Book of Mormon Cities and Lands
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(Revised July 25, 2005)
It has been my experience that most members of the Church, when confronted with a Book of Mormon geography, worry about the wrong things. Almost invariably the first question that arises is whether the geography fits the archaeology of the proposed area. This should be our second question, the first being whether the geography fits the facts of the Book of Mormon-a question we all can answer without being versed in American archaeology. Only after a given geography reconciles all of the significant geographic details given in the Book of Mormon does the question of archaeological and historical detail merit attention. The Book of Mormon must be the final and most important arbiter in deciding the correctness of a given geography; otherwise we will be forever hostage to the shifting sands of expert opinion. John Clark
In attempting to interpret the geography of the Book of Mormon lands, it is wise to begin with more of John Clark's advice, found in his paper "A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies" (1). He recommends that we consider the following criteria when evaluating Nephite geography:
(1) Assume a literal meaning.
(2) Assume no scribal errors unless internal evidence indicates otherwise.
(3) Assume no duplication of place names unless the text is unambiguous on the matter.
(4) Assume that all passages are internally consistent and can be reconciled.
(5) Assume that uniformitarian rather than catastrophic principles apply to the actual Book of Mormon lands (i.e., that the locality where the Book of Mormon events took place was not unrecognizably altered at the time of the crucifixion, that geographic details in the Small Plates and in the Book of Ether are therefore compatible with those in Mormon's and Moroni's abridgment, and that the principles of natural science that apply to today's environments are also pertinent to Nephite lands).
(6) The best internal reconstruction is one which reconciles all of the data in the Book of Mormon with a minimum of additional assumptions.
It is of course tempting to try and rearrange the landscape to fit our favorite ideas about Book of Mormon lands; however, as Clark logically points out, we need to accept the text literally for locations, directions and distances. Many have attempted to explain the difficulty of locating Book of Mormon geography with the notion that the form of the land was changed at the time of the crucifixion. This is not a logical assumption. A careful analysis of the text will show that most of the geographic references in the Book of Mormon were inserted by the prophet Mormon, who abridged the records beginning about 385 A.D., over 350 years after the destruction which accompanied the crucifixion in 33 A.D. Mormon, of course, was very familiar with the his geography as any military commander would need to be.
In making the following proposals every attempt will be made to stick as close to a literal interpretation of the facts as is possible. Present day topography will be used in all cases (although the temptation to juggle the geography is strong at times). Spatial relationships will be assumed to be accurate and literal. A literal interpretation of the directions given in the Book of Mormon will be assumed. Although I am familiar with the argument that Book of Mormon peoples had a different directional orientation than the modern one (2), I completely disagree with it and feel that it has only been introduced to justify a geography that does not fit the commonly accepted directional system.
It should be recognized that Book of Mormon peoples looked at geography differently than we do. Although they may have used rough charts, they did not have an aerial view of topography such as we are familiar with, and probably saw the land from a horizontal perspective rather than the vertical one which is familiar to those of us who use modern maps. Hobby and Smith (3) point out that we confuse the issue when we "attempt to relate the geographical data in the Book of Mormon to the world as [we] view it, rather than as the ancients viewed it....students have viewed Nephite perception as though they possessed a modern map. In reality they [Nephites] saw only inlets, forest, forks, banks, jungle, plains, and mountains. ... The principle 'lands' of the Book of Mormon can be defined as the drainage basins of single or interconnected river systems. ... each 'land' ... [was] a drainage basin surrounded by mountains. ... The perception of the Nephites was biased by their mode of travel and their experience, which was always based upon the time they had travelled, which they could correctly perceive, not distance, which they could not correctly perceive. ... a mountain range, regardless of its width, is perceived as a line when viewed horizontally."
The practice of the Nephites was to name their cities and lands after the first settler or founder. " Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them;" (Alma 8:7). Thus we can assume that place names actually reflect the names of the founders. For example, the city of Zarahemla was named after the then current leader of the Mulekites. This means that the city was named and settled during the lifetime of the Mulekite leader Zarahemla (sometime around the period 279-130 BC), and not by one of his progenitors, and especially not by Mulek, the father of the Mulekites, thus dating the city to post 300 BC. Incidently, this also indicates a late date for the contact of Coriantumr with the Mulekites (Omni 1:20-21), assuming that Zarahemla and his contemporaries were the ones who found him.
Assuming that Book of Mormon peoples followed the practices discovered by archeologists for this time period, they would have established their cities along or near perenial streams or springs, in valleys or on benches, and on fertile lands suitable for farming. Later on when warfare became common, the defensibility of the site would have been a consideration. The original named location would have been the city, the surrounding land (usually the entire river or stream drainage) termed the "land" of such and such a city, and in the case of national reference (such as Zarahemla and Nephi) the entire domain of a specific people. For example there was the city of Zarahemla, the local land of Zarahemla (which likely included the valley in which it was located), and the greater land of Zarahemla (which included all the Nephite lands from the narrow neck of land, south to the narrow strip of wilderness which was the northern border of the Lamanite lands). Nevertheless, most geographic names would have reference to only the city and the local surrounding land.
A Clue from Columbus.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi foretold the coming of the Europeans to the Americas. The fulfillment of this prophecy gives us a clue to the location of the Nephites "promised land". Nephi wrote:
"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land (my emphasis).
And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations."
This prophecy was fulfilled literally. We recognize this "man among the gentiles" (verse 12) as Christopher Columbus, who first crossed the Atlantic in 1492 (and although he was not the first European to do so, he was the catalyst that initiated the European colonization). He made three more voyages to the Americas in subsequent years, and during these visits made contact with the Lamanites in the promised land. Where did he visit in the New World? Columbus did not visit Mexico or Guatemala, and certainly not the shores of the continental United States. Most of his initial contacts were in the islands of the Caribbean. But on his 3rd voyage in 1498 he briefly landed in Venezuela, and on the fourth voyage, in 1502, he spent four months exploring the Caribbean coast from Honduras to Panama. On that occasion he was impressed with one area which he named Costa Rica (Rich Coast). There he found the natives using a gold-copper alloy (called tumbaga) for ornaments and jewelry. But he was much more impressed with the southern region of Central America which he named Veraguas (now in western Panama). There the natives ostentatiously displayed pure gold jewelry and ornaments (the chronicles especially made mention of “gold mirrors” [i.e. round disks, or pectorals, of gold] which the Indians wore around their necks.) He traded with them extensively, and even successfully learned one local source of this gold. The Spaniards found they could trade simple trinkets, worth several cents, for gold objects worth hundreds of times more. (4)
John Sorenson has expressed his opinion that the fullfillment of Nephi's prophecy in 1 Nephi 13 took place in Latin America and not in the United States where we normally assume it took place. As noted above, Columbus contacted the Lamanites in Central America, the lands of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish could also qualify as the “mother Gentiles” (verse 17) who fought against the Gentile settlers in the promised land. In this part of Latin America the "gentiles" revolted against the "mother" country and won their freedom in much the same way, and about the same time, as the people of the United States won theirs. This view completely changes the implications of Nephi’s prophecy. It seems that the Nephite "promised land" was located in southern Central America, although this is difficult to accept for those of us in the United States who have the provincial attitude that only the U.S. could be the "promised land".
A Costa Rican Setting for Book of Mormon Geography.
Assuming that the Isthmus of Rivas in Nicaragua is the narrow neck of land described in the Book of Mormon, it follows that Costa Rica would have been the land southward, including the greater land of Zarahemla, and farther south the greater land of Nephi (which extended into western Panama). An attempt will now be made to identify the principal cities, lands and features mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Where possible these will be linked with recognized archeological sites dating to the Book of Mormon period; however, I am still in the process of trying to identify such sites, and many of them may still be undiscovered as the country has only been partially explored archeologically.
Principal Cities, Lands and Features.
The Land of Nephi
Criteria for the Land of Nephi.
