07 November 2015

Daniel's article on evidence for horses in Ancient America has been published by BYU Studies!

It has taken a lot of time, research, editing, revision, and revisiting, but Daniel's article on horses in Ancient America has officially been published by BYU Studies Quarterly, entitled "Hard" Evidence of Ancient American Horses. It is in their latest issue, vol. 54, no. 3. Initially, the editors objected to the original title, saying that the evidence wasn't all that hard. Daniel explained that it really was a play on words, since the evidence presented consisted of bones and teeth, which are hard substances. Putting the word in quotes finally satisfied them.

We are very excited to have this information available to a wide audience. Some of it comes from the chapter on the Caves of Loltún from An LDS Guide to the Yucatán, which was further refined in Daniel's presentation on the subject at one of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum's annual conferences. More information was gathered during the research and preparation of this final paper, which contains images of rarely-seen artifacts from various museum collections and a graphic prepared by Daniel that visually explains the surprising findings of stratigraphic digs from sections of the Loltún Caves. We wish to thank Jack Welch for the initial suggestion and for all those who participated and assisted in bringing all this information together in final form for the publication of this article.

Click here to read the full article online from BYU Studies.

18 September 2015

New YouTube content

Daniel has been figuring out how to organize his YouTube channel recently, and our videos are now organized in playlists. His presentations at the BMAF conferences are available, as well as videos of our first trip to the Yucatán Peninsula. He has been working lately on editing videos from our trip to Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras to format it for YouTube. That work is still in progress, but should be up soon.

Watch Daniel's presentations on metals/plates and ancient horses.
Watch a video of our 2006 trip to the Yucatán.

04 July 2015

Getting closer to publication

With editing help from others, Daniel has finished rewriting his paper on evidence for horses in ancient America. The original text from his BMAF presentation has been formatted and updated to make it appropriate for inclusion in a scholarly journal. The last step was getting permissions for all the images included in it. Currently, it is schedule to be printed in the September issue of BYU Studies Quarterly.

Also, Daniel will be giving a fireside this Monday evening at the Rohnert Park chapel near his home. Anyone in the area that is interested is invited to attend.

28 March 2015

First post of the year: horses and silk

Greetings once again. Daniel is currently revising his paper on ancient horse remains in America, based on his presentation given at the BMAF conference a few years ago. Jack Welch had asked him to submit it for publication in BYU Studies Quarterly. They have been on it for a while, but finally sent back a reviewed version asking for changes. Writing a scientific paper to meet their standards is a big job, but he is tightening up some of the assertions and looking for more source material to back it all up. When it is ready, he will resubmit it. We will let you know how it progresses.

While doing more research for it, Daniel was reading sections of Prescott's Conquest of Mexico, an important work in this field, based on the reports of early Spanish chroniclers. Quite unexpectedly, he came across a passage that could be significant to the Book of Mormon mention of silk, long held by critics to be an anachronism and major goof. The account describes Hernán Cortés' meeting with ambassadors from the Aztec empire, who brought him precious gifts. Some of the items were clothing, described as "robes of cotton, fine as silk, of rich and various dyes, interwoven with feather-work that rivalled the delicacy of painting." Peter Martyr describes a curious fabric made of the hair of animals, feathers, and cotton thread, interwoven together.

More than likely, the 'silk' described in the Book of Mormon was not the kind we know, a product of Asian silkworms, but rather some costly, luxurious fabric used by the wealthy classes. 'Silk' may be the best translation into English that makes sense. We see that such cloth was had by later Mesoamerican people like the Aztecs. The fact that it came from Moctezuma shows its importance, status, and cost.

Daniel will be giving a fireside on Book of Mormon and archaeological similarities this Sunday evening at the LDS chapel in Petaluma, his first presentation of the year. Interested parties are always invited.

(For those interested in the reference to the silk-like fabric, see William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico vol. I (Philadelphia: David McKay, Publisher, 1892), p. 295.)

06 September 2014

Maya sites newly rediscovered!

We love hearing news like this. Ancient Maya sites in the Yucatán Peninsula have been discovered recently and excavation work is proceeding. Named Tamchén and Lagunita, they are located in Calakmul's Biosphere Reservation, in the southeastern corner of the Mexican state of Campeche.

Archaeologist Ivan Sprajc of Slovenia is leading the work, with approval and funding by INAH. Lagunita was initially visited by American archaeologist Eric Von Euw in the 1970s, who took pictures but failed to note its location, so it was lost again for decades. These sites, which date to the end of the late Classic period, are a fascinating example of just how much may lie hidden in Mesoamerican jungles. This particular area has is apparently lacking in archaeological efforts. Indications are that these areas may have been settled as far back as 300 b.c.

Monster doorway at Lagunita
Animal figurine from one of the sites
Both sites are close to the ancient site and modern town of Xpujil, which we visited on our first trip to Mexico. They also are in the region once controlled by the powerful ancient city of Calakmul, one of our favorite sites. Work is ongoing to see what relationship it may have had with Tamchén and Lagunita.

