The Jaredites and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The Jaredites and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Copyright © 2009 by Joseph L. Allen
If we can identify in the Americas where the Jaredites lived, we can begin to identify where the Nephites and Lamanites lived. Until the middle of the twentieth century, all scholars agreed that the mother culture of Mesoamerica was the Maya. In 1941, archaeologists discovered a massive civilization that predated the Maya by hundreds of years and that is now confirmed to be the mother culture of not only Mesoamerica but also all of the Americas. That civilization is known by the modern name of “Olmecs.” Archaeological dating of the Olmec civilization corresponds very closely with the Jaredite civilization. From the perspective of the Book of Mormon, a logical question is the following: How closely do the Olmecs correlate with the Jaredites? This article answers that question from the perspective of the Olmec civilization.
The Lord told the brother of Jared, “I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth. And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth” (Ether 1:42–43).
Where is that great nation? Where is the land that is choice above all other lands? What is the name of America’s first civilization? When did it exist? Who are the descendants of that once great nation? Can we identify any archaeological, historical, or geographical evidences of such a nation? Associated with that great nation, where is the narrow neck of land and a gulf where a great city was built over three thousand years ago (Ether 10:20)? Where is the land southward that was preserved by that great nation as a wilderness to get game (Ether 10:21)? Where is the “mother civilization of the Americas” that was destroyed upon “the face of this north country” (Ether 1:1)? And, finally, what is the importance of discovering the ancient Jaredites and the area that was considered by them to be their promised land?
I will begin answering those questions by asking another question: Have you ever heard of the Olmecs?
Would you be surprised to know that most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not know who the Olmecs are—especially members who live in the United States. This lack of knowledge is understandable because we are not taught Mexican history in our schools and because we are not taught Book of Mormon geography in the Church.
Over the course of the months of June through October of 2009, my son Blake and I, coauthors of the recently published second edition of Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, and Dr. Ted Stoddard, editor of Exploring the Lands, have been privileged to participate in scores of author-editor book-signing sessions in Costco Wholesale stores along the Wasatch Front. Associated with those signing sessions, we have talked with hundreds of Church members. We have found that although some members of the Church in the United States still want the history of the Book of Mormon to take place in New York and Ohio, most people we talk to either have no opinion about the New World setting for the Book of Mormon or tend to feel that the majority of the New World events mentioned in the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. And we estimate that upwards of 90 percent of the people who visit with us in Costco Wholesale stores have never heard of the Olmecs.
Aside from the testimony of the Spirit that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be (see Moroni 10:4–5), perhaps no other evidence supports its claim of validity as much as the twentieth-century archaeological and historical discovery of the Olmec culture in Mexico. Amazingly, scholarly proponents of the Book of Mormon’s claim to authenticity have done relatively little to capitalize on the impact of the Olmec culture for this purpose.1 On the other hand, Latter-day Saints in general are fascinated to learn about the strong correlations that exist between the Book of Mormon Jaredites and the ancient Olmec culture that lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Some of the most striking parallels include the following:
• Both cultures enjoyed a high civilization during the same time period.
• Both collapsed in a violent internal struggle at the same time.
• Both were said to have come from the great tower at the time the languages were confounded.
• Both were described as physically large people.
• Both developed a writing system on large stones with literary similarities.
• The regions occupied by both have matching geographical features, including an isthmus and a gulf.
• Both are described as the greatest nation upon the earth during the archaic time period of their existence.
• Both evidence a form of government that was dominated by dynasties of kings.2
From the outset, you must realize that I endorse the normal definition of a civilization as reflecting six characteristics:
1. Elaborate political and religious power
2. Clear social ranking
3. Planned public architecture
4. Highly specialized craft persons
5. Controlled interregional trade networks
6. Complex intellectual achievements, including a codified writing system3
In the middle of the Jaredite era, during the reigns of kings from King Shez to King Shiblom, the Jaredites built a massive civilization near an isthmus and a gulf. As outlined in Ether 10:20–28, the Jaredites meet all the requirements of a high civilization. Moroni tells us that the Jaredites “built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants” (Ether 10:20–21). Further:
• “They were exceedingly industrious” (Ether 10:22).
• “They did buy and sell and traffic one with another” (Ether 10:22).
• “They did work in all manner of ore, and they did make gold, silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals” (Ether 10:23).
• “They did work all manner of cloth” (Ether 10:24).
• “They did make all manner of tools to till the earth” (Ether 10:25).
• “They did make all manner of weapons of war” (Ether 10:27).
• “They did work all manner of work of exceedingly curious workmanship” (Ether 10:27).
• They “did build up many cities upon the face of the land” (Ether 10:4).
• They “did build many spacious buildings” (Ether 10:5).
• Many prophets declared repentance. (Ether 11:1)
The Olmec Story
If you have never heard of the Olmecs, I think you will be intrigued with their story. Hereafter, I give a brief analysis of the first civilization of the Americas as determined by archaeology, traditional history, and geography. For you to understand the abundance of information that is available on the mother civilization of the Americas, I have purposefully refrained from using any Book of Mormon references.
At the entrance of the Olmec Museum at Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, the following words are written:
Mexicano détente (Fellow Mexican: Give heed to my words):
This is the beginning of your history,
Your cradle and your altar.
The Olmecs converted the rain into harvests,
Listen to the silent voices of Mexico’s oldest culture,
Perhaps the mother civilization of our continent.
The Olmecs converted rain into harvests,
The sun into the calendar,
The rocks into scripture,
The cotton into clothing.
Travels into commerce,
Mounds into thrones,
Jaguars into religion,
And men into gods.