It was a twenty days journey from Nephi to Zarahemla (with families apparently traveling on foot) (Mosiah 23:1-4; 24:25). In rough mountainous terrain, this would have been about 100-200 miles.
It was an area of grassland or savannah (not a forested area or jungle) where they could raise grain and graze flocks (2Ne.5:11; Mosiah 21:16).
It was at a higher elevation than Zarahemla (Mosiah 7:2).
It was apparently located at the southern end of the south wilderness (Mosiah 22:12).
It was in a region of drier climate (hence probably the Pacific slope).
It was "many days journey" west of the Land of First Inheritance (with families apparently traveling on foot) (2Ne.5:7).
Nephi built a temple there (2Ne.2:16).
The city of Nephi had a wall (Mosiah 22:6).
There were abundant mineral deposits (2 Ne.5:15).
The Land of Mormon and Waters of Mormon were close by (no further than a days journey) (Mosiah 18).
It was adjacent to the lands of Shemlon and Shilom (Mosiah 19:6; 22:8).
Ammon and the waterhole.
An insight into the environment of the Land of Nephi can be gained from one of the missionary experiences of Ammon during his labors among the Lamanites.
"But Ammon said unto [the king]... I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.
And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.
Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already (Alma 17:25-28.)."
This event paves the way for Ammon to miraculously save the flocks of the king, and overpower the robbers, which greatly impresses the Lamanites. Eventually he is able to convert them. The account also gives us a clear insight into the land of Ishmael (which I believe was adjacent to the land of Nephi). It was a place where flocks could be grazed, scattered, and easily rounded up. To my mind, this would indicate open or rolling grass land or tropical savannah; it would be difficult to graze flocks in a region of dense forest, or round up scattered herds in broken canyon land. It was a fairly dry area with few places for watering stock, and had been so for some time as this pattern of banditry had apparently been going on for years. Note that "all the Lamanites" (i.e. from a wide area) took their flocks there to water them. If there were abundant rainfall, with many streams and springs, this event would not have happened. (However this event could also have occurred during the dry season in an otherwise wet environment.) The watering hole was probably a large spring, a small lake, or possibly an accessible bank on a river. If it were a large feature, it would have been much more difficult for the bandits to carry out their crime. To match the above criteria in Central America, the Land of Ishmael would have to be in an upland valley, probably on the Pacific slope of the cordillera. There the mountains shield the western slopes from the prevailing Gulf winds moving inland from the sea, resulting in a drier climate, or at least a pronounced dry season. Now relating this to the Land of Nephi (or Lehi-Nephi in some cases), it appears that it would be in a similar setting.
Keeping this in mind, and working from the key locations of the narrow neck (the Isthmus of Rivas), and the southern wilderness (the Talamancan Cordillera), it is proposed that the Land of Nephi was somewhere in the vicinity of Volcan in southwestern Panama. Perhaps it could even be the ancient archaeological site of Barriles about 5 miles from Volcan, which dates back to Book of Mormon times. This location complies with the above listed criteria. Volcan is situated in a highland valley, at about 6000 feet elevation, and is located at the base of the extinct volcano Baru. It is a lovely area, with several other valleys and cities in similar settings at the base of the mountains. The valleys are somewhat dry for this region, and one of the principal land uses is grazing. The region is called "the Switzerland of Central America" because of its alpine settings, lovely climate, and towering mountains (not to mention that a number of Swiss immigrants settled there).
How does the area of Volcan, Panama fit the criteria for the Land of Nephi? It is on the "dry" side of the cordillera, at a higher elevation, where grazing and agriculture predominate. It is at the southern end of the Talamancan cordillera. There are archaeological sites in the area, but they have not been well studied. There are spring-fed lakes nearby which could be the waters of Mormon. I have not been able to determine if there are local mineral deposits. However, in general, Panama is blessed with abundant mineral resources, including all those mention in the references. The local Indians seemed to have an abundance of gold (see chapter on the Gold of Chiriqui), and were skillful in working it.
As for distance, Volcan is about 125 miles, as the crow flies, south of the Central Valley in Costa Rica, which we have proposed as the land of Zarahemla. We would not normally think that it would take 20 days to traverse such a distance. However when the Nephites called this wilderness, they really meant wilderness. The Cordillera de Talamanca is one of the most rugged mountain ranges in Central America, and even today is not totally explored. The simplest way to travel from Volcan to San Jose is northwest by way of the Valle de Coto Brus and the Valle Del General. These are adjoining intermontain valleys that cover half of the distance. Then from the town of San Isidro 40 miles up and over the highest part of the Talamancas to Cartago. There are ancient trails that cover that route. But that area probably housed the main population of the Lamanites and was not wilderness. However, if we were to flee eastward toward the Caribbean, into the mountains themselves which were and still are wilderness, as the people of Alma did in the event described in Mosiah chapter 18, it would be much more difficult; and not knowing, or worse yet, not having any trails would make travel extremely slow.
At this point a discussion of distance is in order as there seems to be a great difference of opinion on this subject among students of Book of Mormon geography. (See also section on comparison of relatives distances) I feel that examples from contemporary sources would give us the clearest picture of true distant as measured by the Nephites. One such example of distance and travel time is given in the cronicles of Columbus' fourth voyage (5). During his stay on the coast of western Panama he contacted some of the local natives who told him that it was a nine day journey from the Laguna de Chiriqui in present day Panama, where he was anchored, across the Cordillera to the Pacific--a distance of 65 miles. This would average a little over 7 miles per day. This is certainly comparable to the 20 day journey from Volcan to San Jose which I have propose as the route from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla.
Another example is that of Balboa, who was the first European to cross the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean. He set out from Antigua on the Caribbean Coast on Sept. 1, 1513 with 190 men and 1000 Indians. The natives had told him it would take 6 days to cross to the south sea (this would have averaged 7.5 miles a day). They followed established Indian trails, but still encountered many difficulties. Finally on Sept. 28 they reached the shores of the Pacific--a total of 27 days travel to cover a distance of 45 miles, or less than 2 miles per day. (Could this possibly be the "narrow neck" which could be crossed in 1 to 1 1/2 days?)
Consider a third example, this description of travel across the mountains from San Isidro to San Jose (about a 40 mile journey) in the days before the Pan American Highway.
"One hundred years ago San Isidro was nothing more than a settlement populated by a hardy breed of pioneers. They survived on what they raised and collected locally--rice, tropical fruits and vegetables, pigs, dairy cattle, corn, coffee, sugar cane--and were basically self-sufficient. But for certain goods like clothing, tools and household utensils--manufactured items--they relied on trade with San José.
In those days there was no Inter-American highway. In fact, there was no road of any kind. (The highway came into being as a cart trail in the 1920s.) Valiant men loaded up their backs with 100- and 150-pound sacks of wild blackberries, dried corn and rice, and drove herds of pigs over the mountains to San José on foot. These men, shoeless and wearing little more than one thin shirt and a pair of pants, trudged through the mountains for a month [a month to go 40 miles!] to get their goods to market. There they traded for the much needed tools and utensils and the desired "finer" things available in the big city. After completing their trades they would make the month-long journey back to San Isidro loaded down again, this time with the clothes and refined goods that would lend a little civilization to their harsh existence."
"The route to San José took them over some of the highest mountains in Costa Rica. It was a treacherous and sometimes frightening way they walked. The most feared spot was one they named Cerro de la Muerte. Death Hill was not named, as one might imagine, for a spot where many men had fallen to their deaths. The area became infamous for the number of brave souls who lost their lives to the bitter cold as they negotiated this 11,500-foot-high section of the trail (6)."
Apparently travel in the tropics is much different than what we experience on the flat and open plains of the United States, or other such areas. When we think in terms of marathon runners, and others who can travel 50 to 100 miles per day, and try and extrapolate this to Book of Mormon geography we are only deceiving ourselves. It wasn't done by the average person in Mormon's day, or in the day of the Spaniard, and it isn't done in our day.
The Land of Zarahemla
The criteria for the land of Zarahemla:
It was located to the west of the River Sidon, and probably at least half way up its course (Alma 6:7).
