1. European and Asian archaeology follows a well-known pattern of areas that have always been occupied with continuance by the same or similar cultures and peoples, with an understanding of former names of places and that of former inhabitants. As an example, Bethlemem has always been called Bethlehem, which name dates back to 1350 B.C. during its habitation by the Canaanites, as found in the Amarna correspondence written on clay tablets during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. On the other hand, Jerusalem, at one time, was called Salem (Sãlim). It is known to be the same place in the same area, and its earliest inhabitants, the Canaanites, had a god (of sunset) called Shalem (Shalim), and their home was named uru-salim, meaning “founded by the god Shalim.” It has variously been called Ierousalem, Hierousalem, Hierusalem, Hierosolyma, and Solyma (a vague reference to mountains around the Dead Sea and/or “Palestinian Syrians”)—eventually evolving to Yerûshlem. At an earlier date it was known to the Arabs as Aurishalamu, and to the early Babyonians as Ur-sa-li-immu, causing an unknown origination as to whether it was a Babylonian derivative of origin or Canaanite. In fact, most experts on the matter claim that the etymology of Jerusalem is almost impossible to know for certain. Still, the constant occupation of the area leads us to know what its name was and now is.
2. The Western Hemisphere has a totally different history, than that of non-continuation. That is, the first occupation of which we know is that of the Jaredites, who had no interaction with the Nephites, spoke a different language, and did not occupy at any time the lands of the Nephites except in the Land Northward—even so, an occupation or settlement gap of some 500 years in that land existed. Plus, after the annihilation of the Nephites, there was a thousand years of occupation by a totally different speaking people, who were a sworn enemy of the Nephites and willing and eager to destroy and eradicate anything Nephite. Thus, we see a total lack of continuance in the Western Hemisphere where names, heritage, and understanding was totally lacking between occupants.
This, then, gives us a starting point in the Western Hemisphere where there exists absolutely no continuation of names, places, historical connections or even interest. Not until the Spanish arrived, and with them their chroniclers, who were only mildly curious about the past beyond writing of the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations, but not of trying to delve further back in history (what there was of it known to those cultures).
As a result, what little was learned of the present inhabitants during the Spanish occupation surrounded such matters as to their own beginnings, which rarely extended beyond the immediate and a few myths and legends, treated as such by the chroniclers who had an entirely different viewpoint of the world and human existence than those they had conquered (Native Americans today, whom we called Indians, claim the people and government has no understanding of them and their history, religion, and heritage even after several hundred years and millions of pages written about the more than 250 tribes or bands living in the U.S.)
We are not even certain today what numerous “Indian” names meant and, in fact, most aboriginal words have several meanings. Mississippi, as an example means “Father of Waters,” “Large River,” “Ancient of Rivers,” “Ancient Father of Waters,” “Big River,” “Good River,” or “Great River.” Another example is the word “Ohio,” which is claimed to mean “Great River,” “Large Creek,” “Good River,” “Beautiful River,” “River running through a red place,” or “The Great One.“
The point is, to believe that a name of a place, city, land, etc., which might have been handed down through Nephite, to Lamanite, to Spanish, would retain its original meaning, and thus be re-translatable, would be rare indeed. We also understand from the Hebrew that names were often fluid, that is, they were changed by succeeding generations, as in Lehi naming a river the “River of Laman” or a valley, the “Valley of Lemuel.” Or in his naming an entire ocean “Irreantum,” and where they settled for a year or two “Bountiful”—all names that would not have remained after Lehi left those areas.
Now, having suggested these kinds of problems, let us turn to archaeology. The first thing an archaeologist on site does is to give the area a name. In North America, places were often named originally by French trappers, who typically used a local Indian name as they translated it into French, like the French who first heard the Iroquois word “ohi-yo,” which they understood to mean “great” or “large.” They translated this to “La Belle Riviere” meaning the Beautiful River.
When Michael Moseley and Carol J. Mackey began excavations in 1969 of a coastal area in northern Peru, they used the pre-Columbian Chimú Quingnam language word “Jiang,” to name it, which meant “Sun,” because of the hot, sunny climate. Typically, in Quingnam, repeating or the reduplication of a word gives it special meaning and the term became Chan Chan, meaning “Sun Sun,” hypothesizing that its true meaning would be: “Great sun,” “Resplendent Sun,” “Splendid Sun” or “Refulgent Sun.”
Do you know this familiar lake? What if you stumbled on it if you didn’t know where you were? Would you know from the sign?
What if you came across the term “alliçupa” for the name of a city in Andean Peru. Would you know that could mean Los Angeles, i.e., “City of Angels”? What if you were looking for the city of Pachacamac outside Lima and ran across a reference to ruraquen in Quechua, would you or an archaeologist know that both terms could mean the same thing at a time when Quechua was unknown?
As an example, supposing an original name of a river in Peru was called Mesad. Would you tie this into the Book of Mormon as Nephite evidence? However, if you could trace this word (feminine noun meaning “fastness”), connected to the same root word meaning “hunting” through its root of Sud, which is the root word of Sidon, one might say there is a connection. However, who would know that of a Quechua word term, since not even the Quechuan-speaking people of the Andes know the root of many of the words they speak. The point is, finding connections linguistically is as chancy as finding a sign buried in the ground saying “This is the city of Zarahemla.”
(See the next post, “Why Has No Evidence of the Nephites Been Found – Part II,” for more information why when the critics ask about evidence you have a legitimate and accurate answer)