Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Amazing Nephite Roads

Another area that Theorists tend to ignore is that of the amazing Nephite roads since their models, other than Peru and Mesoamerica, do not have roads to comment about. But Mormon tells us about these roads: 
   “And there were many highways (public road; earth raided to form a dry path, from one city to another) cast up, and many roads (open way or public passage) made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place”
(3 Nephi 6:8).

The Babylonians built roads than ran from their temples (ziggurats) through their empire into Assyria. Note the identical mud-brick construction of both buildings and roads
    It is interesting that stone roads and bridges were well known in Mesopotamia and the Middle East long before Lehi left for the Land of Promise. In fact, the oldest constructed roads discovered to date are in the area of Mesopotamia, and date earlier than 2000 B.C. in Ur and Babylon. These paved roads were meticulous laid by artisans with brick-making skills that formed identical mud bricks for building. After drying they would set them in place with bitumen, which is the natural sticky black substance in asphalt. It would be many centuries later before asphalt was used in Europe and later America.
Left: Ancient Mespotamia road around 2000 B.C.; Right: Celtic bridge ; Boitom Left: 1700 B.C. Royal Road in Knossos Crete; Minoia road 1900 B.C.
    While both Ur and Uruk in Mesopotamia had stone-pave streets, as did the Indus Valley cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, it is even more surprising to find cobbled streets in the much earlier Halaf Culture village at Tell Arpachiyah in northern Mesopotamia, and at the village of Choirokoitia in Cyprus.
    On the other hand we are more familiar in history with the Roman roads from 500 B.C. onward, though a road in uncovered Pompeii is dated to 600 B.C. There were Greek roads, as well, and the earliest stone bridge was built in 1900 B.C. in Crete, and numerous stone bridges built by the Romans are still in use today.
Top Left: Roman road, 500 B.C.; Top Right: Pompeii road, 600 B.C.; Bottom Left: Greek road 400 B.C.; Bottom Right: Pre-Rom and Greek-Romanian road
    Roads were extremely important during the last millennia B.C. in the eastern Mediterranean since countries were involved in international trade. In addition, expanding military empires understood the value of a good road system which made it easier to control the empire as messages and orders could be sent quickly.
    Consequently, it might be understood that by the time Lehi left Jerusalem, stone roads and stone bridges were fairly well known. Even in Egypt, where roads existed though the physical evidence today is slim and pictorial testimony rare. There are some short stretches of streets and roads which have survived, having lain above the level of the Nile floods, or not reclaimed by the moving sands. Roads were either mud-brick or stone, such as at Dimai in the Fayum where the temple was reached over a stone paved road 
Left: Egyptian road to Megiddo; Top Right: Stone road in Egypt; Bottom: Stone roads crossing the desert, all but now reclaimed by the sand
    In the scriptural record, Mormon describes a rather intricate road system when he talks about “roads and highways leading form city to city (that is, from large town to large town) and from land to land (that is, from region or country to region or country) and from place to place (that is, from house, area, city, town or village to house, area, city, town or village)” (3 Nephi 6:8).
    Given the size of the Land of Promise, and the many cities and lands described, one might consider that this road system that Mormon describes as leading just about everywhere would be quite extensive—after all, more than 40 cities are mentioned and 25 lands in the scriptural record in the area the Nephites occupied. From Mormon’s writing, it would seem that roads and highways led to or by most, if not all of these cities, and through each of these lands.
    There are only two places in the entire Western Hemisphere where ancient stone or paved roads existed during the Nephite period, and that is in Andean Peru, stretching from Ecuador to Chile, and in Mesoamerica, scattered mostly in the Yucatan of Mexico and in Mayan Guatemala. Of Mesoamerica, John L. Sorenson, in his book Images of Ancient America, p 56, writes: “In recent years, hundreds of miles of roads have been found radiating outward from major population centers throughout much of Mesoamerica.  Built-up roads (the Mayan language term was sacbe, "white road") like the remnant at the site of Labna in Yucatan were not primarily for travelers but were routes for ceremonial processions although they were used for routine transport where they were available.  Mostly, however, well-worn trails served the surefooted human burden bearers.”
    Glenn A. Scott, in Voices from the Dust, p 191, states of the Coba-Yaxuna road in the Yucatan, “That sacbe is sixty-seven miles long, averaging thirty-two feet wide.  For most of its length it is two to three feet above terrain.  Where crossing bajos the roadbed is more than eight feet high with sides of roughly dressed stone.” The Spanish conquistadors commented that in their time of arrival in the area, there were to be seen “vestiges of calzadas which cross the whole kingdom." That is, traces of ancient roads were seen throughout the Yucatan.
    In the scriptural record, we find that these Nephite roads were paved, or made of some type of solid material, like rock or stone. Samuel the Lamanite not only confirmed that there were many highways in the Land of Promise (Helaman 14:24),  but Mormon confirms that they were indeed made of some type of solid material, like stone or a form of pavement, since he tells us that during the terrible destruction that “changed the face of the earth,” these highways were “broken up” (3 Nephi 8:13).
    Nowhere in all of the Western Hemisphere is there a road system as long, extensive, and expertly made as those in Andean Peru, according to the conquistadors who first saw these roads in Mesoamerica and Peru, and claimed that the Andean roads rivaled the highly acclaimed roads of the ancient Romans. This highway system stretches from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south, and from the Pacific Coast in the west to and through the Andes to the east, even into Bolivia and present-day Argentina.
Ancient roads built in Peru during B.C. Nephite times, and made of stone, including intricate rises  over mountains, tunnels cut through solid rock, and raised causeways  across swamps, or ancient bridges across canyons and rivers. These photos are a few of those seen today, over 2000 years later
    Running 3,700 miles, from Chile to Ecuador, with an intertwining and interconnected network of 24,000 miles of roads and highways. Truly, this road system “led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.”
    Called Qhapaq Ñan by the Inca (Great Inca Road or Route of the Inca), who later used these well-built Nephite roads to help them conquer from Ecuador to Chile, they never could have been built by the Inca, whose existence is figured to be about 120 years in which most of that time was taken up by fighting wars and expanding an empire. Without these roads already in place, the Inca never could have conquered most of their eventual territory.
    “And the highways were broken up (rent asunder—divided, parted, disunited), and the level roads were spoiled (rendered useless), and many smooth places became rough (scattered with stones, ridges)” (3 Nephi 8:13).
Several of the many ancient roads in Peru that were broken up and their smooth surfaces anciently became rough
    The point is, in order to find a location for the Land of Promise today, we should find within our choice of location ancient roads dating to B.C. times constructed of pavement, stone or rocks, and also find locations where these roads have not just deteriorated over time, as found in Mesoamerica, but show distinct signs of being broken up and the level roads spoiled from earthquake activity. The roads themselves in Mesoamerica and Andean Peru eliminate all other areas in the Western Hemisphere, and the signs of earthquake spoilage shows Andean Peru to more accurately match the scriptural record than any other place.
(See the next post, “The Remarkable Roads and Bridges of Peru,” for more information on these Nephite roads and how they conquered the mountains “whose height is great” of which Samuel prophesied)

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