Animal Life

The Book of Mormon makes seemingly extravagant claims regarding animal life in prehistoric America including references to camels, horses, asses, cattle, swine, elephants, cureloms, and cummoms.  Can these references be accounted for?

The Book of Mormon indicates that some domesticated animals were brought to the Americas in the migrations described in the book.  The text also mentions that other animals were found in the Americas by the parties that migrated here.  Sometimes these references refer to specific species by their common names while in other instances animals are mentioned by more generic references like “beasts of prey”, “flocks”, or “herds”.

A common focus of debate by those arguing for and against the historicity of the Book of Mormon includes arguments related to the references to animals in the book.  Many of the references to animals are viewed as anachronisms by critics of the text.  This page is intended to demonstrate that the references to animal species in the text are not necessarily anachronisms.  Each of the species that are mentioned in the text as existing in the new world are addressed individually below, along with correlations to species found in the new world which fit a reasonable reading of the text and which have been documented in our model’s area.  These include species of:

  • Horses
  • Camels
  • Cattle
  • Oxen
  • Asses
  • Swine
  • Wolves
  • Lions
  • Elephants
  • Goats
  • Wild Goats
  • Sheep
  • Poisonous Serpents
  • Species that might correlate to the untranslated animals the Jaredites called “Cureloms” and “Cummoms”
  • Other animals that are beneficial and useful to people

In addition to the references to new world species, the text often quotes Old Testament prophets and sometimes those quotations include references to things like Cockatrices, dragons, or Old World species.  Since quotations from Old Testament prophets were written in Old Testament times and places and not in the western hemisphere we do not spend time in this article discussing correlations for those passages of text.

Background

Since the model we are presenting is situated in Baja California and the greater North American Southwest, a discussion regarding scientific knowledge of the prehistoric fauna, climate, and geography of the area is helpful.  The background presented here focuses on fossil assemblages that have been documented for what are known as North American Megafauna.

North America used to be host to some of the largest and most exotic mammals to ever walk the earth, but the vast majority of these animals were extinct before Columbus and other European explorers made their way to the New World.  Although there is significant debate regarding the timing and possible causes of this extinction, it is clear that their decline was very sharp and occurred around 10 to 12 thousand years ago, much earlier than Book of Mormon times.

For a very long time there was somewhat of a consensus among modern scientists that none of the extinct North American Megafauna had survived much past 10,000 years ago, but recent discoveries have found that some species survived in small groups or remote locations for many thousands of years after the initial sharp decline.

Isolation and Survival of Megafauna in the Baja Peninsula

Regardless of the cause of the massive extinction, we know that the Megafauna that did survive significantly longer than others often did so in isolated locations such as islands and remote tundra.  Baja California is well known for the variety of exotic plant and animal life that can be found along its length that stretches nearly a thousand miles away from the mainland.  With this in mind it is not safe to assume that the Megafauna living on the peninsula went extinct at the same time as those on the main continent.

A fundamental argument of this article is that not only is there no convincing evidence that the Megafauna went extinct on the peninsula 10,000 years ago, but there are strong indications that they survived significantly longer and that they were utilized by the native population of the peninsula and areas near it.

Specific Species Mentioned in the Book of Mormon

Horses:

Late Pleistocene faunal species in Baja California Sur includes horse (Equus caballus), bison (Bison antiquus), camel (Camelops hesternus), mammoth (Mammuthus columbii), and llama (Hemiauchenia macrocephala) (Davis 2006:22; Massey 1966) -reference

Horses are mentioned prominently in the text of the Book of Mormon.  The text does not indicate the origin of the horses but does say that the Jaredites had them and that Lehi’s party “found” them upon the land when they arrived.  This leaves open two possibilities.  They might be old-world species brought by the Jaredites or they might be species native to North America found by the various parties when they arrived.

Fossils of horses from prehistoric New World sites are very common.  Some of the species found in and near our study area include:

Many of the horse fossils date to thousands of years after the primary extinction event like this example and many have been found with signs of human interaction including sites like Massey mentions in this article and in this example in Arizona.  Several fossil assemblages date to many hundreds of years after Book of Mormon times including this example which dates to the century preceding Columbus’ voyage.  Here is another reference in our model area postdating Book of Mormon times and here is a reference to a horse in Arizona that was alive around the time that the Jaredites arrived in the New World.

