. because the archaeologists and others know that linen, true linen, comes from the flax plant. Flax is a type of plant that gives us true linen. At this point a thing to keep in mind is when translating from one language to another, and even within our own language, words have different meanings. Sometimes we read a word with a meaning in mind and we come up with a false conclusion. This is based on the meaning of the word that may not have been intended in the first place. Let’s look at an example of this. When you hear the word linens, probably the first thing that comes to your mind is sheets and pillowcases, tablecloths, and things like that. Well, these usually are not made out of true linen or flax, they are mostly made out of cotton. Cotton is both a New and Old World plant while flax is thought to have come only from the Old World. It’s seems possible to me that in the Jaredite and Nephite records they were talking about cotton and not true linen. But in talking to botanists that I know in the Church, they said they’re pretty certain that flax was brought over by the Jaredites and that there were flax plants here in America when the Nephites came over. There is a problem to consider in that when you cultivate plants they look quite different from the native plant from which they were taken. And if they’re neglected for generations they usually go back to a wild state. They can then look like something entirely different. A botanist friend of mine said he’s certain that flax was one of the plants brought over by the Jaredites, and that there was ancient flax here in America dating back well before Columbus. In any event, whether it’s cotton or whether it’s flax, Book of Mormon peoples could have called the same thing linen just as we do.
Here is a photo of true linen going back about 1,000 BC. It is Egyptian linen that covered a coffin. The ancient Egyptians also wrapped their mummies in linen as most of you know. Some of this goes back earlier than 3,000 BC. So again, knowledge of linen, like steel and glass, had to have been known to the people that came over, both the Jaredites and the Nephites. The founders of each group were beneficiaries of the interactions with Egypt.
Silk. Okay where does silk come from? Again, as most of you know it comes from the silkworm. More specifically it’s derived from the cocoon of silkworms. They are boiled and specially treated. This technology goes back to China at least as far back as 3,000 B.C. Silk has been known for a long time. It isn’t just the silkworm, though, from which silk can be made. Other kinds of caterpillars make cocoons from which you can get a type of silk. And while the “true” silkworm comes from the Old World, there are similar closely related types native to the New World from which they could have made silk. More than that, when the Spanish first came to America, they found out that the native peoples had a material they (the Spanish) called silk. It was a cloth made from rabbit fur, especially from the belly of rabbits. So it’s important to be careful when different words are being used. There are often different meanings to consider. In this photograph there are remnants of ancient silk from China. This material does not preserve too well for long periods of time.
Let’s consider the plants used for food in the Book of Mormon. The Smithsonian statement again is, “American-Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice and so forth.” This was said because these are Old World grains. It should be pointed out that all of these could have been brought over by the Jaredites, and by the Nephites as well. We are told that they brought seeds with them. But again, if they’re not cultivated, if they’re let go for a long period of time, they usually cannot be recognized. They just don’t look like a cultivated plant. That’s part of the problem that’s faced. Additionally, wheat and barley have now actually been reported as being present in the New World before the time of Columbus. It’s surprising that the Smithsonian archaeologists didn’t do some more careful research about this. Barley for example was found as early as 1983 at some archaeological sites here in the United States. Since then it has been found in other places in America. It seems obvious that the Jaredites would bring seeds that were useful for them. And some of those seeds would have been the grains from the Old World that they brought over. In the Nephite record it is said that they planted seeds. Now while it doesn’t say in the Jaredite record what kind of seeds, it does mention some types in the Nephite record. It needs to be remembered that here too, just like with linen and silk, that there can be different interpretations of words. Corn is mentioned in the Bible in different places. Joseph who was sold into Egypt later became favored of Pharaoh, and was placed in charge of the vast supply of “corn.” But that wasn’t actually corn as we know it. The Biblical use of “corn” was as a general term. It usually meant a grain, most commonly wheat. So, we really need to be careful how we interpret these terms. Corn as we know it is a New World product. In fact, if you saw the kind of plant our cultivated corn came from, you wouldn’t recognize it. It is called Teosinte, and is a type of plant thought to have originated in Mexico. The region involved is in Mesoamerica.