(Augustin Acosta Lagunes, November 1986)
America’s Oldest Civilization
In his 2004 publication, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, Dr. Richard A. Diehl, professor emeritus at the University of Alabama, states:
Today the Olmecs are best known for their accomplishments in the sculptural arts, particularly their spectacular large stone monuments and exquisite small objects carved from jadeite and other semi-precious stones. In addition to being master artisans, Olmecs were the first Native Americans to erect large architectural complexes, live in nucleated towns and cities, and develop a sophisticated art style executed in stone and other imperishable media. These traits reflect the complex social, political, economic and religious institutions that led archaeologist Michael D. Coe to proclaim the Olmecs America’s First Civilization and Mesoamerica’s Mother Culture, the template for all later civilizations in Mexico and Central America. While not every archaeologist agrees with Coe, . . . the mounting evidence in favor of it has convinced almost everyone but the most die-hard opponents.4
In discussing the requirements for a high civilization, Diehl continues, “San Lorenzo, the earliest Olmec city, exhibited these characteristics centuries before they appeared anywhere else in the Americas.”5
Dr. Christopher Pool of the University of Kentucky writes the following in a 2007 publication:
The foundations for the Maya and other civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica were laid down over 2,400 years ago during the early and middle phases of the Formative period. The most elaborate of these formative Mesoamerican societies are represented by the archaeological culture called Olmec, which merged some 3,500 years ago in the tropical lowlands of southern Veracruz and Tabasco, Mexico. Flourishing over the next 2,000 years, the Olmecs created the most complex social and political hierarchies of their time on the North American continent. Olmec rulers expressed their material and religious power in the first monumental stone art of Mesoamerica, remarkable for its sophistication and naturalism, as well as through massive buried offerings of wealth obtained from great distances.6
Since 1995, Pool has directed surveys and excavations at Tres Zapotes, located at the base of the Hill Vigia in Veracruz, Mexico. He further states: “Covering a span of 2,000 years, Tres Zapotes contains the longest continuous record of occupation for a major center in the southern Gulf lowlands, encompassing the Olmec, Epi-Olmec and Classic periods. This time span saw the emergence of the political institution of kingship, as well as the development of one of the earliest and most sophisticated writing systems in the New World.”7
Discovery of the Oldest Writing
In the year 2006, a major Olmec language discovery was brought to light as a research team announced that in 1999, a script-covered block of stone was discovered at Lomas de Tacamilchalpa in the lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico. The characters on the stone represent the oldest writing yet found in the Americas. The quarry where the script was found is adjacent to the ancient archaeological Olmec site of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Veracruz. The engraved stone is about the size of a legal sheet of paper and contains sixty-two images.
The images found on the stone slab, known as the Cascajal block, show an early form of Olmec writing that dates nearly three thousand years ago and is the first solid evidence of a true written language in the Americas. The Cascajal script is the first new writing system discovered in decades, and it is distinctively different from the writing of later Mesoamerican cultures. With rock rare in the area, researchers speculate that the Olmec normally wrote on wood or paper, which would have decayed long ago. Because the inscribed side of the Cascajal slab appears to have been ground down, the Olmec may have reused the slab by grinding earlier inscriptions away and then writing over the area.8
One writer, who echoed the view that the Cascajal stone shows the oldest New World writing that has yet been discovered, outlined the details of the stone:
The slab, which weighs about 12 kilograms and measures 36 cm long, 21 cm wide and 12 cm deep, is blank on all sides except one, which has been ground smooth and inscribed with 62 symbols of a hieroglyphic script. The symbols are arranged in rows and some are repeated, similar to other written languages. Three of the 28 distinct symbols appear four times, six appear three times, and 12 appear twice. Some symbols resemble objects including an insect, an ear of corn and a throne.
The repeated paring of signs—such as a throne with a mat-like symbol—suggests poetic couplets, a form used by later cultures in the region. The meaning of the script remains a mystery, since this is a single inscription, and not part of a language with which we are familiar.9
One of the archaeologists behind the discovery is Brown University’s Stephen D. Houston, formerly of Brigham Young University—but a non-Mormon. According to reports from Houston and his associates, “It is an unprecedented discovery and the block and its ancient script link the Olmec civilization to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system, and reveal a new complexity to this civilization.” Houston himself says, “It’s a tantalizing discovery. It could be the beginning of a new era of focus on Olmec civilization.”10
“This reveals that the Olmecs, in many ways the first civilization in a vast part of the ancient Americas, were literate, which we did not know for sure before, and hints that they were capable of the same large-scale organization assisted by writing like you saw in early Mesopotamia or Egypt.”11
As in all archaeological discoveries, the immediate task is to determine if the item discovered is fake or legitimate. Some of the scholars who have expressed a positive validation of the Cascajal stone are Ma. del Carmen Rodríguez Martínez, Centro del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Veracruz;. Ponciano Ortíz Ceballos, Instituto de Antropología de La Universidad Veracruzana; Michael D. Coe; Professor Emeritus, Yale University; Richard A. Diehl, Department of Anthropology, University of Alabama; Stephen D. Houston, Department of Anthropology, Brown University; Karl A. Taube, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside; and Alfredo Delgado Calderón, Centro del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Veracruz.
The combined statement of the above scholars is as follows: “A block with a hitherto unknown system of writing has been found in the Olmec heartland of Veracruz, Mexico. Stylistic and other dating of the block places it in the early first millennium before the common era, the oldest writing in the New World, with features that firmly assign this pivotal development to the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica.”12
But the 1999 discovery and the 2006 reporting of the Cascajal stone slab is not the first significant discovery in linking the Olmecs of the Gulf Coast of Mexico with antiquity and prominence. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, rocked the world. Five months earlier, during the month of July 1941, an “intellectual bomb” was dropped at a roundtable conference held in Mexico City, and this bomb literally rocked the world of archaeology. The conference was sponsored by the Mexican Society of Anthropology. Two Mexican archaeologists, Alfonso Caso and Miguel Covarrubias, along with an American archaeologist, Matthew Stirling, calmly proclaimed that a culture that has become known as the Olmecs was the mother culture of Mexico. At this point, a majority of the Mesoamerican scholars opposed the concept of a culture predating the Maya.
