Other than the Hill Cumorah in New York State, which is the only known landmark we have of that ancient time in history, the lands of the Book of Mormon have remained essentially hidden. Thus, people have been searching for them ever since the Book of Mormon first came off the press, with a variety of regions proposed over the years–none of which have been officially sanctioned by the Church. However, enough modern research has emerged in the past century to suggest that the ancient lands of the Book of Mormon existed near New York’s Hill Cumorah. While various groups of the Nephites continued to migrate out in various directions over the centuries, their spiritual heartland remained in New York throughout their long sojourn in the land.
It is significant to note that the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took place in the very same location the Book of Mormon Saga played out over 2000 years ago—the same region Joseph Smith was visited by the Angel Moroni who told Joseph where the sacred records of his people were hidden away these many years, records that described in detail the very lands Joseph walked as a boy, was later married, organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Hill Cumorah is Sacred Ground
For centuries the golden plates containing the history of the ancient Nephite and Jaredite nations lay buried beneath the sod of the Hill Cumorah. But, in the spring of 1823, one of the most amazing events to have transpired in this dispensation took place, the visit of the Angel Moroni to the young Joseph Smith at Palmyra, New York. As the last remaining prophet of the ancient Nephite nation, Moroni, now a resurrected being, ultimately led Joseph to the sacred record of his people which he had hidden away in the Hill Cumorah following the destruction of his people.
The Angel Moroni was no stranger to the Hill Cumorah, nor the surrounding territory, for it was the homeland of his ancient fathers for 900 years. Thus, is it no surprise to learn that all the major historical sites of the Latter-day Restoration were located in the very same lands the events described in the Book of Mormon took place. But, of even greater significance is the fact that each and every land, city, and landmark noted in the Book of Mormon can be laid out in the western New York setting in the regions around Cumorah exactly as outlined in the scriptures.
A Limited Geographical Area
Some Book of Mormon apologists have supposed that the Nephites were the sole occupants of ancient North America regardless of the fact that archeologists and historians alike have made it clear that a number of different colonies settled her shores. Evidence shows that some settled in the New England States and across the land into west Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; some in the southern States from Florida westward to the Mississippi, and still others up the Mississippi itself, each bringing their own cultures and religions with them.
Not surprisingly, many of these early colonists also carried the blood of Israel, although most had adopted the pagan ways of the lands they left behind, bringing their corrupt traditions with them. It is from these groups that we find the Gadianton Robbers and the anti-christs noted in the Book of Mormon. Thus, the story of ancient America is a huge story, not one confined to the restricted heartland of Book of Mormon territory in western New York. The Lost Sheep of Ancient America fills in many of the missing pieces of story and is well worth the read for those searching for answers. (CFI- Amazon)
Without this peripheral information the view of Book of Mormon territory has often been thought to be greater than what is implied in the text. But, without the modern means of transportation and communication we take so for granted today, documenting the history of an enormous area would have next to impossible for any one scribe-especially in those regions where prophets were not welcomed. Thus, only the history in the small territory of western New York, the religious center of the Nephites throughout their sojourn in the promised land, was recorded on the gold plates for those of our day.
The scriptures clearly indicate that the people of that day managed to travel across their local lands and cities on a regular basis-whether they were helping to defend one another’s territory, helping to build or rebuild cities, shipping supplies back and forth, or simply gathering for the great conferences held by the rulers of their lands. They moved across the land from Zarahemla and on to Bountiful without concern. Thus, the history recorded in the Book of Mormon is consistent with a very limited geographical picture.
The region of western New York may seem small to some, but we might remember that the biblical land of Israel is similarly small. We might remember that when King Benjamin called the people of Zarahemla together to inform them that his son Mosiah would succeed him to the throne, the people gathered in just one day, for he taught them on the morrow. Thus, they probably did not travel more than about twenty miles or so (see Mosiah 1:10).
Remember also, that when King Mosiah called forth the people to hear the account of Zeniff, he called forth all the people which by this time including not only the Nephites but the Mulekites as well, an enormous group, but one still small enough to be taught, albeit in two separate groups. Moreover, those who were baptized following that sobering occasion, continued their instructions in the various churches scattered throughout the land, the number of which was only seven, far fewer than one might expect for the entire Northeastern Woodlands (see Mosiah 25:18-24). Surely this was a limited region, one often described in quarters as though it were a square, with various battles fought each quarter of the land.
In Mormon’s account of the various wars and battles of the Nephites, he described each in relation to the lands they fought in with several geographical features given which have since been referred to as Mormon’s Map. Mormon mentions several lands in their general area of occupation, including the lands of Nephi, the land of Zarahemla, Bountiful, Desolation, and the land northward, with Zarahemla being their spiritual heartland.
