Both the Mesoamerican and the heartland Book of Mormon geography theories have their strong points and, shall we say, areas that need further research. Here are a few random strengths and weaknesses from both theories.
1. Geographic correlation
Hundreds of different geographic descriptions in the Book of Mormon — such as two seas, a narrow neck of land, a large north-flowing river and so forth — correlate with features in Mesoamerica.
2. High level of civilization
"There is civilization in Mesoamerica, and civilization is what the Book of Mormon describes," said John L. Sorenson, author of "An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon." "Civilization, meaning cities — even great cities, large masses of people, large wars, big agricultural base for the economy, temples and towers and so on."
"In Mesoamerica, there are at least 15 types of script, of writing," Sorenson said. "The system of writing that is typical for Mesoamerica is all of the Egyptian style. … The only thing that is different about them is the characters."
Mesoamerica has cities — large urban areas that date to the right time for the Book of Mormon.
"There would have to be some remains of Jaredites, of a particular era and scope. There would have to be Nephites distinct from, separate from and opposed to Lamanites. There would have to be Mulekites. And there are, as a matter of fact, evidence for all of these — for such groups, for multiple groups, in Mesoamerica," Sorenson said.
Although Sorenson said he has several hundred specimens of smelted metal from Book of Mormon time periods, he acknowledged that most archaeologists would dismiss them. Linguistic evidence, however, finds words for metal that go back to 1,000 B.C. "I see that as a problem for archaeology," Sorenson said.
The East Sea in the Mesoamerican model is more northeast, and the West Sea (Pacific Ocean) is southward.
C. Statements of Joseph Smith
Although there are some apparent statements from Joseph Smith that some Book of Mormon places were in Central America, there is also some dispute that he made those statements.
D. Transporting Gold Plates
The distance from Mesoamerica to the New York Hill Cumorah is thousands of miles — a long way to carry a heavy package.
Some question that the limited geographic model of Mesoamerica is big enough to contain all of the described civilizations and travels.
Heartland theory strengths
1. Promised land
"This is the promised land. The prophecies and promises indicate that the United States has to be at least some part of the Book of Mormon, because practically every one of these promises in it can only really be applied as the United States," Rod L. Meldrum said. "It is a nation 'above all other nations,' and a 'mighty' Gentile nation. Well, what other nation are they talking about here? I don't think that they are talking about Guatemala here."
2. Joseph Smith statements
Joseph Smith made several statements throughout his life that indicate that he believed Book of Mormon events took place in North America.
Journal studies of Native American DNA shows that the rare X DNA haplogroup is found in the parts of North America where the heartland theorists say the Book of Mormon took place. Although geneticists' dating of the DNA does not correlate with Book of Mormon times, the X DNA haplogroup has its origins in the Middle East, not Asia.
North America has sites that date to the right time for the Book of Mormon and that match descriptions of fortifications.
5. Hill Cumorah
The Gold Plates were buried in the New York Hill Cumorah.
A. River Sidon
"The Book of Mormon makes it abundantly clear that the river Sidon runs from the south to the north," Sorenson said. And in Alma 2, Alma and his army wade across the river to fight the invading Lamanites The river Sidon in the heartland model is considered to be the Mississippi River.
There are hills in the land of Nephi. Sorenson said it is always described as "up" in relation to everything else. "Where is the 'up' (in the heartland model)? Is it the hills of Kentucky?" Sorenson said.
C. A West Sea
The Narrow Neck of Land has a west side on a West Sea. The border by the West Sea is where Nephi and Lehi and their party landed. If the West Sea is one of the Great Lakes, Sorenson wonders how Lehi sailed to it from Asia.
"Where is the snow in Zarahemla?" Sorenson said. "Where is the snow in the Book of Mormon? Where is the cold in the Book of Mormon? Not a single word that indicates anything other than warmth and even tropical heat."
E. Lack of Civilization
The evidence of the type of high civilization described in the Book of Mormon is less prevalent than in Mesoamerica.