Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Beasts in the Forest – Part IV

Continuing from the previous post regarding the animals the Nephites found in the Land of Promise when they landed, and called: “cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat (1 Nephi 18:25). 
    So, having shown that Nephi, Mormon and Joseph Smith would have known what these animals were and would have miss-named them as so many LDS theorists claim happened in light of critics attacks, then what happened to them and why weren’t these animals found in the land when the Spaniards arrived, or at any time afterward?
John L. Sorenson has suggested that Nephi saw a tapir and called it a horse, which seems like a rather silly thing to say as this photo suggests
    Let’s take the most controversial—the horse. First of all, and to make this clear, while some researchers suggest that references to horses in the Book of Mormon could refer to other animals in the land of promise which had characteristics which in certain ways resembled those of the horse or the ass, we assume that the descriptions in the Book of Mormon are accurate, and that the horse mentioned was the horse, more-or-less, as we know it. However, this does not mean that they survived everywhere in the Americas or that they were numerous. Growing evidence, though, supports a post-Pleistocene survival of very small populations. Therefore, references to horses in the Book of Mormon seems very plausible.
    There appears to be a strong case for the survival of the horse well past the close of the Pleistocene Epoch into the limited regions occupied by Book of Mormon peoples in the Land of Promise region. Some claim that while horses are not mentioned in the Book of Mormon after the time of Christ (3 Nephi  6:1), that the disasters associated with the crucifixion (3 Nephi 8-10) or the wars and famines of later years (Alma 45:11; Mormon 2:8) may have led to their final extinction. It’s possible, too, that horses just were not mentioned in the limited commentary of 3 Nephi. If there were limited numbers of horses and asses in Nephite or Lamanite cultures, it would not be surprising that evidence for them could be very difficult to find.
    At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that during the final civil wars among the Lamanites after the annihilation of the Nephites at Cumorah, that the non-productive Lamanites drove into extinction several animals that were easy to catch and used for food when the crops died out. 
As Moroni writes: "the Lamanites are at war one with another, and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed and no one knoweth the end of the war," which should suggest few, if any, were spared from the wars, and that few, if any, were busily engaged in planting and harvesting during this time, so where did their food come from and how long would it have lasted?

    After all, devastating wars, especially very long ones where there are no farmers to till, plant and harvest, are available, eliminate the food production of an area. And since Moroni states that the war raged throughout the land with no one knowing when it would end, and that it lasted at least the 36 years of Moroni’s last record, we can assume the wars lasted much longer and that the result of such was not only devastating to the crop production that the annihilation of the Nephite Nation brought about, but that it also drove into extinction land animals that were hunted down by the hundreds of thousands of Lamanites requiring food for their sustenance during those war years of constant and violent fighting.
    The horse and the ass may well have been among those animals that were used for food until they, too, were gone, or at least almost driven to extinction. If there were any that remained, it must be considered that when the Spaniards came with their war horses, it needs to be asked if they could have been distinguished from among those that had been in the land prior to their arrival.
    It should also be kept in mind that nowhere in the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon do we find any indication that the horses mentioned were ridden as we might think was their use. We only know that their mentioning was always related to use with a chariot, or as a draft animal, pretty much as the Roman’s used the horse anciently. 
It is also assumed that the horses mentioned in the Nephite era were the descendants of ones brought to the Land of Promise by the Jaredites, who were the only group coming to this new land that suggest such animals might have been brought. In the Jaredite record, we find: “And it came to pass that when they had prepared all manner of food, that thereby they might subsist upon the water, and also food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with themand it came to pass that when they had done all these things they got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God” (Ether 6:4). Now while “flocks” has reference to sheep, goats, and camels, the word “herds” include horses, donkeys (ass), elephants, cattle, deer (antelope, caribou, elk, moose, etc.), and swine (wild carnivore animals are usually describe as being in packs).
