There are 20 thoughts on “Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon”.

  1. I was raise in a small town called Moundsville WV. There were mounds all around the area, now only a few remain. They were most definitely not military in nature. Excavations at the one in Moundsville show multiple burial sites, with the dead being buried with ritual objects, showing that the elite were buried in these mounds. The other mounds are so small such as the one in Glen Dale West Virginia that anyone who claimed it was there for defensive purposes would be laughed at.

    • Just because a mound is small it cannot be assumed that it had nothing to do with defense. Anciently, watchtowers were an essential first line of defense. There are many references in the scriptures to watchmen on the towers. The Lord even talked about them in the Parable of the Redemption of Zion:

      “A certain nobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my vineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive trees; And set watchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard.” (D&C 101:44-45)

      King Noah built a tower near the temple so when he stood on the top of it he could look over into the land of Lamanites and observe if they were coming to attack. (Mosiah 11:12; 19:5-7). The high ground for observation has always been an essential element of defense. Hot air balloons were used to get higher for reconnaissance in the American Civil War. In World War I the first use of aircraft was for the same purpose.

      Also, due to erosion, many of the mounds you see today may have been two or three times as higher when they were first constructed.

      • Just because a mound is a mound doesn’t make it defensive. That is why archaeologists look at other evidence to understand the functions of the mounds. For example, what military function is served when the mound is a cemetery? The evidence is that these mounds were worked over time and, again over time, used as burial locations. Some show regions for higher status individuals with lower status individuals in a different area, so they locations were intentional. Combine that with no evidence of warfare around them, combine that with the inappropriateness of many of them for military purposes, and you come to the conclusion that the trained archaeologists have come to–they were not defensive. It doesn’t help our discussion of the Book of Mormon if the only way we can see it to be an accurate depiction of a people is to suggest that the archaeologists who have examined that people must be wrong about everything–except the couple of things that we think help the cause. That isn’t the way evidence works.

        • Brant,

          You wrote: “Just because a mound is a mound doesn’t make it defensive.”

          That is correct. But just because there are burials in a mound does not exclude it from being a defensive structure. Also, building a temple on top of a mound does not exclude it from being a defensive mound. On the contrary, one of the reasons that temples and family graves were placed on the top of mounds is because these sacred places were then defensible. “And how can man die better than in facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods.” (Horatius at the Bridge)

          Also, there have been mass graves excavated on mounds where the skeletons are thrown together in disarray, as if they were buried where they died.

          At Cahokia mass graves were uncovered of only young, adult, undernourished females. If a mass grave of undernourished young adult females had been found today in West Africa the conclusion about what happened to them would be obvious. However, in this case the archaeologists reported that the findings were due to status and gender differences in their society. (Ambrose eta al, “Status and Gender Differences in Diet at Mound 72, Cahokia,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22:217-226, 2003)


          A mass grave of undernourished young adult females sounds more like this:

          “Behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah; and there were men, women, and children. And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them.” (Moroni 9:7-8)

          • Theodore, in this thread you have only mentioned two sites, Poverty Point and Cahokia. The are important sites, but Poverty Point is too early for the Book of Mormon and Cahokia too late. Dates matter.

            As for the Cahokia graves, you mention that they were of undernourished females. I haven’t read the report, so I don’t know why there was a problem, but the title indicates “Status and Gender Differences in Diet,” not warfare. So, even in this example, you still have nothing to contradict the archaeologists who tell us that the Mound Builder mounds were not defensive. If you suggest they are wrong, then you are required to show evidence of why they made a mistake. How did they read the data incorrectly?

            According to the modern North American archaeologists I have read (and I have spoken with another researcher who has read a lot more than I have) there are no Book of Mormon time period cultures in North America that show the archaeological signs that would be expected of cultures who wrote the Book of Mormon. There isn’t sufficient political structure. There isn’t sufficient agricultural calories to support Book of Mormon sized populations. There are no evidences that the mounds were defensive. There are really no indications of anything that matches the Book of Mormon, with the exception of the general dating of the Hopewell cultures from 600 BC to AD 400. That is interesting, but subject to revision. The early date is currently in question and will likely be revised. If we are to use archaeology to support any hypothesis about the Book of Mormon, it must be used responsibly and accurately.

            It might be possible to make the case that signs of warfare several hundred years after the Book of Mormon mean that there must have been similar warfare earlier, but that is something that has be argued from the evidence, not from the desire to fit the Book of Mormon. Next, mass graves can certainly indicate warfare (though the bones themselves typically show those signs). Nevertheless, burial in a mound rather obviously means that the mound was there after the battle, not before. A burial mound does not mean that it was defensive, even if those buried in it died in battle.

