Nephites in the Amazon?

Here’s some good news for those Book of Mormon believers who’ve been hodling on to the “we just haven’t found them yet” theory of where all the Nephite cities went:

Unlike ancient Andean civilisations, the Kuikuro and other indigenous peoples from the Amazon had little stone close at hand. They built with earth and, once they were gone, the forest reclaimed the land, leaving little trace of the once considerable urbanisation.

See the whole article and tell us what you think! 😀


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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29 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Personally, I’m still a fan of the “god hides the evidence so you can have faith” school. In which case, all this stuff is really just part of the devil’s plan to destroy your faith. TBMs beware.

    But hopefully on a more thoughtful note: I suppose BoM believers will see the ref to “earthen walls” and “civic centers” and feel a pang of confirmation bias. Nevermind that Joseph Smith had his sources and the only real argument is whether the source was god or man.

  2. chanson says:

    In which case, all this stuff is really just part of the devil’s plan to destroy your faith. TBMs beware.

    lol, I was worried about that possibility myself. 😉

  3. Seth R. says:

    Well, yeah…

    I’ve been saying for some time that humid tropical climates are capable of swallowing up evidence of large civilizations.

    And yeah, I’m not above enjoying a bit of confirmation bias now and then.

  4. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    so Seth: Where was the hill where the last battle took place?

  5. Craig says:

    I think the 14th century is a little late for Nephite civilisation, considering they’re supposed to have been wiped out by the Lamanites in 421, wasn’t it?

    But seriously, I think that a lot of Mormons will latch onto this information, similar to their other cherry-picking of isolated facts with seem to support the claims of the Book of Mormon, and ignore the overwhelming evidence against it.

    Of course, lots of people do this, not just Mormons, as we can plainly see from politicians. Really, there are far too many similarities between organised religion and politics for my liking.

    And my faith was decimated long ago.

    Crafty devil.

  6. Seth R. says:

    The only reason I like it is because one of the common criticisms of the Book of Mormon is that societies of that complexity NEVER EXISTED on the American continents.

    It was a dumb argument to begin with, of course, but hey, I like seeing a dumb argument go down in flames as much as the next guy.

  7. chanson says:

    The only reason I like it is because one of the common criticisms of the Book of Mormon is that societies of that complexity NEVER EXISTED on the American continents.

    What? Who said that? Clearly you’ve been talking to some rather uneducated anti-mo’s 😉

    Some nations that existed in the Americas at the time of Columbus were quite urban and civilized, with impressive architectural achievements (pyramids, etc.), literature, mathematics, astronomy, etc.

    Their literature and their agricultural products and other technology don’t correspond to the stories in the BoM, but that’s not the same as saying they didn’t have a complex civilization.

  8. Seth R. says:

    It’s also the argument from silence. For years, people have been arguing that because we can’t find it, that means the evidence probably isn’t there.

    Which any archaeologist can tell you is a completely stupid assumption. Contrary to popular assumption, the vast, VAST majority of archaeological evidence, from any society, vanishes without a trace and is never found. Well preserved sites are an extreme rarity.

    Which is why it’s just stupid to say the historical and archaeological evidence is “overwhelmingly against” the Book of Mormon. True, there is little proof of the record’s authenticity. But that’s not the same thing.

  9. Matt says:

    Keep digging, Seth. You’ll find what you’re looking for evehntuallah. As usual, God is always hiding one step away, and another, and another….nice to keep busy though.

  10. Seth R. says:

    Same to you Matt.

  11. Hellmut says:

    It’s also the argument from silence. For years, people have been arguing that because we can’t find it, that means the evidence probably isn’t there.
    Which any archaeologist can tell you is a completely stupid assumption.

    That’s true with respect to some evidence, not of others. For example, not being able to map the Book of Mormon on ruins is not much of a problem.

    Not being able to find evidence of the flora and fauna mentioned in the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is a big problem.

