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LDS FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs

The Smithsonian Institution's 1996
"Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon"

Response prepared by Jeff Lindsay, © 2001
This page discusses common attacks made on the Book of Mormon based on a careless document that used to be given out by the Smithsonian Institution. This page is one of several in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay.

My Introduction to the Book of Mormon or the Book of Mormon Evidences Page should also be consulted.



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Index to this Page:

Introduction

Useful Reference Materials
Update: The Current Toned-down Statement
The 1996 Smithsonian Statement

Response to the Statement

Summary

Introduction

For many years, critics of the Book of Mormon have made much a statement issued by the Smithsonian Institution's Anthropology Department replying to those who ask about evidences for the Book of Mormon. Several versions of this have been issued, all much the same, with the most recent version I know of dating from 1996. Unfortunately, a number of the points made in the Statement have long been refuted and clearly lack validity, yet the Smithsonian appears to have been slow to correct the Statement to reflect a more scholarly approach. I am not saying that they need to say a single word in favor of the Book of Mormon, but they should avoid sloppy, dogmatic statements that are disputed by many reputable scholars, and should acknowledge that they lack expertise to scientifically evaluate many aspects of the Book of Mormon.

The Smithsonian is a highly respected institution with many fine scholars, yet they are clearly not experts in many of the fields needed to scientifically evaluate Book of Mormon claims, and it is also evident that they have not made a serious effort to understand the Book of Mormon. On this page, I will examine each of the nine points made in the 1996 Statement and show that there is another side to the story. in some cases, the Statement becomes somewhat embarrassing as it reveals extremely poor methodology. I urge the Smithsonian to update their Statement appropriately.

Useful materials on this topic include:

and many more specific references cited below.

1998 Update: I have received multiple e-mails indicating the Smithsonian Institution has backed down after all, and that the 1996 Statement is no longer sent to people making inquiries. Apparently, they are simply noting that the Book of Mormon is not a scientific guide and therefore not used by the Institution. Although the Institution apparently has reversed its former policy of issuing a critical document, the Smithsonian Statement in its various forms will continue to be circulated by anti-Mormon critics for many years. Thus, there is still a need to deal with the document and the issues it raises. 2001 Update: Some critics have alleged that I am mistaken and that the Smithsonian has not changed the statement it send people. They are wrong. I called the Smithsonian on Feb. 7, 2001 and asked them to send me the standard statement that they send people concerning the Book of Mormon. Here is the letter that they sent me in return:

Smithsonian Institution

Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center
Public Inquiry Mail and Telephone Information Services

Jeff Lindsey [sic]                          February 15, 2001
20 Diane Lane
Appleton, WI 54915

Your inquiry of February 7 concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in this office for response.

The Book of Mormon us a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archeological research, and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.

Your interest in the Smithsonian Institution is appreciated.

                                     PIMS/ANT01/4-1-98

S1 Building    Room 153    Washington DC 20560-0010   202.357.2700 Telephone   202.357.1729 TTY

Although they inserted my address and date of inquiry in their short note to me (the wonders of word processing!), I believe the text is a standard form letter, using some of the wording in the original 1996 statement. The date 4-1-98 probably is the date they adopted a new, less questionable standard statement.

Further verification of the change in the Smithsonian statement is provided in the short note, "New Light: Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revisited" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (vol. 7, no. 1, 1998, p. 77). Yes, it has been changed, but the 1996 Smithsonian statement lives on in the hearts and minds and Web pages of our critics, so let's deal with it in detail now.


The 1996 Smithsonian Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon

1. The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.

2. The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central, and northeastern Asia. Archeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the present Indians came into the New World - probably over a land bridge known to have existed in the Bering Strait region during the last Ice Age - in a continuing series of small migration beginning from about 25,000 to 35,000 years ago.

3. Present evidence indicates that the first people to reach this continent from the East were the Norsemen who briefly visited the northeastern part of North America around A.D. 1000 and then settled in Greenland. There is nothing to show that they reached Mexico or Central America.

4. One of the main lines of evidence supporting the scientific finding that contacts with the Old World, if indeed they occurred at all, were of very little significance for the development of American Indian civilizations, is the fact that none of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre-Columbian times. American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)

5. Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for the occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.

6. There is a possibility that the spread of cultural traits across the Pacific to Mesoamerica and the northwestern coast of South America began several hundred years before the Christian era. However, any such inter-hemispheric contacts appear to have been the results of accidental voyages originating in eastern and southern Asia. It is by no means certain that such contacts occurred; certainly there were no contacts with the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, or other peoples of Western Asian [sic] and the Near East.

7. No reputable Egyptologist or other specialist on Old World archeology, and no expert on New World prehistory, has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt.

8. Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland.

9. There are copies of the Book of Mormon in the library of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Response to the Statement

General Issue: Transoceanic Contact with the Ancient Americas

Several items in the Smithsonian Statement suggest that Old World contacts with the New World did not occur or were insignificant if they occurred at all. This view represents an entrenched but outdated paradigm still shared by many scholars, but is now strongly and persuasively disputed by an increasing number of reputable non-LDS scholars. Dogmatic dismissals of Old World contact can no longer be taken at face value. In An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), John L. Sorenson presents a sampling of the extensive evidence for Old World contacts. For example, on pages 110-111, he discusses the work of Dr. Betty Meggers, a former staff member at the Smithsonian Institution:
Dr. Betty Meggers of the Smithsonian Institution, in a major article published in March 1975, proposed that the Olmec [an ancient and major pre-Mayan culture in Mesoamerica] development originated by direct transmission of key elements of culture across the Pacific Ocean from China during its Shang period (1750-1100 B.C.), when the Chinese tradition first took on its characteristic pattern [1]. Earlier, Meggers and her husband, Dr. Clifford Evans, had discovered that certain early pottery fragments from Ecuador on South America's west coast were indistinguishable from ceramics found in Japan before 3000 B.C. They proposed that voyagers had reached Ecuador from Asia by boat [2]. In another article they discussed possibilities of sea travel across the north Pacific, where the Japan current sweeps up near the Aleutian Islands and Alaska before paralleling the California coast on the way south [3]. Historical accounts from the last century report many Japanese fishing boats being blown out to sea, with survivors landing on the west coast of North America, so a crossing was possible. Meggers and Evans concluded that purposeful voyaging would have been feasible thousands of years ago. The rate of the current is such that a trip from Japan to west Mexico could have been made by a rather simple vessel in approximately a year [4]. Furthermore, the earliest pottery we know of in Mesoamerica, which may date as early as 3000 B.C., is located on the west Mexican coast, near Acapulco [5]. Various researchers have challenged Meggers and Evans's interpretation, but it remains a serious possibility to prominent students of the subject. Robert Heine-Geldern, David H. Kelley, Paul Tolstoy, and George F. Carter are among those who have argued in professional circles that we should look to transoceanic sources in order to explain fully how civilization originated in Mesoamerica [6]. Indiana University's Harold K. Schneider has most recently argued that any explanation for the rise of America's high civilizations that fails to involve the movement of cultures across the oceans is weak theoretically [7]. Increasingly, some anthropologists and archaeologists - though still a minority - are mustering evidence to show that early voyagers from the Old World could, and probably did, cross the ocean and settle in the New. Mormons have been saying that since 1829.

(Sorenson, 1985, pp. 110-110).
Footnotes:

1. "The Transpacific Origin of Mesoamerican Civilization: A Preliminary Review of the Evidence and Its Theoretical Implications," American Anthropologist 77 (1975), pp. 1-27.

2. Betty J. Meggers, "Cultural Development in Latin America: An Interpretative Overview," in Aboriginal Cultural Development in Latin America: An Interpretative Review, ed. Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 146, no. 1 (1963), pp. 132, 139, compare 79-80.

3. C. Evans and B. J. Meggers. "Transpacific Origin of Valdivia Phase Pottery of Coastal Ecuador," Actas, 36a Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, Sevilla, 1964, vol. 1 (Sevilla, 1966), pp. 63-67. Critics of their view claim that the ceramic similarities are coincidences.

4. Carl L. Hubbs and Gunnar I. Roden, Oceanography and Marine Life along the Pacific Coast of Middle America, HMAI 1 (1964), pp. 148, 154-55.

5.Paul Tolstoy, "Mesoamerica," in Prehispanic America, ed. Shirley Gorenstein (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974), p. 38.

6.See articles and bibliographical references to their work in Carroll Riley et al., eds., Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Also see references in article cited in next note ("Prehistoric Transpacific Contact and the Theory of Culture Change," American Anthropologist 79 (1977):9-25.

7."Prehistoric Transpacific Contact and the Theory of Culture Change," American Anthropologist 79 (1977):9-25.

I've encountered a few noteworthy items in my own casual reading suggesting that some Mesoamerican elements show unusual correlations to cultures in other parts of the world. For example, while describing a scene a Palenque, Michael D. Coe, one of the most widely recognized experts on Mesoamerica, notes the similarity between a Mesoamerican practice and a Chinese practice involving the dead: "A large jade was held in each hand and another was placed in the mouth, a practice documented for the late Yucatec Maya, for the Aztec, and for the Chinese" (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, pp. 108-109). Also at Palenque, Coe observes that the temple of the Sun has two crossed spears, while two other temples have a branching world tree that "bears an astonishing resemblance to the Christian cross" with a quetzal bird above it (Coe. p. 108). The Funerary Crypt in one of the Palenque temples, where jade was abundantly used, was apparently built by a mighty ruler to house his remains in a manner very similar to Egyptian practice, with a "temple-pyramid" built above the crypt. "Thus it seems that the Temple of the Inscriptions was a funerary monument with exactly the same primary function as the Egyptian pyramids" (Coe, p. 109). This proves nothing on its own, but certainly raises the possibility of some relationship.

In fact, Michael Coe goes further in explicitly discussing the still controversial issue of transoceanic contact with the Old World (The Maya, op. cit., pp.45-46):

The possibility of some trans-Pacific influence on Mesoamerican cultures cannot, however, be so easily dismissed. Its most consistent proponent has been Professor David Kelley of the University of Calgary, who has long pointed out that within the twenty named days of the 260-day calendar so fundamental to Mesoamericans ... is a sequence of animals that can be matched in similar sequence to the lunar zodiacs of many East and Southeast-Asian civilizations. To Kelly, this resemblance is far too close to be merely coincidental. Furthermore, Asian and Mesoamerican cosmological systems, which emphasize a quadripartite universe of four cardinal points associated with specific colors, plants, animals, and even gods, are amazingly similar. Both Asian and Mesoamerican religions see a rabbit on the face of the full moon (whereas we see a "Man in the Moon"), and they also associate this luminary with a woman weaving at a loom.

Even more extraordinary, as the historian of science Dr. Joseph Needham reminds us, Chinese astronomers of the Han Dynasty as well as the ancient Maya used exactly the same complex calculations to give warning about the likelihood of lunar and solar eclipses. These data would suggest that there was direct contact across the Pacific. As oriental seafaring was always on a far higher plane than anything known in the prehispanic New World, it is possible that Asian intellectuals may have established some sort of contact with their Mesoamerican counterparts by the end of the Preclassic.

Lest this be thought to be idle speculation along the lines of the lunatic fringe books so common in the field, let me point out one further piece of evidence. Dr. Paul Tolstoy of the University of Montreal has made a meticulous study of the occurrence of the techniques and tools utilized in the manufacture of bark paper around the Pacific basin. It is his well-founded conclusion that this technology, known in ancient China, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, as well as in Mesoamerica, was diffused from eastern Indonesia to Mesoamerica at a very early date. The main use of such paper in Mesoamerica was in the production of screenfold books to record ritual, calendrical, and astronomical information. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it was through the medium of such books, which are still in use by Indonesian people like the Batak, that an intellectual exchange took place.

This by no means implies that the Maya - or any other Mesoamerican civilization - were merely derivative from Old World prototypes. What it does suggest is that at a few times in their history, the Maya may have been receptive to some important ideas originating in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The earliest versions of the Smithsonian Statement, perhaps from the 1950s or 1960s, were excusable, perhaps, for denying transoceanic contact. But a significant and well-known anthropological work from 1971, Man across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (Carroll Riley et al., eds., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971) presented enough data for the possibility of oceanic voyages that a simple dismissal of the idea was no longer justified. Dogma made questionable in 1971 became inexcusable in 1990 with the publication of a huge reference work documenting hundreds of proposed or possible transoceanic connections between the Old and the New Worlds - including those Dr. Coe described above - in the work by John L. Sorenson and Martin H. Raish, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 2 vols., 1990). A Smithsonian archaeologist, Dr. Betty Meggers, spoke of it as an "impressive bibliography and monumental effort" and Dr. David Kelley of the University of Calgary said, "Nobody can afford to offer an opinion on this subject now without having carefully considered this essential volume" (John L. Sorenson, "A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution 'Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon,'" FARMS Paper SOR-93, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [now the Maxwell Institute], 1993, p. 11). There is much more credible evidence for transoceanic contact than many may have supposed. The Smithsonian Statement needs to be updated to take such evidence into account. Ignorance of either Sorenson's 1990 work or Riley's 1971 work is hard to excuse from the reputable Smithsonian Institution. I'm not saying they must accept the evidence for transoceanic contact, but they should not merely dismiss it out of prejudice and they certainly should not deny its existence. It's there!

Unfortunately, the paradigm of "no transoceanic contact" is so entrenched that significant evidence of ancient transoceanic contact between the New and Old Worlds is ignored because "everyone knows" that it did not occur. For example, the Discovery Channel recently broadcast a fascinating documentary called " Curse of the Cocaine Mummies" on Jan. 13, 1997 (9 p.m. Eastern time). Several years ago, Dr. Svetla Balabanova discovered cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies (a published source is S. Balabanova, F. Parsche, and W. Pirsig, "First Identification of Drugs in Egyptian Mummies," Natur Wissenschaften, Vol. 79, No. 8, 1992, p. 358 ff.). The scholarly community was disturbed with her findings, for it would suggest that the Egyptians had imported coca and tobacco from the New World. Since they "knew" that there was no ancient contact between the two continents, the chemical analysis of the mummies must be faulty, they assumed, or the samples must have been contaminated by substances from modern people. Additional controlled tests clearly established that the mummies really did have cocaine and tobacco in them that could not be explained by contamination (present inside hair shafts, present deep in the intestines, etc.). Much of the program featured various experts speculating on possible trade between Egypt and the Americas, with several stuffy experts denying the possibility of such contact since it contradicted what they were so sure they "knew." (So much for the scientific method!) In spite of clear evidence that the ancient Egyptians were using a product that comes only from the New World, several experts chose to laugh off the evidence on the basis of their paradigm of no ancient contact between the two continents. One expert said that the findings had to be discounted because we all know there is no evidence of ancient contact. In other words, evidence that does not fit the paradigm cannot be considered as evidence, ensuring that the dogmatic paradigm stays in place. (Kuhn's Science and Revolution is worth reading on this phenomenon, which I have witnessed many times in science.)

"Curse of the Cocaine Mummies" will be replayed periodically on the Discovery Channel. It's a fascinating program, featuring comments from a number of scholars, including Dr. Alice Kehoe of Marquette University, discussing other evidence for transoceanic crossings, especially trans-Atlantic crossings, to the Americas before the time of Columbus. (Therefore, there are at least some serious scholars who would take issue with the sweeping claims of the Smithsonian Statement.) One interesting point made in the program is that the possibility of Viking journeys to the Americas was scoffed at by the experts until 1965, when an indisputable Norse site was found in Newfoundland. Now everyone accepts what was deemed ludicrous only a few years ago. In archaeology, close-minded paradigms can be embarrassing!

Not only was tobacco and cocaine from the Americas present in the Old World, but there is now evidence that maize ("corn") and sunflowers from the Americas were known in India prior to the time of Columbus, again suggestive of transoceanic contact. Dr. Carl L. Johannessen, emeritus professor of geography at the University of Oregon, recently prepared a paper entitled "Pre-Columbian American Sunflower and Maize Images in Indian Temples: Evidence of Contact Between Civilizations in India and America," printed in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World, ed. Davis Bitton, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, pp. 351-389. Some of the evidence for maize can be seen at the Archaeological Outliers site, but Dr. Johannessen's article is strongly recommended. He carefully explores many of the issues and questions relating to these finds. For example, he notes that sunflower seeds cannot float (not a viable explanation) and that transport by birds also fails as an explanation. He also carefully identifies many examples of these plants in Indian art to eliminate other possibilities. The bulk of the evidence is from Indian art, but some relevant findings from linguistics and DNA analysis are discussed as well. As a bonus, he discusses stone construction techniques which shows surprising parallels between ancient India and ancient Peru, suggestive of ancient cultural contact.

(Note to fellow LDS folks: Thinking of how the evidence of New World maize in ancient India might indirectly support the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, I was about to write a pro-LDS book with a catchy title. Unfortunately, some anti-Mormons beat me to the punch with their own corny publication. So much for The Maize of Mormonism.)

Not only was maize known in ancient India, but based on newly published evidence, it was known in ancient Libya as well. British archeologist David Mattingly found a late medieval [from about A.D. 1100 to 1492] "maize horizon" in a dig at an oasis in the Sahara desert, 700 miles south of Tripoli, Libya. The "maize horizon," indicative of the arrival of plants from the Americas (or, perhaps, from India?), was one of several botanical horizons from the people of that region who flourished agriculturally by exploiting underground water supplies in the area. The work is reported in David Mattingly, "Making the Desert Bloom: The Garamantian Capital and Its Underground Water System," Archaeology Odyssey, 3/2, March-April 2000, pp. 31-37, as cited in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000, p. 69.

Scientific news from 1998 makes the issue all the more interesting, as new genetic data point to a possible link between Eurasians, including certain Israelis, and ancient Americans. The link challenges the Bering Strait theory and appears to at least be consistent with the possibility of transoceanic contact. See Virginia Morell, "Genes May Link Ancient Eurasians, Native Americans" in Science, vol. 280, April 24, 1998, p. 520. I discuss the genetic research in more detail on my Book of Mormon Evidences page.

One of the most interesting evidences of transoceanic contact between the Old and New Worlds is the Bat Creek Hebrew inscription found by a Smithsonian expedition in Tennessee in 1889. (The Bat Creek Stone and other interesting oddities of archaeology, including pre-Columbian maize in India, can be seen at the Archaeological Outliers site.) Anti-Mormon writers such as the Tanners have spent much effort trying to argue that the writing on the Bat Creek Stone is not Hebrew. However, non-LDS scholar J. Huston McCulloch has now shown that the Bat Creek inscription, once thought to be Cherokee, "fits significantly better as Paleo-Hebrew" (J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Cherokee or Hebrew?" Tennessee Anthropologist, Vol. 13, Fall 1988, p. 116, as cited by Matthew Roper, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4, 1992, p. 212). McCulloch's recent work confirms Cyrus Gordon's original hypothesis about the inscription, namely, that it was from between 70 A.D. and 135 A.D. and represented Old World writing (Science Vol. 2, May 1971, pp. 14-16, as cited by Paul R. Cheesman, BYU Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1, p. 85). Carbon-14 dated wood and brass bracelets associated with the inscription date to between A.D. 32 and A.D. 769 (Ibid., pp.107-12, 116) - definitely before Columbus. Cyrus Gordon, a respected non-LDS scholar, wrote:

The Bat Creek Inscription is important because it is the first scientifically authenticated pre-Columbian text in an Old World script or language found in America; and, at that, in a flawless archaeological context. It proves that some Old World people not only could, but actually did, cross the Atlantic to America before the Vikings and Columbus....The discredited pre-Columbian inscriptions in Old World scripts or languages will have to be reexamined and reevaluated, each on the merits of the evidence, case by case.

(Cyrus Gordon, "A Hebrew Inscription Authenticated," in Lundquist and Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith, 1:71,80, as cited by Roper, op. cit.; for more on this controversial issue, see also J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1993, pp. 46-53, 82, and the differing view of P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., "Let's Be Serious about the Bat Creek Stone," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1993, pp. 54-55, 83.)

While critics will repeat old arguments that the Bat Creek Stone is a forgery, it is important to recognize that "there is absolutely no indication that the inscription is a forgery, in the first place, other than the circular, and therefore unscientific, argument that being Hebrew, it must surely be a fake" (J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Stone: A Reply to Mainfort and Kwas," Tennessee Anthropologist, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 1993, p. 16, emphasis added, as cited by Matthew Roper, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, p. 142).

David H. Kelly has also found serious evidence of several pre-Columbian inscriptions of European origin: "We need to ask . . . where we have gone wrong as archaeologists in not recognizing such an extensive European presence in the New World" (David H. Kelly, "Proto-Tifnagh and Proto-Ogham in the Americas," Review of Archaeology, Vol. 2, Spring 1990, p. 10, as cited by Roper, op. cit.). More evidence for scholarly acceptance of Old World scripts in the ancient Americas can be found in W.R. McGlone et al., Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History? (Long Hill, Mass.: Early Sites Research Society, 1993, as cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21) and Jacques de Mahieu, "Corpus des inscriptions ruiniques d'Amerique du Sud," Kadath 68, Brussels, 1988, pp. 11-42 (cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 21). More relevant research has tentatively identified hundreds of possible links between Uto-Aztecan languages (in Book of Mormon territory) with the ancient Hebrew language (work by Brian D. Stubbs, including "A Curious Element in Uto-Aztecan," The Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, Vol. 23, 1998 [according to second-hand sources - I have not yet read this article]; "Elements of Hebrew in Uto-Aztecan: A Summary of the Data," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1988; "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49).

Among the Zuni tribe of North America, significant evidence exists for ancient transoceanic contact with Japan. Their blood type and other genetic features make them surprisingly different from other Native Americans but similar to some Japanese, and a host of cultural traits show Japanese influence. A book on this topic is The Zuni Enigma by Nancy Yaw Davis (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000), who has a Ph.D. in anthropology. Also see a short article in Science Frontiers Online, No. 87: May-Jun 1993.

These are just some samplings of evidence for contact between the Old and New Worlds long before Columbus. A dominant paradigm hinders consideration of such evidence, but the evidence is there. It will be some time before the necessary paradigm shift occurs among most scholars, but I suspect that the time will come shortly.

Sorenson summarizes some critical issues along these lines (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 1985, pp.111-112):

Much evidence has been published showing important, specific cultural elements present in both Mesoamerica and various Old World civilizations. Articles by Meggers, Tolstoy, and Schneider already referred to lay out some of that information, mainly comparing East Asia with our area of New World interest. Evidence of a possible connection between Mesoamerica and the Near East, where the Book of Mormon peoples originated, is presented in my article in Man Across the Sea [1], the standard scholarly work on transoceanic voyaging. A list of detailed social and cultural characteristics shared by the two areas is given there, complete with references. Some of the more than 200 features are highly arbitrary, unusual, and complex. I find it harder to believe that these were coincidentally invented twice than that they were carried across the ocean by voyagers. (Many points of comparison between the Nephite world view and Mesoamerican and Near Eastern ideas, described in chapter 2, are taken from that article.)

Despite mounting evidence of significant transoceanic influence on Mesoamerica, there is no doubt whatever that many - perhaps most - aspects of culture in both the First and Second Traditions clearly did not come from the Old World. A unique configuration of distinctive, ancient patterns of life and thought characterizes this area at a fundamental level; no later introductions by diffusion would have changed those much [2]. But this is like saying that early Egyptian culture was unlike that of Mesopotamia. Though that is true, it is also clear that Egyptian life was affected significantly by Mesopotamian ways and ideas, and the two areas were in communication from early times.

We cannot demonstrate at this time that Mesoamerica's civilizations originated because of influence from across the ocean, but in recent years the idea, once laughed at by the professionals, first became a half-respectable hypothesis and now is argued as plausible rather than merely possible.

Footnotes:

1."The Significance of an Apparent Relationship between the Ancient Near East and Mesoamerica," in Riley et al., Man Across the Sea, pp. 219-41, which is dealt with by Schneider on his page 19. The same material was compressed somewhat, with documentation omitted, in "Ancient America and the Book of Mormon Revisited," Dialogue 4 (1969):80-94.

2.Most of the literature assumes this point, but suitable documentation of it is rare. Good examples are Richard S. MacNeish, "Ancient Mesoamerican Civilization," Science 143 (February 7, 1964):531-45, and Peter T. Furst, "Morning Glory and Mother Goddess at Tepantitla, Teotihuacan: Iconography and Analogy in Pre-Columbian Art," in Norman Hammond, ed., Mesoamerican Archaeology: New Approaches (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974), pp. 187-91.

Recent updates:

A major professional journal published by Cambridge University Press, Ancient Mesoamerica, has published an article providing what its authors claims to be the "first hard evidence" for ancient voyage to the New World. The reference is Romeo Hristov and Santiago Genoves, "Mesoamerican Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts," Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 10, 1999, pp. 207-213 (cited in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000, p. 69). The authors describe their work with a purported Roman figurine found in Mexico beneath unbroken plaster floors in an Aztec site that predated the arrival of the Spaniard. The figurine has been dated by thermoluminescence dating to A.D. 200. How it got to Mexico is anyone's guess, but it wasn't brought by Ice Age hunters migrating from the Bering Strait.

Another article from 1999 cast further doubt on Asiatic migration as the sole explanation for ancient Americans, and suggests that boat travel must be considered. The source is Reuters, as published in Yahoo News, Wednesday Sept. 22, 1999:

Brazil Unveils 'Luiza' As Earliest Known American by Tracey Ober

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Anthropologists in Rio unveiled the oldest known human fossil from the Americas Monday, a woman's skull with African features that could revolutionize theories on the continent's early inhabitants.

The fossil -- first discovered in Brazil in 1975 but only recently found to come from a woman who lived 11,500 years ago -- shows there were human beings on the continent long before Asian immigration, said anthropologist Ricardo Ventura Santos.

"The scientists believe Luiza's ancestors were in the same line of descent as Australia's aboriginals and crossed the northernmost Pacific Ocean by boat nearly 15,000 years ago, next to glaciers that were forming at that time. "

If scientists can plausibly suggest that Luiza was not of Asian stock and may have been descended from peoples who have reached the Americas by boat 15,000 years ago, then there should be little substance to "scientific" arguments against the very possibility that other ancient Americans may have arrived by boat in 600 B.C.

More recently, the popular Atlantic Monthly magazine featured a cover story in its January 2000 issue entitled "The Diffusionist Have Landed" by Marc K. Stengel (Vol. 285, No. 1, pp. 35-48). The article even-handedly discusses the controversial issue of "diffusion" from the Old World to the New World, citing artifacts such as the Bat Creek stone with its ancient Hebrew inscription, and discussing the controversial work of various scholars and amateurs. One of the possible reasons for resistance to diffusionist theories, as Marc Stengel notes, is that some scholars worry about the pro-Book of Mormon implications of such theories. Well, they had better worry. The Book of Mormon is true - and we can expect new studies and new data to increasingly enhance our understanding of the text, not dismantle it. (Stengel's article is available online in three parts: part one, part two, and part three.)


Specific Responses to Each of the Nine Items of the Statement

Item 1.  "The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book."

The first sentence of Item 1 is no surprise. The religious text of the Book of Mormon is not intended as a scientific guide, and those who don't believe it will have no motivation to use it for any purpose at all, certainly not as a scientific guide. (Our critics might like to think that the Bible is somehow esteemed by professional archeologists and scientists as a scientific guide, but that is not the case, either. The professionals are quick to note that they do not use the Bible as a scientific guide and that, from their perspective, it cannot be relied on for their secular work. In fact, many scholars berate the Bible for what they see as gross inaccuracies in its history. A recent article in the New York Times, "The Bible, as History, Flunks New Archaeological Tests," states a few of the problems from the mainline scholarly perspective.)

The second sentence of Item 1 is more noteworthy. For this statement to carry any weight, there should be Smithsonian archeologists who have solid knowledge about a) the Book of Mormon and b) ancient Mesoamerica, the apparent location of most Book of Mormon events, who have used their expertise to examine Book of Mormon claims. Are there any Smithsonian staff members with a sound knowledge of the "subject matter of the book"? If so, they probably did not author the Smithsonian Statement, for several of the points made in the Statement show a serious lack of familiarity with the text. A superficial exposure may be inferred, but certainly not a sound understanding of the contents of the Book of Mormon or of the cultural and geographical setting of the book. Without that knowledge, how can a reasonable assessment possibly be made?

What about archeological expertise in Mesoamerica? The Smithsonian staff does not appear to have a single specialist in Mesoamerica (John L. Sorenson, "A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution 'Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon,'" FARMS Paper SOR-93, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1993, p. 5). There may be some experts on North American Indians, but without a firm grounding in the specific lands covered by the Book of Mormon, namely, Mesoamerica and especially southern Mexico and Guatemala, the experts at the Smithsonian are not in a position to make a credible assessment. In fact, general knowledge of Mesoamerica is not enough. Specialized knowledge of the particular era covered by the Book of Mormon, prior to the classic Mayan era, is needed. The Smithsonian lacks such experts. Even the few scholars who are skilled in that area need to know the Book of Mormon in some detail before being capable of making a comparison of pre-Classic Mesoamerica anthropology and archeology with the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon fits remarkably well into the cultural and geographical scene of Mesoamerica, when taken seriously and read carefully, as Dr. John Sorenson's monumental book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, shows. Casual dismissals by unqualified "experts" unfamiliar with both Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon can no longer be given credibility.

Item 1 is an off-handed, superficial dismissal. Surely no non-believing expert on the Smithsonian staff wants to be caught saying anything to give credibility to the Book of Mormon.

Critics who cite the Smithsonian Statement often infer the Bible is valued as a scientific guide, in contrast to the Book of Mormon. My LDSFAQ page on Alleged Problems with Book of Mormon Evidence discusses this issue more fully. The Bible is true, and some items mentioned in it have been found. Unlike the New World, many place names in the Old World have been preserved so we know where to look to find many ancient locations like Jerusalem, making it possible to verify some aspects of the Bible. But is the Bible used as a scientific guide? It was in the early days of biblical archaeology, when people were bent on "proving" the Bible. Today, though, it has been largely discarded as scientific guide - not because it isn't true (though many say it isn't, based on the lack of evidence for many of the most important events, like the Exodus or the existence of Moses and Solomon), but because archaeologists typically don't find it helpful. "Israeli archeology has moved considerably beyond the Bible and the spade," according to Steven Rossen, an archaeologist at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva. "It would be a rare Israeli excavation today that would include the Bible as a reference book in the dig house" (quoted by Michael Balter, "Baedeker's Guide, or Just Plain 'Trouble'?", Science, vol. 287, Jan. 7, 2000, pp. 29-30). I don't expect modern archaeologists to use the Book of Mormon as a field guide either, for it was not meant to turn men toward ancient digs, but toward Jesus Christ. Yet it is true and historical, and we can expect further evidence for it to be uncovered (along with new questions, of course) as the New World becomes more thoroughly studied.


Item 2.  "The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central, and northeastern Asia. Archeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the present Indians came into the New World - probably over a land bridge known to have existed in the Bering Strait region during the last Ice Age - in a continuing series of small migration beginning from about 25,000 to 35,000 years ago."

Item 2 from the Smithsonian Statement is presented in a matter-of-fact way as if the issue were simple and settled. In fact, there are many aspects of this point which are topics of complex scholarly inquiry and debate, including the cited dates of migration to be discussed below.

Perhaps most troublesome is the broad brush used to describe American peoples. To speak of the "physical type" of the American Indian is to blend two continents of diverse racial traits into a single category. Dr. Juan Comas, noted as the leading physical anthropologist of Mexico, insists that Amerindians are not a "biologically homogenous group" (Cuadernos Americanos, 152 (Mayo-Junio 1967): 117-125, as cited by Sorenson, op. cit., 1993). Sorenson cites other examples:

Research on blood groups led G. Albin Matson and associates to say, "the American Indians are not completely Mongoloid" [1]. Professor Earnest Hooton of Harvard strongly agreed and thought he saw Near Easterners as a component [2]. My mentor at UCLA, Joseph B. Birdsell, acknowledged that "An important number of anthropologists have specifically included the mediterranean branch of the White race as having contributed genetically to the American aborigines," and, "Phenotypically many American Indians show morphological characteristics plausibly attributed to a Mediterranean ancestry" [3]. Polish anthropologist Andrzej Wiercinski analyzed a large series of skulls excavated at major sites in Mesoamerica and found much variety. He considered there to be three "primary American stocks" which came out of Asia..., but he also found evidence for features "introduced by ... migrants from the Western Mediterranean" area [4].
(Sorenson, 1993, pp. 7-7)

Footnotes:

1. G. Albin Matson et al., "Distribution of Hereditary Blood Groups Among Indians in South America. IV. In Chile," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 27 (1967): 188.

2. Quoted in Harold Gladwin, Men out of Asia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1947), 63-65.

3. "The Problem of the Early Peopling of the Americas as Viewed from Asia," in Papers on the Physical Anthropology of the American Indian, ed. W.S. Laughlin (New York: Viking Fund, 1951), 14; he himself thought that this "White" genetic component, while valid, probably originated from an early non-Mongoloid population located in the Far East which had arrived in America via Bering Strait. This is not the only possibility of course.

4. "Inter- and Intrapopulational Racial Differentiation of Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban and Yucatan Mayan," Actas, Documentos de la 36a. Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, Lima 1970 (Lima, 1970), 1:1, 231-248. Or see his "Afinidades Raciales de Algunas Poblaciones Antiguas de Mexico," Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (Mexico, 1972-73), 123-144.

One significant non-LDS archaeologist, Dr. E. James Dixon, has recently published a book demonstrating that the Bering Strait could not have been the sole means by which people came to the Americas. His book is Quest for the Origins of the First Americans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993). He shows that the geology and paleoecology of the region called Beringia shows that human travel over the Bering Strait probably wasn't possible until about 9,500 B.C., and there is no evidence of human occupation of the Bering corridor until about 9,000 B.C. However, Dr. Dixon presents evidence of human occupation along the west coasts of both North and South America long before 9,500 B.C. Early coastal settlements suggest transoceanic travel, and Dixon supports that possibility. If ancient Asians could cross the Pacific ocean, then I feel it is not unreasonable to suggest that other Old World groups could have done the same (Lehi's group, the Jaredites, and the Mulekites, as described in the Book of Mormon). (Dixon's work is reviewed in BYU Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2, 1995-96.)

Until recently, the standard view of human settlement in the America's involved a concept known as the "Clovis Horizon." The Clovis culture was believed to be the first culture to enter the Americas, arriving about 11,000 years ago, probably via the Bering Strait, and then gradually spreading south. Based on common features found in dated stone tools throughout the Americas, scientists believed they had traced the spread of ancient man in the New World. Now a major paradigm shift is being imposed upon scientists now by the overwhelming evidence of very early settlement at Monte Verde in Chile - a settlement far too early to be compatible with previous theories of migration. I discuss this on my page of Questions About Book of Mormon Evidence (see the question, "Hasn't it been proven that all Native Americans are of Mongoloid origin, not Jewish origin?"). Recently, archaeologist Paul Bahn writing in The New Scientist (Dec. 13, 1997, p. 47) reviews Dr. Tom Dillehay's book, Monte Verde: A Late Pleistocene Settlement In Chile, Volume 2: The Archaeological Context and its Interpretation (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997). Of this monumental work, Dr. Bahn says the following:

Very few books can be said to mark a crucial turning point in the history of their discipline, especially in the esoteric world of archaeology. But this second volume of the open-air settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, settles a bitter row. It hammers the last nail into the coffin of the "Clovis First" view of American prehistory, the belief that the first people to enter the New World did so between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago and were the big-game hunters of the Clovis culture.

Many researchers had abandoned this view as preliminary results from Monte Verde and other South American sites became available, but there remained a rump of hardline sceptics. They insisted on unbelievably high standards from the excavators and interpreters of the South American materials before they would consider changing their minds.

Tom Dillehay has worked on the site since 1977. Now, in this enormous monograph, he delivers the goods. He covers every conceivable aspect of the this important site in such detail that all but the most fanatical doubters have thrown in the towel. They have now declared that there were people in the Americas before the Clovis hunters. The evidence uncovered by Dillehay in Monte Verde reveals that they had reached southern Chile by at least 12,500 years ago - and quite possibly 33,000 years ago.

How the people at Monte Verde arrived there is not yet known, but a transoceanic journey must be considered a possibility.

Interestingly, it is possible that the people of the Clovis culture may not have come across the Bering Strait after all. Kenneth B. Tankersley reviews three books on Clovis culture in the article "A Matter of Superior Spearpoints," Archaeology, Vol. 52, No. 4 (July/Aug. 1999), pp. 60-63, and observes that while the authors of one book (The Fenn Cache: Clovis Weapons and Tools by G. Frison and B. Bradley)"agree that the ancestors of Clovis may have come from somewhere in eastern Siberia, all attempts to discover a progenitor have failed." In another book, Clovis Revisited: New Perspectives from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico (Philadelphia: The University Museum, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1999) by A. T. Bouldurian and John L. Cotter, Tankersley notes that the authors "seriously consider two alternative hypotheses about Clovis origins from the 1960s that have been revised recently. The first proposition is that Clovis culture developed in the southeastern United States....The second proposition is that Clovis can be traced to the Upper Paleolithic Solutrean culture of Europe (about 18,000 to 23,000 years ago)." Evidence for the latter includes use of "the same technology to manufacture flaked-stone tools" and "similarities between bone and ivory artifacts, and even symbols." However, there are significant differences between the European and American artifacts. While it is possible that early Americans were "a group of Caucasoids who crossed over from Europe," Tankersley notes there "is still no compelling reason to reject the more traditional model of a Eurasian origin" for Clovis culture. But we must remember that Clovis culture itself has not been proven to be Eurasian or to have come across the Bering Strait. And even if it has, as the traditional model teaches, the "Clovis First" model cannot explain the appearance of early settlements in South America.

While the death of the "Clovis First" view does not directly support anything in the Book of Mormon, it certainly requires caution in accepting simplistic past theories of human migration to the Americas. Old theories need to be revised, and Item 2 of the Smithsonian Statement needs to be updated to indicate that the Bering Strait theory may not be able to explain all known human settlements in the Americas and that many serious scholars feel that past theories of human origins in the Americas are clearly incomplete. The possibility of transoceanic migrations to the Americas cannot be ruled out.

Perhaps the authors of the Smithsonian Statement might even want to revise Item 2 to put in a plug for Tom Dillehay's revolutionary book on the Monte Verde settlement - after all, it's published by the Smithsonian Institution.

Further evidence from 1998 challenges the Bering Strait paradigm and indicates that some ancient Americans were mariners. In a news article, "Ancient American Marine Scene," in Science News from Sept. 26, 1998 (Vol. 154, p. 205), we read that scientists have discovered two coastal outposts in Peru dating as far back as 11,100 years ago (too early for standard Bering Strait theories). They provide "solid evidence of maritime occupations in South America." The settlements indicate that human entry into South America occurred along the coast as well as in the highlands. Did the coastal dwellers get there in boats from Asia? So far, that is not known. The issue is reported in more depth in the Sept. 18 issue of Science.

The April 15, 2000 issue of Science has a short news article by B. Bower, "Early New World Settlers Rise in Ease" (Vol. 157, p. 244), which reports that a new dig at Cactus Hill, Virginia reveals that people lived there at least 15,000 years ago, "well before the appearance of the Clovis culture." An upper layer at the site, dating to 10,920 years ago, contained Clovis-style spear points, but a lower layer dating to 15,070 years ago had stone points and other implements without Clovis features. The older blades showed microscopic wear marks typical of hide scraping and butchering animals.

Does the Smithsonian reject this evidence of pre-Clovis culture? No. In fact, Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute "argues that pre-Clovis artifacts at Cactus Hill resemble western European specimens from about the same time. He raises the controversial possibility that seagoing Europeans settled eastern North America and founded the pre-Clovis culture." (Emphasis mine.)

Not only is the old "Bering Strait only" dying a slow death, but the idea of ancient migrations by boat from places other than Siberia is gaining increasing acceptance, as explained in the recent cover story for Maclean's Magazine, "Mystery of the First North Americans" by Brian Bethune, March 2001. This does not prove anything in the Book of Mormon, but undermines the old argument against Book of Mormon plausibility, which maintained that there were no ancient migrations by boat and that all ancient peoples here came from Siberia alone.


Item 3.  "Present evidence indicates that the first people to reach this continent from the East were the Norsemen who briefly visited the northeastern part of North America around A.D. 1000 and then settled in Greenland. There is nothing to show that they reached Mexico or Central America."

The issue of transoceanic contact with Central and South America was discussed in more detail above, including a statement by David Kelly about extensive European influence in the Americas that had been overlooked by other scholars. But I am puzzled by Item 3. It sounds as if the authors of the Statement think the Book of Mormon refers to Norsemen or Europeans, which it does not.

However, Norse migrations are instructive in dealing with the Book of Mormon, for they show that it is possible for major migrations to a new land to occur, persist for centuries, and then go into oblivion, much as happened for the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. The non-LDS scholar Dr. James Dixon makes several related points about the Norse in his 1993 book Quest for the Origins of the First Americans (op. cit., pp. 130-132, as cited by Sorenson, pp. 8,9). He states that the Norse settlement in Vinland "demonstrates that various groups of humans could have attempted colonization of the American continents . . . only to subsequently disappear" while "evidence of their passing would be extremely difficult to detect in the archaeological record." Speaking of the extensive and long-lasting (about 500 years long) Norse settlement in Greenland, Dixon notes that Norse genes could have been mixed with native Greenland populations (Inuits or "Eskimos"), masking their European genetic ties. As a result, "the original Norse civilization of Greenland cannot be demonstrated ever to have happened based on genetic analysis of living people." That's an important lesson to keep in mind for those Book of Mormon critics who expect to see clear evidence of Semitic genes among American Indians from the Nephite colonists.

Back to Item 3, is it really certain that the Norse were the first from the East to arrive in the Americas? That may be the textbook view, but is it really consistent with all present evidence? Does it agree with evidence for an ancient authenticated Hebrew script in ancient America? Does it agree with the evidence of tobacco and cocaine trade with ancient Egypt? Does it agree with native American myths that point to transoceanic origins? And certainly the evidence for non-Bering Strait migrations merits careful reconsideration of old paradigms. Item 3 should be deleted or updated to be less dogmatic and more cognizant of the many uncertainties in the history of migrations to the Americas.


Item 4.  "One of the main lines of evidence supporting the scientific finding that contacts with the Old World, if indeed they occurred at all, were of very little significance for the development of American Indian civilizations, is the fact that none of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre-Columbian times. American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)"

Besides overlooking the important and real evidence of transoceanic contact, as discussed above, Item 4 represents inadequate scholarship on several counts:

  • 1. Several of the plants and animals said to absent from the ancient Americas may have been present in Book of Mormon times after all.
  • 2. An examination of missing elements is not a valid way of evaluating possible contact between remote cultures.
  • 3. Given the problem of naming foreign plants and animals, native American plants and animals may have been given Old World names by the settlers in the Book of Mormon.
  • 4. Some of the plants and animals said to be missing are not even mentioned in the Book of Mormon and are not relevant in evaluating the content of the Book of Mormon.
I wish to first make a minor point to show that the dogmatic tone of Item 4 is unjustified: there is evidence for barley, millet, chickens, and horses in the ancient New World, as discussed in more detail on my Web page, Questions About Missing Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon. Though at least three species of wild barley have long been known in the Americas, evidence for ancient cultivated barley was not widely known until 1983, when professional archaeologists announced the discovery of pre-Columbian domesticated barley found in Arizona (see the Dec. 1983 issue of Science 83, as discussed by John Welch in Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992, pp. 130-132). "Fox-tail millet" or "setaria" is a Central American grain that may have been used by Mesoamericanists - and, like several other native grains, could have even been called wheat or barley (Sorenson, Rev. of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp. 339). George F. Carter of Texas A&M University has presented evidence for chickens were in pre-Columbian America, most likely imported from East Asia ("Pre-Columbian Chickens in America," in Carroll L. Riley et al., Man across the Sea, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971, p. 178-218). Actual horse remains and other forms of evidence suggest that horses were known in some degree to pre-Columbian populations in Mesoamerica and elsewhere in the Americas, as discussed in my answer to a question about horses on my LDSFAQ page about plants and animals. The evidence may not be widely acknowledged, but it deserves consideration.

Now what about the specific claims of Item 4? It is alleged that lack of millet, wheat, etc. from the Old World rules out the possibility of Old World contact. What reasoning is there to support this view? Any two physically separated civilizations that have some degree of contact will have many plants, foods, animals, customs, and so forth that are not shared. Ancient Rome had contact with India and China and deliberately sought to bring items from the East into Roman life. In spite of that, there is no evidence that ancient Romans used rice (Sorenson, 1993, p. 13), one of the most abundant foodstuffs of the East. Does a long list of common Asian animals and foodstuffs not known to ancient Rome rule out the possibility of contact between Rome and Asia? Of course not. Contact between Mexico and Europe has occurred with great intensity since the fifteenth century, yet there are numerous foods, plants, and animals that have not yet become common to any significant degree. Will future anthropologists digging into the remains of 19th century Spain question reality of Mexican contact if they cannot find abundant evidence for Spanish turkeys, avocados, tortillas, tapirs, armadillos, or the grains amaranth and teosinte? The assumptions behind Item 4 lack a scientific foundation. Surely the people at the Smithsonian understand that things that aren't shared between two lands are of little importance in determining whether contact occurred, especially when the contact may have been minor or rare, as is the case in the Book of Mormon (3 migrations of very small groups of people into the New World are reported, and they certainly weren't the only peoples on the continent when they arrived). In evaluating the possibility of contact between the Old World and the New World, evidence of what is shared is much more important that what is not shared.

Granted, a majority of scholars feel that pre-Columbian contact between the Old and New Worlds was limited primarily to Norse settlements, but the minority view is gaining increasing support. In any case, the issue is hardly settled by sloppy argumentation about items that are not shared.

To some readers, Item 4 of the Smithsonian Statement seems to be written to refute Book of Mormon references to specific Old World grains and animals in the New World. On the face of it, Item 4 would make more sense as a direct attack on Book of Mormon claims rather than an embarrassingly flawed general argument about the significance of missing common elements between separated cultures. If that is the intent, though, the problem of flawed scholarship by the otherwise highly reputable Smithsonian Institution is simply shifted, not solved. Several of the listed plants and animals are not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon (camels, donkeys, rice, millet). Others, such as barley, wheat, cattle, and horses are mentioned, but it is not said that they were Old World species. These terms may have been words used by the Nephites to describe native grains that were used as wheat or barley or animals such as tapirs or deer. Anthropologists with expertise in the dynamics of contact between different cultures and lands will appreciate the complexities that occur in naming plants and animals. Old words are commonly applied to newly encountered items, just as the Mayan Indians referred to Spanish horses as "deer" or as the Romans called the Egyptian hippopotamus a "river horse." The Spaniards called the prickly pear a "fig" and used "plum" (ciruelo) to name a native non-plum species, while some Spaniards used "wheat" (trigo) to name American maize (Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 338-339). If the Book of Mormon is to be evaluated fairly by scholars, words such as "wheat" or "barley" must be evaluated in the context provided by the Book of Mormon: a Semitic people arriving in the New World is likely to use Old World names to describe native species.

The word "chicken" is only used in a figurative sense in one passage, describing the care of Christ for his people like a chicken taking its chicks under its wings. Many birds could provide such imagery, and translating whatever bird name was used with "chicken" makes sense for a figurative expression, especially when that expression is found in the Bible. There is no mention of actual chickens being found or imported into the Americas. The word "chicken" could easily refer to the native American turkey, known and eaten in Mesoamerica. However, there is evidence for ancient chickens in the Americas, which is presented along with many other relevant issues on my LDSFAQ page about allegedly missing Book of Mormon plants and animals.

The Book of Mormon was not written to be a scientific guide, and particularly not a zoological guide or botanical guide. It appears to be a fairly literal translation of an ancient Semitic text, so I expect the words used by the original authors to be fairly directly translated into English, when possible. See the discussion of the translation on my page about Changes in the Book of Mormon and my Introduction to the Book of Mormon.


Item 5.  "Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for the occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron."

This statement implies that New World glass is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, which is untrue. Refuting the existence of glass has no bearing on the Book of Mormon. The Smithsonian Statement has been around for years and LDS writers have responded to this easily resolved point, yet the embarrassing refutation of glass still survives in this 1996 version. The authors of the Statement are not displaying high levels of scholarship.

What about silk? Alma 4:6 refers to "silk" in the New World. Contrary to the beliefs of some folks at the Smithsonian, there is evidence that the silkworm actually was known in the New World before the arrival of Columbus. See "The Prophet Said Silk" by Maurice W. Connell, The Improvement Era, Vol. 65, No. 5 (May 1962), pp. 324-345. Stan Barker has also called my attention to a more recent non-LDS publication, "Silkworm of the Aztecs" by Richard S. Peigler, Ph.D., Curator of Entomology, in Museum Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 1993): pp. 10-11 (published by the Denver Museum of Natural History).

On the other hand, given the challenges of describing new materials, it may be that Book of Mormon writers used an Old World term to describe a different New World material. It is simple-minded to assume that the Nephite record absolutely must mean that Chinese silkworms were present based on the occurrence of the word "silk." There were a wide variety of fabrics which could have been called silk or translated as silk, some of which the Spaniards called silk ("seda") when they came to this continent. Sorenson explains (1993, pp. 14-15):

Early Spaniards in the New World encountered this very technological difficulty. We learn, for example, that a wild silkworm in Mexico spun a fiber which Indians gathered to make a fabric [1]. Should the European explorers have called this fabric seda  ("silk") or not? Classical scholars face a similar problem; Aristotle and other Greeks describe a silkworm, but the reference is considered by modern experts to be a conflation of information on two types of silkworm native to southeastern Europe and having no direct connection to the Far East [2]. Moreover, fine hair from the belly of rabbits of central Mexico was woven into a cloth which the Spaniards considered "equal in finish and texture" to silk [3]. A silk-like fiber (kapok) from the pod of the ceiba tree was gathered in Yucatan and spun; this seems to be what Bishop Diego de Landa referred to at one point as "silk." Clavigero said of this kapok that it was "as soft and delicate, and perhaps more so, than silk" [4]. Yet cotton, the common textile material in Mesoamerica, itself was sometimes woven so fine that Cortez claimed textiles "made of silk could not be compared" [5]. Furthermore, fine fibers were taken from the wild pineapple plant and from "silk-grass," Aecmea magalene, that could qualify as "silk" for texture [6]. So would the book of Mormon be in error in referring to "silk"? Not if Mesoamerica was the scene.

Footnotes: 1. I.W. Johnson, "Basketry and textiles," in Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica, part 1, Handbook of Middle American Indians (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). 10:312; cf. W. H. Prescott, The History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), 84, citing Humboldt.

2. William T.M. Forbes, "The silkworm of Aristotle," Classical Philology 25 (1930): 22-26....

3. H.H. Bancroft, The Native Races of the Pacific States (London: Longmans, green, 1875), 2:484.

4. Alfred M. Tozzer, ed. Landa's Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Papers No. 18 (1941), 201; he used the same term, "silk," for the Asiatic fabric imported by the Spaniards. Also Francesco Saverino Clavigero, History of Mexico 1, trans. Charles Cullen (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1817), 41.

5. Fernando Cortes, His Five Letters of Relation to the Emperor Charles V, ed. Francis A. MacNutt (Gorieta, new Mexico: Rio Grande, 1977), 1:254.

6. Felix W. McBryde, "Cultural and historical geography of Southwest Guatemala," Smithsonian Institution Institute of Social Anthropology Publication No. 4 (1947), 149; William E. Safford, "Food plants and textiles of ancient America," Proceedings, 19th International Congress of Americanists, Washington, 1915 (Washington, 1917): 17.

As for iron and steel, please see my LDSFAQ page on Metals in the Book of Mormon. The issue is not nearly so clear-cut as the Statement makes it seem. After the early years of the Nephite colonists, references to iron are in terms of a precious metal, which would be consistent with use of meteoric iron. But smelted iron was found by archaeologist Sigvald Linne in a tomb at Mitla, Oaxaca ("Zapotecan antiquities," Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm, Publication 4 [n.s., 1938]: 75, cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 18). A Teotihuacan find also provides evidence of copper and iron being having been melted in a pottery vessel ("Mexican highland cultures," Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm, Publication 7 [n.s., 1942]: 75, cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 18). Many other iron artifacts have appeared in museum collections from Mesoamerica, with John Sorenson having compiled a listing of over 100 ancient Mesoamerican iron specimens reported in the literature but consistently ignored by paradigm clingers (Metals and Metallurgy Relating to the Book of Mormon Text, Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992).

As for steel, a material that could be called steel was available in Mesoamerica, namely meteoric nickel-iron alloys. Robert J. Forbes in Metallurgy in Antiquity: A Notebook for Archaeologists and Technologists (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1950, p. 402, as cited by Sorenson, 1993, p. 17) lists it as "a type of steel" and its presence in Mesoamerica is well known (3 references given by Sorenson, 1993, p. 18). The word "steel" may refer to meteoric alloys, to naturally or accidentally carbonized iron, or to other metals altogether than the "steel" we think of in the 20th century (and don't forget that the anachronistic word "steel" occurs in the King James version of the Old Testament - but probably refers to bronze or copper).

In terms of metals, Item 5 must be criticized for ignoring actual finds that contradict it, and for failing to recognize the ambiguity and complexity of translating metal names across linguistic, technological, and cultural barriers.


Item 6.  "There is a possibility that the spread of cultural traits across the Pacific to Mesoamerica and the northwestern coast of South America began several hundred years before the Christian era. However, any such inter-hemispheric contacts appear to have been the results of accidental voyages originating in eastern and southern Asia. It is by no means certain that such contacts occurred; certainly there were no contacts with the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, or other peoples of Western Asian [sic] and the Near East."

The first sentence of this item finally displays some more up-to-date scholarship on the Americas. Yes, there is evidence pointing to the possible transmission of "cultural traits across the Pacific to Mesoamerica . . . several hundred years before the Christian era." The Book of Mormon teaches that one small group of people came in a boat apparently across the Pacific from the Old World to the Americas, and apparently Mesoamerica, 600 years before Christ. It does not teach that they were the only migration or the only people here, and the record is full of hints that many other groups were on the scene. How much cultural impact that boatload of people had on the surrounding areas is not clear. The voyage of Lehi and his family to the New World could easily appear to have been largely accidental, for they had no idea where exactly the Lord would take them, and it was a unique event, not one of many scheduled voyages along an established route.

The third sentence boldly states that there were "certainly" no contact with the Egyptians, Hebrews, or others from the Near East and Western Asia. Surely by now the Smithsonian has been informed that the Book of Mormon does not speak of any contact with Egyptians, so there is no need to refute that point (see Item 7 below, which again tries to refute a link to the Egyptians which cannot be found in the Book of Mormon). But even the claim of no Egyptian contact is questionable, as are claims for lack of contact with other peoples. For some details, please refer to the above discussion on transoceanic contact.

The Smithsonian Statement is not only at odds with extensive data on transoceanic voyages in general, but is also at odds with the history that native Mesoamericans themselves had maintained, prior to the Spanish destruction of nearly all written records of the inhabitants of this that land. For example, a native American prince in the 1500s named Ixtlilxochitl wrote:

"Those who possessed this new world in this third age were the Ulmecas and Xicalanas; and according to what is found in their histories, they came in ships or barques from the east to the land of Pontochan from which they began to settle." (Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando de Alva "Obras Historicas," Editora Nacional, S.A. Mexico, 2 vols., 1950, p. 19, as cited by John K. Wise, "Clouds Without Water, Zeal Without Knowledge," Journal of Mormon Apologetics, Vol. 1, 1999, pp. 116-140.)
That fits reasonably well with the Book of Mormon description of the Jaredites, who came from the old world in enclosed barges or boats, at a time that fits in well with the rise of the Olmec civilization.

Cortez reported that the Aztec king Montezuma, at the first meeting of white men with the natives of Texcoco, said:

"For a long time and by means of our writings, we have possessed a knowledge, transmitted from our ancestors, that neither I nor any of us who inhabit this land are of native origin. We are foreigners and came here from very remote parts. We possess information that our lineage was led to this land by a lord to whom we all owed allegiance. He afterward left this [land] for his native country ... but we have ever believed that his descendants would surely come here to subjugate this land and us who are, by rights, their servants. Because of what you say concerning the region whence you came, which is where the sun rises ... we believe and hold as certain that he must be our rightful lord...." (Nuttal, Zelia, "Some Unsolved Problems in Mexican Archaeology," American Anthropologist, XIII, 1, 133-149, 1906, p. 135, as cited by Wise, op. cit., p. 129.)
Bernardino de Sahagun, a Spanish priest in the 1500s, after extensive study of Aztec and Mayan records (prior to the Spanish destruction of those precious documents), wrote:
It has been innumerable years since the first settlers arrived in these parts of New Spain which is almost another world, and they came in ships by sea, landing at the port which is to the north." (Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana, S.A. Mexico, 3 vols., 946, II, 306, as cited by Wise, op. cit., p. 129.)
Interestingly, recent genetic data point to a possible link between some Israelis and ancient Americans. See Virginia Morell, "Genes May Link Ancient Eurasians, Native Americans" in Science, vol. 280, April 24, 1998, p. 520. I discuss the genetic research in more detail on my new (2001) page on the Book of Mormon and DNA at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/DNA.shtml.


Item 7.  "No reputable Egyptologist or other specialist on Old World archeology, and no expert on New World prehistory, has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt."

This is a puzzling and irrelevant statement showing an unfortunate ignorance of the contents of the Book of Mormon. Nowhere does the book suggest that Egyptians came to the Americas or that Egyptian-style buildings, tools, or other artifacts should be found in Mexico. The book does state that a "reformed Egyptian" writing system was used for engravings on the plates that became the Book of Mormon, apparently as a compact means of expressing language from a people with Hebraic roots, but this was not the everyday writing system. Rather, it appears to have been a difficult, specialized skill for the keepers of the sacred history. Nothing in the text creates the expectation that there should be "any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt."

However, the statement does more than point to possible ignorance of the Book of Mormon: it also is embarrassingly incorrect, a blatant blunder showing ignorance of significant scientific work. There clearly are possible relationships between Mesoamerica and Egypt, which, though still the subject of much debate and controversy, cannot be dismissed with such irresponsible statements. Above, I have already discussed the evidence of New World contact with Egypt in the form of nicotine and cocaine traces in Egyptian mummies. Scholars have noted similarities between Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics, as well as between Mayan pyramids and early Asian and Egyptian structures. For example, Linda Miller Van Blerkom of the University of Colorado has demonstrated that "Maya glyphs were used in the same six ways as those in Egyptian writing" ("A Comparison of Maya and Egyptian Hieroglyphics," Katunob 11 [11 Aug. 1979]: 1-8, as cited by Sorenson, 1993 p. 21). (More on this topic later.)

To say that there is not any relationship between the remains of the New World and those of Egypt is a careless exaggeration. It might be more scholarly to say that alleged evidence for contact between Mesoamerica and Egypt is not widely accepted, but it would be better to first note that the Book of Mormon does not require any such relationship to exist.


Item 8.  "Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland."

This dogmatic statement again represents sloppy scholarship. Earlier on this page, under the discussion of transoceanic contact, I present evidence concerning the Bat Creek inscription of ancient Hebraic writing found in the United States. There I quoted the non-LDS scholar, Dr. Cyrus Gordon, as saying that the "Bat Creek Inscription is important because it is the first scientifically authenticated pre-Columbian text in an Old World script or language found in America; and, at that, in a flawless archaeological context. It proves that some Old World people not only could, but actually did, cross the Atlantic to America before the Vikings and Columbus.... The discredited pre-Columbian inscriptions in Old World scripts or languages will have to be reexamined and reevaluated, each on the merits of the evidence, case by case." Many of the reports of Old World writings in "sensational books" and newspapers that may have been simply ignored may merit serious scholarly examination rather than dogmatic dismissal without examination.

Very few New World inscriptions have ever been seriously examined by scholars competent in Old World languages. Popular writers such as Barry Fell, author of Saga America and America B.C., have provided some interesting evidence (though some of it may be questionable) for Old World scripts in the New World. Given the paradigm shift made possible by the Bat Creek inscription, maybe it's time for the professional scholars to take a more open minded approach and at least examine the evidence before issuing decrees.

You may also be interested in the clear description and analysis of J. Huston McCulloch concerning the the Newark, Ohio Decalogue Stone and Keystone . Are these stones with ancient Hebrew writing frauds or further evidence of ancient Jewish contact with the New World? The author provides helpful analysis of the issues.

As for the alleged lack of Norse inscriptions anywhere in the Americas besides Greenland, the old Smithsonian Statement again misses the boat - perhaps many boats. One example, long assumed to be a fraud but now verified as authentic, is the Kensington Runestone, which points to the presence of Norse men who came far inland into North America (central Minnesota). This issue is discussed in the article "Verified at Last: The Strange and Terrible Story of the Kensington Runestone," by Jim Richardson and Allen Richardson, Ripsaw News, Vol. 3, No. 31, Aug. 15, 2001. Such artifacts have long been ignored because they conflict with "common knowledge" among the experts, but the evidence has become strong enough to rock many such faulty assumptions.


Item 9. "There are copies of the Book of Mormon in the library of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution."

This is good news. I encourage the Smithsonian staff to avail themselves of those copies and read the Book of Mormon carefully to become familiar with subject matter of the book. After doing so, there will be no need to refute the existence of things not mentioned. After also consulting with competent experts in ancient Mesoamerica, a more scholarly update of the Statement could be made. The Smithsonian undoubtedly needs some statement on the issue to ward off naive inquiries, but that statement should take a cautious and scholarly approach, avoiding sloppy methodology and certainly avoiding unjustifiably dogmatic stances. Science may not be able to prove that the Book of Mormon is true, but the case for the Book of Mormon cannot be so easily dismissed.


Summary

Much has changed since the Smithsonian first began sending out letters to inquirers about the Book of Mormon. Much that was laughable has become downright plausible. Many of the statements that the Smithsonian was making in the late 1990s can be easily demolished. I'm glad that they've abandoned the errant 1996 Statement and now send out a much simpler, less objectionable statement.

It's important to note that the 1996 statement was already decades behind the many significant discoveries that convincingly point to the possibility of ancient contact between the Old World and the New World by means other than a Bering Strait crossing. In fact, the "Bering Strait only" theory is so deeply entrenched in the minds of many academics that mountains of evidence remain uninteresting and unnoticed.

This phenomenon is discussed briefly by a distinguished scholar, Dr. Mary Ritchie Key, a Professor Emeritus of Linguistics from the University of California at Irvine, and the author of 17 books during her five decades of linguistic research in more than a dozen languages, in her article, "American Indian Languages before Columbus" in Across Before Columbus? (ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy, Laconia, New Hampshire: New England Antiquities Research Association , 1998, pp. 183-192). She writes:

The overwhelmingly dominant position regarding the connection of the American Indian with the Old World has been the assumption that they all came over the Bering Strait from Asia. It would appear that the exclusive stance of the one-route migration theory grew out of our justifiably revered, and otherwise noteworthy, Smithsonian Institution, where this inflexible position was held earlier in this century. [Dr. Cyrus H.] Gordon tells how he met the influential "dean of American archaeology," Ales Hrdlicka. In Gordon's own words:
His dogma was that Old World man entered pre-Columbian America by only one route: across the Bering Strait. Unless a young anthropologist subscribed to that view, it was virtually impossible for him to get a museum or university job in American anthropology or archaeology.
The authoritative stance discourages other perspectives. (p. 190)
Amen! There are other perspectives, including that offered by an authentic and ancient New World text, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ.

Related pages on this site:

Summary of my LDS pages

Evidences for the Book of Mormon

"Frequently Asked Questions About Latter-day Saint Beliefs".
My own unauthorized answers - so beware! Book of Mormon topics include:

Jeff's Introduction to the Church

LDS Resources

Other sites:

A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon" by John L. Sorenson

New Light: Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revisited - verifying the enlightened change in the Smithsonian statement.

The Official LDS Web Site

Some Archaeological Outliers - a site with photos and information on the Bat Creek Stone and other finds that challenge standard paradigms of archaeology. (Be sure to look at the potential evidence for pre-Columbian maize in India. Transoceanic contact, anyone?)

SHIELDS - a growing LDS site dealing with historical and intellectual issues, including good answers to some common anti-Mormon questions.

Pearls: The Best LDS Web Sites

Curse of the Cocaine Mummies - transcript of the 1997 Discovery Channel documentary showing strong evidence of ancient transoceanic trade between the Old and New Worlds.

"Europeans Colonised America in 28,000 BC" - an article from Feb. 2000 by Roger Highfield, Science Editor for Britain's Electronic Telegraph news service. DNA evidence may link ancient native Americans to Europe or Israel.

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Last Updated: April 10, 2010

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