It was lower in elevation than the Land of Nephi to the south (Alma 27:5).
There should be no Jaredite style ruins (i.e. of stone) (see Nephite buildings).
It was divided from the Land of Nephi to the south by a narrow strip of east-west wilderness. (Alma22:27)
It was in a central part of the Nephite lands which were south of the narrow neck of land (Hel. 1:27).
It had a mixed (and probably segregated) population of Nephites and Mulekites which probably resulted in separate barrios or twinned cities (Omni 1:16-19; Mosiah 25:4).
The City of Zarahemla had a wall (it does not specify whether it was of stone or timber) (Hel. 1:21).
It was located at a distance of 20 days travel from the City of Nephi (apparently in a northward direction) (Mosiah 23:3; 24:25).
It was occupied by the Nephite faction from about 200 B.C. to 322 A.D. (The Mulekites may have arrived there fifty years or so earlier.)
It was bordered on all sides by areas of wilderness (Alma 22), including a west wilderness (Alma 8:3), the Wilderness of Hermounts northwest from Zarahemla (Alma 2:37), and the east wilderness (Alma 25:5).
South of Zarahemla and the narrow strip of wilderness, lay the expansive south wilderness of the Lamanite domains (Alma 22:27).
It was burned at the time of the crucifixion (3 Ne. 9:3).
The city of Gideon lay a short distance to the east (Alma 6:7).
It was an area where tropical diseases (i.e. fevers) and their remedies were present (Alma 46:40).
It is proposed that the local Land of Zarahemla was located in Costa Rica in the Upper Reventazon Valley. This is to be distinguished from the greater Land of Zarahemla which included all Nephite lands between the land of Nephi and the land of Desolation. After studying the various criteria, I feel that the city of Zarahemla was most likely located near the modern city of Turrialba. There are several archeological sites near there which date to the Book of Mormon time period, and which could possibly have been the Nephite capitol. One is several miles south of Turrialba and is called La Montana (7). The other (which I favor) is several miles east of Turrialba and is composed of the combined sites of La Zoila, La Mora and La Isabel (these are one continuous site, but are located on different modern properties, and each segment was given the name of the local farm) (7).
How well does this area match the criteria for the Land of Zarahemla? A a major river runs through it. This is the Reventazon River, which I believe is the River Sidon. The area is bordered on the south, north, and northwest by mountainous (wilderness) areas, and on the east by lower mountains which descend into rain forest. To the west is the Central Valley, where the capitol San Jose is located. To the immediate south is the formidable barrier of the Talamancan Cordillera, which viewed from the Zarahemla area would appear as a straight line of mountains.
This area of Costa Rica is a beautiful, temperate region, with moderate rainfall. To the north rise a series of volcanoes-Poas, Barva, Irazu and Turrialba-two of which are still active. It is approximately 40 miles long by 20 miles wide, and consists of stepped benches descending from the mountains, which are cut by many streams and ravines. The area ranges in elevation from 3200–6500 ft.
Whereas lower elevations in Costa Rica have a more inhospitable climate, the higher elevations of the uplands result in mild temperatures year round. As a consequence of this ideal weather, it is considered to be one of the three best climates in the world. Is it any wonder that seventy percent of the modern Costa Rican people reside in this region of the country. With fertile soils, and moderate rainfall, it is the breadbasket of the nation. Because the volcanic soils are very fertile, it is possible to grow two to three crops a year. Due to this fertility, the pre-Columbian Indians probably did not have to practice slash and burn agriculture as in other areas, which could have resulted in more sedentary and stable communities. It is indeed a "promised land".
Yet some may ask, "Where are the ruins?" This is actually one of the proofs of Nephite culture. There should be no large, Jaredite style, ruins (see previous discussion on Nephite buildings). The Nephites built with wood, and not stone. Wood does not survive over time. Nibley correctly observes "Nephite communities will give no spectacular ruins.... People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear, and do not realize that the ancients almost never built of stone"(8). All we can expect are the actual sites where the Nephites built and lived, which is exactly what we find in Costa Rica.
In and around the Meseta Central there are a number of archaeological sites, especially toward the east, some carbon dated as early as 500 BC (9). Some of these sites appear to be twin cities. There are diverse burials suggesting a mixed or varied population such as we might find with mixed Nephite/Mulekite populations, and later Lamanite invaders. The population growth seems to match the Book of Mormon sequence. The Costa Rican archeologist Michael Snarskis comments "From c. 100 BC to 200 AD, there was a veritable explosion of sites [i.e., population] and a trend toward social stratification, evidenced by a new series of high-status artifacts ... Sites of the El Bosque (middle Atlantic watershed) and Pavas (Central Highlands) phases, dating from c. 100 B.C.--500 A.D., are numerous and large." (10) Again quoting Snarskis, he summarizes the pre-history of this area from an archaeologist's perspective: "Starting 1000 B.C.: a few small sedentary communities with pottery and perhaps a northern South American subsistence pattern, i.e., mostly root cropping, followed by a rapid increase in population and social complexity, perhaps stimulated by developing maize agriculture, complimented by polycropping and hunting. A culmination occurred around the time of Christ [my emphasis] in sedentary, fairly large nodes of population, characterized by stratified society with complex ritual connections to Mesoamerican trade networks, and probably a redistributive hierarchy.... The first five or six centuries A.D. saw sporadic intergroup resource competition and warfare,.... possibly indicating population pressure, the apparent intromission (c. 500-700 A.D.) of foreign peoples and traditions; changes in house and tomb forms; and the gradual degradation of ceramics,...The "balkinization" of these zones took place in the late period; they broke into relatively small ... settlements"(9). This sounds much like a typical archaeologist might describe and summarize Book of Mormon history.
One might suppose that there is a problem with this proposal due to the apparent lack of commercial mineral deposits in Costa Rica , especially of the precious metals. The Book of Mormon refers to the richness of mineral deposits in the "promised land" (1Ne.18:25; 2Ne.5:15; Jacob 2:12; Jarom 1:8). However it will be noted that these references are all to the land of Nephi, not Zarahemla. Never-the-less, one scripture Hel. 6:9-11, does indicate that there were mineral deposits in both the land northward (Zarahemla) and the land southward (Nephi). However, it should be noted that there are small to medium size mineral deposits of copper and gold in modern Costa Rica (refer to map 2). These may have been worked anciently; and former deposits could have been exhausted (such as easily worked placer deposits) or covered by recent (since Book of Mormon times) ash fall from the adjacent volcanoes. Also the Osa Peninsula had rich deposits of alluvial gold and many of the streams along the Pacific slope carry placer gold. There is also a zone of gold deposits near Juntas toward the west coast. In addition the Talamancan Indians have legends of gold mines in the Talamanca Mountains (which remain largely unexplored).
Criteria for the River Sidon.
It ran northward as it originated in the southern Nephite highlands (Alma 43:22).
It passed east of the City of Zarahemla (Alma 6:7).
It was shallow enough to be forded near the city of Zarahemla. (Alma 2:27,34)
It was large enough to carry the bodies of the dead Lamanites out to the sea. (Alma 3:3)
It was west of the hill Amnihu. (Alma 2:15)
It was west of the Valley of Gideon. (Alma 2:26; 6:7)
The City of Melek was to the west of the Sidon. (Alma 8:3)
The City of Manti was at the headwaters of the Sidon near the south wilderness. (Alma16:6-7; 22:27)
The head of the River Sidon extended into the south wilderness. (Alma 43:22)
It passed through the central part of the Land of Zarahemla.
It may not have been navigable as no river travel is mentioned in the text.
The proposed Sidon River would have been the modern Reventazon River in Costa Rica. This river, called the Suerre by the local Indians, was one of the major features in the Land of Zarahemla. Commenting on the rivers of Southern Central America, Tamayo (12) states "the streams of the Caribbean drainage in Costa Rica and Panama are composed of short but voluminous rivers that drain the steep windward side of the central highlands . . . .The Reventazon River, 155 kilometers long [93 miles], is the most important of the Caribbean streams in Costa Rica."
