There are 18 thoughts on “Let There Be a Famine in the Land”.

  1. Great work and an interesting read!

    I recently learned that stalagmite analysis has confirmed a major, decades-long drought event between 200-300 AD. I hypothesize that it could have been the catalyst for the collapse of the prolonged era of Nephite peace that began in ~231 AD and reached it’s peak ~261 AD.

    My longer analysis below:

    Drought as a Catalyst for Nephite Instability

    The Book of Mormon describes a prolonged era of peace and prosperity among the Nephites following the visit and departure of the resurrected Messiah. Here is Mormon describing the first 110 years:

    “15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. 16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. 17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.”

    Over the next 84 years (bringing us to 194 years) Mormon notes that Nephi’s son Amos kept the records, but that peace still held with the exception of a breakaway group.

    “20 And he kept it eighty and four years, and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.”

    Finally, after 201 years Mormon describes the following events, which mark the end of predominant Nephite unity and peace:

    24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world. 25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them. 26 And they began to be divided into classes;

    Suddenly, after 200 years of peace, prosperity, and unity, the Nephite utopia crashes to an end. What could have caused this collapse? Mormon explains that they stopped sharing their goods and substance with one another, and that social classes began to take root. 

    Then, 30 years later, things really began to fall apart:

    “35 And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the two hundred and thirty and first year, there was a great division among the people. 36 And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;”

    Could there have been an external catalyst for this social change?

    To translate this to our modern calendar, most scholars place Jesus birth around 5 BC, with his death between 26-33 AD. This means Jesus’ visit to the Nephites would be no earlier than 26 AD. We can to round to 30 AD for simplicity. 201 years later would place the beginning of the of end of Nephite peace at ~231 AD, with the major fallout occuring 30 years later in ~261 AD.

    It turns out that we can identify a major event taking place in Mesoamerica at this time which could lead to this level societal instability.

    “Because samples could be dated with some degree of precision, there is now, thanks to many researchers, a continuous record of climate changes for the Maya lowlands extending over a period of 3,500 years. This has since been supplemented by research on stalagmites in Belizean caves. Growing slowly yet steadily, cave deposits show, with precision of a few dozen years, a similar pattern of droughts that lasted for decades. One episode struck between AD 200 and 300, another from AD 820 to 870, then two more at AD 1020 to 1100 and AD 1530 to 1580….During much of the Preclassic period, the climate was wet (low concentrations of oxygen-18); at this time, the now-swampy bajos were shallow lakes. But prior to the beginning of the Classic (c. AD 250), severe droughts afflicted the Maya region.”
    Coe and Houston, “The Maya”, Kindle location 557, Thames & Hudson; 9th edition, 2015.

    Between AD 200-300, right in the middle of the collapse of the prolonged Nephite peace, there was apparently a major drought that gripped Mesoamerica. The lowlands of the Peten would have been hardest hit, but it would have affected trade and economic stability throughout the region. The Nephites would have felt this, and it is entirely reasonable to suppose that the wealthy would cling to their supplies at the expense of the poor,…

    • Thank you for reading my paper. Yes, I mention the same correlation you make above on page 325 of my paper. There is evidence in the three stalagmite records I consider in my paper that a significant drop in precipitation occurred from about 180 to 280 A.D. It would have been nice if those who kept the Nephite records would have mentioned or provided evidence of the drought conditions so we could correlate the scriptural record with the stalagmite evidence. I agree that these drought conditions could have been an important factor in the revolt that ended the reign of peace after Christ’s visit to the Nephites.

  2. Thanks for your response! That all makes sense. I just wasn’t sure what would count as ‘climate’ related events. I don’t suppose it is beyond reason that the destruction at the death of Christ could have been a very bad horrible no-good day in which both a hurricane and a volcanic eruption struck at once. With an earthquake. After all, it was a long foretold event and God knew exactly when everything would everything would happen as it did. It seems to me that he also knew just how little evidence overall we would have; faith will always be an essential component of believing the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

  3. Very interesting research! Thank you for putting in the work and sharing. I especially appreciate the addendum providing a counterexample of when the data don’t match the scriptural record.

    I’m curious as to why the Book of Mormon’s report of the massive destructions in the New World incident to Christ’s death do not qualify as “a dated, climate-related event … that could have left a “signature” detectable over 2,000 years after it occurred.” Is it because it doesn’t count as climate-related or because it wouldn’t have left a signature?

    • Thank you for commenting and for your question. I actually looked into this idea several years ago. Here are some thoughts:

      The events around Christ’s death might have left evidence that could be dated. But they may not be related to climate. 3rd Nephi mentions a “tempest”. I found a paper that studied stalagmites in caverns in the Yucatan peninsula that become flooded during large storm events such as hurricanes. When the cavern is flooded, everything is coated with a layer of mud and organic material and leaves a detectable/dateable layer that can be associated with the large storm event. They correlated these layers in a collected stalagmite with known historical hurricanes and found good correlation between the stalagmite record and historically documented storms. They also found pre-historical layers which included the time of the destruction after the death of Christ, but there were none that correlated to within the dating error with the expected time frame around ~33 A.D. So the “tempest” may not have been a hurricane or if it was a hurricane, it did not affect this particular stalagmite.

      Other theories attribute the destruction to volcanic activity which can also be associated with earthquakes and even tornadoes to account for what was described in 3rd Nephi. There is an on-line volcanic database maintained by the Smithsonian that can be used to search for volcanic eruptions and their associated dates, but the dating accuracies are usually on the order of many decades to many hundreds of years. And it is difficult to date individual eruptions that may have occurred multiple times over a comparatively short time span of a few decades. When I looked at this database several years ago, I remember seeing three volcanoes that had eruptions around a time frame that coincided with 3rd Nephi. One was Tacana in Guatemala, the second was El Chichon in southern Mexico, and the third was Popocatepetl in central Mexico.

      You may want to read Jerry D. Grover’s book, “Geology of the Book of Mormon”. His analysis/research indicates the San Martin volcano in the Veracruz fault segment is the most likely candidate for causing the events described in 3rd Nephi. But there are those who do not believe that volcanoes were involved at all because there is nothing in the Book of Mormon text that could be interpreted as a visual description of a volcano erupting any time during the 1000 year history of the Nephite history. This seems unlikely to these people given the fact that there are a lot of volcanoes in the Mesoamerican area that have erupted frequently during that 1000 year period. If there was no volcanic activity, then one is left to assume an earthquake is responsible for the destruction. I don’t regard an earthquake as a climate related event. Could an earthquake by itself cause a tornado to account for the “tempest” reference in 3rd Nephi? I don’t know, but I think it is unlikely.

      • You think it unlikely that the Book of Mormon would fail to mention volcanic activity, but I’m not so sure. Mormon was picking out only the more important events as they affected spiritual matters so he may not have thought it important to describe volcanic eruptions. And to other surviving pre-Columbian documents such as the Popol Vuh describe volcanic activity? If not, it may indicate that such activity was either absent or not regarded as worth writing about.

        • Thank you for reading and your comment. The only events described in the Book of Mormon that I can think of that could be attributed to volcanic activity are those described in 3rd Nephi. I said “But there are those who do not believe that volcanoes were involved at all because there is nothing in the Book of Mormon text that could be interpreted as a visual description of a volcano erupting any time during the 1000 year history of the Nephite history.”

          I did not say I was one of those who believed this. I do happen to believe the events in 3rd Nephi were likely due to volcanic activity and with associated earthquakes, and associated tornado-like vortices. Go do some research on the modern day eruption of El Chichon in 1982 and read about the visual descriptions of the areas outside of the destruction area greater than 10 km from the volcano. The ash that fell from the sky in some places could be measured in feet and the visibility was near zero during the middle of the day for several days even up to 70 km from the volcano. The correlation to the events described in 3rd Nephi appears to me to be very high when compared to the description of this modern day event.

          What I said that was unlikely, was that the events described in 3rd Nephi were due to an earthquake alone.

  4. The standard Mesoamerican Long Count year of 360-days each could have saved both Pratt & Spackman a good deal of confusion.

    Using Mesoamerican Long Count years, the 73rd year of the Judges would have been 23-22 B.C., while 410 A.D. is the year when Moroni ends his book (Moroni 10:1). Interesting confluences.

    Also interesting is the confluence of the megadrought of 897-922 A.D. with the great Maya Collapse, as well as the megadrought of 1149-1167 A.D. with the end of the Toltecs.

  5. Great example of science helping to uncover traces of information from antiquity. Challenging data to work with due to the convolution of the measured isotope data with respect to surface water, but it looks like you’ve taken a solid approach. Very interesting. Just wish we had more old trees in Mesoamerica to study for dendrochronology.

    In general, how do the existing later dendrochronology data correspond with relevant stalagmite data?

    • I have been researching your question a little. Thank you for asking it. I looked more closely at one of the references in my paper (#7 above) by D.W. Stable, et. al. to see what comparisons they had made with other precipitation records. Their study relies on tree cores from bald cypress trees found in Barranca de Amealco, Queretaro, Mexico. This records extends from 771-2008 A.D. and was based on 74 cores from 30 trees. They used the tree ring chronology to create a June Palmer Drought Severity Index or June PDSI which is a standardized index that is used to quantify long-term drought. They identify four major drought events: 897-922, 1149-1167, 1378-1404, and 1514-1539 A.D. Given that these dates are likely more accurate dates for drought events (although the researchers did indicate some issues during extreme droughts where they can’t be sure of ring boundaries), than those provided by stalagmites, it is still useful to compare the records where they overlap to see if they are telling the same “story”.

      The Juxtlahuaca Cave results actually disagree with the tree ring results for the 897-922 drought. They indicate nearly 2-sigma wetter-than-normal precipitation for most of this time period. Juxtlahuaca Cave results indicates somewhere around 1-sigma dryer precipitation during the 1149-1167 A.D. and 1514-1539 A.D droughts but essentially average precipitation for the 1378-1404 A.D. drought. It is possible that the coastal/mountain region where the Juxtlahuaca Cave is located does not correlate as well with the central valley location of Barranca de Amealco. The tree ring researchers provide a correlation map of all of Central/North America with their data. It can be seen that the Pacific Coastal areas tend to be less correlated than those in central Mexico.

      The correlation map indicates that the Yucatan peninsula precipitation patterns when compared to the tree ring analysis does not correlate well with the central Mexico area. There is no data in the map for Belize, but I would assume it is similar to the Yucatan. So the Macal Chasm and Yok Balum precipitation histories may not show similar results. But we can still compare some of the information.

      The best evidence from the Macal Chasm are the L-type boundary layer dates which indicate the “peak” of the drought, but one needs to remember that the Macal Chasm dating accuracies are comparatively quite large (100’s of years). Yet there are two that appear to coincide nicely (certainly within the date error) with the tree ring results. In Figure 11 of Macal Chasm paper (Akers, et. al.), Type L boundary layers are shown around 1180 and 920 A.D. Although, I can’t reconcile these dates with the actual dates listed in the NOAA text file of Before Present ages of 775 and 1035 referenced to 1995 A.D., when the stalagmite was collected. These ages produce the years 1220 and 960 A.D. for the same Type L boundaries. So somehow the time axis in the plot is shifted by 40 years from the dates in the NOAA text file.

      The Yok Balum stalagmite indicates a drought from about 918-934 A.D. (although there are some missing measurements during this time period), with a peak around 930 A.D. So this appears to be shifted about 20 years later than the tree ring results. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of a drought during the 1149-1167 A.D. time period in the Yok Balum record. There does appear to be a severe drought from about 1021-1091 A.D. in the Yok Balum record, which is not evident in the tree ring record. There is no evidence of a drought in the Yok Balum record any time within the dating accuracy error of the 1378-1404 time period. But there is a drought indicated from about 1540-1578 A.D., about 25-30 years later than the one specified in the tree ring record. Most of this time span is outside the specified dating accuracy of the Yok Balum record, so it may not be the same event as the one in the tree ring record.

      This crude comparison does show some positive correlations, but it also illustrates the difficulties in comparing the various records produced from different sources. I hope this narrative provides some illumination to your question.

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