Monday, June 25, 2018

The North Countries – Part I

The “north countries” of the Nephites, mentioned only twice in the scriptural record—once in Helaman (4:7) and once in Mormon (2:3), in both cases referring to the countries to the far north of the Land Southward and also in the Land Northward. Mormon refers to in the Nephite retreat. It might be of interest to know that Moroni used the term “north country” to refer to both the entire Land Northward (Ether 1:1;9:35), and once referring generically to the “north countries” in general (Ether 13:11).
In Andean Peru, the coastal land is often divided into three locations: Southern, Central, and Northern, with the interior mountains separated between the coastal lands and the mountains with the highlands in between the cordilleras, again divided between Northern, Central and Southern highlands.
The North, Central and Southern coasts of Peru, as well as the Northern, Central and Southern Highlands between the Occidental (West), Central and Occidental (East) mountain Cordilleras
In fact, the Peruvian west coast bordering on the Pacific Ocean is a long desert strip that stretches from Tumbes in the north bordering Ecuador, to Tacna in the south, bordering Chile for a total length of 1,555 miles. This northern coast has a curious tropical-dry climate, generally referred to as tropical savanna, and is a lot warmer and can be unbearable during summer months, where rainfall is also present. The region differs from the southern coast by the presence of shrubs, equatorial dry forests in the Thumbes-Piura dry forests region), mangrove forests located in four specific areas from Sechura to Tumbes, tropical valleys near rivers such as the Chira and Thumbes, having clear, sunny skies for most of the year. Thumbes and Piura are filled with tropical canelo forests in Cerros de Amotape, and extending northward into southern Ecuador. South of Piura in eastern Lamnbayeque there are tropical dry forests that extend eastward and connect to the Amazon basin through the Marañón passage.
    In this northern area where Mormon retreated with his Nephite armies in the first half of the 4th century AD, and fought numerous running battles, the area is composed of shrubs, extensive carob trees; as well as the thorny faique; the broadleaf, flowering guayacan; the desert-surviving (xerophytic) hualtaco, the Frankincense-related palo santo, and the tall and straight-trunked ceibo trees. On the coast mangrove forests are located at the ending strips of the Piura River in the Sechura Province, which are the southernmost mangroves in the Pacific Ocean. To the north the ending strips of the Chira, Zarumilla, and Thumbes rivers also have mangrove forests that flow into the ocean, the Thumbes just south of the Gulf of Quayaquil—which is the location believed to be where Hagoth built his shipyards in the protected coastal region of these mangrove forests.
    In south central Ecuador at its source, this Thumbes River, known there as the Puyango River is fed by the Calera, Amarillo, Pindo, and Ambocas rivers, where it flows southwestward from Ecuador’s large gold-mining district in the 5100 to 6000-foot elevation Upper Basin of the Puyango, through the Middle Basin 100 miles east of Loja and 50 miles southwest of Thumbes, and into the Lower Basin past the gold mining settlements of Puyango Viejo, and southward to Chaguarhuaycu where it turns sharply past Gramadal and Las Vegas northward, becoming the Thumbes River and flows along the Peruvian border to the coast. This is likely the area through which Mormon and the Nephites would have retreated on their way toward the narrow neck and narrow passage leading into the Land Northward.
The Puyango Petrified Forest in southcentral Ecuador