In the New York setting, the land of Zarahemla lay in Erie County in the extreme western part of the state adjacent Lake Erie—a region the Iroquois claim has been their ancestral homeland from their earliest days in the land–(having descended from the Lamanites as attested to by their DNA).
The waters of Lake Erie modify the weather in western New York and give the various towns along the lake the added advantage of fruit production. Wheat was the main crop for the whole area however, with the harbor at the entrance of the Buffalo River known as the greatest storehouse of grain in the world in the 1800’s.
The forests provided the Nephites with not only fresh game meat, but also ample wood for constructing their villages and fortifications. Several scriptures refer to their skills in working with wood such as 2 Nephi 5:15 where Nephi explains that he taught his people to “build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood,. . .” Wicked King Noah bragged about his own luxurious palace and its throne, “all of which was of fine wood,” (Mosiah 11:9). The book, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, fill in all the details needed to gain a fuller appreciation of the western New York setting for the Book of Mormon, for those who may be interested. ( CFI-Amazon)
In light of the sheer number of artifacts found in western and central New York, and the comments of those who excavated the territory before the encroachment of civilization wiped the land clean of its ancient relics, it becomes clear that New York was once occupied by a long forgotten people. Artifacts abound, numerous fortifications similar to those described in the scriptures once dotted the landscape, and all the animals, grains and minerals mentioned in the Book of Mormon can be successfully reconciled with this region. But, of even greater significance, nowhere else can we find more successful correlations between the topography of a given land and those described in the Book of Mormon.
Because so many different theories still persist in the Church, It seems important to lay out the differences between the various settings and how the New York setting meets the scriptural requirements best. It is not enough to find a narrow neck of land some place, or narrow strip of wilderness that separated two different cultures, but everything must fit. The topography of the land must fit, the DNA of the ancient populations must fit, even the skull types must fit, with those of the Nephites carrying the X haplogroup and the long skull type noted among all the Semitic tribes of Israel—and all of which can be reconciled with the ancient people of western New York. Even their hieroglyphic type of writing has been found among the residual tribes.
While the Nephites and Mulekites obviously spread out over a great expanse of territory over their near millennial-long sojourn in the land, the Book of Mormon is the history of those who lived in their heartland in the lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful, with offshoots settled in the lands further north and east across a region of many waters which we can take to be the eleven beautiful Finger Lakes just to the south of the Hill Cumorah, the site of the terrible exterminating battle that totally exterminated the Nephite Nation.It is the opinion of numerous scholars that western New York was the scene of a terrible exterminating battle.
It was said”There is more evidence of a well-planned defensive warfare in that locality than there is in any other region on the American continent. It is the opinion of most scholars that the defenses on the drumlin hills were prepared by a people more civilized than the Indians and were exterminated by the inferior race who were still in possession of the country when Columbus discovered the land.” O Turner did not hesitate to consider all the fortified hills in western New York as having been erected by “a race which peopled this country before the Indians ” He went on to say:
“. . . there is perhaps no portion of the United States where ancient relics are more numerous. Commencing near Oswego River, they extend westward all over the western counties of the state. . . . The evidence that this was one, at least, of their final battlefields, predominate. They are the fortifications, entrenchments, and warlike instruments of an extinct race. That here was war of extermination we may well conclude from the masses of human skeletons we find indiscriminately thrown together, indicating a common and simultaneous sepulchure from which age, infancy, sex and no condition was exempt. “(O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Land Purchase of Western New York , p. 20.)
New York’s Ancient Occupants
It is commonly accepted by archaeologists and historians that New York was once inhabited by a people of higher civilization and more skilled in the arts than the more historic Iroquois who inhabited the land at the time of European contact. Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will agree. The Iroquois provide the clearest link to the Lamanites who survived the destruction of their white Nephite brothers, for the southern branch of the Proto-Iroquois language is linked to the Allegheny range along the southern tier of New York’s Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties—the proposed land of Nephi. Parker noted that within these borders were thousands of Indians, most of which were Iroquois who were living on tracts of land that they claim to have held from the very earliest of times. Ample evidence indicates that another civilization predated them in the land but mysteriously disappeared just prior to their arrival-no doubt the Jaredites who the Book of Mormon teaches us killed themselves all off during a terrible civil war just prior to the Nephites arrival.
The Full Near Cumorah Setting
Were the Nephites the Hopewell Mound Builders?