Its headwaters begin south of Cartago, at about the 10,000 foot elevation, in the rainforests of the Northern Talmancan Mountains. It crosses two thirds of the width of Costa Rica, generally running in a northeastly direction. It is not a "major" river, on the scale of world rivers, but was certainly big enough to meet the criteria for the Sidon. Kennedy (12) notes that this river "has long been used for communication [i.e. travel] between the Meseta Central and the Caribbean coast." The gradient of the Reventazon is quite steep resulting in many rapids. As a result normal long distance river travel is not possible. But river travel on the Sidon is not mentioned once in the Book of Mormon, implying that it was not practiced among the Nephites, so this actually lends support to the Reventazon.
Comparing the Reventazon River with the criteria for the River Sidon, it appears to fit the requirements. It is large enough, it travels in the right direction, and there are a number of archaeological sites along its course which date to the 200 B.C. period. If the location for the land of Zarahemla is correct, then this river should indeed be the Sidon.
The Narrow Strip of Wilderness.
The Nephite and Lamanite lands were separated by a narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27) which ran from the sea on the east to the sea on the west, and which was to the south of the greater land of Zarahemla. It was also to the south of such border cities as Manti, Moroni and Nephihah. It is difficult to quantify "narrow", but in reference to the narrow neck of land, it was a days journey across. Perhaps the strip of wilderness would be about the same width. It was not impenatrable as the Lamanites crossed it and journeyed through it on a regular basis. It was apparently not inhabited. The Book of Mormon does not describe in any detail the nature of this wilderness, but it does seem to serve as a barrier of sorts between the two areas.
In line with my proposal of the land of Zarahemla being in central Costa Rica, and the land of Nephi being in southeastern Costa Rica and western Panama, I believe that the Talamancan Mountain chain forms this separating wilderness and barrier. This mountain chain runs northwest-southeast forming the southern spine of the country, but its north end abuts the Central Valley south of San Jose, and forms an east-west front which rises steeply from the valley floor at about 6000 ft. elevation, to an approximate height of 11,000 ft. at the summit. This front has east and west spurs which taper down to sea level on both the east and west coasts. This front catches much of the rainfall coming inland from the Caribbean and is covered with dense rainforest which tends to be impenetrable because of the mass of trees, vines and undergrowth. Most travel is restricted to established paths, trails and roads. As far as I have been able to determine there were only 4 or 5 ancient trails which crossed this barrier.
Land of Bountiful
Criteria for the land of Bountiful.
It joined the land Desolation to the north at the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:29).
The "narrow pass" feature was apparently located at the border of Bountiful with the land of Desolation (Alma 52:9).
It was a day and a half journey (probably on foot) across the narrow neck on the border of Bountiful with Desolation (Alma 22:32).
The land of Bountiful was a wilderness filled with all manner of wild beasts (Alma 22:31).
It extended from the east sea to the west sea (Alma 22:33).
The land Jershon bordered the land of Bountiful to the south, along the shore of the east sea (Alma 22:22)
The cities of Mulek, Gid, Omner, Morianton, Lehi and Nephihah (in that order) were located on the seashore southward from the border of the land Bountiful (Alma 51:26).
There was a temple in the land of Bountiful (not the city Bountiful) (3Ne. 11:1).
In the account of the rebellion of Morianton, the impression is that Teancum's army had to travel some distance (perhaps even days) from some part of the land Bountiful to catch him at the narrow neck (Alma 50).
I believe that the land of Bountiful was located in northern Costa Rica and included the south side of the San Juan River Basin (including the plains of Tortuguero, San Carlos, and Guatuzos). It would have extended from the Caribbean, west to the Pacific, and south to the slopes of the cordillera (the Guanacaste, Tileran, and Central mountain ranges). It would have extended northward to the shore of Lake Nicaragua and westward to the base of the Isthmus of Rivas, where it joined the land of Desolation to the north. The city of Bountiful probably would have been located somewhere between the modern cities of Guapiles and Guacimo which lie northeastward across the mountains from the capitol San Jose. There is an ancient site about 25 miles to the northwest, on the Rio Toro, named Chaparron (7), which dates back to the Book of Mormon period and which could be the site of the city of Bountiful although it seems too far inland to meet the criteria.
Of all the proposals, this one seems to be the most problematic. The land area appears to be too large, and the City of Bountiful does not fit harmoniously into the geography as do the other locations. It seems that the city should be closer to the narrow neck than the area I have proposed, yet not too far from the east sea. However, the account of the rebellion of Morianton might indicate otherwise (Alma 50). This rebellion begins in the commencement of the twenty fourth year of the Reign of the Judges and is not resolved until the end of that year. Morianton and his people flee from the land of Morianton (which was on the southeast of the land of Bountiful near the east sea) toward the narrow neck, intending to escape into the land northward. Teancum pursues them (apparently departing from the city of Bountiful) with an army (and it should be noted that the army took their "camp" implying an extended trip). They were not able to catch the Moriantonites until they had reached the narrow neck, and the implication is that it took them some time (not just a day or two). Morianton is killed in the ensuing battle, and the captured Moriantonites are returned to Bountiful. This incident apparently covered a full year, and the chase probably took at least a week or two. Perhaps the land of Bountiful is larger than I first thought. It is also possible that the eastern seashore was farther inland at that time. Much of the present Tortuga area at the mouth of the San Juan River is composed of marshes and wetlands. If these areas were all under water during Nephite times, the coastline would extend inward another fifty miles. This is entirely possible due to the heavy alluviation (silting) which has occurred in the San Juan basin and delta due to the heavy deposits of volcanic ash which have fallen over the last 2000 years.
The City of Bountiful.
Criteria for the city of Bountiful.
The city of Bountiful was within a days march of the city of Mulek which was somewhere near the eastern end of the south border of the land Bountiful. The city of Bountiful was also within a days march of the east sea (Alma 52).
It was fortified with a moat and earthern banks (Alma 53:3-4).
The city was large enough to house a large group of Lamanite prisoners (Alma 52 & 53).
This city was located in the eastern portion of the land Bountiful, within a days journey of the east sea, and about a days journey from the city of Mulek. It was also about 5-6 days travel from the city of Zarahemla, probably in a northerly or northeasterly direction. It was likely the "capitol" of the northern half of the greater land of Zarahemla. It was one of the cities which was fortified by Capt. Moroni with a dry moat and earth and timber palisades. One of the ancient sites, Chaparron (7) on the Rio Toro, dates to the Book of Mormon time period and could possibly be the city of Bountiful.
Criteria for the land of Desolation.
It joined the land of Bountiful to the south (Alma 22:31).
It began at the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:32).
The City of Desolation was located near the narrow neck, on the border with the land of Bountiful (Morm. 3:5-7).
There were few trees in the land during Book of Mormon times (Hel. 3:3-11).
It was the southern limit of Jaredite habitation (Ether 10:21).
The land of Desolation was lower than the northern wilderness of the land of Zarahemla (Morm.4:19).
The seashore city of Teancum was nearby, and north of the city of Desolation (Morm.4:3).
The city of Angola, and the lands of David and Joshua, as well as the lands of Jashon and Shem were in the northern part of the land of Desolation, or north of that land (Morm. 2:3-6, 16-7, 21).
There were many evidences of the Jaredite wars in the land of Desolation during the early part of the Nephite occupation.
Assuming that the Isthmus of Rivas is the narrow neck of land, the land of Desolation would have begun near the current Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. It would have joined Bountiful to the south, and would have extended for an unknown distance northward into Nicaragua and possibly Honduras. There was a city Desolation, the land Desolation surrounding this city, and the greater land Desolation which encompassed the entire area north of the narrow neck of land. The Jaredites had also built a city in the land of Desolation near the narrow neck of land (Ether 10:20). Through recent research, I believe I have identified the ancient site of San Dimas (13) on the Costa Rican side of the border as the probable location of the city of Desolation. This site is located on the banks of the Sapoa River, near the village of Copalchi on the Pan American Highway. It was situated strategically to defend the southern portion of the "Narrow Pass".
