Monday, August 6, 2018

The Nephite Shipping Industry

The Nephite record does not provide much in the way of occupations among the Nephites, other than one instance where it describes “But, behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people…and their shipping and their building of ships” (Helaman 3:14). We also know from the same source, that they were involved as a people in the “building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries.”
Nephites immigrating into the Land Northward from the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful in the last century BC

When Nephites from the Land Southward began moving into the Land Northward, especially into the Land of Desolation, we find they were involved in the shipping of heavy items: “as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping” (Helaman 3:10). We also learn that this shipping included more than timber and wood, but also provisions that newly established settlements might need, for when it came time to pass on the records after Shiblom, who had died, we find that “Corianton had gone forth to the land northward in a ship, to carry forth provisions unto the people who had gone forth into that land” (Alma 63:10).
    What these ships were like is not stated, other than “Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship” (Alma 63:5). What size would an “exceedingly large ship” be? That is unstated, but the fact that it is mentioned should suggest that Hagoth, who was evidently a shipwright, building ships in some type of shipyard “on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5), was involved in building smaller ships before constructing the one that Mormon highlights that was used to transport emigrant families and their supplies northward.
    Several theorists have written about this Nephite shipping being strictly on inland rivers; however, the likelihood of that being the major emphasis is highly unlikely since almost all inland river systems are both quite shallow and filled with rapids and floating debris, such as tree trunks, limbs, etc., which is always a threat to river sailing. In addition, in an area the size of the Land of Promise, it is highly unlikely there would have been many rivers that were connected in a worthwhile and profitable inland system.
    Even in an area as large as the eastern United States, until the U.S. Corps of Engineers began digging canals, clearing riverbanks and dredging the depths of the inland rivers so larger boats could move up and down, there was not much shipping on these rivers except for drifting downriver in canoes, rafts, (River Rogue) Keel boats, flat freight boat, and later, shallow-draft river boats (paddle wheelers). Often the boats drifted down to a port at the mouth of a river, unloaded their cargoes and then either sold the raft or boat there or broke it up and sold the scrap wood. Later, more essential boats were hauled back upriver by much larger paddle wheelers. The point is, finding connecting river systems is rare, especially for anything large enough to sail upriver and carry saleable or tradable supplies and cargoes.
    It is likely that these smaller ships or boats that Hagoth and/or others built were fishing vessels, since the Land Southward where the Nephites all lived for the most part, was “surrounded by water except for a narrow neck of land between the land southward and the land northward” (Alma 22:32). Thus, it is likely that the Nephites were involved in fishing enterprises.
Peruvian or Humboldt Current off the west coast of South America from southern Chile to Ecuador

This is especially likely when considering the Humboldt Current which passes along the western cost of South America from Chile to Ecuador, which is a extremely  nutrient-rich. This cold, low-salinity eastern boundary ocean current that flows northward in the direction of the equator and extends between 300 and 600 miles offshore, and is upwelling year-round from central Peru northward. About 4º south of the equator, the cold, upwelling waters intersect the warm tropical waters to form the Equatorial Front.
    It is a Class I, highly productive ecosystem, the most productive eastern boundary current system, and accounts for about 20% of the total worldwide marine fishing catch.
    It seems certain that those living along the coastal waters of this area would have been heavily involved in fishing during times of antiquity. In addition to providing a remarkable amount fish for consumption, as well as for larger marine mammals and also seabirds, including the large pelicans and Humbolt (Peruvian) Penguin.
    Driven by the trade winds in the north, and the latitudinal shifts between the Intertropical Convergent Zone which drives variability, the Humboldt current circulation has a considerable cooling influence on the climate of Chile, Peru and Ecuador, and largely responsible for the aridity of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and coastal area of Peru, as well as that of the aridity of southern Ecuador. Marine air is cooled by the current and thus is not conducive to generating precipitation, though clouds and fog are produced. In addition, shifts within the South Pacific High at mid-latitudes, as well as cyclonic storms and movement of the Southern Westerlies southward also contribute to system changes along the coast of South America. Atmospheric variability off central Chile is enhanced by the aggravation of coastal low pressure systems trapped between the marine boundary layer and the coastal mountains. This is prominent poleward from 27th parallel south to the 42nd parallel south (Vivian Montecino and Carina B. Lange, "The Humboldt Current System: Ecosystem components and processes, fisheries, and sediment studies," Progress in Oceanography, Vol.83, No.1, 2009, pp65-79).
Phytoplankton are tiny plants and algae that live in the upper sunlit layer of almost all water bodies on Earth. Powered by the sun's energy, they come in many shapes and sizes, and serve as the base of the marine food web, producing oxygen vital to life