A renowned Maya scholar, Eric Thompson, published a paper in that same month, July 1941, discrediting the ancient dating of the La Venta-Olmec people. Another scholar, Michael Coe, later wrote of this event as follows:
This was an enormously erudite paper that set out to prove several things at once. First, that all of the non-Maya inscriptions from the Olmec area, with their seemingly early dates, were in fact late. And second, that the archaeological Olmec were no earlier than AD 1200, contemporary with the Toltec of Mexico and Yucatan. Thompson’s attack on the Olmec enthusiasts sounds like a minority view, but in actuality it was shared by most American archaeologists working in Mesoamerica at the time. It was Stirling who was very much in the minority party. The famous Mayanist Sylvanus G. Morley was also of Thompson’s opinion. Indeed, the whole Maya field was up in arms—what civilization could possibly be more ancient than that of their beloved Maya?13
Regarding this landmark discovery, which was also discussed in a 1942 conference at Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mary Stirling, the wife of Matthew Stirling says: “A hoped-for but quite unexpected find was that of Stela C. Matt rushed back to camp with the exciting news. Carved on the Stela in bars and dots were the numerals 15-6-16-18 with a terminal glyph 6 in front of a day sign.”14
Initially, the date was thought to be August 24, AD 478. After more detailed analysis and the subsequent discovery of a broken fragment of the glyph, the date turned out to be 31 BC, much earlier than any Maya glyph to that date. According to Mary Stirling, “When Matt published the stela date as 7-16-6-16-18, 31 BC, the result was as expected. He was widely criticized, especially by the Mayanists, who claimed that the date was too early and not contemporary; but, when carbon-14 provided dates for Olmec sites, 31 BC was too late.”15 Today, the dates indeed have proven to be much earlier than the 31 BC date. The accepted time periods of the Olmec culture in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico date from 1500 BC to 300 BC.
Today, one-half of the original stone can be seen at the park in Tres Zapotes, Veracruz, and the other half can be seen in the Olmec Room of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Olmec Boundaries: Large Waters and Many Waters
Extending from the Papaloapan water basin on the Veracruz side of the Gulf of Mexico to a land among many waters on the Campeche side, the Olmec heartland forms a half moon or crescent shape in the land that Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl designated as the northern parts of the land. “They populated the major part of the land, and more particularly that which falls along the northern part.”16
The village of Tres Zapotes and the ancient Olmec site by the same name are located near the Papaloapan water basin in Veracruz on the west side of the Hill Vigia. The old name of Tres Zapotes is “Hueyapan,” a Nahuatl word, which interpreted means “exceeding large waters.” The Papaloapan (butterfly) water basin starts in the mountains of Puebla and Oaxaca and parallels the ocean for about ten to fifteen miles on either side of the fishing city of Alvarado where an inlet allows the fresh water to empty into the saltwater ocean. On a clear day, from the bridge, visitors can see the Hill Vigia in a southward direction. Prior to the building of the bridge in the 1950s, a barge was needed to transfer people from the Alvarado side to the Lerdo side.
Sugar cane and pineapple are two major crops in the Papaloapan water basin region. The whole region looks like Hawaii. Anyone traveling through the area soon learns that the small hill-like mounds they see along the roadside are actually the remains of the Olmec civilization that died out as a nation between 300 BC and 250 BC. However, Tres Zapotes seemed to have an extended lifeline beyond that time.
The eastern boundary of the Olmecs terminates at a “land among many waters,” extending to the Tabasco-Campeche state line. These “many waters” are located in the area along the Gulf of Campeche where both the Grijalva and Usumacinta Rivers empty into the ocean. Prior to the building of the railroad, foot travel was extremely tedious. Rainfall from May to October results in hundreds of lagoons and mosquito-infested waters. Any travel along the top of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec normally forces travelers to move in a southeast direction toward the ancient Maya city of Palenque, where they then can continue eastward to the Usumacinta River and to the Peten jungle of Guatemala. For example, the AD 378 military “entrada” from Teotihuacan to Tikal followed the route, crossing the river and traveling to the place today called El Peru and then continuing on into Tikal where the Maya king, Great Jaguar Paw, was killed. A young son of the Teotihuacan dictator, Spearthrower Owl, was placed on the Tikal throne. The son’s name was Yax Nuun Ayin, which means First Crocodile. He ruled until AD 421.17
The lagoon systems from Villahermosa to Campeche are indeed a land among many waters, as both the Usumacinta and Grijalva Rivers empty into the Gulf of Campeche at the same place. The rivers are surrounded by below-sea-level lagoons, making travel through the area extremely difficult. The distance from the “land among many waters” on the Campeche side to the “exceeding large waters” on the Veracruz side is about two hundred miles. The area from the lagoons of Villahermosa to the massive Coatzacoalcos River is the territory where 90 percent of Mexico’s oil is produced and is often referred to as Mexico’s “golden lane” because, in addition to oil, the area exhibits an abundance of agricultural production. According to Bernardino Sahagun, during Aztecs times, the Olmec region was labeled the “place of wealth,” which included precious feathers, green stones, fine turquoise, gold and silver.18
The Tuxtla Mountains
Aside from hosting the annual witches’ convention on the first Friday of every March and the filming location of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, the Tuxtla mountain region of Veracruz is rich in history, archaeology, and agriculture. The word Tuxtla is derived from the Nahuatl word toch li, meaning rabbit. The region features the massive San Martin Volcano with its 250 satellite cinder cones and the beautiful and serene Lake Catemaco. Several natural springs and river tributaries are made possible by the abundance of rainfall in the region. The beautiful and romantic waterfalls of Eypantla and monkey island are common tourist attractions. Tobacco is grown in abundance, as is rice, sugar cane, and corn.
Two prominent hills in the Tuxtlas are the Hill Vigia and Hill Cintepec. The latter means “corn hill” in the Nahuatl language, and the former is Spanish for “vigilante hill” or “lookout hill.” Some of the basalt used for the carving of the large Olmec stone monuments came from Cintepec. The ancient lava flows have produced a number of caves in the region. From on top of the Hill Vigia, visitors can see the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the plains that lead to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the south. The distance between the Hill Vigia and Cintepec is about thirty-five miles, with Lake Catemaco located between the two. Major towns in the area include Lerdo, Santiago Tuxtla, San Andres, and Catemaco.
