Prehistoric Horizons

There are many migrations of people described in the text of the Book of Mormon.  The migrations that seem to be most obvious to the reader relate to the migrations of the Jaredites and Lehi’s party to the new world.  These migrations have something in common.  They explicitly describe the migration of small groups of people.  Although we know less about the size of the Mulekite party, we have no reason to think that it was significantly larger than the others.

These three small migrating parties are not likely to leave a large anthropological footprint in the early years of their cultural history.  They developed and grew over time, creating new settlements as their populations grew from generation to generation.

Anthropologists define the term “horizon” as:

A discrete regional cultural period or level of cultural development marked by some easily recognizable criterion or trait. –ref

The new-world settlements established by the initial migrations described in the Book of Mormon would be likely to create some recognizable cultural and temporal horizons, but the initial onset of these horizons would be difficult to recognize in the anthropological record because of the small size of the initial groups.

In contrast to these small beginnings we would expect to find significant, sharp horizons marking the sudden, violent end of the Jaredite and later the Nephite cultures.

Although the initial migrations and later the collapses of these groups are obvious places to look for horizons that may match the scientific record, there are a very large number of other potentially recognizable horizons that the Book of Mormon describes.  We will begin by describing occupational events in the Land Northward and will continue to add pages to this section in the future to describe many of the other horizons described in the text and how they may relate to our model.

Occupational Horizons in the Land Northward

To begin our description of these events, one significant cultural change that the text describes quite clearly is the expansion of the Nephites, Mulekites, Lamanites, and Gadianton Robbers into the land northward of the area known as the “Land Desolation”.  The timing of the migrations is well described and the migrating parties were quite large in comparison to the initial migrations of Lehi’s party, the Jaredites, and the Mulekites.  The migrants to these northward lands shared the same language, they shared the same technology, and they came from a finite gene-pool which had experienced a well-described geographical bottleneck for hundreds of years.  The population expansion of these immigrants into the “Land Northward” has a high potential of creating detectable cultural and temporal horizons.

According to the text, among the settlement changes in the “Land Northward” are:

  • Settlement by a small group of Jaredites roughly 2,500-3,500 BC.
  • A sudden depopulation as a result of a war.  This war claimed millions of lives and took place entirely during a single generation and came to an end sometime very near the year 570 BC bringing an end to the culture.
  • A significant cultural lull or complete hiatus in the area from about 570 BC until 55 BC followed by sudden population expansion resulting from large migrations.
  • A sudden population shift at 385 AD accompanying the collapse of one culture as it was conquered and largely destroyed by a culture that had a similar genetic and technological makeup as the conquered culture.  The conquering culture then descended into civil war among many factions.

When we compare this suggested population expansion with the available archaeological, linguistic, and mtDNA evidence, some intriguing correlations can be found.

Regarding the cultural lull or hiatus between the destruction of the Jaredites and the migrations of the Nephites, this period is sometimes referred to as the “Archaic – Late Prehistoric Transition” by modern archaeologists and is noteworthy because of:

a relative scarcity of dates pertaining to the period between about 1300 B.C. and A.D. 200 (Breschini et al. 2005; Gallegos 1987b:25; Warren and Pavesic 1963:435). Many more radiocarbon dates are reported from subsequent periods, and the frequency of dates from earlier periods is also somewhat higher than during this interval. The drop-off of dates during this final Archaic period may indicate a population decline or even a hiatus, or merely a bias in the selection of radiocarbon samples. –reference

But ultimately:

No concensus exists concerning the relationship between the Archaic culture or cultures and the subsequent Late Prehistoric cultures in this region –reference

It’s not a closed case, but there is a non-trivial amount of evidence of a significant cultural disruption like we would expect in our model.

On the other hand, evidence for migrations and a population expansion out of the Baja Peninsula and into Southern California with timing that matches the specific timing of the migrations described in the Book of Mormon is very good and is one of the strongest correlations between modern science and the model we present.

The population expansion we are referring to is substantiated by two lines of evidence:

  1. Timing and dispersal of the Yuman language family.
  2. The expansion of mitochondrial DNA haplogroup B2a.

These two lines of evidence separately each paint a picture of a population expansion centered around the Colorado River Delta that occurred as a result of migrations rather than simple growth of local groups.  They both show that these migrations were large and likely originated in the Baja Peninsula.  They both show that the expansion started a few decades BC and that the expansion continued for several centuries but the expansion ended suddenly sometime before 500 AD.

In addition we will discuss:

  • That the Yuman language family’s time-depth relates directly to the timing of the Nephite migrations into the Land Northward.
  • That mtDNA haplogroup B2a closely matches mtDNA from several Jewish groups.
  • That the differences between mtDNA haplogroup B2a and other lineages occurred in the Americas during Nephite times.
  • That mtDNA haplogroup B2a has been shown to have originated from a different stock than other native american “B” haplogroups.
  • (coming soon)That many reputable scholars believe that mtDNA haplogroup B2a arrived in the Americas much more recently than other native american haplogroups and that it probably arrived by ocean.