From the research of various noted archaeologists the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, tells us that a new culture arrived in western New York around 600 BCE which they named the Point Peninsula Culture, adding…”The people are thought to have been influenced by the Hopewell traditions of the Ohio River valley. This influence seems to have ended about 250 CE, after which they no longer practiced their elaborate mound burial ceremonialism,” i.e. burying their kings and heroes in great earthen mounds.This, of course is because they were all destroyed around the Hill Cumorah by the Lamanites around 350 CE because of their decadent ways, much of which was adopted from their Hopewell neighbors living to the west of them throughout the Great Lakes area whose decadent religion centered on the worship of the sun and the moon and human sacrifice. These were pagans, not Christians,-i,e the Anti-Christs noted in the Book of Mormon
New York State Archeologist, William A Ritchie said
The archaeological record indicates the probability that in New York State the Hopewellian culture fused with local resident complex of the latter part of the Early Point Peninsula culture.. . . In brief, to varying degrees within the affected region the existing social groups were suffused with Hopewellian religious ideas, practices and material cultural elements some of which were doubtless cult-related. (The Archaeology of New York State, p. 216)
So to answer the question as to whether or not the Nephites were the Hopewell Mound Builders the answer would have to be both yes and no—not the early Christians of the Book of Mormon, but rather the dissenters, which were many, and which ultimately corrupted the Nephites to the point of their utter destruction, for the Lord could no longer support their continued existence in the promised land.
One of my videos on the subject of the Hopewell can be found on my YouTube Channel, along with many more.
New York, Versus America’s Heartland, or Mesoamerica?
Over the course of the past 100 years, over seventy different locations were proposed to be the lands of the Book of Mormon, with all but a handful featuring a Central or South American setting for the Book of Mormon. As time went by and the more prominent Book of Mormon scholars chased their smaller competitors away, Mesoamerica took over as the most widely accepted location for Book of Mormon events. Much of their reasoning focused on the exotic pyramid shaped temples found in Mesoamerica, thinking them to be the remnants of the ancient Nephite civilization. Mormon art even began to portray Book of Mo rmon scenes in Mesoamerica amid the palm trees and stepped pyramids which modern research now validates were used to worship the sun, not the Savior, and were stained with the blood of human sacrifice.
A popular notion has arisen over the past decade which suggests the Hopewell living in Missouri and Illinois and Iowa were the Nephites of the Book of Mormon, and that this was the area the Book of Mormon saga took place, not in the regions around New York’s Hill Cumorah. When European colonists began to expand west beyond the Allegheny Mountains they found tens of thousands of mounds scattered all across the northeast. Massive structures of every conceivable type were found.Thus the idea was formed that this must be the heartland of Book of Mormon territory with Zarahemla in Iowa rather than in New York. However, the Iowa mound builders did not appear until around 200 – 50 B.C. not 600 B.C. While the New York setting meets all the requirements to be the long lost lands of the Book of Mormon, this is a very complicated story, one best shown in the following video.
In the introduction of the Book of Mormon we read: “The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterwards separated into two nations, one known as the Nephites, and the other the Lamanites. . . after a thousand years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” Unfortunately, the Saints were not too interested in earth works found in the area for they believed they were not grand enough to be those left by the Nephites. Thus, the Saints began to look elsewhere for the lands of the Book of Mormon which led the noted intellectual and LDS archaeologist, Hugh Nibley, to say: ” Blinded by the gold of the pharaohs and the mighty ruins of Babylon, Book of Mormon students have declared themselves . . . (READ MORE)
It was not until our modern age that a language tie to the ancient writings of the Nephite’s was found. After extensive study of the Micmac Indians’ hieroglyphics, the epigrapher Barry Fell noted a definite connection between the Algonquian language,of which the Mcmac were a part, and Egypt. He first noticed the similarities when he was studying a document found on a sheet of paper containing The Lord’s Prayer written in Micmac Hieroglyphs. Being an authority on ancient languages he was not only surprised but mystified to note that the meaning of the signs in Egyptian were the very same as those found on the English translation of the Micmac text. In fact, he was so amazed by the remarkable similarities that he was surprised that no one else had ever noticed it before. (READ MORE)
Phyllis Carol Olive, author of the best-selling book, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, resides in Las Vegas with her husband, Ron Olive. They have a combined family of seven children, seventeen grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren. She has held a wide variety of both teaching and leadership positions in the church, but her favorite has always been that of teacher which she feels has helped her in her authorship of the various books she has written.Writing did not come easy to Sister Olive, however,. . . (READ MORE)
See many more videos on my YouTube Channel