The archaeological sites of Tres Zapotes and Totocapan are located on opposite sides of the Hill Vigia. Totocapan is an unexcavated site that is located near the large spring that feeds water to the town of Santiago Tuxtla. An archaeological survey of the area between the Hill Vigia and Lake Catemaco conducted by Wesley D. Stoner of the University of Kentucky in 2008 revealed that of the 176 sites surveyed, 25 belonged to the Middle Formative Olmec Period dating from 900 BC to 300 BC. The survey also showed that occupation along the Tepango and Xoteapan Rivers continued through the Postclassic era up to and including the time of the Spanish occupation of the area.19
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The identifying geographical characteristic of the Olmec civilization is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The isthmus is the dividing line between North America and Central America (North America doesn’t end at the Rio Grande). The word “isthmus” is Greek, meaning a narrow neck of land. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary states that an isthmus is “a narrow strip of land having water at each side and connecting two larger bodies of land.” Synonyms include “a land passage,” “a land bridge,” or “a neck of land.”20
The word “Tehuantepec” is Nahuatl (Aztec) for “wilderness of wild beasts” or “mountains of the jaguars.” The word “tepec” means hill, mountain, forest, or wilderness—such as Chapultepec, “forest of the butterfly”; Coyotepec, “coyote hill”; and Cintepec, “corn hill.” Today, everything in the area is called Tehuantepec, including the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Gulf of Tehuantepec, the wilderness of Tehuantepec, the pass of Tehuantepec, and the city of Tehuantepec.
Olmec trade routes are easily identifiable. Placed on a map, the Olmec heartland looks like a cocktail glass or a funnel with the neck extending south through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Through this narrow pass or passage way, the Olmecs traveled to get into Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Recent discoveries have shown that the source of the blue-green jade is Guatemala’s Motagua River drainage area.21
Today, a paved road and the railroad tracks follow the ancient trail called the course of the beasts or trail of the jaguars. The distance north to south through the isthmus from Coatzacoalcos to Salina Cruz is about 160 miles. The pass splits the mountains of Tehuantepec on the east from the Oaxaca Mountains on the west. This pass was considered to be an excellent location for a canal passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific prior to the construction of the Panama Canal. The area consists of tropical lowland vegetation with accompanying rolling hills and swamplands. Anciently, anyone traveling through the narrow neck, or the isthmus, required two to three weeks travel time to do so.22 In a day’s travel time or a day and a half’s travel time, the Olmec could cover about 12 miles of the 160 miles through the isthmus. The trans-isthmian railroad between Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz was opened in 1907. The trip through that narrow neck of land was not an easy one. Even to this day, the train is called the “beast” as it meanders through the trail of the wild beasts.
In 1941, Matthew Stirling, whose work among the Olmecs is paramount, traveled with his wife to Izapa to analyze the Izapa culture. They traveled by train from Veracruz. He writes: “Permission from the Mexican authorities to clear and photograph the monuments [at Izapa] was readily granted. . . . Mrs. Stirling and I took the train at Piedras Negras [Veracruz] for the long trip, requiring two days and a night, to the extreme southwestern corner of Mexico.”23
Olmec trade routes were extensive in the Olmec empire from 1200 to 600 BC, as its tentacles extended both southward and northward and from east to west. As mentioned earlier, jade was exported from Guatemala, and on January 26, 2007, the National Geographic News reported the discovery of a city in central Mexico that manifested Olmec influence. “Located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Mexico City, the ruins, called Zazacatla, are hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico coast region generally associated with the Olmec. The discovery of Zazacatla sheds light on early cultural developments and long-distance trade in ancient Mexico. The find also suggests that the influence of the Olmec was perhaps greater than previously thought.”24
The wilderness of Tehuantepec abounds in timber and wild animals. This is a massive tropical forest called the region of Chimalapa in eastern Oaxaca and Uxpanapa in the southeastern part of the state of Veracruz. The bulk of the wilderness of Tehuantepec is located in Oaxaca with spillovers in Veracruz and Chiapas. On the Chiapas portion is a large bird refuge dedicated to the vultures of the air. The Chimalapa and Uxpanapa region covers 4,784 square miles, about the size of the Uintah National Forest in Utah, and ranges in elevation from 262 to 7,480 feet above sea level. The mighty Coatzacoalcos River moves north from the continental divide, emptying at the base of the Gulf of Mexico, and almost serves as a continued division of the gulf itself. Both of the ancient Olmec sites of La Venta and San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan are located on the northern side of the isthmus.
The average rainfall in this virtual rainforest ranges from 1,092 to 1,716 inches per year (Utah gets an average of 15 inches per year, plus snow). The highest rainfall occurs from June to October. The winds blow the rains from the north, or from the Gulf of Mexico, and are referred to as “los nortes.” The temperature, depending on the elevation, ranges from 70 to 77 degrees F in the higher elevations to 107 F with high humidity in the lowlands.
This virgin territory, not only anciently but also to this day, invites the sportsman to visit its happy hunting grounds. Many of the same species of animals that provided food for the Olmecs still exist today. The hunter could stalk the jaguar and puma or one of the other multiple species of the cat family. They could hunt the great tapir, which weighs upward of three hundred pounds, bring down a good-sized deer or a fierce wild bull, or spear the peccary or javelin, a rough-looking animal that looks like a pig. Anciently, both the spear and the arrow were used to capture the prey. At Palenque, native Lacandone Indians demonstrate the different arrows that are used for each animal or bird. Spider monkeys abound in the forests throughout the region. The quetzal bird is still seen occasionally. A large variety of birds hunker in the trees, quail and plover are found on the prairies, and pheasants and turkeys meander around in the forest.
We would make a mistake to assume that the 1500 to 300 BC Olmecs, who lived along the northern part of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—or narrow neck of land, represent either the origin or the end of this first great Mesoamerican civilization. Most scholars present an entry date for the beginning of the Olmecs to about 2600 BC. And even after the fall of the Olmec empire around 300 to 250 BC, other civilizations that had been spawned or mothered by the Olmecs occupied the Mesoamerican landscape.
Most scholars maintain the tradition that the Olmecs were indigenous to the area as opposed to their origin as a result of outside migrations. Diehl writes: “The Olmecs were Native Americans who created a unique culture in southeastern Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Archaeologists now trace Olmec origins back to pre–Olmec cultures in the region and there is no credible evidence for major intrusions from the outside.”25 Some scholars suggest that the Olmec originated from the Yucatan region; others view their origin coming from the neighboring state of Oaxaca.