Language Dispersal:

We will begin by discussing what we know about the languages spoken in the Baja peninsula at the time of Spanish contact in the 16th century.  This is a subject that has received a lot of attention compared to other ethnographic research in the peninsula.  There is general consensus that at that time there were three major languages spoken in Baja.  These languages relate to three geographic subdivisions in the peninsula:

  1. The “Pericu” at the southern tip (cape region) of the peninsula spoke a language unrelated to any other group, but very little of their vocabulary was documented before the language went extinct.
  2. The “Guaycura” held teritory just north of the Pericu and spoke a language that is generally believed to be unrelated to the other languages of the peninsula.  This language also went extinct long ago but bits and pieces of its vocabulary were preserved in Spanish manuscripts.
  3. The “Cochimi”, including a major tribe called the tribe of “Laymon”, also known as “Laymonies”(a possible correlation with the “Lamanites” of The Book of Mormon) inhabited most of the peninsula.  Their language is also now extinct, but enough records of their vocabulary exist to know that it is related to the Yuman language family.

It is interesting to compare what we know about the prehistoric dispersal of Yuman languages with what our model suggests for a 55 BC to 385 AD population expansion into the American Southwest.  A recent publication summarizes that:

The time depth of Yuman diversification is shallow, certainly no greater than 2,000 years (Hale and Harris 1979), but the family as a whole has a distant but well-established relationship to the Cochimi family of the Baja California peninsula, and Cochimi-Yuman has a time depth at least twice as great.

Since both Yuman and Cochimi are relatively shallowly differentiated and the area in which they adjoin is the most linguistically complex in their combined territories, it is a reasonable speculation that the proto-Cochimi-Yuman homeland was situated in the highlands of northern Baja California and the adjacent Colorado River delta to the east.  If it could be shown that some the languages languages of the southern tip of Baja California were part of a wider Cochimi-Yuman, a long-term association of the stock with the peninsula would be all but certain.

-California Prehistory:  Colonization, Culture, and Complexity; Terry L. Jones, Kathryn A Klar; Rowman Altamira, 2007

Not only does this kind of knowledge regarding the Cochimi-Yuman homeland give us a good idea about where the language most likely originated from, but in the paper they reference (Hale and Harris 1979), we read that a major expansion of that language happened in the region where our model suggests it should have happened, during the exact years that our model suggests that it should have happened.


Mitochondrial DNA Lineages:

One of the biggest issues facing all models of the Book of Mormon lands is to attempt to explain why mitochondrial DNA studies seem to refute the idea that the populations described by The Book of Mormon could be a significant ancestral element to American Indian populations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is only passed on from mother to child, which means that it does not go through major process of change that nuclear DNA goes through from one generation to the next as it combines genes from both parents to make a new child.  mtDNA does, however occasionally “mutate” a little bit here or there.  When these mutations occur, they can get passed along to subsequent generations and by learning which populations have which mtDNA mutations, it becomes possible to use this information to trace relationships between groups of people over long periods of time.

These relationships are expressed by defining “haplogroups” and “haplotypes” within the haplogroups.  The result of defining these groups and types and by sampling a lot of people is that star-like patterns develop showing relationships between one group and another.  Of course, we know that human genealogy is a tree-like pattern, not a star-like pattern, so efforts are made to interpret these patterns to determine which haplotypes are older than others.  You see, when they talk about mtDNA “mutations” all they know for sure is that one mtDNA sample is “different” than another, there is no built-in piece of information to tell scientists which sample represents a parent compared to a child.  A lot of careful study goes into turning these star-like patterns into tree-like genealogies for the various haplotypes.  The result is the current phylogenetic tree that scientists base their findings on.

The findings of early publications that the peopling of the Americas seemed to include just four haplogroups have held up pretty well, with the exception of the discovery of small numbers of haplogroup X among populations of the northeastern areas of North America.  For all other areas of the Americas it appears that haplogroups A, B, C, and D represent the founding lineages.

Out of these haplogroups, it turns out that Yuman cultures have significant populations related to haplogroups B and C.  It also appears that haplogroup B underwent a population expansion that matches the time and place of both the linguistic expansion and archaeological transition that we described above:

Within haplogroup B, 130 of 250 individuals (52%) were derived at np 16483A, and most of these individuals were also derived at np 16111T. This subhaplogroup is termed B2a…these derived lineages are found in every Southwest population…not a single Mesoamerican individual exhibited the 16483A transition…haplotypes derived at np 16483A are not found in Asian populations…This suggests that subhaplogroup B2a evolved in the Americas…The approximate age of this clade is 2,105 YBP…these data indicate that there has been substantial interlanguage family admixture in the Southwest, possibly since (and probably during) the time of the initial expansion. The expansion seems to have been one that was region-wide, encompassing all of the diverse populations within the greater Southwest

-Evaluating the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis with genetic variation exhibited by populations in the Southwest and Mesoamerica
PNAS 2010 107 (15) 6759-6764; published ahead of print March 29, 2010, doi:10.1073/pnas.0905753107

Based on the information presented, I would suggest that if the model of The Book of Mormon lands that we are proposing is correct, that the region-wide expansion of mtDNA subhaplogroup B2a along with the region-wide expansion of the Yuman languages represents the migrations of Nephites and Lamanites to those lands beginning circa 55 BC.

Unfortunately, the current phylogeny of B2a within the currently-accepted mtDNA tree indicates that it is unrelated to any known Hebrew lineages and the occurrence of it’s parent haplogroup (B) in the Americas substantially predates Nephite times.Unless this understanding of the phylogeny of B2a gets revised, it remains a significant obstacle for the model we propose…but that doesn’t mean there are not some interesting things we’ve been learning regarding this.  Please stay tuned.