LDS Guide to Mesoamerica review

About the Authors:

DANIEL JOHNSON has had a lifelong interest in ancient cultures, especially from the Americas. His first trip to Mesoamerica was in 1999. Since then he has led friends on excursions to Central America and has given firesides about traveling there. He served a mission in the Buenos Aires North and Mendoza Argentina missions. He works as a digital illustrator and teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College.
JARED COOPER has been fascinated with the history of Mesoamerica all his life. He served a mission in the New York Utica Mission. He is the president of Integrated Network Communications.
DEREK GASSER has had a lifelong love of traveling and photography. He has traveled to over 60 countries and spent time volunteering in hospitals in both Africa and Asia. He served a mission in the Philippines Cebu Mission. He works as a hospital administrator.

Review by Steven L. Carr, BMAF Vice President of Research and Publications:

An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica, by Daniel Johnson, Jared Cooper, Derek Gasser, Cedar Fort, Inc., 2373 W. 700 South, 801-489-4084, Springville, Utah ©2008, $29.95.

There have been a few books written by LDS authors for the LDS audience regarding the ruins in Latin America and how they may be associated with possible Book of Mormon locations.  Some of these notably are by Joseph Allen, whose books Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon (currently out of print) and Sacred Sites, are items to be read by participants on his company’s tours to Mesoamerica.  Other books by Paul Cheesman and John L. Sorenson go into great detail as to the hundreds of external evidences that go along with discoveries that show that events and locations mentioned in the Book of Mormon are not only plausible, but could easily have occurred.  These external evidences are noticeable even to careful readers of the Book of Mormon who are not of the LDS faith.
This new book, An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica, has been written for the traveling LDS membership, of which there are numerous people who these days are visiting so-called Book of Mormon lands in Latin America, either as individuals, small family groups, or as parts of organized LDS tour companies.  As is mentioned early in the book, the authors state that practically all knowledgeable authorities in Book of Mormon geographical research have come to the belief that once the Book of Mormon account reaches the Pacific Coast of the New World, all the events discussed in the scripture took place in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and the northernmost sections of Honduras and El Salvador).
Because it is a travel guide, early chapters discuss “Why Go to Mesoamerica?,” “Getting There: Guatemala City,” “The Archaeological Museum in Guatemala City.”  There follows a sort of travelogue, showing the route that the authors took from one site to another, along with their adventures and what an individual tourist might encounter along the way.  (Organized tour companies generally don’t follow such a route for safety and time considerations.)  It might also be noted that none of the three authors is an “expert” in Mesoamerica, Latin American archaeology, as such, or the Book of Mormon, but that they all have strong testimonies of the Church and the Book of Mormon.  One is fluent in Spanish, which is a great plus when visiting the hinterlands of Latin America on one’s own.  The three authors also happen to live in the same ward in Petaluma, California.
Each chapter presents the background of the set of ruins visited, a “How We Got There” section, and a section comparing the Book of Mormon aspects with what is archaeologically and culturally known or suspected about the sites.  Even though the authors do not consider themselves experts in the field of archaeology and anthropology or in Book of Mormon studies, they have studied very hard and have become aware of many aspects of Mesoamerican culture and archaeology.  They have read much of the literature of many of the most illustrious non-LDS Mesoamerican scholars.
The book is engagedly written, without a lot of esoteric language and directions.  The editing is excellent, I discovered very, very few typographical errors and possibly just one name misspelling.  There are numerous photographs of the several sites visited, along with pictures of wildlife and native people.  The book is printed on high-grade paper, contains numerous endnotes on each chapter, and has a page of “Suggested Books and Websites.”  If there were any downside of the volume, it would be a bit of egocentricity in the photographs.  Many of the photos show one or all three authors in front of the relic sites.  This is not, itself, unusual, as many guide books or works on Latin America that have preceded this work, such as those written by Joseph Allen, Milton R. Hunter, Barry Fell, and others, also depict their authors at numerous sites in various poses.  However, as an author of several books, myself, I find that to be a little bothersome but, undoubtedly, no big concern for most readers.
The Mayan ruins visited and discussed are:

      Kaminaljuyú, Bonampak, Yaxchilán, and Palenque, Mexico; Tikal, Yaxhá, and Quiriguá, Guatemala; and Copán, Honduras.


Reviewed by Stephen L. Carr

Review by BMAF member and author Diane Wirth:

The authors, Johnson, Cooper and Gasser, make it very clear that they are not scholars on Mesoamerican history or archaeology, but, I must say, they have done heir research well. Even though this book is for the layperson, they give many bits and pieces of useful information for the traveler to the sites of Mesoamerica. A photo of a gold plate/disc with hieroglyphs from Chichen Itza that they saw in storage at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, is an example of an important to artifact that has been overlooked by most scholars. This find is extremely important to Latter-day Saints, since the Book of Mormon was inscribed with writing on golden plates.

The three authors of An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica, walk us through the lands of the Book of Mormon. They discuss early Church assumptions as to where the people of the book of Mormon lived, and then discuss the plausible locale that is theorized by most LDS scholars today.

The authors also explain that the major sites that most tourists visit, flourished after the Book of Mormon period. However, they direct the LDS tourist to some of the pre-Columbian sites that did exist during the timeframe of the Book of Mormon, and explain that most were covered by later construction. LDS tourists often go to Mexico and Central America thinking they will see where and how the people of the descendants of Lehi's party lived. The newer construction and art motifs (they built one building on top of another for sacred reasons), carried over many of the previous era's themes, which would overlap concepts held to be true during Book of Mormon times.

This book also makes for a good adventure story: the perils of navigating through roads that aren't complete and even being dynamited without warning, to spewing lava shooting fifty feet in the air from a volcano that sent the authors running for cover. I highly recommend this book to those who want to travel to the Mesoamerican sites that relate to the Book of Mormon Read carefully the travel tips that are offered. They are excellent.