Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nephite Highways and Roads – Part I

There is not much written about the Nephite road system, though the little that is, says a lot. Mormon, no doubt, saw this road system when he traveled over it as a boy when his father carried him to the Land of Zarahemla from the Land Northward (Mormon 1:6). At the age of 11 in 322 A.D., Mormon’s father, also called Mormon, evidently was called back to the capital city of Zarahemla, perhaps being in the military and because of the pending wars with the Lamanites. Since Mormon, five years later, is placed in charge of the Nephite armies, one can imagine that this post was handed down to him through his father, as Captain Moroni’s command had been to his son, Moronihah (Alma 62:43).
    No doubt, Mormon was quite familiar with these roads that, as he said, “there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place” (3 Nephi 6:8).
    According to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the word “highway” is defined as “a public road; a way open to all passengers; so called, either because it is a great or public road, or because the earth was raised to form a dry path. Highways open a communication from one city or town to another.” The definition in 1828 of “road,” was “An open way or public passage; ground appropriated for travel, forming a communication between one city, town or place and another. The word is generally applied to highways, and as a generic term it includes highway, street and lane. The military roads of the Romans were paved with stone, or formed of gravel or pebbles, and some of them remain to this day.”
Top: An 1800 year old Roman highway just north of Jerusalem in near-perfect condition; Middle: An ancient road or street in Jerusalem; An ancient street (yellow arrow) accidentally excavated recently dating to time of Christ in Jerusalem, which had been buried under 15 feet of the city, using flagstones 36” square over which thousands of Jews flooded into the center of Jerusalem
    By definition, we can understand that the larger and more extensive highways would have “led from land to land,” and also ”led from city to city,” while the more common term, “roads,” would have “led from place to place” within those lands and cities in “lanes,” and “streets.“
Top: Ancient road leading into Jerusalem dating to about Lehi’s time; Bottom: a 2300-year-old village alongside the road was recently uncovered
When Nephi and Sam settled in the land “many days” from the area of their first landing site (2 Nephi 5:7), an area they called “Nephi,” or the “city of Nephi,” and the “Land of Nephi” (2 Nephi 5:8-9), no doubt having been led their by the Lord through the writing and spindles on the Liahona (2 Nephi 5:12). These two, having grown up in the vicinity of Jerusalem and being familiar with the public buildings, houses, walls and streets of that magnificent city, no doubt had in mind to build a similar city of their own (2 Nephi 5:15). To this end, Nephi first mentions building a temple like Solomon’s, with “the manner of construction like the temple of Solomon, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (2 Nephi 5:16), and also tells us he taught his people “to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15).
Top: This is the city Nephi would have known in 600 B.C.; Left: City wall and structure Jerusalem 600 B.C.; Right: Solomon’s Temple where Lehi, Nephi and Sam worshipped
    Obviously, by this time, the building skills of Nephi were extensive, having been tutored in building by the Lord (1 Nephi 18:1-2, 3). In the building of this and other cities—at least Shemlon and Shilom (Mosiah 9:8; 10:7-8)—Nephi and his people over nearly a 400 year period, had built many buildings and roads that led from city to city.
    This construction, still standing when Limhi arrived 400 years later, was obviously made of stone, as was the Temple of Solomon and the City of Jerusalem that Nephi and Sam had known so well.
    When the Spanish arrived some seventeen hundred years later, these buildings and roads, and many others, were still standing in only two places in all of the Western Hemisphere—both in Central America and Andean Peru. Of the two locations, we have already established through radiocarbon (C-14) dating that Andean Peru was settled much earlier than Mesoamerica.
    As far as the Mayan Sacbeob (the linear connection between communities, which may have been roads, walkways, causeways, property lines or dikes. Some of these so-called sacbeob were actually mythological, subterranean routes, and some even traced celestial pathways as reported in Maya myths and colonial records. However, of the actual roads, they were not always paved, and identifying the routes extremely difficult. While the age of these roads is unknown, it is believed they were functioning at least by the Classic period (250-900 A.D.)
The Mayan Sacbe “white roads” wee often elevated in causeways because of the flooding. They did not run for thousands of miles, but were impressive in their own right
    The most prominent sacbe explored by archaeologists, and believed to be the longest road discovered in Mesoamerica, lies between the Maya cities of Cobá and Yaxuna, which extends for 62 miles. Historians, however, believe that the longest Mayan roads were longer than that, though little evidence exists 1,100 years later. The vast majority of the rods exists in the Yucatan where the terrain is noticeably flat and the roads were built in long, straight lines. These “white roads” were constructed out of large stones which were overlaid by rubble. After the rubble was laid, large cylindrical stones were rolled over the surface compacting the roads. Next, they were surfaced with a smooth layer of stucco or cement.
     The Mayan roads were generally raised from 2 to 4 feet above the ground level. However, in areas where the roads crossed swamps they could be as high as 8 feet. The width usually depended on the amount of traffic, but normally they were twelve to thirty-two feet in width. The sacbeobs frequently connected important buildings and complexes. Also, Mayan ceremonial centers were connected to outlying districts by a network of roads that extended well into the countryside.
    The Mayan Civilization covered approximately 325,000 square miles. In a territory this vast there were products that were plentiful in one area, while completely lacking in others. For example, cacao grew well in Tabasco, and the highly prized Quetzal feathers were found on the Chiapas-Guatemalan border. This required that commercial trading cover long distances. Commodities such as honey, cotton textiles, rubber, dyes, tobacco, pottery, feathers, and animal skins were regularly exported by the Mayans to Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
    There is no question that the Maya built a complex roadway system, however, the reality of it is that their roadway network was small, with few roads as long as 50 miles and most shorter. On the other hand, the older roadway system of the Americas, in Andean South America, was far more involved, more complex, with hundreds of side roads, streets and lanes, while also having four very long, major highways that moved from as far north as Colombia and as far south as Santiago, Chile and into Argentina.
(See the next post, “Nephite Highways and Roads – Part II,” for a better understanding of the highway system in the Americas that more closely matches that described b y Mormon and of which the Nephites had available to them)

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