The Discovery of an Ancient Aqueduct and the Deterioration of Ancient Architecture in Baja California

An aqueduct, probably of 18th century Jesuit design, was uncovered by Hurricane Odile near Santa Gertrudis in Baja California

An aqueduct, probably of 18th century Jesuit design, was uncovered by Hurricane Odile near Santa Gertrudis in Baja California

In September, 2014, Hurricane Odile made landfall and swept up the Baja California peninsula.  Odile was one of several strong storms to hit the peninsula during the El Ninó that occurred in 2014.

Although the Book of Mormon makes no mention of aqueducts or irrigation, there are various forms of architecture described in the text.  One question that we recently addressed in another article is why we haven’t found architecture like we see in Book of Mormon paintings in the Baja California Peninsula.

While the answer to that question involves inaccurate expectations, another factor is the potential for Book of Mormon architecture to be lost to erosion in the mountains and deserts of the peninsula.

Hurricane Odile left a trail of destruction in the peninsula.  Roads were destroyed, sections of land washed into the sea, and a lot of erosion occurred in arroyos where flooding occurred.

One of the results of this erosion was the discovery of an previously unknown aqueduct near the ancient Jesuit mission of Santa Gertrudis in the central peninsula.  The location and style of the aqueduct indicate that it was likely built by the Jesuits in the 18th century to support the agricultural lands that they developed to sustain the mission.

While the aqueduct itself is probably not related to architecture described in the Book of Mormon, it does represent an example of significant architecture being hidden by erosional processes in a relatively short period of time.  In fact, the missions themselves can be used as a proxy, showing us the speed at which Nephite cities could have deteriorated in the peninsula in the 15+ centuries since the Book of Mormon was written.

There were many missions built in the peninsula during the 17th and 18th century.  Many were later abandoned, but a few of the missions have remained in service.  Of those that remained in service, all but one required demolition and rebuilding due to deterioration.  Only at the mission of San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó can you find the original mission chapel.  It shows us the beauty and grandeur that were typical of the original mission structures:

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó

The interior of the original Jesuit chapel built as part of the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó.

The interior of the original Jesuit chapel built as part of the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó.

The missions themselves consisted of many more structures than just their beautiful chapels.  They required quarters for the Padres themselves, housing for soldiers, and structures for the hundreds or thousands of natives housed together for months or years at a time as they prepared for baptism and participated (willingly or not) in mission culture.  The missions also included agricultural fields and grazing lands for large herds of animals as well as defensive structures and storage buildings.

One of many examples that can be used to show how quickly these structures tend to deteriorate in the peninsula is the mission of San Fernando de Velicatá.  In 1775 the mission itself was a large compound with well-built structures housing more than 1,400 people, but the following photo shows what the mission had been reduced to just 151 years later:

The Franciscan mission of San Fernando de Velicatá photographed in 1926

The Franciscan mission of San Fernando de Velicatá photographed in 1926

Here is another photo of the same structure.  The angle of the photo shows the corner that is on the left in the previous photo.

velicata_2002This shows us that in just a little over 200 years, a large city that once housed 1,400 people has almost completely disappeared back into the landscape it was built upon.

As mentioned above, there are many missions that were build in this same general period of time but were later abandoned and have turned into similar ruins in the 200-300 years that followed:

Photo by Edward Vernon.

Abandoned mission of San Bruno. Photo by Edward Vernon.

This photo, taken in 2001, shows scattered foundation stones, the only remains of the mission of San Juan Bautista de Ligui.  Photo by David Kier.

This photo, taken in 2001, shows scattered foundation stones, the only remains of the mission of San Juan Bautista de Ligui. Photo by David Kier.

 

The ruins of the original mission of Comondu Viejo.  The mission was later moved to the current location, now called San Jose de Comondu. Photo by Howard Gulick.

The ruins of the original mission of Comondu Viejo. The mission was later moved to the current location, now called San Jose de Comondu.

The remains of the first site of the Purisima Viejo mission.

The remains of the first site of the Purisima Viejo mission.

The remains of the final site of the Purisima Viejo mission.

The remains of the final site of the Purisima Viejo mission.

Only some foundation walls remain at the site of the mission of Guadalupe De Huasinapi.  Photo by Kevin Clough.

Only some foundation walls remain at the site of the mission of Guadalupe De Huasinapi. Photo by Kevin Clough.

The remains of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Apate mission.

The remains of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Apate mission.

The ruins of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Chilla mission.

The ruins of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Chilla mission.

The ruins of the mission of Santiago el Apostol Aiñini.

The ruins of the mission of Santiago el Apostol Aiñini.

The adobe ruins of the mission of San Francisco Borja de Adac.

The adobe ruins of the mission of San Francisco Borja de Adac.

These ruins are the original site of the San Borja mission, initially called Calamajue.

These ruins are the original site of the San Borja mission, initially called Calamajue.

The adobe walls continue to deteriorate at the mission of Santa Maria de los Angeles.

The adobe walls continue to deteriorate at the mission of Santa Maria de los Angeles.

rosario

The ruins of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Viñadaco mission. Photo by David Kier.

The deteriorating walls of the second site of the Rosario mission.

The deteriorating walls of the second site of the Rosario mission.

There are many more examples like these.  It is clear that settlements with large architecture and populations in the thousands in the peninsula deteriorate to the point that they are no longer obvious features, if they are detectable at all.  Considering that these examples have only experienced a couple of centuries of neglect, we can start to imagine what might have happened to Nephite buildings in the 15 centuries since Mormon and Moroni completed the text.

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