  12. Seth R. says:

    No it isn’t. For years people were harping on us for not having found any Pre-Columbian barley.

    Well, they actually did find some in central Arizona. Very rare find to find actual plant samples from so long ago preserved. Who knows what else might turn up?

    This also doesn’t account for common historical patterns of language migration. Take “corn” for instance. When the Europeans arrived in North America, they encountered the Native Americans growing maize. The Europeans didn’t know what to call it, so they simply called it “Indian corn.” In England at that time “corn” simply meant any kind of grain. Thus “Indian corn.” Now we just call that yellow stuff corn.

    History is absolutely rife with examples of language migrating in this fashion. People encounter new things and ideas that they have never seen before. Since they do not know what to call it, they simply call it by it’s closest approximation in their own language. Thus a word may shift in meaning.

    “Steel” is another good example. Today is just means a carbon-iron alloy. But in the ancient world, it simply meant “hard metal” or even just “something hard.” It was only much later in world history that the word migrated to actually mean carbonized iron alloy.

    So the words in the Book of Mormon may actually mean what they mean to the modern reader. Or they might refer to something else entirely. “Sword” in the Book of Mormon may refer to what we view as a sword, or it might refer to a wooden stick set with razor sharp scraps of obsidian (like the Mayans and Aztecs used). We don’t know, and we shouldn’t make assumptions. Likewise, horse may mean what we usually think of when we use the word, or it may mean some other animal. We don’t know.

    This no doubt, sounds lame to people who are already operating from their own preconceptions. But it is nothing more, nor less than what any good historian or archaeologist knows about reading ancient documents. Reputable scholars would never read what they considered a bona fide ancient document with the assumptions that you are operating under.

    But that’s the problem. Many people refuse to read it as a historical document (having already made up their minds that it’s a fairy tale). Therefore the usual careful scholarly protocols apparently do not apply.

    If it comes to that, horse remains and elephant remains have been found in the Americas. Not contemporary with the Book of Mormon periods necessarily. But they are new, they are unprecedented, and they have shot down the previous scholarly opinion that horses did not exist in the Pre-Columbian Americas.

    There’s just an awful lot of rushing to conclusions going on here.

    Contrary to what you all may believe. I’m open to the possibility that the Book of Mormon is, in fact, fictional. But I’m not about to go around broadcasting conclusions where conclusions cannot be drawn.

    The evidence against the Book of Mormon is not “overwhelming.” The book is not an “obvious fraud.” And the evidence of flora and fauna is not “a big problem.” It’s all just arguing from absence of evidence, and I ain’t buying it.

    Hey, if you aren’t convinced of the Book of Mormon thing, fine by me. That’s a reasonable position, actually. But this non-believer triumphalism is really just stupid. You haven’t debunked anything. All you done is yell about how we haven’t found certain things (while ignoring things that we have actually found) and then held this up as “proof” of the grand fraud. No responsible historian or archaeologist would behave in such a fashion.

  13. Matt says:

    As long as the debunking requires that we prove it didn’t happen then, yes, we haven’t debunked anything. But what we have debunked is virtually everything put forward as proof that the BoM did happen. That’s good enough for me.

  14. Hellmut says:

    I don’t know, Seth. If Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon then the meaning of the words should reflect 19th century English. Otherwise, the concept of “translation” would not make sense.

    That is doubly true if one assumes that Joseph Smith’s translation abilities relied on some sort of divine gift or intervention.

  15. Matt says:

    BTW, Seth, I’m reading your comment a little closer and am appalled by the degree of apologetics. The only thing that really matters is what did words like “steel” and “sword”, etc, mean to the 19th C mind of Joseph Smith? They’re the words he chose (or the words that were given to him — a more TBM view). That’s really all the argument you need. Everything else about language morphing, etc, is just ridiculously disconnected from even the most faithful view of the BoM. Failure to read as a historic document? Failure to follow scholarly protocols? This is the reason that many critics fail?