Phytoplankton are primary producers that use pigments such as chlorophyll-a to photosynthesize, indicating how much primary production is occurring in the surface of the ocean. Obviously, then, phytoplankton need nutrients such as oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and iron for photosynthesis and growth, thus, chlorophyll concentrations are highest where there are lots of nutrients. Consequently, since currents and winds can bring water from the deep up to the surface during a process called upwelling, a surge of cold water from very deep to be brought up to the sunlit layer of the surface, caused by various winds along with the Coriolis effect. 
    The latter is the result of the Earth's eastward rotation and causes the deflection of air and water relative to the solid Earth below. This water is very high in nutrients, such as nitrates and phosphates, from the sinking of dead organic material which has been decomposed by bacteria and then released back into the water. This high content of nutrients and sunlight fuels large-scale phytoplankton (photosynthesizing or plant plankton) or algae blooms—which is what occurs along the coast of Chile, Peru and Ecuador within the Humboldt Current, the nutrient rich water from the deep becomes available to photosynthetic organisms. Thus, since the ocean’s surface is filled with microscopic organisms called phytoplankton, which uses photosynthesis to create more plant material and is then fed upon by the zooplankton (animal plankton), the tiny animals that drift in the water column, and herbivorous fish which in turn, are eaten by larger animals such as small fish and whales.
A food web displaying the connections between primary producers (phytoplankton) and consumers of increasing trophic levels (zooplankton and top predators). In the Humboldt Current off the coast of South America the chlorophyll concentration shows that these feeding grounds are capable of supporting high numbers of marine animals
These fish are then prey species for other marine animals such as squid, mammals, tunas, and sharks—which, in turn, leads to an enormous fishing paradise off the western coast of South America from Ecuador southward, where a full 20% of the world’s fish catch is currently achieved. In fact, this fishing paradise is home to many of today’s world records, including the 1560-pound black marlin! Bigeye Tuna, Black Marlin, and Sailfish are available, and he coast of Peru is one of the best places to fish for big game Marlin since the early 1950’s.
    In fact, today, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, together and in that order account for 90 percent of the region’s catch, with a total combined production of 18 million tons a year. There is no question that fishing and aquaculture have made a major contribution to the well being and prosperity of the people living along the west coast of South America, who for centuries depended on them for a living and for highly nutritional food. According to anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes claims that: “In the pre-Hispanic world fishing was an essential tool for the existence of humankind…both on land and along the coasts and rivers, it provided sustenance for many indigenous peoples.”
The main feeding waters off the coasty of Ecuador and Peru where indigenous people have successfully fished for millennia

This Peru Current system brings relatively cool, subtropical waters north to the equator, where the current changes direction towards the west and then joins the South Equatorial Current. The Peru Current System and the South Equatorial Current are mainly caused by the near constant southeast trade winds. There is also a warm water current flowing from north to south towards the Galápagos Islands, called the Panama Current Flow, which brings warmer, tropical waters to the islands. All of this creates a fisherman’s paradise, where these three main subsurface flows occur:
1) near the Galápagos islands which flow east,
2) the Equatorial Undercurrent near the equator, and
3) the Northern and Southern Subsurface Countercurrents, near five degrees north and five degrees south, respectively.
    Obviously, then, when we learn that the Nephites were involved in shipping and ship building (Helaman 3:14), they must certainly have been heavily involved in artisanal fishing, especially within the Humboldt Current, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems off the shore from Chile to Ecuador.


  1. I happened to watch a video yesterday about the history of "white gold", or guano in Peru. A lot of it is available from birds along the coast, and on small islands along the coast. When the Nephites were advanced enough to build ships for fishing, I can believe they would also be advanced enough to use guano for fertilizer. That would be another good shipping item for them.

    History of White Gold

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  3. Wonder Boy: Sorry, I highlighted the wrong section of your comment--I was attemtping to go to the site where you posted, and hit the wrong section. I am unable to replace it, not having the original info on hand. Please repost it.
    As for your post, it is unlikely wooden ships will be recovered on the ocean floor dating to Lehi in 600 BC since the water off the coast of Peru and Chile is very cold, coming up from the Antarctic. Preservation is better in the warm waters, like the Mediterranean, especially around Greece where Roman wrecks have been found. But who knows. It would be exciting to find such.