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Archive 2534


By Ross T. Christensen


. Following are two subjects presented by the editor of the Newsletter and Proceedings at the two most recent Annual Symposia on the Archaeology of the Scriptures. The first discussion (III .00, below), presented extemporaneously at the seventeenth symposium, held on October 14, 1967, was transcribed from a tape recording made by Dr. Callis R. Harms, SEHA member and associate professor of educational administration at BYU. The second paper (111.01, below) was read at the eighteenth symposium, held on October 1 2, 1 968.


The Phoenician Theory of New World Origins Re-examined. It was in the sixth grade of the old Adams School at Rexburg, Idaho, during the school year, 1929—30. Mr. Charles Cutler was the principal and the teacher of the class, and I was a pupil. The arithmetic lesson was going on. I was busy reading but not in the arithmetic book.


Ross, what are you doing’?” demanded Mr. Cutler.

I’m looking at the new history book, sir,” I replied.

What are you reading about in the history book

“The Phoenicians, sir.”


He brought me to the front of the class and disciplined me with gentle humor. He simply made a joke of it and gave me a nickname: “Phoenician.” Whenever I saw him after that, he good-naturedly called me ‘Phoenician.’’


I was fascinated by the Phoernicians in 1929; in 1967 I am still fascinated by them. Hence, I have lately turned my attention again to a study of their marvelous ancient civilization.



The Phoenician civilization was Semitic; in language and culture it belonged to what we call the West Semitic branch of that language family. Its original speech was identical with ancestral Hebrew. And its script, the alphabet it used, was the same as the ancestral script of Heberw. Titus there is small wonder, when we consider certain purported Phoenician inscriptions in America, that they are sometimes called Hebrew. They could properly be called either one, I suppose, unless they represent a later time period, when there was sufficient differentiation to distinguish between the two.


The seat of the Phoenician civilization was along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, from the northern boundary of Palestine northward, say, to a point opposite the Isle of Cyprus. Actually, the Phoenicians were the same people that the Old Testament calls Canaanites. The name was simply a later Greek equivalent, applied particularly to those who dwelt on the northern coast and with whom the Greeks therefore came into direct contact (Harden, pp. 21-22).


In Greek times there came to be as it were a focus of Phoenician civilization, an area where they were still independent and able to carry on their own activities and develop their own culture in their own way. This was from Dor, a little south of Mt. Carmel, to Arvad on the north.


You may recall the remarkable friendship between King Hiram of Tyre and the kings David and Solomon of Israel (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5; 7:13-51; 9:11-14; 10:11, 22;1 Chronicles 14:1; 2 Chronicles 2). Tyre was at that time the principal kingdom of the Phoenicians. In fact the term Tyrian was a synonym for Phoenician, as was also the term Sidonian. Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Arvad were the four great Phoenician cities. There never was a time, however, when the Phoenicians were all under a single authority of their own making; they were always divided, never a single political unit.


There is an extraordinary recent turn in scholarly thought made by William F. Albright (Albright, p. 466). He proposes–and I accept this as being very probably correct—that the great day of Phoenician exploration and colonization in the Mediterranean world began shortly after King David destroyed the Philistine empire, about 990 BC. With this act, not only was Israel freed but also Phoenicia. This may have been the reason behind his strong friendship with Hiram.


In any case, it is only shortly after this time that we have clear evidence of Phoenician activity in the Mediterranean, even to a point as far westward as Spain. The modern Spanish city of Cádiz, for example, is actually an old Phoenician colony, and it is quite likely that it was founded about the time of which we speak. Thus the great day of Phoenician exploration, colonization, and mercantile activity in the Mediterranean Sea and beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, along the west coast of Africa and northward as far as Britain, was from the Tenth Century to the Eighth Century BC.


At the end of this period, when Sargon II, king of Assyria, led a part of the Northern Tribes of Israel away as slaves (2 Kings 17:6)—about 721 BC—he also conquered the Phoenicians, who were never powerful after that.


But really, the Phoenicians did not come to an end as a free people until the year 572 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered them shortly after his destruction of Jerusalem, about 587 BC. In other words, the great day of the Phoenicians was from say, 950 up to, say, 720 BC, after which they continued on with the scope of their operations much restricted until 572. After the last-mentioned date they continued to exist, of course, but not as an independent people.