    You make it sound as if the BoM and the ancient manuscript it’s purported to be a translation of are one and the same.

    Come on man, even JS had the sense to keep the original out of the hands of scholars.

    No, what you have here is an artifact of faith and no more. If I recall correctly, this is actually what the book says about itself. All this evidence you’re grasping at (or requiring of your critics) is totally contrary to the gods will.

    REPENT! 😛

  16. Seth R. says:

    I think that makes too many unwarranted assumptions about the translation process.

  17. Hellmut says:

    Well, all one has to assume is that a translation is a translation. Translation refers to the transposition of an original text not known to the audience into a language that the audience masters.

    The notion that a translator would use words anachronistically can only refer to a failure of translation.

    When Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon during the late 1820s, he wrote for Americans during the late 1820s. If we assume that Joseph Smith was a competent translator then it follows that he used the vocabulary consistent with the common usage at this time.

    Joseph Smith did not translate the Book of Mormon into Middle English or Proto English. He translated the Book of Mormon into contemporary English. Insofar as the English language has changed during the last 180 years, it might be necessary to reinterpret the language of the Book of Mormon but if Joseph Smith was a competent translator all all, then his translation should have been up to date at the time of the translation.

  18. Matt says:

    On the subject of assuming too much, in order to come to the conclusion that the process of translation (even divinely assisted) might not actually resemble “the process of translation” as commonly understood, one might actually be assuming more credulity than is warranted. Just sayin’.

  19. Seth R. says:

    Hellmut, let’s just use a made up example.

    If Nephi arrived in, say, South America and encountered a llama, and decided to call it a camel, and used the Reformed Egyptian character for camel…

    How would you expect Joseph Smith to render the word in English? Assuming, of course, that Joseph is getting supernatural help in translating. How would he be expected to render it?

    Do you expect God to step in and say “oops, sorry, Nephi didn’t know what he was talking about there – put llama instead?”

    Or do you expect God to simply reveal the accepted translation of the Reformed Egyptian character, and leave it as “camel” – just as Nephi himself intended?

  20. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Seth: ‘IF’ the book was to be accurate, JS should have used the scientific (family, genis, species) [latin derived] nomenclature.

    accuracy ONLY comes from being specific, ambiguity doesn’t need any standard.

  21. Matt says:

    Guy, good point. And since god’s not a fan of science but appears to revel in ambiguity … well, the BoM is just god being god. Eh? Heh. 🙂

    Seth, I wish you could hear yourself talking (er, read your own words). Assuming that JS is getting supernatural help I think we’d expect the limitations of language to not be a huge problem — that’s a man problem not a god problem. At very least we’d expect JS to perform somewhat better than a scholar. BUT — as we know — JS was not a scholar of ancient languages venturing on his own to crack some new variant of Egyptian. He was an unlearned boy by his own account. An alleged necessity of god’s purposes in confounding the learning of men. Yet, in you attempt to defend the veracity of JS’s BoM account, you would like us to believe that he might have fallen victim to a scholars challenge of dealing with the possibility of differences in the use of a known vocabulary?

    Nevermind that no one but JS has ever seen this “Reformed Egyptian” which at this point has less evidence for its existence in the real world than Tolkien Elvish.

    No, the suggestion of such common translation errors as a possible explanation for anachronisms in the BoM is both without foundation in evidence and counter to the narrative surrounding and contained in the BoM itself.

    Again, should you wish to be rewarded by your father in heaven, I suggest that you repent of this mad dash for evidence. The book is magical and only magical thinking will prove it. Whether the Mormon god is real or not … this can’t end well.

  22. Seth R. says:


    I imagine there’s a point somewhere in that stream of consciousness ramble, but I’m having a hard time seeing it.

  23. Seth R. says:

    To tell the truth Matt, I don’t really want to get into a detailed argument over evidence for the Book of Mormon.