    Consequently, the horses the Jaredites brought to the Americas would be very unlikely if they could be told apart from those that came with the Spaniards. According to Professor Emeritus Augusto Azzaroli, former professor of Paleontology at the University of Florence, creator of the Museum of Geology and Paleontology (now Natural History Museum), and important contribution to the systematic of fossil mammals and Continental biochronology, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Pleistocene horses, states that the “Equus ferus (below)a modern caballine horsewas widespread in the Pleistocene of Eurasia and well represented in North America during the latest Pleistocene” (“The genus Equus in North America: The Pleistocene species,” Palaeontographia Italica 85, 1998, pp1-60).
Horses were extremely abundant in all North America prior to the close of the Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago. However, evidence clearly shows that horses lived on well past this time. Some dating of horses indicate they were around in Mesoamerica and South America about 2,000 years ago. Of course their numbers were vastly diminished by then.
    It seems reasonable to assume that the Jaredites had domesticated horses. Certainly they were present among the Nephites and Lamanites (Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9). Their domestication by these peoples should not be surprising. The horse has been domesticated by various peoples for millennia. Evidences for this keep pushing the date back. Outram and others placed this date to about 3500 B.C., which well predates the Jaredite record. An even earlier date was suggested by Achilli et al. based on DNA.
    It cannot be overstated that extinctions take time. Too often the impression left when extinctions are discussed is that they were all very sudden. Almost always with groups of organisms the extinctions took place over thousands to many thousands of years. And as already noted, some plants and animals thought to be extinct turned out to still be living even millions of years later. Until the past few decades almost all researchers on the subject thought that the majority of North America’s large mammals became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene. This of course excludes modern species of the bison, elk, moose and bears.
    The proboscideans and horses, thought to have become extinct at that time, have now been shown to have lived on much past the 10,000 year limit that was placed on them. In the past few decades an ever increasing body of evidence shows that some of these taxa survived much longer. It should be kept in mind, though, that these animals were being restricted to various refugia—an area in which a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions. In time, perhaps, the refugia would disappear and the animal would finally become extinct.
As an example the Woolly Mammoth thought to be extinct by the close of the Pleistocene, survived much past this event on Wrangle Island northwest of Alaska. Radiocarbon dates demonstrate that this animal was still living until approximately 2000 B.C. (K. A. Arslanov, et al, “Consensus dating of mammoth remains from Wrangle Island,” Radiocarbon 40, 1998, pp289-294). Proboscideans and horses also survived past the terminal Pleistocene (10,000 years ago) much further south in North America, extending into Mesoamerica and South America. Of course their populations were ever dwindling, especially in North America, where the refugia was quickly disappearing, especially during and after the ice age.
    The existence of ancient, indigenous horses on the American continent was only first accepted in 1848, when Richard Owen described a fossil horse from South America. The first scientific paper on ancient horses in the Americas was published that same year by Joseph Leidy. But now, horse fossils, bones, and teeth have been found in North, Central, and South America. 
Top Left: Western Horse; Top Right: Mexican Horse; Bottom Left: Yukon Horse; Bottom Right: Complex-tooth Horse
Many varieties of ancient American horse are known, including the Western Horse (Equus occidentalis), the Mexican Horse (Equus conversidens), the Yukon Horse (Equus lambei), Scott’s Horse (Equus scotti), and the Complex-tooth Horse (Equus complicatus), the Wild Horse (Caballus ferus), Hagerman Horse (Equs simplicidens), Mongolia Horse (equus ferus przewalskii), as well as other. Some of these varieties were quite large, growing to the size of modern species. The remains found in the Yucatán have been classified as E. occidentalis and E. conversidens. All of these horses are now extinct, but the question of when and why they became extinct remains. It is now believed that horses, elephants, and other large animals evolved in the Americas after that of Asia, but why they flourished there and died out here is still a mystery, especially for horses, which have thrived in the wilds of North and South America since being re-introduced by Europeansespecially in the wild of areas like Texas and Argentina where large unattended herds developed.