Northward from the city of Desolation lay the city of Teancum, which I believe was the ancient site of San Jorge (19), which is east of the city of Rivas, on the lakeshore. North of Teancum lay the cities and lands of Angola, David, Joshua, Jashon, and Shem to which the Nephites retreated during one of their last battles with the Lamanites. And northward from these areas, at an unknown distance, lay Cumorah.
Land of First Inheritance
Criteria for the land of First Inheritance.
It was probably located on the Pacific Coast of southern Central America.
The Nephite faction left there after a short time and traveled eastward to the land they called Nephi. (2Ne. 5:5-7).
It was probably south of the South Wilderness, and far south of the land of Zarahemla.
The Lamanites did not maintain that land as their capitol for by 90 B.C. the Lamanite king was ruling out of the City of Nephi (Alma 22:1).
It was westward from the land of Nephi (although this may refer to the greater land of Nephi). (Alma 22:28)
According to my model, the Nephites would have disembarked on the Pacific coast of southwestern Costa Rica near the Osa Penisula. Some of the older archeological sites of the region are found is this area. I believe that the site of Curre (14) on the Terrabe River was the first Lehite settlement. This area would have been the Land of First Inheritance. As the population increased, the Lamanites spread out from this location. Early on the Nephite faction separated from their Lamanite brethren and traveled "many days" eastward to the land which came to be known as the Land of Nephi. There they established a new and safer homeland which they inhabited for almost 400 years.
The Jaredites Lands
Criteria for the Jaredite Lands
They inhabited the area north of the land of Bountiful beginning with the land of Desolation.
Their domain included and extended north of the narrow neck of land (Hel. 3:3-7, Ether 7:5-6, Ether 10:20).
There should be extensive evidence of the Jaredite civilization as the Lord promised that they would become the greatest nation on the face of the earth (Ether 1:43).
There should be no evidence of Jaredite ruins south of the narrow neck. This area was reserve for hunting (Ether 9:33; 10:20-21)
The Jaredite capitol Moron was "near" the land desolation (probably to the north) (Ether 7:5-6).
There should be archeological evidence of a Jaredite city by the narrow neck of land, where the sea divides the land (Ether 10:20).
The Jaredites may have created stelae, or stone monuments, to record the reigns of their kings (Omni 20-21).
The Mulekites landed in the Jaredite lands and found the surviving king Coriantumr who lived with them for 9 "moons". It is possible that the Mulekites had substantial contact with the Jaredites (Omni 21, Hel. 6:10).
The Hill Cumorah (Ramah) was found within the Jaredite lands near the east sea (Ether 9:3, Ch. 15).
As the Jaredites came from ancient Sumer (later Mesopotamia), and were present at the Tower of Babel, they may have perpetuated the ancient practice of building stepped pyramids (or Ziggurats) which originated there.
If the Jaredites traveled by way of eastern Asia (as I believe), there may be evidence of cultural similarities.
According to my model, the original landing place of the Jaredites would have been along the Pacific coast of southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua sometime between 2000-1500 BC. (I tend to favor El Salvador as it is a better fit for my model.) This location correlates with the Ocos and Barra phase archaeological sites in Pacific Mesoamerica which date to the early Formative period (1500-900 BC) (15). Evidence of the Olmec culture has been discovered from Honduras and El Salvador, northward through southern Mexico, so it is safe to assume that this area was the center of the Jaredite civilization.
As a rule, the Jaredites did not occupy the land southward (although it is likely that there were stray bands of Jaredite nomads south of the narrow neck), but they preserved it as a wilderness for hunting (Ether 10:21). It should also be noted that the Jaredites had no access to the land southward (Zarahemla) for a period of 300-400 years. This hiatus resulted from a severe drought during the reign of King Heth, and an accompanying infestation of venomous serpents. This plague of snakes moved southward as a body through the Jaredite lands driving all the animal life ahead of them into the south wilderness. Then they completely blocked the narrow neck of land so that neither man nor beast could pass. This south wilderness was later know as the land of Bountiful by the Nephites. As Mormon explains, "the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food (Alma 22:31)." After eight generations King Lib was finally able to destroy the poisonous serpents and gain access to the southern lands. However, no Jaredite cities were built south of the narrow neck and as noted above the south wilderness was reserved for hunting. When the Mulekites, under their leader Zarahemla, migrated southward and establish the city of Zarahemla, this area (the land southward) was described as a wilderness (Mos. 25:2). It was still a wilderness when Limhi's party went northward looking for the city of Zarahemla and traveled as far as the former Jaredite lands (Mos. 8:7-8). Evidence of the Jaredite civilization was only found in the land northward, in the land which the Nephites called Desolation (Hel. 3:3-7). The name Desolation resulted from the destruction still evident from the Jaredite wars, and the general scarcity of trees.
The Jaredite capitol of Moron was near the land of Desolation (Ether 7:6), probably northward. The reign of the Jaredite kings, culminating with Coriantumr, ended in approximately 300 B.C. with the destruction of Coriantumr's kingdom and household. The Jaredites inhabited their lands for appoximately 1500 years, therefore there should be archeological evidence of their presence during this time frame. The Jaredites kept records and had an ancient system of writing. They apparently created stelae to honor their kings (at least in the case of Coriantumr) (Omni 20-21). There appears to have been an overlap of Jaredite and Mulekite cultures, with the possibility that the Mulekites lived among the Jaredites for some time, adopting their culture, and speaking their language.
In conclusion, it is my opinion the Jaredites landed on the Pacific coast near the Bay of Fonseca in El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua, and thereafter spread northward to occupying all of Mesoamerica, and possibly even into continental North America. Moron, their original capitol, would have been somewhere near the Bay of Fonseca, probably on the Nicaraguan side. They were the mother culture of the Olmecs, who in turn were the mother culture of the Maya. The magnificent ruins of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are the products of these Jaredites, their friends, and their descendants.
Criteria for the Land and Hill of Cumorah
1. It was "many days" travel from the Jaredite capitol of Moron (Ether 9:3).
2. It was in a land of many waters, fountains, rivers, etc .(Morm. 6:4).
3. It was near an eastern sea (Ether 9:3).
5. The hill Ramah of the Jaredites, and the hill Cumorah of the Nephites, where Mormon hid all the records, are the same (Ether 15:11).
6. It was located in the Nephite land northward being north of the land they called Desolation, and north of narrow neck of land (Mormon Ch. 4 and Ch. 5:3-7).
7. It was located in an area which was large enough to contain at least 230,000 Nephites, plus the much larger invading Lamanite armies, and which could support the Nephites for four years while they prepared for the final battle (Mormon 6).
8. The hill was tall enough, and situated in such a way that Mormon could look down and see all the slain from top (Morm. 6:11).
9. The hill was large enough, and of such a nature as to conceal 24 survivors from the Lamanites (Mormon 6:11).
10. The hill was composed of material (such as limestone) where a cave could be found in which to hide the Nephite records (Morm. 6:6).
11. The hill was situated in such a way that it would afforded the Nephites a military advantage over the Lamanites (Morm 6:4). This advantage could have been strategic with natural barriers, such as rivers, lakes, etc. Higher ground would have afforded an advantage. There may have been existing fortifications left from the Jaredite wars. There may have been logistical advantages such as good supply of food and water to withstand a siege. There may have been large numbers of left over arrow points, ax heads, etc. which could be re-used, if the Jaredites had used stone weapons.
12. The hill was geographically situated so that the surviving Nephites could escape southward from Lamanite armies (Morm. 6:15; 8:2), but apparently not northward, which would have been the logical choice.
13. There should be archeological evidences of a battle, or great destruction, such as weaponry (flint points, ax heads, etc.), fortifications, or other artifacts from the dead. There should also be evidence of a large, but short term, inhabitation.