Northward, between El Oro and Loja, is the Puyango Petrified Forest, a fossil deposit of petrified wood, trunks and leaves, as well as fossilized invertebrates, located in the middle basin of the Puyango River, an area of 2658 hectares at an elevation of between 1150 to 1650 feet. Here, in the southwest of Ecuador are strong slopes and ravines that have preserved the natural and complete natural vegetation where a heavy forest existed anciently, during the time of both the Jaredites and Nephites.
    This northern land is a hydrographic network of numerous rivers and streams, and is also a biodiverse area where typical wildlife can be observed such as crocodiles, reptiles, iguanas, boas, pava aliblanca, anteater, bear, sloth (bear) and many more. The average temperature is 77 °F., and southward along the strip from December through April of 77 To 82º F., and from May to November from 53 to 59º F. While the coast accounts for only about 10% of the territory of Peru, it is home to more than 50% of the population. This would also have been the case 2500 years ago during the time of the Nephites.
    While deserts typically are places blasted by sun, that is not the case along the coast of Peru, where in winter months, it is covered with a garúa, a moist, thick fog or mist that blankets the coasts, especially during the southern hemispheric winter. In Chile it is called the camanchaca, and in Peru the garúa prevents the sun from penetrating and makes everything look gray, bringing mild temperatures and high humidity to a tropical coastal desert. It also provides moisture from fog and mist to a nearly rainless region and permits the existence of vegetated fog oases, called lomas.
    While the ancient Peruvians found the nutrient-high waters off the coast of great value in providing a myriad of fish varieties to supplement diet, it was this cold water of the Humboldt Current that brought about both the coastal deserts and the garúa along a north to south coastal stretch of about 1700 miles from 5º to 30º south latitude. This Humboldt Current (sometimes called the Peruvian Current) hugs the coastline bringing mild temperatures and high humidity to this hyper-arid region., creating an inversion with the air near the ocean surface being cooler than the air above, contrary to most climatic situations. The trade winds blow the cool air and fog eastward over inland coastal areas, where the fog coalesces into drizzle and mist, forming the garúa (David Beresford-Jones, et al, "Re-evaluating the resource potential of lomas fog oasis environments for Preceramic hunter-gatherers under past-ENSO modes on the south coast of Peru," Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol.129, 2015, p198).
    This unusual and distinct environment was discovered in 1802 Alexander von Humboldt, who found that the temperature of the sea along the coast measured -13º F. lower than in similar latitudes elsewhere and that the air over land was warmer than over the sea. When the flow of cold water along the Pacific coast comes in contact with the dry desert air it forms a dense fog that coasts divers vegetation because of the different microclimates created by sea these currents.
    The north coast of Peru with its thick, cloudy skies and desert landscape is often described as “desert, desert, and more desert.” The land is covered with miles of sandy barrenness, however, boasting enormous ruins signaling huge population centers of antiquity. There are over 2,00-year-old pyramids, claimed to be one of only six places on the planet where civilization arose, with its deserts littered with ruins to prove it.
Some of the Sechura Desert along the coast is piles of sand dunes, and other areas are rock and distant cliffs

Actually, the desert varies along the coast, from the highest sand dunes in the world, to flat, rock-strewn sand and dirt. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish where the desert ends and the beach starts. The width of this desert strip varies from 10 to 100 miles. The widest part is the Sechura desert located in the north between the towns of Piura and Chiclayo. Few people live in this area where rich in phosphate rock is used in fertilizers.
    This is the area of the Land of Bountiful, and it is no wonder so little is written in the scriptural record about this land and what lies north of it between the city of Bountiful and the narrow neck of land, which Mormon describes only briefly in Alma 22:27-34.
    When the final Nephite-Lamanite wars broke out in the southeastern part of the Land of Zarahemla, around the Waters of Sidon (Mormon 1:10) when Mormon was about 11-years old, or about 316 A.D., the ended quickly and was followed by a four-year peace; however, after that the war broke out again when Mormon was 15-years of age (Mormon 1:15; 2:1), and before his 16th birthday, he was put in charge of the Nephite armies, where he “went forth at the head of an army of the Nephites, against the Lamanites” (Mormon 2:2).
Yellow Circle: Lamanites had conquered all the Nephite lands up to the border of the Land of Bountiful where the Nephites built a (White Line) wall of defense around Chimbote to stop the invasion and loss of land

In 31 B.C., during a lengthy war with the Lamanites, the Nephites were driven almost out of the Land Southward, as they retreated into the Land of Bountiful, where they built a wall from the west sea eastward (the distance of a day’s journey for a Nephite) and fortified it against further Lamanite invasion into their “north country” (Helaman 4:7). Over the next two years, the Nephites were able under the command of Moronihah, to regain many cities which had fallen into the hands of the Lamanites and “did succeed with his armies in obtaining many parts of the land,” regaining even half of all their possessions (Helaman 4:8-10). The term “north countries” is not mentioned again for about 350 years until the time of Mormon who, in “the three hundred and twenty and seventh year the Lamanites did come upon us with exceedingly great power, insomuch that they did frighten my armies; therefore they would not fight, and they began to retreat towards the north countries” (Mormon 2:3).
(See the next post, “The North Countries – Part II,” for more about the Peruvian north countries)


  1. Trying to follow the Muralla Chimú (wall) all the way over the highlands on Google Earth is rough. But it is very distinct in sections on the west coast, where a military advance would seem more likely. I wonder how far along it I could walk in a day. Maybe I'll get to try some day.

    I've wondered if the wall came into play in later confrontations as well.

  2. According to Julio Tello, the Peruvian archaeologist this wall was built in five stages. How far the first part went, is unknown, but the anthropologist Michael E. Moseley assures that it was a wall to avoid possible invasions to Chan Chan from the south. We have an article coming out one of these days on the blog talking about the numerous walls that existed along the coastal strip in central to northern Peru.

  3. I have wondered if the sections of walls came into play during the Gadianton Robber standoff in 3rd Nephi. It would seem a fitting time for such fortifications to protect large populations.

  4. Very possible. Unfortunately, no one has yet found a way to really date the wall, or any phase of it.