            Archaeologists actually have some pretty good tools and ways of determining land use and community layouts. If the archaeologists say that the Mound Builder cultures created ceremonial sites that do not show signs of being used as defensive structures, on what should be contradict them? I would never argue that archaeologists are always right all of the time, but when they are wrong, it is because new evidence shows it. They are not wrong just because they don’t support our theories.

          • The Book of Mormon is true and accurate in every respect, including its historicity.

            There is no alternative for it’s described earthworks “in every city in the land” other than the eastern half of North America.

            Therefore, the science will have to catch up.

            • Your suggestion that there is no alternative might also need to catch up. Defensive earthworks that have actually been described as defensive earthworks (and fitting the text’s descriptions of what they were like) are being more frequently discovered in Mesoamerica at appropriate periods. In many cases, they weren’t found before, not because they weren’t there, but because they were not right next to the places that were being excavated. Your suggestion of exclusivity is premature, and still doesn’t fit. We really don’t help the cause of the Book of Mormon when we suggest that we know better than the archaeologists who have done the work. Saying that they have to be defensive earthworks because otherwise the Book of Mormon didn’t take place in that area is a gate that swings both ways–and one of them is that it is the wrong area.

  2. Another experience of the common soldier in the Nephite Armies was the arduous labor of building defensive works. The Nephites fought primarily defensive battles (although they also fought offensive battles to retake cities and ground they had previously lost). The military advantage of the “high ground” has been known since the beginning of warfare. Soldiers fighting uphill tire more quickly and move more slowly. Soldiers on the high ground have greater range with their slings, javelins and arrows, have a wider field of vision and can communicate more easily with banners etc. The ‘high ground” provides an advantage to the defender of 3-10:1. In “The Art of War,” General Sun Tzu (China circa 770-476 BCE) wrote, “Some basic principles of war: never attack uphill…”

    Captain Moroni caused that his armies should build “heaps of earth round about all the cities,” with timber works on top of these heaps. He caused earth towers (mounds) to be built inside the walls and overlooking them, as places of refuge in time of attack, and from which they could cast their stones against anyone who approached the walls (Alma 50:1-5). This was the major defense strategy of the Nephites.

    “Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.” (Alma 50:6)

    As Morgan pointed out, the Nephites were an agrarian society, and therefore they would have built their towns and cities in the fertile plains rather than in the in the hills or mountains. This necessitated the building the towers (mounds) as they would not have had natural hills in or close to their cities for high ground to which they could retreat when attacked. As they were built in “every city,” the Land of Zarahemla would have had hundreds of these earthworks and towers (mounds), the remnants of which should be visible today.

    • Not necessarily. In the book of Mormon, the Nephites are pushed all over the same terrain, indicating the fortresses, built 400 years earlier, no longer existed. This was not merely through weather attrition, but perhaps through urban renewal—the old fort was in the way, so they removed it. There are many reasons why an old fort might be unlocatable today, not least because we don’t know where to look.
      I’ve read the same material as Bro. Deane, and done some close analysis of my own, and I agree with his assessment—the Book of Mormon depicts warfare that is completely authentic. It was written not only by someone who’d seen Iron Age warfare, but understood it, and had participated in it at the highest levels of command. The Book of Mormon was written by a professional soldier of vast experience and high qualifications

      • I agree that “the Book of Mormon depicts warfare that is completely authentic,” and indicated that in my comment of January 21 above.

        As for the earth mound fortresses being gone after 400 years, that is invalid speculation with no supporting evidence. Zarahemla was still the capital city of the Nephites in the early days of Mormon. The timbers would be gone if they had not been replaced, but it would take as much manpower to remove the earthworks as it took to build them, and to what purpose? The eastern half of North America is covered with ancient earthen mounds that were certainly not torn down or removed. That there were still earthen towers in the days of Mormon is confirmed in his letter to Moroni where he states, the Lamanites have taken many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah.” (Moroni 9:7)

        • More to the point for the North American mounds, the majority were ceremonial and funereal, not militaristic. During Book of Mormon times, few were defensive, and archaeologists indicate that many that were deemed defensive were ritualistic. For example, the depressions were on the inside of the walls (which is the opposite of the military usage). Also, if there were mounds that were to have been used for military defenses, one would expect that there be some indication of populations living inside them–and there is not. It is obvious that there are North American mounds, but the functions that can be discovered for them do not fit anything in the Book of Mormon. The populations surrounding them don’t have the population density required. The incipient agriculture could not support Book of Mormon-size cities. The discoverable political structures are significantly different from what is described in the Book of Mormon.