Other kinds of grain listed by the Nephites are wheat, barley, neas, (I don’t know what neas are, unless that should have been a “p” rather than an “n”) and sheum. Sheum is something that Joseph Smith could not have known at the time he translated the Book of Mormon. He had no reason to know this word, or neas for that matter. But later in time, that is after Joseph Smith’s time, archaeologists found out from the Acadians, going back through the Assyrian records, that they had a word called Sheum. Guess what, it’s a grain usually referring to barley, but it can also refer to other kinds of grain. This was a word not known to Joseph Smith. Barley, which is a grain looks something like wheat as you can see in this picture. Absence of wheat in America was still something that Book of Mormon critics used to refute it. But concerning wheat, I recently ran across this information I found very interesting. It was in a report that goes back to the time of Leif Erickson, who was an explorer like his father Eric the Red. Eric was actually the first European to explore Greenland in detail. He called it Greenland because he wanted to “sucker” people into coming over there to help colonize it. It wasn’t that it was green. Leif Ericson, his son, explored further to the west. He discovered a land he called “Vineland”, or “Vineland the Good.” This was the northeastern part of what is now North America. The record that I read from Adam of Bremen (going back a little before 1,000 A.D.) stated that there were great clusters of grapes and wheat in the land that the explorers discovered. It’s possible that they could even have traveled as far as the upper New England states. Now the wheat mentioned may not be wheat as we know it now, so we’ve got to be careful about this too. But the fact remains that they called it wheat, just as the Nephites called a grain wheat that could have been something a little different. Wild wheat after it goes many generations without cultivation, will look less and less like domestic wheat.
Concerning some of the animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the Smithsonian critics said that there could be no cattle present, that there were none here in America until Columbus brought them over. The Jaredite record, though, indicates all manner of cattle, as well as oxen and the cow. Well, let’s see what we can do with this, see if we can disprove what these guys from the Smithsonian have said about the cattle that shouldn’t be in the Book of Mormon. In the Nephite record, it also indicates cattle being present here. However in this record it’s stated that they found them already in the land. What we don’t know is, did the Jaredites bring cattle with them (and horses for that matter) in their barges. We just don’t know. But even if they didn’t bring cattle with them, they were already here in different forms in the New World. Also in the Nephite record it says that there were beasts in the forests of every kind (including the ox and cow).
Let’s go back for a moment to that record made by Adam of Bremen covering a period of time when Vikings discovered what is now America. He (Adam) was charged with obtaining and recording the history of the Norsemen and their explorations. Earlier I gave you that quote of his that mentioned the finding of wheat and grapes. He had gotten firsthand accounts from some of these explorers and wrote them down. It was also told him that, “a bellowing steer bursts from the woods.” That’s certainly a type of cattle. And this took place about 1,000 A.D., long before Columbus. It can be seen from Egyptian tomb paintings, as shown here, that they had cattle and had domesticated them. These tomb paintings showing cattle date back between 1,200 and 1400 B.C. Since the Book of Mormon peoples had interactions with Egypt before coming to the New World, they would have known the benefits that domestic cattle could offer. There are written scientific reports on caves from the Yucatan in Mexico where it is said that bones of domesticated cattle were found. And these were found with human artifacts as well, showing a joint association with ancient man and domesticated cattle. In a couple of instances it was reported that even bones of an extinct horse were found associated with them.
