"The evidences which this generation have of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and of the existence of the plates, are far greater than the evidences which they have for the truth of any of the books of the Bible."
"Pics or it didn't happen."
Imagine a battle field with millions of combatants, 2 million of whom are already dead. Men, women, and even children are armed to the teeth with swords, shields and armor. As the battle wages, every single person is killed except for 100 of the strongest warriors on both sides. Think of the carnage strewn across the field. Millions of bodies clad with heavy military gear baking in the sun. The last hundred or so continue to fight until only their commanders are left. One commander beheads the other and he slumps to the ground in exhaustion. Imagine this is in a children's book.
This is the story of the Jaredites as described in Ether 15, in the Book of Mormon. It sounds over the top; but is that enough to dismiss it? After all, the story of D-Day at the start of WWII is also pretty over the top and equally gory. So, how would you determine if the Jaredites really did kill each other in this way?
Before I get into this by way of archaeology, I want to recap a previous post where I discussed the argument: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." I qualified it by adding: "Except when you should find evidence." I also want to touch on something from a Mormon apologist website, fairlds.org, where they mention that archaeological findings cannot be used to prove stories mentioned in the Bible or the Book of Mormon. I agree; New York is not evidence of Spiderman. But, by the same token, contrary evidence suggesting that New York did not exist at the same time as Spiderman would call the historicity of the comics into question (oh ya, I went there). Therefore, while I agree that archaeological evidence is not enough to say with certainty whether the Jaredite story is true, we can use it to determine the likelihood of it happening, and whether archaeology supports the story, or gives reason to withhold belief until further evidence is presented.
In the case of the Jaredites, Ether (the author of the story) reports that nearly 2 million people died before the final battle. This means that if the story is true, somewhere on the American continents is an old battle field with piles of dead bodies, or perhaps a mass grave which would put the Nazi's to shame. Also, each of the combatants (men, women and children) were equipped with weapons and armor. So, somewhere nearby should be a cache of this gear, unless it was stolen by another tribe. That's a lot of gear. Millions of swords and armor. And in Ether 7:9, these swords are described as being "made out of steel." So, to recap, if the Jaredite story is true, we should find millions of bodies and millions of steel swords and armor.
If such a cache were found, it would likely be the archaeological find of the century, as it would completely change our current understanding of the archaeological record of North and South America. Not to mention, it would give credence to the claims of the Book of Mormon. As fairlds.org points out, it would not be conclusive evidence, but it would certainly support the claims nonetheless.
Currently, archaeology shows that Native Americans did not have steel, or even iron swords. A few tribes have been known to dabble with copper. But this is not consistent with the claim that the Jaredites used a furnace to smelt millions of iron and steel swords. In fact, no steel has ever been found in the Americas dating before Columbus--centuries after the Book of Mormon is said to have been written (2200 BC - 400 AD). We have iron from every other colonized continent in the world from roughly that same time period, but nothing from America. This is peculiar since iron and steel erode very slowly.
The earliest known use of iron was around 2000 BC, but mass use didn't start until 1200 BC in select areas. And we have archaeological evidence of this. And yet nothing turns up anywhere on the American continents for at least another 2500 years. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Native Americans are among the few civilizations who did not go through the iron age--let alone used steel (this is one reason the Europeans described them as "savages"). All weapons found so far have been made of either wood, stone or animal bone; which, aside from the stone, deteriorate much more quickly that metal. How can this be? Perhaps a better question is, "How can this be if the Book of Mormon is true?" Is god hiding the evidence? Is he purposely making it look like the Book of Mormon isn't true just to try your faith (similar to Young Earth Creationists and Dinosaur fossils)? Does this make any sense?
The fact is, there is virtually no archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon stories; yet, if the Nephite, Lamanite, and Jaredite civilizations were as vast as described, then we should find considerable evidence. I have been focusing primarily on the Jaredites, steel, and iron, but there are other similarly unsupported claims in the Book of Mormon, as outlined in this wiki-link, which says:
"Critics and supporters disagree as to whether archaeological findings support or disprove the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Some Mormon archaeologists and researchers claim various archaeological findings such as place names, and ruins of the Inca, Maya, Olmec, and other ancient American and Old World civilizations as giving credence to the Book of Mormon record. Critics and non-Mormon archaeologists disagree with these conclusions, arguing that the Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that are not substantiated by the archaeological record between 3100 BC to 400 AD in America, including the ass, cattle, horses, oxen, domesticated sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheat, barley, silk, steel, swords, scimitars, chariots and other elements. Further, scientists note that genetic studies show that Amerind peoples are most likely of Asiatic origin,which appears to conflict with the Book of Mormon account of their ancestry. Mormon archaeologists deal with the genetics problem in a variety of ways."
To me this is very telling; but in an effort to be fair, I have to admit that it does not necessarily mean Mormonism is false. But it does seem unlikely, and until supporting evidence emerges, belief in Mormonism should be withheld.
As I see it, the evidence so far seems consistent with the contrary claim, that the Book of Mormon was written by a man who knew little to nothing of the ancient Native Americans, and lied about having an ancient record with a divine means of interpreting it. Furthermore, to claim that ancient Native Americans had access to advanced technology (i.e. smelting iron and steel) without any evidence, is like claiming Australian Aboriginals had sports cars and Internet before the English discovered them. Pics or it didn't happen.