Joseph L. Allen discusses various aspects of Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican material culture, such as metals, currency, stone boxes, and weapons.

Joseph L. Allen

Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon (Orem, UT: S. A. Publishers, 1989), 169-70, 171-72, 173, 174-75, 176-77

S. A. Publishers
Joseph L. Allen
Reading Public


Alma said to the antichrist Korihor, “ . . . even the earth and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also ALL THE PLANTS WHICH MOVE IN THEIR REGULAR FORM do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)

Nephi, the son of Helaman, said, “And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so: FOR SURELY IT IS THE EARTH THAT MOVETH AND NOT THE SUN.” (Helaman 12:14)

These BC prophets understood things pertaining to the movements in the heavens. The Spanish writers recorded that the ancient Tultecas of Mesoamerica were men of science who understood things pertaining to astronomy. (see comments by Ixtlilxochitl and Sahagun in Chapters 11 and 12 of this section.)

The Classic Maya (200 AD-900 AD) went to great lengths to erect observatories to understand better the movmenets of the planets. The Maya observatory at Chichen Itza, the Toltec temple at Chichen Itza, and The Maya temple of Tulum are positioned in relationship to the sun. During the spring and fall equinox, the shadows slowly descend down the temple steps at Chichen Itza—finally settling upon the head of the serpent and thus giving an impression of the serpent’s moving. The Maya Classic period observatory as illustrated in Figure 15-1 is a case in point.


About 45 BC, a large group of Nephites migrated to the “Land Which Was Northward”—the place that is proposed to be in the Mexico City Valley area. Speaking of this group of Nephites, Mormon says,

And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless, the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell. (Helaman 3:7)

Teotihuacan, located in what is considered to be the “Land Which Was Northward,” was in existence during the time period referred to above (150 BC ff). Teotihuacan has a city centre that is literally built of cement. Construction by cement is found extensively throughout Mesoamerica, Mitla, a Zapotec site in the State of Oaxaca, although built during a later time period (1300 AD-1500 AD), is an outstanding accomplishment in the workings of cement. (See Figure 15-2.)

Until just recently, when steel has started to play a major role in construction in the Mexico City Valley, most modern buildings were built with cement. Timber is scarce and is very expensive.

. . .

CORN (Grains)

From a casual reading of the Book of Mormon, we know that the most staple food product during the middle Nephite time period was corn. Corn, or maize, is native to the Americas; and evidence of corn appears as early as 500 BC.

And we began to till the ground, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land. (Mosiah 9:9)

In the Yucatan, the Maya double cropped their corn. In Guatemala and Chiapas, the beauty of the golden season (October-November) is overwhelming when the corn stocks, which reach heights of 10 feet, wave in the cool mountain breezes. Although the corn stocks do not produce a heavy yield of ears, the production is, nevertheless, adequate to provide food for the year—if the rainy season has been normal. The corn is made into tortillas and is used as a base for beans, fowl, fish, and other foods. The blue tortilla, made from the colored kernels of corn, is common in Chiapas.

No reason exists to suggest that a dramatic change in the diet of the native people of Mesoamerica has occurred over the last 3,000 years. Barley is also mentioned in the Book of Mormon and it produced in the Highlands of Guatemala. The farmers farm the steep high mountain ridges, leaving very little ground waste.

. . .


The term “horse” is used 24 times in the Book of Mormon. The last time it is used dates t0 29 AD (See 3 Nephi 6.) When the Spaniards arrived in the year 1519, they did not discover horses in either Mexico or Guatemala. Even the natives were surprised to see the Spanish riding horses. The natives referred to horses as “deer.”

The horse of the Spaniards became an extremely successful instrument in the Conquest of Mexico. Reportedly, the natives considered the horse and rider to be of the same mind.

A great deal of speculation still exists among students of the Book of Mormon as to what happened to the horse. Some students suggests that the horses became extinct because of famine or that the horses may have been used as food for human consumption. Others suggests that the term “horse” may have reference to a four-legged animal that may not necessarily have been like the horse we know today. Still others propose that the elite used horses and that their horses were more like small draft animals that pulled the chariots.

Without attempting to solve the “horse” question in the Book of Mormon, we may simply withhold judgment until further information becomes available.