There were other types of cattle, native types, that were present in the New World when both the Jaredites and Nephites came to the land. It is recorded in fact that when the Spanish first arrived in America they called the American bison, cattle or oxen. They actually are a kind of cattle in the literal sense. The slide here shows two extinct types of bison, and there are others. Again, as in the case of domestic cattle found in caves with ancient man, bison (even extinct types), too, are known to occur with native peoples well before the time of Columbus. There are still other kinds of native American cattle – oxen – cows. You may not have heard of some of these. There was a shrub ox, now extinct, that I have studied. Some come from Mesoamerica. Another kind is called the woodland musk ox. They too have been found in Mexico. This isn’t the musk ox known from the north, but a fairly recently extinct type which was more southern in its range, extending into at least central Mexico. If you look carefully at this picture there’s a hunter going after the bison in the background. These animals have been found in association with artifacts of man. That’s why I point this out.
We continue again with some Smithsonian comments. They said that the American Indians had no cattle or pigs. It’s true that typical pigs are an Old World animal. But there are New World types of pigs. More will be given on these in a moment. In the Jaredite record it’s reported that they had swine (true pigs), and that they were useful for food. I had to stop and think about this when studying the Book of Ether. Then I realized that the Jaredites were not living the Law of Moses; it was all right for them to use swine for food. You might have noted that this animal is never mentioned as a food item for the Nephites. Here is a picture of a New World pig. It’s known as a peccary. You can see how pig-like it is, and why even now it is commonly called a pig. One kind of peccary has a name of Platygonus (you probably can’t read the name in this picture). Anyway, Platygonus is a scientific name for this particular peccary. It was thought until very recently that this animal was extinct. However, it has been found still living in Paraguay!
What about the sheep and goats mentioned in the Book of Mormon? This is given in the Nephite account. It’s stated that they found these animals when they arrived in the promised land. They could have been brought over by the Jaredites, and the Nephites may have found them already there when they arrived. It’s stated in 1 Nephi that there was the goat and the wild goat. I believe that the “goat” indicated was a domesticated kind. Then there was the “wild goat” that was also mentioned. This photograph shows the native (wild) American mountain goat on the right. The skull to the left is of an extinct mountain goat. It is know from Mesoamerica, and has been found in caves with human artifacts associated with it. I’ve handled and worked with these recently extinct native goats.
I took this photograph last year of Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in southeastern Utah. I thought it was interesting to see all the animals depicted – including sheep and goats. Certainly they were here at the same time as man. In talking to Bureau of Land Management archaeologists about these Petroglyphs, they said while it wasn’t possible to date them, they nevertheless were made over many centuries. You can see that there is a man on a horse as one of the figures. They (BLM personnel) would say that this shows it was after the time of Columbus since horses weren’t here before this time. But this leads to a circular reasoning. Some of the petroglyphs are very faint, and it’s assumed that these are much older ones. This picture also shows some of the kinds of animals that the people of the time were familiar with. They include sheep and goats, possible both domesticated and wild types.
Getting back to the Ether record again, it’s written that they had cureloms and cumoms. While the Smithsonian Book of Mormon critics don’t say anything to my knowledge about cureloms and cumoms, they are quick to point out that horses, asses, and elephants were extinct in the New World by 10,000 years ago. I will return to the horses and asses later. Let’s consider the mention of elephants first. Today we would call them mammoths, but early paleontologists called these proboscideans from America elephants. Some paleontologists still do. When most people think of a mammoth they think of the woolly mammoth. This species is known to have lived only in the northern part of North America, as well as in Eurasia. That’s the reason they’ve got that long hair, shaggy hair. Some of this was a foot or more long for individual hairs. In this picture we see the Columbian mammoth which lived over much of North America and down through Mesoamerica. It is an elephant, even though a lot of people don’t realize this. However, there’s a close relationship between the mammoth, which is extinct, and the Indian elephant. It is a closer relationship than between the Indian elephant and the African elephant. So, in other words, the genetic make-up of the mammoth that we had here in America, was very similar to the Indian elephant. I point this out because the Indian elephant can be domesticated fairly easily. The African elephant cannot. So then, an assumption on my part is that these mammoths could probably be domesticated. It’s stated in the Book of Ether that the elephant was one of the animals especially useful to man. I think this must mean it was domesticated.