Just last year, Ivan discovered another unknown site in the area using aerial photographs. Named Chactún, this site may have been known to local loggers, but not to the scientific community. This was quite a large city anciently, with inhabitants numbering up to 40,000. It should not be surprising anymore, but discoveries like these keep happening. To us, this is particularly interesting, since we have traveled through this region and had no idea of what really was there. We hope to return again and see what progress has been made. If three new sites in a fairly small region have just recently come to light, who knows what further finds the future may hold?

Click here to read more about these discoveries.

28 January 2014

The original language(s) of the Book of Mormon

What did the writing on the plates look like? Can there be any comparison to known ancient languages? Aside from the 'Caractors' roughly drawn by Joseph or perhaps one of his scribes, we have little to go on. What is Reformed Egyptian anyway? And more importantly, what do Book of Mormon writers say themselves about the languages they used?

Our first clue comes very early in the record, when Nephi tells us that his record is in the language of his father. He then goes on to tell us that it consists of the 'learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians' (1 Ne 1:2). Admittedly, we don't know exactly what he means, but obviously, Lehi and his family would have spoken Hebrew, the language of the Jews. We might think we know what Hebrew looks like, but the written language was changed anciently. The block script used today was adopted by Jews in the third century BC. Before that, they used an older script called paleo-Hebrew. In the image below, the two writing systems are compared. Aleph starts on the far right, then Beth, then Gimel, and so on. Remember that Hebrew, like other Semitic languages, was written and read from right to left. The familiar Hebrew alphabet on the top line would have been unknown to the Jews of Lehi's day. They would have been using the characters shown on the bottom line.

However, Nephi seems to be telling us that he did not use Hebrew as the written language on the plates. Instead, he refers to Egyptian. It should be fairly obvious that he was not using hieroglyphics. Two other writing systems were known among the Egyptians of Lehi's day: Hieratic and Demotic. Hieratic was an early cursive writing system developed for writing with a reed brush and ink. By about 660 BC it had been replaced by Demotic for secular writings, but the priestly class continued to use Hieratic for quite some time. The question is, which system, Hieratic, or the early Demotic of his day, would Lehi have known and taught to his son? Even though Hieratic continued to be the language of religious writings, that was just among Egyptian priests. In fact, the word Demotic is derived from the Greek term for 'popular.' Egyptians referred to this written language as 'document writing.' It was commonly carved on monuments and is one of the languages found on the Rosetta Stone. It is likely that Lehi, as a non-Egyptian visitor, would have learned Demotic, shown below.

In addition, Hieratic is known for its ligatures and highly cursive nature, which may have been difficult to reproduce by engraving on plates of metal ore. For these reasons, Demotic would have been a more likely choice, but Nephi does not tell us why he chose Egyptian over Hebrew. His aforementioned statement has been interpreted by some LDS scholars as meaning that he used Egyptian letters to transliterate Hebrew words. Whatever Nephi did, it is also apparent from the Book of Mormon itself that Mormon did not copy, translate, or condense the duplicate record he found, known as the small plates of Nephi. He found them among other records in his possession. and because he found the words on these plates pleasing, he put them with the remainder of his record (WoM 1:6). Not only were these plates likely smaller than the ones Mormon had made centuries later in the 4th century AD, but they were written in a completely different and much older language than he was using on his plates: the early Demotic of 600 BC!

Regarding the language used for their record, Moroni tells us they wrote in what the Nephites called Reformed Egyptian, the most enigmatic writing system connected with the Book of Mormon. This was mentioned only once at the very end of Nephite history and was unknown to the original Nephi and probably many record keepers after him. No one besides Moroni refers to it. The only surviving example of it is presumably in the 'Caractors' drawing. We should not expect to find other examples of it, because it had evolved over the years and was known only among the Nephites; no one else knew it (Mor 9:32-34). It may also be that only keepers of the sacred records used this language. They also kept a knowledge of Hebrew alive, but Mormon chose the Egyptian over it because it was more concise (if less perfect) for writing. We are told that both Egyptian and Hebrew had been altered by the Nephites, which one might expect after being isolated from their original sources for almost a millennium and surrounded by different cultures. By Mormon and Moroni's time, Demotic had changed into reformed Egyptian and we must expect that paleo-Hebrew had become reformed Hebrew as well. Regardless of what common Nephites spoke, or what acted as a lingua franca so that different groups could communicate with each other, we know that an elite group of Nephite record holders kept alive a Semitic written tradition, including the languages and the practice of writing on metal plates. As with many Semitic languages, both Demotic and Hebrew are written from right to left and Joseph Smith confirmed that the script on the Book of Mormon was read in the same manner.

As we try to imagine the origin of Nephite languages, we must start with what would have been known in the Middle East of 600 BC: paleo-Hebrew and early Demotic Egyptian.

Click here for more information on Demotic.