The archaeological site of San Jose Mogote, located north of the city of Oaxaca, is an Early Preclassic settlement. Dr. Ignacio Bernal has proposed a relationship with the adobe bricks used in the construction and on display at the small museum at San Jose Mogote as having the same characteristics as “far-off Mesopotamia.” In other words, the adobes seem to have the same architectural style as those discovered at the area of the Tower of Babel from whence, according to Ixtlilxochitl, the first settlers came.
It is not until about 2,500 years before Christ when man began his life as a tiller of the soil and started to build small villages. . . .
Later, adobe was used for the walls and stucco covered the floors. In this period the first public constructions began to appear, such as temples and “government buildings.” . . .
Many sites from this long period have been found, but they are of little interest to the visitor. It is not until the end of this period that a site appeared worthy of a prolonged visit: San Jose Mogote. . . .The San Jose Mogote construction is partly contemporary with Monte Alban I; that is, it can be dated towards the middle of the first millennium before Christ. . . . Likewise, it is worth visiting the small museum of San Jose Mogote where there is a reconstructed wall containing the oldest adobes in Mesoamerica. With their rounded rather than rectangular shape, they resemble those of far-off Mesopotamia.26
Until recently, no consideration was given that the origin was other than internal. In other words, since the 1930s, any attempt to suggest that migrations took place from the Old World was not acceptable. Diane Wirth records the dilemma as follows:
Most laymen are unaware of the ongoing controversy between the archaeological establishment (isolationists) and the diffusionists which takes the form of verbal and written attacks on each other’s research. In medieval times scientists were burned at the stake or imprisoned for their outlandish theories that were unacceptable to their peers. Today such things are often replaced with ostracism, and until traditional pre-Columbianists (isolationists) accept the challenge of new findings with their relevancy to this field of study, the heated debate will no doubt continue.27
Professor David Kelley, professor emeritus of the University of Calgary, has pointed out the similarity between the 260-day calendar that is so fundamental to Mesoamerica and that is also similar to eastern and southeastern Asian civilizations. He also observed in both cultures the similarity between the cardinal points of the universe in association with colors, plants, animals, and gods—cultures that are separated by thousands of miles of ocean. Kelley feels that the resemblance is far too close to be merely coincidental.28
Joseph Needham agrees that the same complex formulas to predict lunar and solar eclipses were used by both Mesoamerica and Chinese astronomers. He wrote about the possibility that Asian intellectuals had contact with their Mesoamerican counterparts during Preclassic times.29
Coe also recognizes Eastern influence. He states that we certainly have no evidence to believe that the entire Maya nation was just transplanted from the Old World. He suggests that the Maya may have been receptive to some important ideas originating from the eastern hemisphere during the Preclassic Period, 600 BC–AD 250.30
Regarding the first settlers to Mexico who lived along the Gulf coast, the famed sixteenth-century Mexican writer, Don Fernando de Alva de Ixtlilxochitl, wrote in AD 1600:
Everything in the earth was covered by water including the highest mountain called Caxtolmolictli, which is 15 cubits high.
To this they recorded other events, such as how, after the flood, a few people who had escaped the destruction inside a Toptlipetlacalli, which interpreted means an enclosed ark, began again to multiply upon the earth.
After the earth began again to be populated, they built a Zacualli very high and strong, which means the very high tower, to protect themselves against a second destruction of the world.
As time elapsed, their language became confounded, such that they did not understand one another; and they were scattered to all parts of the world.
The Tultecas, consisting of seven men and their wives, were able to understand one another, and they came to this land, having first crossed many lands and waters, living in caves and passing through great tribulations. Upon their arrival here, they discovered that it was a very good and fertile land.31
And indeed, a fertile or choice land it is. Everything grows. Pineapple, mango, banana, cacao, coffee, tobacco, sugar cane, rice, and papaya all grow in the fertile, promised-land environment. A fence post planted in the ground grows again into a tree. Rainfall is abundant. It is the Hawaii of Mexico. A common saying in Mexico is “Solo Veracruz es bello—only Veracruz is beautiful.”
The Olmecs reached their zenith between 1200 and 600 BC—the time period when several of the large Olmec stone heads were carved. The seventh-century Maya king Kan Balaam, the son of Pacal of Palenque, traced his genealogy through his mother’s lineage to a great Olmec king named U Kish Kan, “he of the feathered serpent.” Dr. Bruce Warren has speculated that a small headless monument from San Lorenzo may be a representation of U Kish Kan because the hands rest comfortably on top of a feathered serpent on the small monument. According to the dating on the Temple of the Cross at Palenque, King Kish was born on March 8, 993 BC, and was anointed king March 25, 967 BC, a date that falls in the high point of Olmec history.32
Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, authors of The Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, surpass any previous work on the chronology of Maya kingship. Although their emphasis is on the Classic Maya Period,they recognize the relationship of Maya kings with their Olmec predecessors. They write, “The emerging Classic tradition certainly drew from existing practice, incorporating ideals of rulership—even specific forms of regalia—that can be traced back to Olmec times.”33
Like Warren, Martin and Grube draw from the inscriptions of the Temple of the Cross at Palenque to extract the dates of U Kish Kan, which they translate as, “bloodletter of the snake.” They write: “His birth is recorded in 993 BC and his accession in 967. Placed in the epoch of the Maya’s early mentors, the Olmecs, this legendary figure serves as a narrative bridge between the realms of history and myth.” Martin and Grube also outline what they call “the mythic origins of the Palenque dynasty,” suggesting that the Olmec or pre–Olmec kingship predates the Maya calendar base date of 3114 BC. The date of one king (ahaj, ahau, ajaw, ahah variously spelled means lord or king), labeled “G1 the elder,” dates to 3309 BC. Another Olmec (or pre–Olmec) lord (king) was crowned in 2305 BC and is referred to as Muwann Mat (K’uhul matawill ajaw).34
But the Olmec monuments give personality to the Olmec kings. Seventeen large stone heads have been identified, all with personalized characteristics. In addition, several other monuments depict kings wearing elaborately adorned headdresses with other writings not yet deciphered in the peripheral. One such engraved monument is labeled La Venta Stela 2. This ruler is shown holding a scepter across his chest. He has a beard, and his features appear to be oriental in nature. His headdress is enormous. The smaller figures surrounding him may suggest his ancestral lineage.
