Thursday, June 7, 2012

Was Lake Titicaca the East Sea? Part I

George Potter, who has written extensively about the Nephites being in the Peruvian area of South America, states in his book:

"I propose that the Nephites' sea on the east is the 118-mile-long freshwater Lake Titicaca. The age and location of the ruins surrounding the lake are consistent with the Book of Mormon account. Throughout their oral history and up to the present day, the Aymaran Indians on the south side of the lake hate the taller Quechua Indians on its north side. This hatred has led to countless wars between the two peoples. The Book of Mormon describes the Nephites and Lamanites as having been separated by the sea on the east. Lake Titicaca Thor Heyerdahl was initially drawn to construct his raft the Kon-Tiki and sail it from Peru to Polynesia to test his theory that white-skinned people from Peru colonized parts of the Pacific. In fact, the name of his raft, the Kon-Tiki, came from the Peruvian legend that inspired his theory." 

Location of Lake Titicaca along the Peruvian (west) and Bolivian (east) border. The land to the east (Bolivia) is mostly flat and would have provided habitable land to the Nephites, but no colonies, villages, or cities were recorded built there, which should suggest the Sea East was a physical boundary to further eastward movement--not just a lake in the middle of the land Southward

 While I would agree that the Nephites were in Peru, or the Andean area of South America, as I have written in my book Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica, there is little agreement with the above statement made by Potter.

Let's take the statement one part at a time:

1) "I propose that the Nephites' sea on the east is the 118-mile-long freshwater Lake Titicaca."

Response:  First  of all, this lake is quite remarkable in many ways—at 12,507 feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world; by volume it is the largest lake in South America; it has a surface area of 3,232 Square miles; and an average depth of 351 feet, with a maximum depth of 940 feet; has a shoreline of 699 miles; and a retention time (or residence time) of 1343 years. The lake is never frozen, contains over 42 islands, most of which are artificial, made of floating reeds (totora), and is fed by five main river systems with over 27 rivers and streams overall. It’s catchment (drainage) basin is 22,400 square mile.

Second, there are several points to Potter's statement that need to be mentioned for a person to understand the scriptural reference to the Sea East (or East Sea) and Lake Titicaca which runs along the border between Peru and Bolivia. The problem about this lake is that in ancient times (perhaps 2000 years ago), the lake was at sea level, and part of the Atlantic Ocean. Numerous archaeologists and geologists claim it was raised suddenly, and within it even today are found salt water ocean fish and flora. Wheat fields around the lake area have been found that do not grow at that altitude, suggesting that at an earlier time these crops were much lower in elevation. To support this once lower elevation, the ruins of a 660 foot by 160 foot ancient temple (about twice the size of a football field) has been found by international archaeologists under Lake Titicaca dating more than 1,500 years ago (around 400 A.D. or earlier). A submerged terrace for crops, a long road and a 2,600-foot-long wall was also found, attributed to the indigenous Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco people who lived in the first millennium B.C.

Third, there was an East Sea in the Jaredites lands or the Land Northward (Ether 9:3; 14:26; Helaman 3:8). And since both the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water (Alma 22:32), and that there was a Sea East of the Land of Nephi (and the narrow neck of land had an East Sea (Alma 50:34), and the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west (Alma 50:8), and the Nephites spread “even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east (Helaman 11:20), we must conclude that the East Sea was a very large body of water, that ran from the north of the Land Northward, to the south of the Land Southward, including to the east of the Land of Bountiful (Alma 27:22), and was a blockage to further eastward movement, which does not match the idea of Lake Titicaca at all.

Fourth, the word Sea in the scriptural record, is used by Nephi, Jacob, Mosiah, and Ether, including Mormon in his abridgment, as an ocean, as in 1 Nephi 17:5, 8; 2 Nephi 10:20-21; Mosiah 13:19; Ether 2:7, 13; 3:4; 6:10. This hardly allows for a lake to be considered a sea—ocean—as the writers of the Book of Mormon used the word.

Lake Titicaca, at 118-miles long by 50-miles wide, would not provide a hindrance to northward or eastward movement, in opposition to how the Sea East is described in the scriptural record

Fifth, a lake, even one the size of Lake Titicaca, would not hinder movement from the south to the north, and at only 50 miles wide, could easily be circumvented by a Lamanite invading army, yet the scriptural record tells us that the Lamanites could not get to the Land Northward except through the narrow pass within the narrow neck of land. In fact, Mormon tells us the Naphites were very clever to keep the land to the north out of the reach of the Lamanites. But in Potter’s East Sea (Lake Titicaca) there would be no way to do this.

(See  next post, “Was Lake Titicaca the East Sea? Part II,“ to see how “The age and location of the ruins surrounding the lake are consistent with the Book of Mormon account” compares the Peruvian area with the Book of Mormon.)    

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