    This and other hard evidence of pre-Columbian horses means that we should not be so apologetic about their appearance in the Book of Mormon, nor do we have to go to extraordinary lengths to explain them. There are still some controversial elements in the scriptural record that we may never be able to explain, but the existence of horses in Ancient America is not one of them. As we have pointed out in numerous articles oln this subject over the years, when horse bones and remains are found in South America, they are neither reported or taken seriously by mainstream archaeology, which has a firm, fixed belief that they were extinct in the Americas and therefore, any report of finding some is both suspect, and likely to be wrong.
(See the next post, “Beasts in the Forest – Part V,” for more on the reasons why no horse remains or remains of other domestic animals have been found in South America or in the Americas.)


  1. The Bible speaks of lions in Israel anciently. The are extinct in that region today. Most secularists point to the fact that that there was no evidence of lions ever existing in Israel as evidence the book is nothing but myth. Well, as it turned out about 25 years ago lion bones were found there. Same is true in South America. Thanks Del, great article.

  2. Excellent point. While lions are mentioned in the Bible, at present they do not exist there, probably because of the increased population of man and the elimination of habitat, but they must have been very numerous in ancient times. Today they exist in the desert on the road to Egypt; they abound on the banks of the Euphrates, between Bussorah and Bagdad; and in the marshes and jungles near the rivers of Babylonia. The lion of Israel was in all probability the Asiatic variety and not the larger, African variety, and was described by Aristotle and Pliny as distinguished by its short, curly mane, and by being shorter and rounder in shape, like the sculptured lion found at Arban. It was less daring than the longer-maned species; but when driven by hunger, it not only ventured to attack the flocks in the desert in the presence of the shepherd, but also laid waste to towns and villages (2 Kings 17:25, 26) and devoured men (1 Kings 13:24, 25). Lone shepherds sometimes encountered lions when and slew them (1 Samuel 17:34, 35; Amos 3:12). Samson seized a young lion with his hands and "rent him as he would have rent a kid" (Judges 14:5,6). The strength (Judges 14:18), courage (2 Samuel 17:10), and ferocity (Genesis 49:9) of the lion were proverbial.
    During biblical times, they had their lairs in the forests (Jeremiah 5:6; 12:8; Amos 3:4), in the caves of the mountains (Song of Solomon 4:8; Nahum 2:12), and in the canebrakes on the banks of the Jordan (Jeremiah 49:19; 50:44; Zechariah 11:3). No fewer than at least six different words are used in the Old Testament for the lion:
    1) Gor ["suckling"], the lion's whelp (Genesis 49:9; Jeremiah 51:38);
    2) Kephir ["shaggy"], the young lion (Judges 14:5; Job 4:10; Psalms 91:13; 104:21), a term which is also used figuratively of cruel enemies (Psalms 34:10; 35:17; 58:6; Jeremiah 2:15);
    3) 'Ari ["puller" into pieces], denoting the lion in general, without reference to age or sex (Numbers. 23:24; 2 Samuel 17:10);
    4) Shahal ["roarer"], the mature lion (Job 4:10; Psalms 91:13; Proverbs 26:13; Hosea 5:14);
    5) Laish, so called from its strength and bravery (Job 4:11; Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 30:6). The capital of Northern Dan received its name from this word;
    6) Labi, from a root meaning "to roar," a grown lion or lioness (Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; 24:9; Ezekiel 19:2; Nahum 2:11).
    Under one or another of these names it is mentioned 130 times in the Scriptures, as the classical symbol of strength, power, courage, dignity, ferocity. Very likely as the type of power, it became the ensign of the tribe of Juda; so was it employed by Solomon in the decoration of the temple and of the king's house. In fact, the variety of names shows the abundance of lions in the regions of Scripture at that time. Now there are none in Israel. But the names Lebaoth (Joshua 15:32), Arieh (2 Kings 15:25), Ariel for Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:1-2; Isaiah 29:7), Laish (Judges 18:7), incidentally, and so undesignedly, confirm the Scripture assertions as to their former existence.