The Demise of the Olmecs
The Olmecs at La Venta met their demise around 300 BC. Michael Coe, professor emeritus from Yale University, writes, “La Venta was deliberately destroyed in ancient times. Its fall was certainly violent, as 24 out of 40 sculptured monuments were intentionally mutilated. This probably occurred in the beginning of Late Formative times, between 400 BC–300 BC.”35
The Olmec society began to decline around 400 BC, and by 300 BC, the Olmecs fell as a nation. This event does not mean that every last Olmec died—because descendants are still identifiable today. It means that the nation itself fell. We would make a serious mistake to assume that every last Olmec man, woman, and child died around 300 BC. Ixtlilxochitl places the final war at 236 BC. Indeed, evidence exists that remnants of the first civilization continued on through the fourth century AD. Even today, remnants of the Olmecs or Olmec look-a-likes live in the areas around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas.36
About twenty-five years ago and shortly after my son Brent had just finished his mission in Monterrey, Mexico, we took a group into Olmec territory. After landing at the Veracruz airport, we were busing to our hotel. I called the group’s attention to a replica of a large Olmec stone head at the entrance to the city. Brent took the microphone and said, “I had a missionary companion who looked just like that.” The next morning, Brent invited his former missionary companion from Veracruz to eat breakfast with us. Needless to say, the object lesson of an Olmec look-a-like suggested to the tour members that not all Olmecs had been destroyed.
Over the course of a few years, my sons Blake and Todd and I watched a couple of deacons grow up at Tuxtla Gutierrez. One of them was a Maya descendant, and the other had distinctive Olmec features. On one occasion as they were passing the sacrament side by side, we noted that the Maya deacon was smaller and looked like he had just come off one of the murals at Palenque. The larger deacon looked like the stone head at La Venta. As well as being the largest, he was also the youngest.
La Venta Stela 3 is a classic example of two civilizations. One figure depicts a large person, and the other manifests a person with Maya-type features. The monument has presented a challenge to scholars throughout the years, and it naturally evokes the question, “Are the Maya just a continuation of the Olmecs, or are they two separate and distinct nations?” If they are separate, why do researchers find so much Olmec influence among the Maya? Furthermore, were other people present in Mesoamerica who were not considered either Olmec or Maya? The potential answers to the initial question are “Yes,” “Maybe,” “Probably,” or “I don’t know.”
The Olmec and the Maya
The monuments from La Venta, which can be seen at the outdoor La Venta Museum in Villahermosa, Tabasco, show the presence of other people and cultures in addition to the Olmecs. The great Maya nation developed a massive civilization on the southward side of the isthmus—or small neck of land—complete with the presence of a written language from 600 BC to the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century.
Although archaeologists have found some intrusion of Maya culture in the area northward of the narrow neck of land as evidenced by the discovery of the Mojarra stone in Veracruz, for the most part, the Maya marked their boundary line by the present-day Chiapas-Oaxaca line. Conversely, the archaeological evidence shows that remnants of Olmec culture traveled south through the isthmus prior to 1000 BC and settled in such places as Izapa, La Blanca, Abaj Takalik, and La Democracia along the Pacific coast and Chiapa de Corzo in the central depression of Chiapas.
John Clark and Mary Pye reported the reorganization of the Mokaya culture around 1000 BC. The Mokaya culture began as early as 1900 BC and is located on the Pacific side by the Chiapas and Guatemala border and is in the same area as the ancient ruins of Izapa. Clark is director of Brigham Young University’s New World Archaeological Foundation centered in Chiapas, Mexico. Around 1000 BC, according to Clark, a new regional center was established along the Soconusco region called Canton, Coralitos. Clark attributes the relocation of the new regional capital to an aggressive takeover of the entire region by the San Lorenzo Olmecs. At the same time, the Mokaya people abandoned their traditional religious symbols for imported Olmec models.37
Worth mentioning is the fact that the intrusion of Olmec movement into the land southward of the isthmus corresponds to the same time Kish and his father were Olmec kings in San Lorenzo, Veracruz. Also worth mentioning is the fact that chocolate tastes good. The Mokaya people, who developed Olmec traits in the first millennium BC, were among the original producers of chocolate.
Although a type of symbiotic relationship seems to exist between the Olmec and the Maya, their features are very distinctive and their language is different. The Maya are identifiable by their distinctive head and nose features as opposed to the rounded facial features of the Olmecs. However, the Maya of the Yucatan have partnership facial features with both the Olmecs and the Maya. By nature, the Maya are smaller in size than the Olmecs. The Olmec are more barrel chested. In fact, if a Maya were to try on, say, a breast plate of an Olmec, it would drown the Maya.
As stated previously, we would make a mistake to assume that all the Olmec people died at the time of their demise as a nation. The concept of survival has caused the Olmecs to become the mother civilization of the Americas. The Olmecs spawned other cultures and influenced still others, including the Teotihuacanos, the Maya, and the Zapotecs. For that reason, the Olmecs are called the mother civilization of Mesoamerica.
Summary: The Jaredite Record Adds to the Olmec History
You will notice that although I am obviously influenced by the Jaredite record, I have outlined the Olmec history to this point without using the information contained in the Book of Mormon. I have used archaeological, geographical, and historical data to outline the Olmec story. Nevertheless, the casual reader of the ancient Jaredite record will pick up on the similarities of the two accounts—that is, the Jaredite account and the Olmec account.
Both accounts speak of the first settlers coming from the great tower. Both accounts indicate that certain members and their friends were led to a promised land and their language was not confounded. Both the Olmec historical account and the Book of Mormon speak of establishing their heartland in the north country—or the northern parts of the land. Both accounts speak of a narrow neck of land, a gulf, and a designated hunting ground to the south. Both accounts describe a high civilization between 1200 and 600 BC complete with kings, trade routes, warfare, and religion. Both manifest evidence of a written language. The terms “corn hill” and “exceeding large waters” and a king named Kish are held in common. Both accounts speak of an internal destruction or the downfall of their nation between 300 BC and 250 BC.
