Recently we had a discussion about what I called the infancy of knowledge about ancient Mesoamerica, where I argue that Mesoamerica has been much less explored and studied than Bible lands (partly due to the relative lack of ancient written documents since so many were destroyed by the Spanish). This makes it premature to rule out the Book of Mormon based on what we think we know about the area. One further example to illustrate that point comes from “The Dawn of Maya Gods and Kings” by William Saturno, National Geographic, Vol. 209, No. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 68-77, which just came to my home. This short article describes new discoveries at a Guatemalan site, San Bartolo, where an ancient mural yielded surprising information. The explorer makes this comment on the significance of a beautiful ancient mural he found inside a royal tomb dated to about 150 B.C.:
Clearly Maya painting had achieved glory centuries before the great works of the Classic Maya, in the 7th century. In Western terms, it was like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on a Michelangelo or a Leonardo.
The far end of the mural held another surprise. Some scholars thought that at this early stage in Maya history, the Preclassic, city-states had not yet evolved into full-fledged monarchies, with all the trappings seen later. But here was a king, named and titled, receiving his crown. In short, this one chamber upended much of what we thought we knew about the early Maya.
Interestingly, the Book of Mormon teaches that full-blown monarchies were in place among Nephites and Lamanites at the same time Mesoamerica (e.g., King Mosiah and King Noah among the Nephites and King Lamoni and many other kings among the Lamanites).
A mere mural showing a king being crowned has “upended much of what we thought we knew about the early Maya.” That’s food for thought.(Fortunately, if anything, this upending slightly enhances rather than weakens the case for plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document.) Stay tuned for more paradigm shifts, for there are still many large voids in knowledge about ancient Americans during Book of Mormon times.
To save some of you a little effort, let me note in advance that this finding does not prove the Book of Mormon to be true, and that we are not aware of carvings stating such things as “Welcome to Zarahemla, City of Nephites. Lamanites may not loiter on walls.” That doesn’t mean that there was not an ancient Mesoamerica city that called itself Zarahemla, but we typically do not know what locals called their cities in Book of Mormon times, or how they pronounced their names at all. The great ancient city Kaminaljuyu (now largely buried under Guatemala City), for example, was given that Mayan name in this century. We simply don’t know what its ancient name was. That’s part of why our knowledge of ancient Mesoamerica is so much less than it is of the ancient Old World in Bible lands – but both regions offer us the potential for many surprises as more research is done. Be patient.