14. It was near Jaredite places called Ablom and Ogath (Ether 9:13, 15:10).
15. It was near the ocean called Ripliancum (large or to exceed all) by the Jaredites (Ether 15:8).
16. The seashore was eastward (distance unkown) from Cumorah (Ether 9:3).
No attempt will be made at this time to identify the location of the Hill Cumorah.
Some have suggested that the hill should be near the narrow neck of land and not far northward because of the experience of Limhi's search party (Mosiah 21:25-27). This party went north looking for the land of Zarahemla but missing it continued on as far north as the land of Desolation, and there discovering evidence of the Jaredite wars and destruction, as well as the twenty four plates of Ether. Some modern researchers have assumed from this account that Limhi's party went as far north as the land of Cumorah. However, this was probably not the case. The southern Jaredite lands, as well as the capital (Moron), were in or near the land Desolation. The early battles of the Jaredites left millions dead and rotting on the face of the Jaredite lands before the concluding battle at Ramah (Cumorah) ever took place (Ether 14:22-23; 15:2). In addition, Ether did not bury the 24 plates at the site of the last battle, but purposely hid them at the place where the Lord inspired him to, in order that the future party of Limhi would find them (Ether 15:2). This could have been anywhere within reason.
Local Lands and Cities.
Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them. (Alma 8:7)
Many visualize Nephite cities and towns as being similar to the magnificent Maya and Aztec ruins which are found in Mexico and Guatemala. In fact most of the LDS artistic depictions of the Nephites are based on this visual image. However, I believe that this notion is incorrect. Nephite cities were much simpler, and as pointed out elsewhere, they were not built of stone. In view of the archeological discoveries made in Costa Rica, they would have been built around a central community area and plaza, with a central residential area for the community leaders. The community buildings and homes would have been built upon elevated mounds and were constructed of pole walls with thatched roofs. Some may think that this would have been very primitive construction, but the fact is that it is ideally suited to this climate and environment. In addition, these materials are readily available, and a house or building can be erected quickly by someone with the proper skills. Although such buildings could be simple, they could also be quite elaborate and large, for example the main building at the site of Guayabo north of Turrialba, which was built on a large mound about 10 high and 60-70 feet in diameter, is estimated to have been five stories high. This site contained community infrastructure such as aqueducts, cobbled roadways, markets, a fortified guarded entrance, etc.
The principle mound or foundation for the main community structure was generally larger, higher and more prominent than the surrounding ones. I believe that a reference from the Book of Mormon relates to this practice of building the main mound or foundation. During the period when Moroni was establishing cities and fortifying the eastern seacoast of the Nephite lands we are told that they "began the foundation of a city" which they called Moroni. And again "they began the foundation of a city" which they called Nephihah (Alma 50:13-14). This is a normal phrase when one is talking of a building, but is rather curious when speaking of a city. However, if they built the principle mound first, as an act of establishing the community as seems to be the case in the archeological ruins in Costa Rica, then the phrase makes sense
Most Book of Mormon communities would have been localized around a central cultural area, but the inhabitants, most of whom would have been farmers, were likely dispersed throughout the surrounding countryside. They probably gathered to the central area during market days, sabaths, and in times of crisis, such as enemy invasions. A general idea of what life was like during this time period can be gained from research that has been conducted on the ancient village of Ceren in El Salvador. Ceren was located in central El Salvador and was frozen in time by a sudden volcanic eruption about 700 AD which buried the village beneath 17 feet of volcanic ash. It has since been excavated giving us a still shot of life at that time. If you are interested details can be found in the book The Ceren Site (17), or at the Internet site http://www.meierweb.us/ceren/CONTENT/INDEX.HTML.
Land of Ammonihah
Criteria for the Land of Ammonihah.
It was 3 days travel (apparently on foot) from the city of Melek, on the north of the land of Melek (Alma 8:6).
It was probably on the western border of the greater land of Zarahemla (Alma 25:2).
It was near, and probably west of, the city of Sidom (Alma 15:1).
It was near the city of Noah (Alma 16:2-3, 49:12-14).
It was near the city of Aaron (Alma 8:13).
The wilderness abutted Ammonihah on the west (Alma 8:5).
There were 2 routes into the city (Alma 8:16).
It was fortified with Moroni's ditch and mound system (Alma 49:4).
This city was apparently located in the northwest portion of the greater land of Zarahemla. It was three days travel from the city of Melek, on the north of the land of Melek. It was near the cities of Aaron, Sidom and Noah. Alma went there to preach to the apostate Ammonihahites and he and Amulek were imprisoned there. When the Lamanites later launched a surprise attack on the Nephites, this was apparently the first city they encountered invading from the west wilderness. They massacred the inhabitants and destroyed the city. For some time thereafter it was uninhabited and was known as the Desolation of Nehors (the people were of the apostate Nehor religion). Later it was reoccupied and Mornoni fortified it with his standard ditch-mound-palisade defenses. According to my model, Ammonihah would have been located somewhere near the modern city of Atenas, west of San Jose.
Amulon, Helam, and the Valley of Alma.
Helam is 8 days journey into the wilderness from the city of Nephi (Mos. 23:3).
Helam is 12 (or 13) days journey from the city of Zarahemla (Mos. 24:23-25).
Helam was in an area suitable for agriculture (Mos. 23:4-5).
The Valley of Alma was one days journey (probably northward) from Helam (Mos. 24:20).
Amulon was suitable for agriculture, but apparently not as good as Helam as they did not return to it (Mos. Ch. 23).
All these locations were in the south wilderness between Nephi and Zarahemla.
The land of Amulon should probably be encountered first in traveling toward Nephi from Zarahemla in accordance with the experience of the lost Lamanite army (Mos. 23:31-36).
There are a number of variables which have to be fulfilled in order to align these sites. First Alma and his group of 450 leave the land of Nephi about 147 BC and travel eight days into the wilderness before finding a suitable site and establishing a permanent settlement at the place which they called Helam. Next Amulon's group leaves Nephi, but initially doesn't go far as they return and steal Lamanite women for replacement wives, and later steal back at night and plunder the Nephites. At a later time they apparently travel so far into the wilderness that they don't know the way back to Nephi. They do this without running across the site of Helam. Then about 25 years after Alma first leaves Nephi, Limhi's people escape from the Lamanites, who are guarding them, into the wilderness, and are led by Ammon to Zarahemla, apparently without encountering Alma's group or the people of Amulon. The Lamanite army pursues Limhi's group, but cannot follow their tracks after the second day. They then become lost in the wilderness, find and join with the Amulon group, then encounter the land of Helam and enslave Alma's people. Alma shows the Lamanites the way back to Nephi. After some time in servitude, the Lord helps Alma's group to escape. They travel one day's journey into the wilderness and come to a beautiful valley which they call the Valley of Alma. But the Lord warns them to travel onward as the Lamanites are following them. They pursue their journey and arrive at Zarahemla after twelve day's travel.
There are only four possible locations on the eastern seaboard of Costa Rica and Panama which fit the criteria for these sites,. These are located between the proposed areas for Zarahemla and Nephi, in what is still today largely mountainous wilderness. They are:
1. A valley at the mouth of the Changuinola River in northwestern Panama.
2. The Sixaola Valley on the lower Sixaola River.
3. The Valley of Talamanca on the upper Sixaola.
4. The Valley of the Estrella on the lower Estrella River.
A tentative placement of the Valley of Alma will be made in the Valley de Estrella east of the coastal city of Cahuita. This location is spaced about right for the travel times required and is the northern most of the four valleys which meets the criteria.
Helam will be tentatively place in the Valley of Talamanca. This valley would be about eight days travel with families and possessions from the Nephi area near Volcan, Panama.
Amulon will be tentatively placed on the lower Sixaola River, which would be the area encounter first if traveling southward toward Panama.
Land of Gideon.
Criteria for the land of Gideon.
It was situated east of the River Sidon and about a days journey from Zarahemla, (Alma 6:7).
