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Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Dilemmas with Great Lakes model more than just geographical

Published: Monday, Jan. 24 2011 6:00 a.m. MST

As argued in last week’s installment, the Great Lakes model for Book of Mormon geography has a number of geographical inconsistencies and dilemmas. The problems for this model extend beyond geographical issues, however.

Great Lakes proponents often associate Nephites with the Hopewell tradition of the Great Lakes region (a loose cluster of early Native American cultures that shared common aspects). The Jaredites are said to correspond with the Archaic or Adena periods. In a review of several books which propose a Great Lakes geography, professional archaeologist Dr. John Clark pointed out that we need to look at more than just evidence for the existence of people in the right times and places.

"(W)e must question if they lived in the manner described in the text and if the content is right. It is essential to make a clear distinction here between archaeological evidence for occupation and evidence of a people's cultural attainments. All the (Great Lakes) books considered here blur this distinction and take evidence of human occupation in the New York area as evidence of past civilizations.”

“Civilization,” explains Clark, is a technical term with a special meaning in archaeology that typically denotes complex societies with cities and kings — a basic requirement for the Book of Mormon.

"Adena and Hopewell peoples lived in Pennsylvania and western New York, but this region represented the impoverished fringe or cultural backwater of their culture.”

According to Clark, the archaeological record for the New York region paints a picture of “a long record of small bands of hunters and gatherers (berry eaters) who lived there for millennia.”

“In summary,” explains Clark, “the archaeology of New York is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live there.” The archaeological record of that region and time lacks evidence for cities, corn agriculture, fortifications and dense populations. “Therefore, New York is not Book of Mormon country, and we should be looking elsewhere. ….”

LDS researcher Douglas Christensen — board member of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum — lists several reasons why he feels the Hopewell Indians do not match what the Book of Mormon text requires of the people. Likewise, Dr. John Sorenson, a retired New World anthropologist, offers several reasons why he doesn’t believe that the Great Lakes region and cultures match the Book of Mormon text. Among their lists are the following:

1. While the Book of Mormon cultures were literate, there is no evidence of literacy among any Great Lakes cultures during Book of Mormon times.

2. The Book of Mormon recounts the stories of numerous fierce large-scale wars. There is no evidence of such warfare among the Hopewell.

3. While the Book of Mormon talks of many “cities” and even “great cities” between 1500 B.C. and A.D. 400, not a single such city has been documented in North America in that period.

4. While the Book of Mormon mentions only four women by name in the entire book, the Hopewell culture was a matriarchal society.

5. For much of the Book of Mormon history the population totaled from the hundreds of thousands into the millions. There is no evidence that the populations in the ancient Great Lakes region came anywhere near such levels.

6. Swords, “cimeters” and armor are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. None of this is found in the archaeological evidence or artwork from the ancient Great Lakes cultures.

7. For several winters nearly a quarter of a million Nephites lived near Cumorah for their final battle. Not only doesn’t the Book of Mormon mention the cold and snow conditions that a people in the Great Lakes region must have encountered, but we are left to wonder how so many people in western New York could have lived in tents during those cold winters and what they would have done for food.

8. If the New York “Cumorah” was the Cumorah of the final Nephite battle, archaeology should have discovered up to a half a million corpses and hundreds of thousands of weapons. No such finds have ever been made.

9. Large-scale fortifications — of specific types — are mentioned as being utilized by Book of Mormon people, but they are unknown from the archaeological evidence in the Great Lakes region.

10. The destruction recorded in 3 Nephi obviously refers to volcanic activity, yet volcanoes are unknown in the Great Lakes region.

In Clark’s review of several Great-Lakes-model books, he claims:

“All authors ineptly handle archaeological and anthropological details of the text and of the real-world setting. Their arguments are not plausible and sometimes not even logical.

“One cannot believe geologists' reconstructions of ancient lakes and then choose to disbelieve the dates given for them. One cannot take early settlers' accounts of the wonderful archaeological finds in New York as positive evidence and then turn around and discard the statements of the most knowledgeable archaeologist to have ever worked in the state. Such a procedure reveals that a researcher already has a conclusion in mind and is only harvesting sound bites from authorities to back his own claims — to lend them an appearance of credibility rather than seeking for the reality.”

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