Matthew Roper and Wade E. Miller wrote an article titled "Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives." They make the reasonable observation that "One important item which has bearing upon the issue of animals in the Book of Mormon has to do with the real world location of the lands described in the text." After noting that "most LDS scholars" accept the Mesoamerican model, they note, "In our view, the interpretive model which makes the most sense of the information given in the Book of Mormon text is that which posits an ancient Mesoamerican setting for the events described in the Book." Then they give 8 reasons. But all of these reasons fit North America better.
1. Geography. "The major areas recorded where Book of Mormon peoples lived indicate that this region was relatively small, perhaps no more than 500 miles in length and 200 miles in width, just somewhat smaller in size than the state of California." Even if this were true, the American (Heartland) model uses pretty much the same assumptions about distances between Zarahemla and the city of Nephi. But Roper writes this highly ironic statement: "Additionally, some of the native animals in South America do not fit with those given in the Book. For one, elephants (mammoths) did not get to this southern continent." As we'll see, most of the citations Roper gives for animals are from North America, not Mesoamerica.
2. Chronology: In this section, Roper relies on the Times and Seasons articles to justify Mesoamerica, but as everyone (except Roper) knows by now, those articles had nothing to do with Joseph Smith. Then he explains that Mayan culture fits the chronology of the Book of Mormon: "It is the Formative period that is of most interest to us as its duration of c. 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D. largely overlaps the time of Book of Mormon peoples." If Roper knew more about North America, he would know the chronology fits much better than the Mayan chronology.
3. Geology: Here, Roper repeats the bizarre idea that the destruction described in 3 Nephi was caused by volcanoes, even though the Book of Mormon never once mentions volcanoes in 1,000 years of history--supposedly in an area where volcanoes were a major fact of life. I've shown that the 3 Nephi descriptions match up exactly with actual historical experience and geology in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. Roper misses the extreme irony when he writes this: "Geologists have long recognized that the Eastern United States has not experienced volcanic activity for many, many millions of years. On the other hand, Middle America is considered one of the most volcanically active regions in the World." I couldn't have written a more clear debunking of the Mesoamerican theory than those two sentences.
4. Gold and Silver: Here's where Roper's argument really gets ridiculous. "Gold and silver are plentiful in Mesoamerica. Mexico now stands as a significant producer of the World’s gold.15 It is also especially rich in silver. To the contrary the Eastern United States, including New York, has produced only negligible amounts of gold and silver. There has been no reporting of gold or silver here in pre-Columbian time as well." Roper cites Wikipedia here. Okay, but what does New York have to do with it? Does anyone think Lehi originally landed in New York? The civilization ended in New York; it didn't start there. Roper's own reference notes, "Georgia is credited with a total historical production of 871 thousand ounces of gold from 1830 through 1959." Of course, Georgia is where we think Nephi left his brothers to go to Tennessee. And there were many ancient (pre-Columbian) gold and silver mines there. Also, North Carolina was the site of the first gold rush in the United States, following the discovery of a 17-pound (7.7 kg) gold nugget by 12-year-old Conrad Reed in a creek at his father’s farm in 1799. Total gold production is estimated at 1.2 million troy ounces (37.3 tonnes). Of course, that is modern production. However, according to Wikipedia, "Several states (e.g., Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania) have placer gold deposits, despite having no hard rock gold deposits. This placer gold is found north of, or near the terminus of, Pleistocene, or earlier, moraines left by Ice Age glaciers that pushed gold-rich dirt down from Canada, where hard rock gold deposits do exist, and which were scoured by glaciers. Small commercial operations have existed at various times, to mine this gold, with various degrees of limited success. The southernmost limit of these moraines, Pleistocene and older, is approximately at the Ohio River for Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio."
5. Pearls: Roper notes that the Nephites had pearls and there were pearls in Mesoamerica. Then he writes, "No precious pearls have been reported from coastal waters of the northeastern United States. None of the freshwaters from this region to our knowledge has produced precious pearls either." So that's the Roper/Maxwell Institute version of history. Here is what the official Ohio History.org site says (accompanies by photos of pear necklaces):
Hopewell TradeThe native peoples could have collected pearls from freshwater mussels in Ohio rivers, although historic records suggest that the Mississippi and Illinois rivers produced larger amounts. The pearl trade appears to have been especially strong between Ohio and Illinois.