Both the Book of Mormon and Ixtilxochitl speak of getting guards drunk and then escaping. King Noah, a Nephite king who lived in the land of Nephi about 130 BC, kept vineyards; and he became a wine-bibber. (Mosiah 11;15) The Nephite soldiers provided wine in it strength to Lamanite guards. (Alma 55:10-13)

If a Mesoamerica pattern is followed, the wine was probably made form the maguey plant or from other similar plants. The maguey plant is a relative to the century plant and has a large center with the appearance of a giant pineapple. The unfermented pulque juice is processed into tequila or mescal.

. . .

METAL (Iron)

The Book of Mormon refers to metals on many occasions. Some evidence exists of metal use during pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica. Small metal weapons are displayed at the Olmec museum at Santiago Tuxtla. This museum contains artifacts from the site of Tres Zapotes dating to 800 BC.


The native Mesoamericans traded with cocoa beans quetzal feathers, and copper figures, and they used a weight-and-measure system that is still utilized today.

On one of our trips in 1989, we were traveling along the Guatemala border toward Guatemala City. Dean Williams, an attorney and a member of the tour group, was reading about the conversion of the lawyer Zeezrom in the Book of Mormon. He was reading in Alma 11 and asked, “Joe, have they ever found any coins in Mesoamerica?”

I answered, “Not really. They’ve found a few copper items, but not coins with which we are familiar.”

Dean said, “listen to this,” as he read about the money system during Alma’s time:

Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews, who were at Jerusalem; never did they measure after the manner of the Jews but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances o the people, in every generation, until the reign of the judges, they having been established by king Mosiah. (Alma 11:4)

Then he said, “That’s not talking about coins; it’s talking about weights and measures.”

I said, “You’re right. I know now what that’s talking about. When we get to Lake Atitlan in a few days, we’ll buy a couple of things they use for weighing purposes.”

When we arrived at Lake Atitlan, some of the group brought sets of the weights that the natives still use today to weight their produce on a balance scale. These weights consist of four small cups and a small, solid weight, each weighing various amounts, as shown in Figure 15-6. The cups nestle inside one another much like the measuring cups we use in our American kitchens. The small, solid cap fits inside the smallest cup.

The following discussion represents an interesting analysis, as the “weights and measures” that are still used today are compared to the description of the “weights and measures” in the Book of Mormon.

Concerning the Nephites’ system of money, the Book of Mormon outlines the following. The discussion is not presented as conclusive evidence but rather as an exercise to compare the two systems.

(A) Now the reckoning is thus—a senine of gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold, and a limnah of gold. (Alma 11:5)

(B) Now the amount of a season of gold was twice the value of a senine. (Alma 11:8)

(C) And a shum of gold was twice the value of a seon. (Alma 11:9)

(D) And a limnah of gold was the value of them all. (Alma 11:10)

The above is just a preliminary statement on the type of monetary system used by the Nephites. Nevertheless, Mesoamerica does have a system of weights and measures that appears to predate the Spanish Conquest and that is still used today. And the calibrations are the same. The natives do not today, however, use the “weights and measures” to measure. They use them only to weigh their produce.

We can observe with great interest the manner in which the Book of Mormon describes the monetary system among the Nephites and then observe the manner in which the same calibrations are used by the natives of Guatemala and El Salvador today.


Many stone boxes are found in Mesoamerica. Moroni buried the gold plates in a stone box in New York. The stone box, however was not like the typical stone boxes in Mesoamerica. Joseph Smith said the plates were buried in a stone box. He said:

The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them. (Joseph Smith-History 1:52)

The fact that the New York stone box in which Joseph Smith found the plates is not like the stone boxes discovered in Mesoamerica suggests that Moroni had to manufacture a stone box similar to those from Mesoamerica with which he was familiar. It he did not carry tools with him from Mexico to New York, he would have used his knowledge of cement and his basic concept of a box to create a safe and secure storage place for the gold plates. They were preserved for over 1,400 years. Figure 15-8 shows a stone box from Mesoamerica.

WEAPONS (Cimeters and thick clothing)

We read a lot about weapons in the Book of Mormon, including the sword, the axe, the spear, and the cimeter. Moroni’s army also used thick clothing to protect the soldiers from the weapons of the Lamanites. (See Figure 15-4)

In Mesoamerica, a person is exposed to a variety of stone heads used for weapons. In the Museum at Chichen Itza, we can see the thick-clothing concept illustrated as well as a “curved fending stick” that may have been the cimeter mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

Citations in Mormonr Qnas
Copyright © B. H. Roberts Foundation
The B. H. Roberts Foundation is not owned by, operated by, or affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.