I believe the two accounts are too similar to be tossed aside as mere coincidence. I propose that the Olmecs are the people described by Moroni as that “great nation” with “none greater” during the Jaredite historical time period (see Ether 1:43). I further propose that the golden lane of Mexico was the land choice above all other lands for the Jaredites until they became ripe in iniquity and lost the land of their inheritance and that Coriantumr did indeed live to see, as was prophesied by Ether (see Ether 13:21), another people receiving the land for their inheritance. The Nephites under the kingship of Mosiah represent that “other people.” Perhaps this is the clincher. It is one thing to develop a single-culture relationship between the Jaredites and the Olmecs. It is quite different and virtually a mathematical impossibility to coincidentally dovetail two parallel societies—that is, the Olmec and Maya on the one hand with the Jaredites and Nephites on the other.
Other Latter-day Saint writers who have echoed a positive relationship between the Olmecs and the Jaredites include David Palmer, John Sorenson, Bruce Warren, Richard Hauck, Garth Norman, and John Lund.38
I now speak to critics of the Book of Mormon. From the outset of its publication in 1830, anti–Book of Mormon critics evidently lacked the intellectual expertise and knowledge to challenge the validity of the book based on its unstated but obvious claim that the mother culture of the Americas was a culture that predated the Maya by hundreds of years. With that claim now confirmed by twentieth-century archaeology and Mesoamerican historical records, if such critics of today were truly honest, they would apologize for their attacks and for their failure to study the Book of Mormon carefully enough to recognize its unstated but sensational claim that the Maya were not the mother culture of the New World.
Coriantumr was told that if he did not repent, he would see his kingdom fall, he would witness the deaths of all his household who were heirs to the kingdom, and he would see his kingdom given to another people (see Ether 13:20–21). Coriantumr did not repent; his kingdom did fall; and his kingdom was given to another people. The new king was Mosiah, a Nephite. For 550 years, from circa 200 BC to the treaty recorded in Mormon 2:28–29, the Nephites safeguarded the old Jaredite land as a place to flee, if necessary (Alma 22:34). That exodus did become necessary.
Mormon lived in the city of Desolation, which was an ancient Jaredite city on the northern side of the isthmus. Moroni also lived in “this north country” (see Ether 1:1) That the Nephite civilization came to an end in the same area where the Jaredite kingdom fell seven hundred years earlier is indeed poignant. The hill Ramah of the Jaredites is the same hill as Cumorah is to the Nephites. Hence, If we have found the Jaredites, we have also found the Nephites.
Conclusion: Five Outcomes for Studying the History of the Olmecs
The discussion to this point still begs the question as to why Mormon wrote so much about history, geography, wars, and so forth when he could write only a hundredth part of the things of his people (see Mormon 1:5); and I see the necessity for coming to Mormon’s defense in writing what he wrote.
If the Olmecs were the earliest and greatest civilization of the New World and if the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the narrow neck of land referred to in both the Jaredite and Nephite records (Ether 10:20; Alma 22:32), then we have accomplished five major objectives:
1. We have verified the reality of the Book of Mormon as a legitimate Mesoamerican document. We have assisted in giving Nephi, Mormon, Ether, and Moroni their rightful existence in the annals of history (see Mosiah 8:13).
2. We have identified the Jaredite land of promise. As a result, we have assisted in locating their roots and their identity. We are, in essence, conducting genealogy work by searching out the location of the lands that a remnant of God’s ancient covenant people claimed as their own. Geography, therefore, is genealogy.
3. We have added to our knowledge significant details about the Olmecs. We have illustrated the importance of studying the history and geography of the Book of Mormon so we can understand important details regarding the ancient culture that lived around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as in other parts of Mesoamerica, prior to the advent of Columbus and the arrival of the Spanish to the New World. A few of these details are the following:
• The names of thirty-two Olmec kings (Ether 1:6–33).
• Two million Olmecs were killed near Ramah/Cumorah (Ether 15:2).
• King Mosiah took over the Olmec kingdom after it fell.
• Mormon lived in Olmec territory.
• The Nephites were destroyed around a hill in Olmec territory.
• The Olmec hunting grounds are the same area that the Nephites called Zarahemla (Ether 9:31).
• Moroni wrote an account of the Olmecs that he called the book of Ether.
4. We have increased abundantly our understanding of the ancient Jaredites in such ways as the following:
• The location of the promised land of the Jaredites as spoken of in Ether 6:12.
• The location of the narrow neck of land referred to in Ether 10:20.
• The place where the sea divides the land as recorded in Ether 10:20.
• The location of the land southward—a wilderness to get game as mentioned in Ether 10:21.
• The birthday, anointing date, and death date of the Jaredite King Kish whose name appears in Ether 10:17.
• The possible location of the hill Ramah/Cumorah as recorded in Ether 15:11.
5. From a knowledgeable, logical perspective, we can safely assume that by identifying the lands of the Jaredites, we can easily identify the lands of the Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites. Outcomes of the discovery and location of the Olmec/Jaredite culture should readily dispel such illogical, mistaken thinking that the hill Ramah/Cumorah, narrow neck of land, narrow strip of wilderness, land of Zarahemla, land of Nephi, and so forth are any place other than in Mesoamerica.
Let us not underestimate the importance of studying ancient American civilizations that date to the time period of the Book of Mormon. That is akin to doing family research. Perhaps we can be instruments in helping to establish the roots of the remnants of one of God’s covenant people (see Mosiah 8:12). That’s called missionary work. Today, almost 15 percent of all the members of the Church live in these lands where Lehi said God had covenanted with him that it would be their land forever (see 2 Nephi 1:5). Almost two million members of the Church who live in Mexico and Central America have the blood of the ancient inhabitants running through their veins. May the Lord bless us as we continue to search out the ancient histories of the people whose lives are touched upon briefly in the Book of Mormon.
Types and Shadows—or Dualism
Alma wrote that “ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow” and then asks, “I say is there not a type in this thing?” (Alma 37:43, 45). Types and shadows, or dualism, occurs where a geographical or historical message is used by the writer as a springboard to teach a spiritual message. In Ether 10:6, we read, “Their bones should become as heaps of earth upon the face of the land.” This is one of several instances where this particular prophecy is used in the Book of Mormon. It is also used in the other standard works of the Church. It is this prophecy that motivated the cover of the new second edition of Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. The prophecy is biblical in origin and is repeated in the New Testament and in the translation of Matthew 24 by Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price.
