How can you find something if you don't know what you're looking for?
Discovering where the Book of Mormon takes place requires knowing what you're looking to find. Our archaeological checklist involves necessary requirements for someone proposing a Book of Mormon map. Consider this archaeology's qualifying round for any Book of Mormon location proposal.
Any inquisitive reader of the Book of Mormon can make a map based on the
geographic exposition within the scripture. Our process is systematic and a bit different. Archaeological requirements must first overlay onto the inside map. These steps build toward the eventual goal: a research-driven, real-world setting for Book of Mormon events with over 420 archaeological and geological connections.
Archaeology & the Book of Mormon
Archaeologists study people from their material remains - the stuff they dig up. Although it does follow scientific principles, archaeology isn't a perfect science. When you excavate a site - you destroy the site. You don't get to dig the same spot twice with the same results. Even with many things left to uncover, research constantly delivers an incredible amount of data on the historic and prehistoric people of the western hemisphere. Excavations continue daily and knowledge of people and places across the Americas' past exist today in incredible detail.
Book of Mormon research must try to follow basic principles of Occam's Razor: the simpler the solution, the better. The millions of people referenced in the Book of Mormon's 47 named cities aren't completely lost with all their civilization yet to be discovered. That stretches beyond sensible reality. This isn't about finding a lost civilization; this is about correctly identifying the people and places within an already excavated culture core.
Our focus observes necessary archaeological requirements or clearest set of major criteria as outlined from the Book of Mormon. Naturally, like the Bible, many pieces will be left for further research. Overall, a brief set of fundamentals must be met.
Let's outline mandatory requirements. From inside of the text outward, the following must exist in any real world setting proposal for Book of Mormon people and locations:
Archaeological Requirements for a New World Book of Mormon Setting
2 State Level Societies [Civilizations]
Writing & Literature
1. 2 State Civilizations
Any proposed Book of Mormon real world setting must contain 2 different state level societies to identify as 1. Jaredite and 2. (A) Nephite & (B) Lamanite. What does that mean, exactly?
Anthropologists study social groups categorically as bands, tribes, chiefdoms, or states. (Chart here). Jaredite and Nephite civilizations politically peak as state societies for the following reasons (please consider this article for a more detailed review):
1. The Jaredites arrive to the Promised Land circa 2500-2200BCE. By 1500BCE, the civilization achieves a state level society with multiple cities under a central government (see Ether 7:11; 10:4, 12), labor specialization & social stratification (see Ether 10:22-27), population expansion across the face of the Land Northward (see Ether 7:11), written records, and armies (see Ether 14). Under a massive civil war, the civilization collapses in the 6th century BCE (see Ether 15). While Ether provides only limited cultural information, these collective data check enough boxes to categorize the civilization at a state level society.
2. (A) The Nephites arrive to the Promised Land circa 600BCE. The band/tribal group grows in complexity into a state level society within a few hundred years. Eventually the civilization has a centralized government (see Mosiah 29); people divide into social statuses with different access to resources (see Alma 51:8; 3 Nephi 6:12). Populations expand (see Omni 1:17) and urbanize (see Helaman 7:22). People develop agriculture with food surpluses (see Alma 1:29; Helaman 6:12), markets (see Helaman 7), standing armies (see Alma 62:43), public works like roads and temples (see Alma 16:13; 3 Nephi 6:8) among several other criteria. In fact, details are provided to see the remarkable Nephite transition from tribal groups into a chiefdom and eventually a state.
2. (B) The Lamanites utterly destroy the Nephite culture at the end of the Book of Mormon. Many Nephite dissenters join Lamanites throughout the text and vice versa (see Alma 31:8; 43:13). The Book of Mormon is ethnocentric - written from a Nephite cultural & religious perspective. Not much internal detail is provided on Lamanites, but the massive army sizes alone (see Mormon 6) suggest an expanding state society by 400CE. The Nephite society collapses, but the utter military dominance suggests rapid expansion of Lamanite culture after the Book of Mormon's end.
For more information about population sizes and the Book of Mormon, please consider this article.
The Nephite and Jaredite civilizations in the Book of Mormon develop into state level societies. Archaeology may not dig up every detail, but any Book of Mormon map must be qualified by 2 different civilizations located at the right place and dating to the right time.
From the dirt, archaeology and the Book of Mormon frame a very specific picture. Two different civilizations rise and either fall or are taken over. Archaeological evidence from these two civilizations must exist with supportive data.
2. Writing & Literature
The Book of Mormon is an ancient, written record. If their people did not write their complete stories, we would never have a Book of Mormon to read. Both major civilizations in the Book of Mormon, Nephite and Jaredite, prolifically write.
The Jaredite written history was discovered on 24 (sets of) gold plates by a Nephite group of explorers who venture into the Land Northward (see Mosiah 8:9; Mosiah 21:27; Ether 1:2). The prophet Ether completed this Jaredite written record and hid the writings for the later Nephite discovery (see Ether 15:33).
Nephi writes as early as the late 6th century BCE and writing continues by both Nephites and Lamanites throughout the Book of Mormon. Groups write letters (see 3 Nephi 3), multiple religious and historical plates, and more. Many Nephites could even read the Title of Liberty, a writing from torn cloth, as Captain Moroni traveled across Nephite territory (see Alma 46). For more detail, check out this complete chart of Book of Mormon written records. Also, review the record keepers across time using this chart.
Ancient writings begin with systems of weights and measures, basic accounting, and number systems. The Nephites also provide details on their weights and measures for barter and trade (see Alma 11). Further studies are important and must rifle focus to ~80-90 BCE. From weights and measures, some cultures develop complex literature understood by mostly the educated and upper class. The end of the Jaredite civilization and entire Nephite history involve fully developed literature.
Any proposal for real world Book of Mormon people and places must include archaeological evidence for at least two, correctly dated and fully developed, writing systems.
Where did the Book of Mormon take place?
The Book of Mormon took place where two different societies develop into state level civilizations prolifically using unique writing systems.
Readers should use caution of the many proposed maps excluding or minimizing either of the 2 major archaeological features listed above (state level societies and literature). Archaeology provides a qualifying round, like the inside map, that build together a comprehensive picture for a real world Book of Mormon setting. Review the inside map of the Book of Mormon by studying the top 10 major geographic features and size and scale of the map.
To find the location of Book of Mormon events, we must...
...take the inside map and...
...place the 2 archaeological checkpoints (state level society & writing) onto the inside map.
We also must place any geological checkpoints onto the inside map.
Finally, we will place our final Book of Mormon map onto its real world location. Any map proposal not meeting the broad standards of the qualifiers above do not match the Book of Mormon's own requirements.
Studying the people and culture of a real world location will help students understand the Book of Mormon. Context is king. This article overlays the basic archaeological qualifiers from the Book of Mormon onto the inside map - a critical piece to discovering the real people and places in the New World setting of the Book of Mormon.
REVIEW THE BOOK OF MORMON'S INSIDE MAP:
ARTICLES FOR FURTHER STUDY (SOURCE DOWNLOADS):
Magleby, Kirk (2016) 'State Level Society' Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum http://www.bmaf.org/node/640
RECOMMENDED BOOK READING (SOURCES):
Mann, C. C. (2005). 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: Knopf.
Service, Elman R. 1915-1996, Primitive Social Organization: An Evolutionary Perspective. New York: Random House, 1962.
John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events:A Source Book, rev. ed. (Provo, UT: F.A.R.M.S., 1990, 1992)