Asses:

The Book of Mormon not only mentions horses, but asses as well.  An extinct endemic species of ass has been identified at many sites in North America and specifically in the Southwest.  It is known as the New World Stilt-Legged (NWSL) horse.  Recent research has found it associated with fossils of a species of horse closely related to the modern domestic horse and the NWSL is as genetically similar to old-world asses as those asses are similar to each other:

The NWSL are often found with a second equid form commonly regarded as closely related to the Eurasian Caballines, a group that includes the domestic horse (Equus Caballus)…Phylogenetic analysis using maximum likelihood resolved Hippidion, NWSL, and Caballines as three genetically divergent species within a monophyletic group. Hippidion and NWSL appear as sister taxa, although the support for this is not high. African zebras and asses and Asian asses (onager and kiang) form a basal polytomy. Bayesian analysis produced a similar topology. –reference

Camels:

Several species of camels are found among the North American Megafauna that went extinct.  Fossils from these camels are common finds in the Baja and the Southwest.  In the same report mentioned above that Massey made regarding human interaction with horses, he also reported the same things regarding camel fossils found in southern Baja California.  Here are a few other references to camels in our study area:

Elephants, Cureloms, and Cummoms:

Mammoths, such as those found in the fossil record of Baja and the North American Southwest, are as closely related to the two surviving species of elephants today as those elephants are to each other.  Another commonly-found relative of elephants is the Mastodon.

In the Book of Mormon we read that the Jaredites, who preceded the Nephites in the New World by thousands of years, utilized “Elephants” and other animals that are referred to by the names “Cureloms” and “Cummoms”.  These names appear to be untranslated, leaving us with little to go on regarding what animals are being referred to by these names.

Specific species of North American Megafauna who show up in the fossil record of our model area and which can be reasonably referred to as “Elephants” include:

This reference refers to a Mammoth in our study area which was apparently killed by humans before Book of Mormon times based on arrow points found in its ribs.  In addition, this reference refers to work currently being done to determine the age and cause of what appear to be butcher marks on a Mammoth skull recently recovered from the Baja peninsula.

Since we do not know what the terms “Cureloms” and “Cummoms” mean, all we can do is speculate that they are referring to species of animals which were unknown at the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon.  Some of the many fauna that could be referred to by these names include the Elephantidae mentioned above or other of the wide array of extant or extinct fauna from the Southwest’s past.  For example, ground sloths were common in the area including:

Cattle:

The Book of Mormon states that the Jaredite culture brought animals with them to the new world but does not specify which species they brought.  Long after they arrived in the western hemisphere it mentions that they were in possession  of a variety of animals at that time including “animals which were useful for the food of man” including “cows” and “oxen”.  Many centuries later the Nephites arrived in the land southward and recorded that they found many useful animals including the cow and the ox.  In addition, the text references “cattle” many times.

There are many species of bovine found in the fossil record of the peninsula and the North American Southwest including:

It may come as a surprise to see the domestic cow listed above, but the actual surprise is that the domestic cow has shown up several different times in archaeological digs and fossil sites in our model area.  Usually these finds are labelled “intrusive?”, meaning that maybe a more modern cow’s bones might have made it underground among older cultural artifacts.  This can and sometimes does happen, but there is little indication of it in these cases except for the fact that it’s not what is expected to be found in sites that predate Spanish contact in the New World.

The link to the domestic cow found above describes it being found it in an archaeological site in California that dates from at least 950 years ago.  This reference from a second site and this reference from a third site are other “intrusive?” reports of domestic cows at archaeological sites dating to Book of Mormon times and this reference to yet another site describes two modern cows that also predate Spanish contact.

 Goats & Wild Goats:

The Book of Mormon seems to mention at least two different species of Goats.  The mountain goat is extant today and was also present in Baja and the Southwest during Book of Mormon times.   Many other fauna that have now become extinct could also be what the book is describing including:

Sheep:

The Bighorn Sheep of Baja and the North American Southwest are an iconic fixture both today and in prehistoric times, although it is not prone to domestication:

“…there also are two species of animals not found in Europe. We call them sheep, because they are shaped something like those of our country. The first sort is as large as a calf of one or two years old. Their head resembles very much that of a stag; and their horns, which are of an extraordinary size, are like those of a ram. Their tail and hair, which is spotted, are shorter than those of stags; but their hoofs are large, round, and cloven, like those of oxen. I have eat of these beasts, and their flesh seemed vastly well tasted, and even delicate. The other sort of sheep, some of which are white, and others black, do not differe so much from ours. They are bigger, and much more fleecy; and the wool, which is easily spun, makes very good cloth.” (An Account of the State of the Missions; Piccolo; 1702; from Travels of the Jesuits p395)

 Swine:

The suborder Suina (also known as Suiformes) is a lineage of omnivorous non-ruminantartiodactyl mammals that includes the pigs and peccaries of the families Suidae and Tayassuidae and their fossil kin. -reference

Peccaries have existed long into past of Baja California and the North American Southwest including javalinas, a species of peccary that can still be found there today.  Other more ancient species include:

 Wolves:

Varieties of wolves and coyote’s are common in Baja’s past and present:

Lions:

Lions are also common in Baja both now and in the past:

Poisonous Serpents:

Baja is home to a wide variety of snakes like these.

The right the animals can be accounted for in all the the right places to back up the Book of Mormon in Baja model, and probably to show that humans interacted with those animals.  Although there is significant evidence of old-world species of horses, asses, and cattle, these arguments, along with the argument that other species survived longer than the current scientific record currently indicates, are reasonable but unproven hypothesis.

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