A trail led southward from Gideon to Manti, and also to the land of Nephi (Alma 17:1)
The Land of Gideon was at a higher elevation than the City of Zarahemla (Alma 62:6-7).
It was near the hill Amnihu (Alma 2:15-20).
It was located between the city of Zarahemla and the city of Minon (Alma 2:24).
Near the modern city of Turrialba the Reventazon River splits into four branches. These four tributaries spread out like fingers draining the rainforests on the north flank of the Talamancan Masif. To the east is the Tuis River, next the Attiro, then the Pejibaye, and to the west the Rio Grande de Orosi. It is proposed that the City of Gideon would have been somewhere near the modern town of La Suiza in the valley of the Tuis River. This is also one of several ancient trails leading southward to Panama. The archeological site of La Guardiria (7), near the mouth of the Tuis River, may have been the city of Gideon, however, it is not higher than the proposed site of the city of Zarahemla.
Criteria for the place Hagoth
It was on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and near the narrow neck of land (Alma 63:5).
The ships were built and launched on the west sea (Alma 63:5).
It was a safe harbor where ships could be launched and return (Alma 63:7).
Hagoth is unique in the Book of Mormon as a ship builder among a nation of farmers, herders, warriors and merchants. He apparently established a colony on the west sea coast, near the border of Bountiful and Desolation, and close to the narrow neck of land. There he built at least four ships. These were apparently used by the Nephites for immigration and shipping to the north countries. Two of these ships were lost and never returned. Some feel that these lost ships were the origin of the Polynesians. In our model these events would have taken place on the Bay of Salinas, west of the town of La Cruz, and possibly at an archeological site near the ancient cemetery of Las Pilas, which dates to this period. This is the northern most bay on the western coast of Costa Rica. It is a beautiful small horseshoe bay protected from the open seas and ideally suited for Hagoth's purposes.
Land of Jershon
Criteria for the Land of Jershon.
It was south of the land of Bountiful, by the east seashore and bordering on the south wilderness (Alma 27:22).
It was east of the city of Zarahema (Alma 27:22).
It was lower in elevation than the south wilderness (Alma 27:26).
It was north of the land of Antionum, or land of the Zoramites (Alma 31:3).
It probably encompassed the eastern coastal cities of Mulek, Gid, Omner, Morianton, Lehi, Nephihah, and Moroni.
The land of Jershon was east of the Land of Zarahemla, and south of the Land of Bountiful. There may have been a city of Jershon, but none is mentioned. In this proposal, it would encompassed the Caribbean coastal plain from the mountains to the sea shore, and extending from the Reventazon River southward to the area of Limon, which would have been on the borders of the Lamanites. It is one of the least desirable of the Costa Rican regions being much hotter, wetter, and less fertile than the highlands (however is particularly well suited for growing bananas). In the past it was covered with dense jungle vegetation. In Alma 27:22 we read that this land was given to the people of Anti-Lehi-Nephi. "And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance." The Anti-Lehi-Nephites then went "down" from the more elevated wilderness to inhabit the lowlands. Other cities, such as Moroni, Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Aaron and Mulek may have been included in the Land of Jershon, but their relationship to Jershon is not defined.
Land of Manti
Criteria for the land of Manti.
It was on the southern borders of the land of Zarahemla, at the head of the River Sidon, near the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27).
A trail from Gideon led southward to Manti (Alma 17:1).
To the south of the land of Manti, there was another valley along the course of the upper Sidon, with the hill Riplah on its east side. (Alma 43:31-32) The battle described in Alma 43 and 44 was fought on the Sidon south of Manti. The route of travel crossed the river from the east to the west, and the route down to Manti from this point was on the west bank. The river was apparently fordable at this point (Alma 43:35, 40), and was large enough that the Lamanite dead could be disposed of in the river and be washed out to sea.
This land was located at the headwaters of the Sidon River, near the narrow strip of wilderness which separated the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi. It bordered the South Wilderness. It was apparently one of the principal cities as many events took place in or around Manti. In this model there are two possibilities for the land of Manti. One lies in the valley of the Pejibaye River, near the modern town of Pejibaye (which is Indian for Peach Palm). The other would be on the upper Reventazon River near the modern town of Orosi. I tend to favor the later, although the criteria would seem to favor the former.
Land of Melek
Criteria for the land of Melek.
West of Zarahemla (Alma 8:3).
West of the Sidon River by the borders (on the edge of) of the west wilderness (Alma 8:3).
The land was large enough to contain the displaced Ammonites (Alma 35:13).
It was 3 days journey from the city of Ammonihah (Alma 8:6).
This land was west of the local land of Zarahemla, and west of the River Sidon. The people of Ammon were sent there when displaced by the war between the Zoramite/Lamanite coalition and the Nephites. Alma preached and baptized there before traveling to Ammonihah which was three days travel from the city of Melek. My model would place it in the Central Valley near the capitol of San Jose. I favor the ancient site of Pavas, which dates to the Book of Mormon period, as the location of the city of Melek. The land of Melek would probably have encompassed the entire drainage of the Tarcoles river which encompasses the Central Valley, and runs westward eventually emptying into the Pacific.
City of Moroni
Criteria for the City of Moroni.
It was located on the shore of the east sea and was near the south wilderness of the Lamanites (Alma 50:13).
The land of Moroni bordered the land of Aaron, and the city of Nephihah was built inbetween (Alma 50:14).
Lehi was a nearby city to the north (Alma 50:15; 51:24).
Moroni was surrounded by a wall (probably the trench-mound-palisade fortifications of Moroni) (Alma 62:36).
There should be no surface archeological evidence for this city as it was submerged in the sea (3 Ne. 8:9).
The city of Moroni was built shortly before the time of Christ (about 70 BC), and was probably named after the great leader, Capt. Moroni. It was located on the east sea near the border with the Lamanite south wilderness. The land of Moroni bordered the land of Aaron, and the city Nephihah was built in-between. It was also probably near the land of Antionum of the Zoramites, although that relationship is not explained in the text. This city was problably included in the land of Jershon, although this is not clear in the text. It was at the battle of Moroni that the Nephites finally drove the Lamanites out of their lands following a long period of warfare. It was at Moroni that Teancum was killed by the Lamanites after he had assassinated Ammoron. At the destruction following the crucifixion the city of Moroni was sunk into the sea and all the inhabitants drowned. It was apparently never re-established. I believe that the city of Moroni would have been on the Caribbean coast near the modern city of Limon.
The Combined Cities of Mulek, Gid, Omner, Morianton and Lehi
Criteria for the Combined Cities
They were on the east on the borders by the seashore (Alma 51:26).
They were built for defense and were probably about a days journey apart (Alma 50:9-11).
Mulek was less than a day's journey from the city of Bountiful (Alma Ch. 52).
Lehi and Morianton were probably built in close proximity to each other (Alma 50:25-36)
These cities were all fortified with a ditch, mound and wooden palisade (Alma 51:27, 55:25-26).
They were arranged in order from south to north Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek (Alma 51:26).
About 70 BC the Nephite General Moroni, in order to secure his borders, drove all the Lamanites, who had been infiltrating the east wilderness, south to the land of Nephi. Then he established a series of cities on the east coast to protect the land from further incursions. This included the cities of Moroni and Nephihah, which are dealt with elsewhere, and the cities of Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek, going northward. John Clark (18) has suggested that these cities were spaced strategically at about a days march apart. These cities were all located "on the borders by the seashore". The cities of Lehi and Morianton were apparently twin cities, built adjacent to each other. They may have been segregated Mulekite-Nephites cities. It is said that the city of Lehi was built "in a particular manner" which is a strange phrase and probably indicates that it was somewhat unusual (perhaps being a twinned city with Morianton). The cities of Lehi and Morianton were so close that they had boundary disputes over their lands which eventually resulted in the Moriantonites rebelling and trying to flee to the land northward. These cities were all taken by Lamanite forces during the wars of Moroni, but later recaptured. They were all fortified with Moroni's normal ditch-mound-palisade defense system. Mulek, the northern most of these cities, was a day,s journey or less from the city of Bountiful, apparently toward the northwest. These cities were probably all located within the land of Jershon (although this is not defined) and were south of the borders of the land of Bountiful.