    There is really only one thing I’d like.

    Just a bit of respect.

    That’s it.

    I don’t really care if you don’t believe Mormonism. Fine.

    All I want is for people to stop talking about how stupid we are. How brainwashed. How deluded. How Joseph was an “obvious fraud.” How the whole LDS thing is an “obvious fantasy.”

    That sort of extremist rhetoric is very arrogant, condescending, and unsupported. There are plenty of thoughtful Mormons who are not “brainless tools.” Plenty of us have struggled with the problems of our religion and reached an informed position.

    I really just wish you’d stop implying that we’re stupid idiots.

    It’s really not very charitable of you.

    That’s really all I want. OK?

  24. Seth R. says:

    And I really need to stop using the word “really” so much. I mean, really…

  25. Matt says:

    Fair enough. I do think I was intentionally stupid in my own belief but also realize that it was mitigated by many other factors that led me to believe. When I speak critically of these things it’s difficult not to let a little self-loathing seep-in as derision.

    FWIW, I don’t think you’re stupid. And as long as we’re on the topic of charity, I would really like it if you wouldn’t take my criticism of Mormon faith as a personal attack. To do so is to suggest that I have no point other than to call you a stupid idiot. Respect goes both ways here.

  26. Seth R. says:

    Look, it’s not like I’ve never indulged in a bit of over-the-top rhetoric myself. I’m just pointing out that you tend to use extreme words like “obvious fraud” an awful lot.

    If this religion is an “obvious fraud,” that clearly implies that those of us who are still here are either ignorant, deluded, or not being honest with ourselves (or a charming mixture of them all).

    Just watch the rhetoric. And I’ll try to watch mine.

  27. Hellmut says:

    Seth, I would expect any competent translator to understand the language of the writer as well as the language of the audience.

    If the word camel meant llama to Nephi then a competent translator would transpose llama for camel. Otherwise, the translation would have failed.

    A “physical” translator, as opposed to Joseph Smith’s metaphysical translation, would, of course, be stumped if he or she were to encounter the word camel in Viking’s accounts of their trips to the Americas.

    May be, it would require decades of research and analysis to translate the term camel satisfactorily.

    I am not sure, however, if one can reasonably invoke that excuse for someone who claims to translate with divine intervention, at least not while maintaining the claim the Joseph Smith’s authority was such that I owe him obedience.

    Somebody whose metaphysical power is so weak that it would confuse a llama for a camel is in no position to tell anyone else what to do.

    Joseph Smith, of course, demanded quite a bit of obedience, which included the seizure of other people’s property, their wives and their children.

    If we were to accept your model of prophetic translation, Seth, then Smith’s power claims become not only absurd but the Saints’ obedience becomes self-destructive.

  28. Matt says:

    One might call it nitpicking, but I’m still looking for the place where I used the terms “obvious fraud”, “obvious fantasy”, or “stupid idiot”. Sure, you might interpret what I’ve written to have the same meaning and I don’t disagree that it might be interpreted that way. But again, on the topic of charity, that’s not a very charitable interpretation and suggests that I’m simply making a thoughtless attack.

    I think it’s an unavoidable consequence that when discussing what’s lacking in the religious claims of Mormons there will be a strong tendency to feel personally attacked. Nevertheless, this is no reason to pull punches. My recollection is that I was taught as a missionary “the truth will set you free”, the obvious implication being that folks need help being freed from delusion and misguided beliefs. It never occurred to me then that some might take this as an attack on their intelligence. But you know, it’s unavoidable. And the missionary effort continues.

    I’ll continue to speak openly, as should you. Perhaps what we might watch is our natural inclination to take personal offense when our cherished beliefs are criticized. Particularly if we’re tempted to use this personal offense as a means of argument.

    I’m willing to work on this.

  29. Seth R. says:

    That’s fine Matt. I’ll leave it there.

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