What about the cureloms and cumoms? I’ve thought about these animals for a long time. What could they be? Some of you may have wondered too, when you read about them in the Book of Mormon. What are some possible candidates? Do they have to be extinct animals? Now recall, it was said that they were especially useful for man as were the elephants and the horses. So, there had to be something that was really useful in different ways as I envision it. I began considering animals that have been found in Mesoamerica (living and extinct). One conceivable candidate I considered was the tapir. You probably have only seen this animal in zoos. But they are wild in Central and South America. A few thousand years ago, or less, they lived as far north as the United States. These animals are big enough that I guess they might be useful in some way. Male tapirs can weigh over 600 pounds. However, they’ve never been domesticated. It’s very doubtful that they could be. Very young ones have been semi-tamed in some instances, though.
Another animal that I wondered about being a candidate for a curelom or cumom is the pronghorn, sometimes miscalled an antelope. This animal is only known here in North America. It has never been domesticated. It’s a relatively small animal, known as an antilocaprid, and are no bigger than a mule deer. Fossil pronghorns are mostly even smaller. The one shown here is smaller than the living species. I don’t think that the pronghorns, living or extinct types, would qualify as a curelom or cumom.
The animal seen on the screen here is a member of an extinct group of animals called ground sloths. While all were large animals, this one was the biggest. It’s estimated that it weighed about 3 tons. So these animals were certainly big enough to do work. However, notice how it’s standing. If you look down at the bottom, it’s standing on the sides of its feet. While walking, ground sloths would move using the knuckles of their hands. This is based on the way the pattern of their bones are. I’ve studied different types of ground sloths over the years. I’ve studied their brain cases and noted as others have, that they possessed a very small brain. All things considered these animals probably could not be domesticated either. While ground sloths are extinct, they probably have not been extinct for more than a few thousand years. But they are known to have lived at the same time as man before they became extinct. I’ve looked at the hair of these animals that has been found in caves as well as their dung. Both looked fairly recent. The dung is useful in determining what kind of plants they ate and that lived in the area. One last item is that they were probably not a good food source. Based on their living relatives, the tree sloths, they would definitely not have been good to eat. So I think that ground sloths would not be good picks for either a curelom or cumom.
In looking at this illustration we have an animal that is a definite possibility for a curelom or a cumom in my opinion. These are pictures of two species of llamas. They belong to a family called the Camelidae. This means that they are actually camels. These happen to be extinct types, but we know that different species of llama’s still live in southern, Central and South America. The fossils types shown here are much larger than the living forms, and we have their fossils until fairly recent times. They lived in North America and Mesoamerica then. These were fairly common animals in Mesoamerica. While they are extinct, they were not extinct 10,000 years ago, as Smithsonian archaeologists have said. A number of fossils of these animals have been found much later in time. Some fossils of these llamas date back to only 3,000, or 4,000 or 5,000 years ago. It should be explained that the last ones to have lived would not be found as fossils. The chances of this happening with any extinct species are extremely remote, thousands of times less likely than winning a lottery! Small populations would have existed after the latest dated fossil, possibly a couple of thousand years later. Getting back to the illustration here, these two types would have stood six feet tall for the species on the left, and about seven feet tall for the one on the right. Certainly both of these beasts were large enough to carry heavy burdens. Llamas can be trained for a lot of things based on living types. This photo is another one taken of Newspaper Rock in southeastern Utah. If you’ll look at the lower left-hand corner of the picture, this seems to be a llama that’s depicted. I don’t know what else it might be. This shows an association with man. Additionally, there have been a number of finds showing the co-existence of fossil llamas and man, some of the evidence coming from Mesoamerica. Just quickly going over this list (shown on the screen), llamas were definitely useful as beasts of burden, their meat would be for food, their wool could be used for clothing, the long hair could be used for braided rope, their leather would be useful for footwear and clothing, and their dung useful for fuel. Additionally, they might have been used to guard flocks, just as living llamas are used today. And possibly these large llamas could be ridden or used to pull something. They just would have had many uses. They certainly meet the requirement of being especially useful to man as recorded in the Jaredite record. In my opinion a llama makes a very good candidate for either the curelom or cumom.