          The mounds were the subject of early speculation about lost native civilizations soon after they were discovered, and those speculations were adopted by early LDS writers attempting to use them to support the Book of Mormon. Archaeology has not supported those early speculations.

          • Brant,

            I don’t know where you are getting your information about the mounds in America? In the classic “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley” published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848 and republished in 1988, we read in the introduction:

            “The character and condition of the mound builders’ world was first and foremost a very hostile place. Many of the earthen enclosures had incontestably a military origin, as evidenced by their topographic position, walls, citadels, mazes, and enfilades, alarm posts, blockhouses, bastions, palisades, and gates, moats, and for times of siege, protected water reservoirs. These heavily fortified earthworks formed a vast system of defenses, that stretched from the headwaters of the Allegheny and the Susquehanna in New York to the Wabash in the south. This was no temporary line hastily cobbled together in response to an unexpected invasion, but rather the entrenched response to grim, chronic warfare. [This is] somewhat analogous to that which attended the advance of our pioneer population when every settlement had its little fort to which people flocked in case of alarm or attack….This prehistoric Maginot Line was no less than the demarcation between savagery and civilization.”

            The authors, Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis excavated and published diagrams of 150 mound sites and 100 other earthworks they explored, most with a perimeter wall, and none with the ditch on the inside. The authors at that time were not aware of even more hundreds of such structures further south into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. I have visited many of these sites in the south and have seen the perimeter earthworks, with the mounds inside them. The ditch was always on the outside.

            In the latter half of the 20th Century the concept of warring tribes did not fit the new paradigm of Native Americans at peace with the earth and themselves, which was only disturbed by the invading White Man. Archaeologists accordingly adjusted their opinions on the purpose of the mounds.

            • I am getting my information from modern archaeologists, not 1848. Archaeology as a science began long after that. I am unaware of any archaeologist of North America who gives more credence to the reports from the 1800s than to what has been done recently.

          • Brant,

            Jon L. Gibson, preeminent archaeologist at the World Heritage Site of Poverty Point, wrote these words at the end of his booklet, “Poverty Point: A Terminal Archaic Culture of the Lower Mississippi Valley” (1999)

            “The preceding view of Poverty Point is a patchwork of facts, hypotheses, guesses, and speculations. Many equally sound interpretations can be drawn from the same data. This is the nature of archaeology. Trying to describe an extinct culture, especially its social and political organizations and its religion by means of artifacts is not an exact science.”

            If, as you insist, the ancient earthworks found in the eastern half of North America have nothing to do with the defensive earthworks described in the Book of Mormon, that were built in “every city in all the land,” where are they?

            • Of course archaeology is interpretive, but it interprets data. The more data, the better the interpretation. That is the reason why modern archaeological work trumps 1848, even when the Smithsonian’s name is attached.

              You ask where the defensive earthworks might be. Good question. Modern archaeologists have found them only rarely in North America. The numerous mounds of the mound-builder peoples were not built for that purpose–at least according to modern archaeologists. There is really quite a good amount of literature on those cultures, and I haven’t seen any substantial disagreement among them on their broad conclusions.

              I hope you are not suggesting that simply because the Book of Mormon describes defensive earthworks and that the mounds are built-up earthen works that they are necessarily equivalent. There are discernible functional differences that preclude the vast majority of mound builder works from being defensive structures.

          • Therefore, in trying to determine the probable location of the Book of Mormon defensive earthworks, built in “every city in all the land,” it appears that the choices are between the eastern North America sites and nothing.

  3. I never could understand the feigned retreats in the Book of Mormon–they always worked with great effect.

    Reading about the battle of Hastings, I was struck that the Normans were unable to break the shield wall of Harold’s Saxons; however, feigning a retreat, the Normans were able to induce the Saxons to break the shield wall in pursuit with the result that William became the Conqueror.

    Same tactic, same result.

  4. The main thing that comes to mind when reading these correlations between real battles and Book of Mormon battles is the improbability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knowing such details of real war. It is further evidence that the only plausible explanation for the existence of the Book of Mormon is the explanation given by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    However, Morgan’s efforts to limit the battles to Mesoamerica is a detraction from the main message. Certain seasons of the year in the US states of Louisiana and Georgia, for example, can be oppressively hot and humid.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Top of Page

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This