The Combined Cities of Zeezrom, Cumeni, Judea and Antiparah
Criteria for the combined cities
They were on the west approaching the seacoast.
They appear to stretch westward from Manti in the order of Cumeni, Judea, Antiparah (Alma 56:14).
Cumeni seems to be just west of Manti (Alma 57:22).
The cities of Manti, Zeezrom, Cumeni, and Antiparah were apparently on the south border of the Nephite lands and were the first cities captured by the Lamanite invaders (Alma 56:14).
Cumeni doesn't appear to have been a fortified city (Alma 57:16-20).
Antiparah was between the city of Judea and an unnamed Nephite city near the west seashore (Alma 56:30).
The Nephite armies could flee two days northward from Antiparah into the wilderness (Alma 56:33-42).
In battle for Cumeni, defeated Lamanites were driven back to nearby city of Manti (Alma 57:22).
Some or all of these cities were fortified (Alma 56:20-21).
The cities of Zeezrom, Cumeni, Antiparah, and Judea will be treated as a group as related in the account of Helaman. Helaman, who is based in the city of Judea, describes his battles with the Lamanite invaders in chapters 56-58 of Alma. These events center on the above cities, which the Lamanites had earlier captured (with the exception of Judea). The city of Zeezrom is recorded as having been taken, but no further mention is made of it, so we are unaware whether it was ever regained. The order of Manti, Zeezrom, Cumeni and Antiparah moving westward may be correct, however, when the Lamanites are defeated at Cumeni they don't retreat to Zeezrom, but to Manti, which would indicate that Cumeni was closest to Manti. However, Zeezrom may have been completely destroyed in the initial attack, in which case the above order would be consistent. There is also an unnamed city beyond Antiparah, near the seacoast, which was probably under Nephite control (Alma 56:31-32). These cities may have been strategically located at measured distances to provide defense along the southern border as has been suggested by John Clark . Judea was probably set back from the frontier and centrally located. Helaman first conquers Antiparah by drawing the Lamanites out and leading them two days journey north into the west wilderness with a forced march. The Antiparah Lamanites are finally defeated and the Lamanite prisoners sent to Zarahemla, which would be at a distance of about five days travel. Helaman returns to Judea, and Antiparah is abandon by the Lamanites. Next he besieges Cumeni and is successful in taking it. Again the prisoners are sent to Zarahemla. But now a fortified Lamanite army from Manti attacks and are barely defeated, after which they retreat back to Manti. Helaman again uses the strategy of drawing the Lamanites out of Manti and leads them into the wilderness, after which his hidden confederates take the almost deserted city. The frustrated Lamanites travel east across the head of the Sidon River and travel to the coastal area near Nephihah. These events all take place during the four-year period between 66 and 62 BC. I have tentatively placed these cities along the southern edge of the Central Valley going westward from Cartago
City of Nephihah
Criteria for the City of Nephihah.
It was located between Moroni and Aaron (Alma 50:14).
It was in the borders by the east sea, but apparently not right on the seashore (Alma 51:25-26).
There was a plain near the city (Alma 62:18).
The city had walls and an entrance (Alma 61:20-22).
It was south of the city of Lehi (Alma 51:25).
The city of Nephihah was founded sometime after 70 BC, and lay between the lands of Aaron and Moroni. It was east of the city of Zarahemla and probably west of the city of Moroni. There was a plain near the city, large enough for an army encampment, and the city was fortified with Mornoni's ditch-mound-palisade defenses. It may have been located within the greater land of Jershon. The string of cities north from Nephihah, which were founded during the time of Capt. Moroni to defend the east wilderness, were in order going northward, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek, all on the borders by the sea. It was probably north of the land of Antionum (land of the Zoramites). During the Lamanite-Nephite wars, shortly before the time of Christ, Nephihah was attacked and taken several times. The city was large enough that the Lamanite forces could all be concentrated at one end of the fortifications, near the entrance, while Moroni secretly infiltrated his forces into the opposite end during the night. My model would place this city near the modern city of Estrada on the Rio Chirripo, where the river comes out of the mountains onto the coastal plains. This is west of the modern city of Limon.
Criteria for the city of Teancum.
It was near the city of Desolation (Morm. 4:3).
It was located near the seashore (Morm. 4:3).
It was near the city of Boaz (Morm. 4:20).
The Nephites retreated northward to Teancum following their loss of the city of Desolation (Morm. 4:3).
This city was probably to the north of the city of Desolation. It was likely founded by a man named Teancum, possibly the warrior of Book of Mormon fame. It was located on the seashore and was probably to the south of the city of Boaz. I have tentatively identified this city with the ancient site of San Jorge located east of Rivas on the shore of Lake Nicaragua.
The Waters of Mormon
Criteria for the Waters of Mormon.
They were in the borders of the land of Nephi (Mos. 18:31).
There was a nearby forest or thicket in which Alma could hide (Mos. 18:4, 30).
They were were named by the king (Noah?) (Mos. 18:4).
They were seasonally infested with wild beasts (Mos. 18:4).
They are described as a "fountain of pure water" (Mos. 18:5).
Alma could teach a congregation of 450 at the place (Mos. 18:7).
It was at some distance, but probably less than a day's journey from the City of Nephi (Mos. Ch.18)
"And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts. Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king." (Mosiah 18:4-5.) I propose that the small lakes at Volcan are the Waters of Mormon. These lakes are about 5 miles west of Volcan, Panama, and several miles from the ancient site of Barriles. They are formed by large volcanic springs (fountains of pure water–verse 5) and are a source of recreation for the local inhabitants. The immediate area is wooded, and is lush and green. Although it is currently on private property, public access is allowed.
(1) A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies. John Clark. FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 1 (1989).
(2) Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book Co. and FARMS. 1996. p. 38-42. Also addressed by several other authors at FARMS.
(3) Hobby, Michael and Smith, Troy. "Nephite Geography" in Zarahemla Quarterly, Vol. 2, #1. Published by the Zarahemla Geological Foundation. Michael Hobby Director. 1987-8.
(4) Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Little, Brown and Co. 1942. ch. 34-35.
(5) Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Little, Brown and Co. 1942. p.607.
(6) Michael L. Smith http://www.cocori.com/library/travl/cerro.htm
(7) Snarskis, Michael J. The Archeology of the Central Atlantic Watershed of Costa Rica. Unpublished Thesis. Columbia Univ. 1978.
(8) Nibley, Hugh. An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Priesthood Manual of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1957. p. 366, 374.
(9) Between Continents/Between Seas: Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York. 1981. p. 40.
(10) Ibid. p. 42-44.
(11) Between Continents/Between Seas: Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York. 1981. p. 81-84. (Was #3)
(12) Tamayo and Kennedy. http://www.mines.edu/camu/english/interarea/cenamerica/carlow/crcoast/index.shtml
(13) Lange, Frederick W. and Murray, Thomas A. The Archaeology of the San Dimas Valley, Costa Rica. Univ. of Northern Colo. 1972.
(14) Corrales Ulloa, Francisco. Curré: más de 3000 años de historia. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/9751/indice.htm
(15) Lee, Thomas, "Chiapas and the Olmec" in Regional Perspectives on the Olmec. Cambridge Univ. Press. 1989
(16) Tolstoy et al. "Early Sedentary Communities of Mexico" in Journal of Field Archaeology, 4: 92-106
(17) Sheets, Payson D. The Ceren Site. Case Studies in Archaeology Series. Harcourt Brace Javanovich College Publishers. 1992.
(18) A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies. John Clark. FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 1 (1989). P.
(19) Healy, Paul F. The Archeology of the Rivas Region, Nicaragua. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. 1980. P. 41-49.