Well, we still need to find another animal that could qualify for a curelom or cumom. Only one of them has been identified to my satisfaction. In speaking of these two animals, why do we have the strange names? Did king Mosiah know what they were when he translated the Book of Ether? Or were they a mystery to him as well? I think that Joseph Smith did not know what these animals were, so he just transliterated the names from another language. Llamas were not well known in the United States during the time of Joseph Smith. The extinct forms were not even known to science at this time.
The other candidate for an animal represented by these two names, curelom and cumom, probably belongs to the Proboscidea, the order of animals with a trunk. The only living members of this order are the elephants. And I’ve already indicated that the elephants spoken of in the Jaredite record would be regarded as mammoths now. However, there are two other types of large animals with a trunk that lived until the time that man inhabited the New World. Each kind has been found in Mesoamerica. Skeletal remains of both types have been found associated with human artifacts. They obviously co-existed. The animal shown here is called a gomphothere. Since it is not nearly as common as the other proboscidean, the American mastodon, to my mind it is the lesser candidate for a curelom or cumom. I have collected many specimens of the mastodon, and have written about them in scientific articles. An earlier slide was of a tooth of a mastodon. Actually, either the gomphothere or American mastodon could have been useful in many ways. Here is a photo of another petroglyph. The site is located just outside of Moab, Utah. This picture was taken just last year. I think that you can see that there is definitely a proboscis, or trunk, on this large animal with columnar legs. While some have said this might be a petroglyph of a mammoth, I think it probably represents a mastodon based on the shape of the skull. In mammoths, like modern elephants, they have a pronounced dome. This is not true for mastodons, which would look more like the figure seen here. How would this animal be especially useful for man? Like the elephant (or mammoth), it could be a wonderful beast of burden, quite possibly it could be ridden and/or used to pull heavy items, it’s hide would make outer clothing and footwear, It would have been a plentiful meat source, its bones and ivory (from tusks) could be used for tools and various artifacts, and it’s dung would be a good fuel source. All in all, it would have been an animal that was very useful. It is very doubtful that either a gomphothere or a mastodon would have been known to Joseph Smith, although the mammoth might have been. It was only after the time of the Prophet that mastodons and gomphotheres were recognized by scientists for what they were.
Horses weren’t here in America after about 10,000 years ago according to Smithsonian archaeologists. As you know horses (and asses) are mentioned as being present among both the Jaredites and Nephites. It might surprise most of you that the history of the horse is mainly here in America. The very first horses come from North America, and their record goes back to about 58 million years ago. Horses were small, forest dwelling animals at the time. It wasn’t until much later that horses reached the Old World, being roughly the size of modern forms then. Columbus only reintroduced the horse to America. I’ve actually done a lot of work with fossil horses from many areas and from different periods of time. A lot of my work has been done on them in Mesoamerica, primarily in Mexico. While the vast majority of dates for these various kinds of horses are well before man was known in the New World, a few of the dates are very surprisingly young. I have Carbon-14 dates on horses that are as recent as 800 years. Other dates are only 1200 years to 1400 years ago. More dates in this range are needed to be able to convince others that horses were indeed here before 1493, when they were reintroduced. Other paleontologists have produced dates on fossil horses that show they lived here long after the 10,000 years before stated. This slide is of a partial horse skeleton that was put together with my colleagues in Mexico. An earlier slide showed the location where it was collected. It was that picture that I said to remember from Durango, Mexico, where a lot of fossils were found within one small area.
Getting back to the book of Mormon, here is a statement by B.H. Roberts. I think you all know who he was—one of the Presidents of the Seventy in the early part of the 1900s. He said that evidence from natural phenomena (scientific evidence), is really useful and of first-rate importance and a mighty factor in achieving God’s purposes. He went on to say that the Holy Ghost must, however, be the chief source of evidence for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement.