The Ancient America Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit our Web site: https://www.ancientamerica.org/
Ether 6:10 states that as the Jaredites traveled across the great sea, “No monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them” (Ether 6:10). According to Randall Spackman, this brief statement when combined with what is known about storms at sea, suggests that there were times when the Jaredites could remain on deck and view the sea life that surrounded them.
The Jaredite record points to the most frightening meetings between men and these huge creatures, when vessels and leviathans encounter each other close up and occasionally collide. Heyerdahl reported that one day on the Kon Tiki, while the crew ate by the side of the raft, “we started when suddenly something behind us blew hard like a swimming horse and a big whale came up and stared at us.”
Knoble described an incident when the whale disappeared momentarily, then “the deck began to tremble, and a scraping sound rose up from below the ship. The whale was scratching its back…” (Quoted from Miner 2006)
Heyerdahl also found monsters in the sea at night when the stars twinkled in the dark sky and the sea was phosphorescent with glowing plankton. The visitors were big squids that came to the surface and floated near the raft, their “two round shining eyes” a “devilish green” color like phosphorus.
On several occasions, “the black water round the raft was suddenly full of round heads two or three feet in diameter, lying motionless and staring at us with great glowing eyes. On other nights balls of light three feet and more in diameter would be visible down in the water, flashing at irregular intervals like electric lights turned on for a moment.” (Randall P. Spackman, The Jaredite Journey to America, pp. 146-150, unpublished) ) (Quoted from Miner 2006)
“Bearded Foreigners” at the City of Lib?
Olmec Jaredite period monuments from the ruins of La Venta on the Gulf Coast of Mexico have bearded figures that a respected art historian in the 1960’s called “bearded foreigners.” We don’t have to look very hard at this heavy bearded racial type to see a probable origin from the Mediterranean world of ancient seafarers.
Where might La Venta tie to the Book of Mormon? The city of Lib, like La Venta, was built on the eastern coast by the narrow neck of land (Isthmus of Tehuantepec), “by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20), as was the case with La Venta, located on an island in an inland coastal sea.
This bearded racial type ceased to exist among indigenous peoples of Middle America sometime before Spanish contact. Where did they go? They became lost through attrition with the dominant racial type we see today and by possible warfare, which recalls the Jaredite and Nephite wars of extermination at Ramah/Cumorah near the Narrow Neck of Land.
A Monster of the Deep at La Venta
La Venta Monument 63 is a standing stone column 2.5 meters high featuring a fantastic aquatic creature modeled after a shark that looms menacingly over a king who is holding it up like a banner on a serpent-like fish body staff.
Drawings from La Venta Park monument booklet show that the king’s headdress has plumage at the back. A tie knot on top with feet facing left (west) appears to be coming off the fish’s fin to signify movement with the fish. The king faces a large “sun” circle on the fish’s body where his arm rises up from the sun along its back.
The shark at La Venta ties directly to the Gulf Coast sea. I propose the circle on the raised fish with raised arm represent the king’s origin from the land of the rising sun across the sea. The headdress footprints on the knot flowing off the fish fin may signify his journey or ancestral origin from across the sea. This is a rare monument, but it does not stand alone.
There is a related figure on Izapa Stela 5 – the Tree of Life stone.
Sea Monster as Migration Symbols
This interpretation fits well with a similar raised giant serpent on Stela 5 at Izapa in southern Mexico. A sunrise glyph is on its head. Humans come from its body, with the head above framing other people like the Monument 63 figure, as it rises from the sea on the right east sea coast.
These and other signs relate to creation and migration origin, in harmony with Mesoamerican migration origin traditions from across the sea. (Norman 1976, Stela 5 chapter 4. p.165).
I have always puzzled over selection of fish symbols rising in smoke clouds on the left west side of Izapa Stela 5. I now for the first time see its origin and its meaning more clearly. I identified the fish by their head shapes as a dolphin and porpoise, large ocean fish. I now believe they were selected to signify the journey in death across the western sea of the setting sun, as the opposite from crossing the eastern sea in the journey of birth with the rising sun that is tied to the ancestral migration origin from across the eastern sea.
Ancient Navigation – A Fact
When the “bearded foreigners” were recognized on La Venta monuments in the 1960’s, any mention of the most obvious origin from the Mediterranean world was strictly taboo in American anthropology – and still is.
The rigidity of the isolationist school is starting to give place to long distance navigable boat travel across open seas. In a 2005 symposium session at the Society for American Archaeology Meetings held in Salt Lake City, navigable boats were tracked all over the Pacific by their unique and sophisticated plank tie construction. The same type open sea boat made by southern California Indians in the exact same complex manner still had to be an “independent invention” for a diehard isolationist guarding the American evolution laboratory. Somehow they could navigate all over the Pacific islands, from Hawaii to the South Seas, but not cross an equal distance eastward and hit the North American mainland. However, contact between the South Sea Islands and South America is now a recognized fact.
This year’s SAA meetings in Puerto Rico in April highlighted evidences of the Caribbean and Gulf islands chain communications between North to South America, Florida to Veracruz, and navigating the open sea between Yucatan and the Caribbean islands.
The long disputed Book of Mormon migrations by sea are no longer unthinkable in American archaeology. They are not only possible, but probable, and mounting evidences are proving significant transoceanic contact and even sustaining the actual Book of Mormon historic accounts.
Miner, Alan C. Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon, manuscript, 2006.
Norman, V. Garth. Izapa Sculpture, Part 1 Text. Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation. Brigham Young University, 1976.
Ochoa, Lorenzo and Marcia Castro-Leal. Archeological Guide of the La Venta Museum Park. Government of the State of Tabasco, Villahermosa, 1986.
Spackman, Randall P. The Jaredite Journey to America, unpublished.
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