In 1934 the Peruvianist Wendell C. Bennett carried out several excavations at Tiahuanacu adjacent to southern Lake Titicaca along the Bolivian-Peruvian border. Excavating in the Subterranean Temple he found two large stone images. One was a bearded statue. Depicted are large round eyes, a straight narrow nose and oval mouth. Rays of lightning are carved on the forehead. The statue stands over 7 feet tall with arms crossed over an ankle-length tunic, which is decorated with pumas around the hem. Serpents ascend the figure on each side, reminding one of the Feathered Serpent culture-hero known as Quetzalcoatl in Central America. Strange animals resembling toxodons are carved up around the head.
These so-called “toxodons” have never been seen nor is anything known about them other than from the drawings. Therefore, the term “toxodon” is simply a name of convenience for an otherwise unknown animal. Unknown, that is, unless you compare it with an early tuskless elephant, then the resemblence is quite close. Given the lack of artistic ability of early carvings, cave paintings, etc., it is very possible this drawing is of an early elephant that wandered the Andean area since it is recognized by most archaeologists that such paintings and carvings depicting animals were taken from life, of animals known to the ancient artist.
Thus, these carvings of ancient Peruvians look as much like an elephant as any other animal known to man. However, since elephants are not a common idea to the Andean area or the entire Western Hemisphere, scientists look for some extinct animal rather than a more common elephant—the animal the Jaredites brought to the Land of Promise. Of course, we do not know exactly what the Jaredite elephants looked like, and may have been some early from of the later animal we know, just as the camelids llama and alpaca are another form of the camel.
In addition, on the Tiwanaku Gate, the figures flanking the centerpiece are unfinished, causing viewers to wonder what could have interrupted the craftsmen. Of the animals represented on the gate, two have been extinct for thousands of years. Jaguars and condors are still with us, but toxodons and elephants can no longer be found in the area, causing one to wonder if the elephant did not live into the Nephite era when this gate and carvings were made.
Modern man often fails to realize that the animals we have come to understand existed in certain areas at certain times are based solely on some type of picture, carving, or actual find. After all, if the La Brea Tarpits in Southern California did not exist, no one would have known of the numerous types of animals, including the horse and elephant ever walked the Americas. Nor can we be certain that an animal disappeared from view at any certain time, since dates attributed to such finds are always based on some type of dating system, such as radiocarbon dating, which is generally in error (see the book, “Scientific Fallacies and Other Myths.”) Since Tiwanaku dates from about 1500 B.C., such drawings could well have depicted the elephant that scientists claim never existed in the Americas.
In addition, there were other elephant-like animals that flourished in South America, one of which was an early elephant called the Cuvieroiusr, depicted on the Gate of Tiwanaku—a fact that has archaeologists baffled. Because they think the animal was extinct 15,000 eyars ago, they have dated Tiwanaku to 13,000 B.C.; however, their distribution is shown in the green area of the map, from Colombia to Chile—the red area shows the Stegomastodon waringi, found in Brazil and Uruguay, and the blue area shows the Stegomastodon platensis found in Argentina—and it is felt they lived into the A.D. period.
Certainly, the Gomphotheres, a diverse group of elephant-like animals (proboscideans) were not only widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, with some living in Eurasia and South America, they were slowly replaced by modern elephants, but the last South American species did not finally become extinct until possibly as recently as 400 A.D. In the toxonomy of the Gomphotherium, the complete “parentage” was finally decided in 1998 from Domain to Family. According to J. L. Prado, M. T. Alberdi, b. Azanza, B. Sanchex, and D. Frassinetti in their 2005 work on elephants in South America, the Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites. One example is the early human settlement at Monte Verde, in Chile.
Consequently, elephants were widely distributed all over South America, with at least one variety existing to about the time of the annihilation of the Nephites, 400 A.D.