One group of Hopewell people in Hamilton County, Ohio, collected and then disposed of 48,000 pearls in an artifact deposit that was later covered by the Turner mound. Archaeologists excavating the Hopewell site in the 1880s found 100,000 pearls. Some were inset into bear canine-tooth buttons or applied to copper ornaments. Most had been drilled, perhaps with a hot copper wire, and strung as necklaces or sewn onto clothing.
Cement: Roper writes, " In the Book of Helaman (3:7, 9 & 11) it is stated that those people who went to the land northward were expert in the working of cement. This activity took place about 46 B.C. according to the date given in the above Book. Cement was extensively used in Mesoamerica around this time. The earliest known sample dates to about the First Century B.C.19 One of the most famous sites for this early cement is at Teotihuacan (located about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City). Margain commented that, “Concrete is encountered in all Teotihuacan constructions of every epoch.”20"
Of course, Helaman refers to a temporary exception to normal Nephite building materials; they had to use cement because they'd cut or burned the trees, and it took a long time for the trees to regrow. That's about as opposite of Mesoamerica as one can get. First, as Roper's own quotation demonstrates, they used concrete everywhere during "every epoch." Second, the idea that trees take a long time to grow in Mesoamerica is just a little bit at odds with the rapid growth of dense jungles. Trees grow slowly in northern climates that have short summers, not near the equator (or within the tropics) where there is abundant sun all year round. The North Americans knew something about cement; e.g., Joseph Smith reported that the stone box containing the plates was built with cement. Many of the mounds in North America were covered with cement, as were the walls around the cities.
Culture: Roper writes, "Archaeological studies have shown that peoples in Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times had: A complex society, many large and complex buildings, fortifications, a high degree of art, a good understanding of astronomy, a highly accurate calendar, a sophisticated knowledge of agriculture and husbandry and more.24 This type of an advanced civilization at the time is not known anywhere else in North America north of Mesoamerica. Certainly the region around the present-day New York state does not contain such evidences. In fact studies show that the people living there for several thousand years until the time of European settlers moved in were tribal hunter-gatherers."
I'll assume Roper is writing out of ignorance, maybe because he believed Sorenson's list of problems with North America, but everything he wrote here applies equally to the Hopewell civilization; i.e., "A complex society, many large and complex buildings, fortifications, a high degree of art, a good understanding of astronomy, a highly accurate calendar, a sophisticated knowledge of agriculture and husbandry and more." It's a little surprising to see this ignorance of Hopewell culture persist, but when ignorance is bliss...
Climate: Roper writes, "What little has been indicated about climate in the Book of Mormon lands implies year-around warm and mild conditions." He mentions the fevers from Alma 46:40--as if he didn't know malaria was common in the Midwest. Even in the 1840s, the Saints in Nauvoo suffered from exactly the maladies described in the Book of Mormon. The North American highways were truly "cast up" as the Book of Mormon describes.
So all eight of Roper's reasons point to North America at least as much as Mesoamerica, and in most cases, are a better fit in North America. But then when he gets into his discussion of animals, he has to acknowledge that the examples of Book of Mormon animals are mostly in North America. He simply assumes they might have migrated down to Mesoamerica! (He even goes so far as to suggest the tapir is an elephant.) He explains the lack of evidence in Mesoamerica this way: "A reason more is not known about the horse and other extinct animals in Mesoamerica is that their remains are much less likely to be preserved and also less likely to be found when they are. In general organisms do not preserve well after death in subtropical and tropical environments."
That's true of all animals everywhere, of course; otherwise, the ground would be littered with the remains of the millions of animals that die each year. But since there is more evidence of the necessary animals in North America, and since all of Roper's eight points also fit North America better, and since the Times and Seasons articles (the only reason we even look at Mesoamerica) weren't written by Joseph Smith, why not just abandon the Mesoamerican theory and focus on North America?
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