"Bearded Foreigners in Mesoamerica"

American anthropologists, who are steeped in isolationist evolution theory in the origin and development of ancient American civilizations, tend to avoid the subject of significant trans-oceanic contacts of the type recorded in the Book of Mormon.  

However, the late leading Mesoamerican art historian, Tatiana Proskouriakoff published a paper in 1968 in which she recognized the Preclassic bearded figures on LaVenta sculpture (Late Olmec/Jaredite and early Mulekite time period) as “bearded foreigners”.  But she did not suggest an obvious Middle Eastern origin from lack of concrete evidence, where Mediterranean and Atlantic seafarers were vital to trade networks of that civilization.  

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Heavy bearded figures dating to early Nephite times are prominent on Izapan as well as La Venta sculpture (for example, Izapa Stelae 5, 11, 67; La Venta Stela 3 and Altar 3).      

It is a fact that American Indians do not have much facial hair to grow beards (Wirth 1986, p. 29, citing Sylvanus G. Morley1956, p. 23).  So how are the numerous sculptures and the terracotta portraits of heavy bearded “Indians” explained?  Considering their prominence, there had to be another dominant racial type in the high cultures of Mesoamerica that no longer exists.  

A logical explanation is provided in the decline of Nephite peoples in the Book of Mormon.  Mormon being a pure descendent of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20), implies a  significant number of the Nephite population retained their race of Middle Eastern origin.  Nephi also saw in vision that his seed would be destroyed in a war with the Lamanites four generations after the coming of Christ (1 Nephi 12:19-20).  The decline of Mormon’s people in war and survivors being assimilated into the dominant Mesoamerican “Lamanite” population, must have depleted the “beard” gene pool by the time the Spaniards arrived and conquered Mesoamerica in the 16th century.

Diane Wirth (1986: 32) cited a significant research by Alexander von Wuthenau (1969:42): “I began an intensified study of pre-Columbian terracotta heads.  What I was looking for were typical ‘Indian’ heads.  It was not long, however, before I discovered that in the early, lower levels these ‘genuine Indians’ were not to be found.  The earliest figures encountered were those with Mongoloid characteristics, and all kinds of white people, especially Semitic types with and without beards.  What is considered to be genuine Indian only developed, so far as I am able to judge on the strength of these terracotta representations, in early and middle Classic times, and probably derived from earlier types.” 

Kirk Magleby in a FARMS paper did a statistical analysis of more than 230 bearded figures in Mesoamerican art and found a remarkably even distribution throughout this high civilization area.  Although bearded figures date from all time periods, Magleby found that they were more frequent during Book of Mormon times before A.D. 300, and became relatively rare by Spanish contact times. 

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Wirth also observed:  “Several late Mexican codices depict leaders with what appear to be appended false beards, apparently an important feature of the elite, which was a practice in ancient Egypt.  This may also be a feature on some early Olmec (Jaredite period) sculptures. The Indians who took pride in their ancestral heritage may have worn false beards as symbols of greatness and royalty. This was not unlike men of the Jewish culture in the Old World who considered a man’s beard a sign of dignity and honor.  An obvious decline in the number of bearded figures took place at the close of the Preclassic period, precisely when the Nephite civilization collapsed [circa A.D. 385].” False beards was also a practice in ancient Egypt, which look similar to the King’s beard on La Venta Stela 3.


Kirk Magleby, “A Survey of Mesoamerican Bearded Figures” (F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1979).

Alan C. Miner resource file for Step by Step though the Book of Mormon project (unpublished).

V. Garth Norman research, “Izapa Sculpture, Part 2”: Text. Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, No. 30. (Provo, 1976).

Tatiana Proskouriakoff, Olmec and Maya Art:  “Problems of Their Stylistic Relation.”  Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson, pp. 199-30. (Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, 1968).

Diane E Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics. (Horizon Publishers, 1986).

Alexander von Wuthenau, The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, (New York, Crown publishers, Inc. 1969).

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