In the Alma 2 Amlicite war, Mormon repeats the prophecy by writing, “And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth” (Alma 2:38).39
The statement that their bones have been found and have been heaped on the earth is a concept associated with the gathering of God’s covenant people in the latter days. The important thing to remember here is that the people whose bones lie dormant in the soil of the Old World are the same people who gave us the Bible: “Thou fool, thou shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?” (2 Nephi 29:6).
And these bones that have been heaped up in Olmec territory most assuredly are the bones of those ancient inhabitants who gave us the early history of the Book of Mormon. Moroni, who gave an account of the ancient inhabitants who had lived upon the face of “this north country” and who is a descendant of Joseph of Egypt, is representative of those of whom it is spoken, “And it shall be as if the fruit of thy loins had cried from the dust; for I know their faith. And they shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto their brethren” (2 Nephi 3:19–20).
The ancient Olmec mounds, a few of which have been uncovered, reveal the concept of their bones becoming as heaps of earth. Indeed, many of the Olmec mounds, including the ancient mound at La Venta, Tabasco, served as burial tombs for ancient Jaredite kings, of which we can both read about in the book of Ether and analyze by uncovering the heaps of earth of the Olmecs.
1. See Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Orem, UT: Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, 2008), for a comprehensive discussion about the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica.
2. Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 132.
3. See Richard A. Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 13; see also Ether 10:22–27.
4. Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, 12.
5. Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, 13.
6. Christopher A. Pool, Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), i.
7. Bio for Christopher A. Pool, University of Kentucky, Department of Anthropology, http://www.as.uky.edu/academics/departments_programs/Anthropology/Anthro... (accessed October 10, 2009).
8. The findings of the stone are detailed in Ma. del Carmen Rodriguez Martinez, et al., “Oldest Writing in the New World,” Science 313, no. 5793 (September 15, 2006): 1610–14.
9. Mike Baldwin, “Cascajal Stone Slab Shows Oldest New World Writing,” October 11, 2006, http://www.memphisgeology.org/ar_cascajal.htm (accessed October 8, 2009).
10. “Oldest Writing in the New World Discovered in Veracruz, Mexico,” http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-021.html (accessed October 8, 2009).
11. Charles Q. Choi, “Oldest New World Text Found,” http://www.livescience.com/history/060914_oldest_writing.html (accessed October 8, 2009).
12. Martinez, et al., “Oldest Writing in the New World,” 1610.
13. Michael D. Coe, America’s First Civilization (New York: American Heritage; Distributed by Van Nostrand, Princeton, New Jersey, 1968), 50.
14. Michael D. Coe, The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, 1981), 6.
15. Coe, The Olmec and Their Neighbors, 6.
16. Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, as translated by Joseph L. Allen in Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 270; emphasis added.
17. See the discussion about Stela 31 in Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 202.
18. Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana: Florentine Codex, 12 vol., edited and translated into English by Arthur O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble (Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research and the University of Utah, 1950), 10:187.
19. Wesley D. Stoner, “Tepango Valley Archaeological Survey: Tuxtler Mountains, Southern Veracruz, Mexico,” http://sz0149.ev.mail.comcast.net/service/home/~/A%20Olmec.doc?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=124344&part=2 (accessed October 13, 2009).
20. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, 2005), s.v. “isthmus.”
21. Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, 190.
22. A question I am frequently asked is the following: How do you justify the Nephites traveling through the narrow neck of land in a day and a half as stated in Alma 22:32?
My answer is the following: I cannot justify it. The Nephites did not travel through the isthmus in a day and a half. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec (narrow neck of land) and the day and a half’s journey fortification line are two different statements and are located in two different areas. Pertinent points associated with those comments are the following:
• The direction through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is north to south.
• The direction along the fortified day and a half’s journey line of Alma 22:32 is east to west.
• The distance from the bottom of the isthmus (narrow neck of land) to the top of the isthmus is about 160 miles. From Juchitan to Acayucan, the distance is 125 miles. The distance from the Desolation-Bountiful boundary line (proposed at Tonala) to the Pacific Ocean (fishing village of Paredon at the Gulf of Tehuantepec—the west sea) is twelve miles.
• Under no circumstances could any human, including a “superhuman Nephite,” travel from the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of the isthmus to the Gulf of Mexico at the top of the isthmus.
• The purpose of the narrow pass or narrow passage through the isthmus was to carry the traveler from the land southward to the land northward and vice versa.
• The purpose of the twelve-mile fortification line running east to west was to keep the Lamanites from getting into Zarahemla or into the land northward.
• A fortified line in the isthmus would not keep the Lamanites traveling from Guatemala from entering into Chiapas (land of Zarahemla). Such a fortification in the isthmus would be a hundred miles too far to the west.
23. Gareth W. Lowe, Thomas A. Lee Jr., and Eduardo Martinez Espinosa, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, No. 31 (Provo, UT: New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1982), 1.
24. Stefan Lovgren, “Ancient City Found in Mexico; Shows Olmec Influence,” National Geographic News, January 26, 2007, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070126-mexico-olmec.html (accessed October 11, 2009).
25. Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, 13.
26. Ignacio Bernal, El Valle de Oaxaca: Guia Official (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, 1992), 13–15.
27. Diane E. Wirth, Parallels, Mesoamerican and Ancient Middle Eastern Traditions (St. George, UT: Stonecliff Publishing, 2003), Introduction.
28. Wirth, Parallels, Mesoamerican and Ancient Middle Eastern Traditions, Introduction.
29. Michael D. Coe, The Maya, 4th ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987), 45.
30. Coe, The Maya, 45.
31. Don Fernando de Alva de Ixtlilxochitl, in Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 268.
32. Bruce W. Warren and David A. Palmer, “The Jaredite Saga,” unpublished manuscript in possession of author; see also Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 132.
33. Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000), 17.
34. Martin and Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, 159.
35. Coe, The Maya, 90.
36. See statement by Ixtlilxochitl in Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 268.
37. John E. Clark and Mary E. Pye, as quoted by Diehl, The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization, 132.
38. See Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 117–18, 668.
39. See Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 583–86 for details.