Elephants — or Gomphotheres?

Update, Nov. 7, 2010: In light of new information, I am tempted to withdraw this post, but will keep it here for instructional and historical purposes. Several things have changed. First, I’ve been presented with convincing evidence that some publications before the Book of Mormon was published had mentioned elephant-like creatures in the Americas, so it’s possible that Joseph Smith could have been exposed to that information. Further, the Wikipedia article that mentioned a very late extinction date for elephant-like creatures has been changed to reflect the more commonly accepted much earlier date, and there have been valid questions raised about the reliability of the information it originally cited. So for now, I think the elephant/gomphothere issue is suspect and weak.

Original article:

Elephants, mammoths and mastodons in the Americas are generally believed to have gone extinct before Book of Mormon times, making the Book of Mormon reference to elephants in early Jaredite times possibly on the late side. While pockets of mastodons may have survived longer than generally thought, we may do well to consider another member of the elephant family, the Gomphotheres, which may have persisted in the Americas during Book of Mormon times. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia’s article on Gomphotheres:

The Gomphotheres are a diverse group of extinct elephant-like animals (proboscideans) that were widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, 12-1.6 million years ago. Some also lived in parts of Eurasia and Beringia, and following the Great American Interchange, in South America. From about 5 million years ago onwards, they were slowly replaced by modern elephants, but the last South American species did not finally become extinct until as recently as 400 CE[1].

Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites.[2] One example is the early human settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, dating to approximately 14,000 years ago.

The cited references above are (1) Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. pp.239–242. ISBN 1-84028-152-9, and (2) Prado, J. L.; Alberdi, M. T.; Azanza, B.; Sánchez, B.; Frassinetti, D. (2001), “The Pleistocene Gomphotheres (Proboscidea) from South America: diversity, habitats and feeding ecology”, in Cavarretta, G.; Gioia, P.; Mussi, M. et al., The World of Elephants – Proceedings of the 1st International Congress, Rome October 16-20 2001, Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, pp. 337–340, ISBN 88-8080-025-6, http://www.cq.rm.cnr.it/elephants2001/pdf/337_340.pdf, retrieved on 25 July 2008.

A related reference of possible interest might be the Hueyatlaco section of “The Solutrean Connection Question” by H. Blaine Ensor.

For pictographic evidence of elephants in the Americas, see “The Elephant and the Book of Mormon” by Glen Chapman.

A hat tip to A.L., who kindly send me an article about gomphotheres eaten by humans at Monte Verde.

Whew, I’m glad I got through a whole blog post without mentioning Prop. 8!


Author: Jeff Lindsay

20 thoughts on “Elephants — or Gomphotheres?

  1. Yeah, I think it’s some kind of cover-up ordered by the Council on Foreign Relations – or maybe Google itself.

  2. I know it really doesn’t match up with the timeframe, but I’ve always thought it would be cool if either the cureloms or the cumoms were giant ground sloths.

  3. Jeff, really appreciate your site and the work you do. Thanks for this. Tried to get on “support this” but my URL was not recognized. Whatever that means?

  4. I still contend that the time frame for the Book of Ether is not known because the beginning point of reference is to the Tower of Bable. It is the Bible, not the BoM that provides a time of 2200 BC for the Tower of Babel. That time frame is inconsistent with archeological evidence. The problem is in the Bible not the BoM.

  5. hehe.. i cant believe you are actually quoting wikipedia in this article.. please try and find a source which is just slight crediable ..

  6. Maybe you failed to notice that Wikipedia is citing some outstanding sources in the article. I hope that’s “just slight crediable” enough – whatever that means. And maybe you failed to notice the other links I provided.

    Wikipedia has its problems, but it’s a respected source for many topics. If you have some credible references with arguments against the existence of elephant-like creatures in the Americas until Book of Mormon times, I welcome your input.

  7. Jeff, Wikipedia’s founder was recently baptized a member of the Church, so all its articles (and the references they cite) have become hopelessly biased and unreliable in matters touching Mormon apologetics.

    You really should find a more reliable source to quote from.

    Just kidding 😉

  8. Zak, that’s very helpful. Very interesting discussion at that site. Looks like several authorities refer to ca. 400 A.D., but we still need to find out which specific finds, if any, support that late date.

    Still tentative!

  9. The 400 CE date for gomphothere extinction is not supported in any peer-reviewed literature. The only reference to make that claim is the encyclopedia you listed. They provide no scholarly backup for the claim, nor does any of the scientific literature seem to remotely support that date. Until you have a reference of specific radiocarbon dating, the 400 CE date cannot be trusted.

  10. The Wikipedia article has been edited and no longer says what you claim. The encyclopedia reference you gave is also not confirmed anywhere in the peer-review, and frequently contradicted by it. I would say you owe us all an official retraction now, but given your total lack of intellectual honesty in this issue to begin with, I won't hold my breath.

  11. Is there an end to how much proof people will ask? Maybe if we do get specific radiocarbon dating and support in any peer-reviewed literature (not that the support is not there, this guy just spits his claims to discredit the claims exposed here) he would question the authenticity of radiocarbon date identification and the sanity of the peers doing the review. I think it is pathetic that people go that far to discredit any, I mean ANY, proof of Book of Mormon claims.

    Thanks for the posting and thumbs down to faith challenged Engifreakineer. : )

  12. We need to update this. The 400 CE was the date of the settlement the bones were found in but not the date of the bones themselves. That's open to interpretation. But then again the original quote listed it as a "possibility" not a hard date.


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