The principal colony of the Phoenicians was Carthage, in the western Mediterranean on the coast of Africa opposite Rome. The traditional date of her founding is 814 BC. Around 400 BC, the Carthaginians began to exercise considerable influence, so much so that by 264 BC they had come into direct confrontation with the rising Roman civilization. You remember, of course, the fame of Hannibal and his invasion of Italy via Spain and the Alps. The power of Carthage was terminated once and for all in the last of the three Punic wars—Punic means Carthaginian—fought in 146 BC, at which time the city was levelled to the ground.


And so this gives you a resume of those civilizations, both that of the original Phoenicians and that of the daughter nation, Carthage.



A subject of widespread intellectual interest which developed shortly after the discovery of America was the origin of the Indians (cf. Hansen and Fitzgerald, p. 2). Here was an altogether new population that had never previously been heard of in Europe. What was the explanation of it? Europeans already thought they knew the origin of Old World populations, but here was a whole New World.


Many theories as to where the native Americans came from, and as to the origin of their ancient civilizations of Mexico, Central America, and Peru, have been proposed. Included is a Phoenician explanation. Perhaps it was never the most popular of the theories, but it prevailed to some extent during the Seventeenth Century (Hansen and Fitzgerald, p. 18). Then it waned and was largely forgotten until the beginning of the Twentieth Century.


One scholar whose work on this subject has pretty well been bypassed is Zelia Nuttall, a former leading Americanist. Around the turn of the century, she brought up a number of remarkable parallels between the ancient civilizations of the New World and those of the eastern Mediterranean area, and suggested the Phoenicians as the principal agents of contact between the two hemispheres (Nuttall, 1901). But her contribution was largely ignored. You see, people sometimes bring to our attention things that are uncomfortable to think about and that lead to uncomfortable conclusions. And if we cannot explain them away, the thing to do is simply to ignore them. The question is, how long can we keep ignoring them?


The Phoenician theory of the ancient American civilizations has come into some prominence once again in this decade with the publication of a book by Constance Irwin (Irwin, 1963). This author is a faculty member in library science at the University of Iowa. She is not a professional archaeologist but writes charmingly and convincingly. She proposes a Phoenician explanation for a number of apparently Near Eastern traits in the advanced civilizations of ancient America, such as infant sacrifice, serpent symbolism, and belief in the Fair God.


Perhaps Mrs. Irwin will be ignored also. But I have read her book and am convinced that this whole question should be opened up for reconsideration. Hence, I entitle my paper, “The Phoenician Theory of New World Origins Re-examined.” In the few minutes which are available I should like to do just that: re-examine this theory, briefly and from the viewpoint of a Latter-day Saint.



May I call your attention to certain statements in the Book of Mormon? What does that volume say about Phoenicians in the New World? In explicit terms, it says nothing. The name is not written there; there is no direct reference to it.


But consider a few things. The Book recounts three distinct colonies coming from tire ancient Near East: that of Jared and his brother, that of Lehi, and that of Mulek. We now call the descendants of the last-mentioned colony Mulekites, although Mormon referred to them only as the “people of Zarahemla.”


Who were the Mulekites? Nothing is said in the Book concerning their identity, with the exception of one person: Mulek. This young son of King Zedekiah, evidenty unknown to the authors of the Bible, escaped the wrath of the Babylonians. He was of course a Jew of the house of David. But of those who came with him (he could not have come alone) we have not one explicit statement.


Now, if you had been the guardian of a young scion of the royal family, charged with protecting his life, amid you had seen the rest of the king’s sons rounded up and slaughtered in the presence of their father and the monarch’s eyes put out in order that his last visual memory might be of the death of his flesh and blood (2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 39:6, 7), perhaps you would have take drastic action. I am just guessing, but the lad may have been tire young son of a young wife, obscure and unknown to the writers of the Bible. If you had been this guardian, I say, or perhaps this young mother herself, you would have taken him as fast and as far away as you could.


Now, if you had wanted to heave by sea, who were tire finest mariners in existence in that generation? The Phoenicians. It was the Phoenicians who had circumnavigated the continent of Africa not long before this—about 600 BC—for the first time in human history (Irwin, pp. 211-214). This was done within the lifetime of Zedekiah amid at the behest of Necho II, pharaoh of Egypt. Such a feat was not accomplished again for another 2,100 years, when the Portuguese mariner, Vasco da Gama, did it in 1498.


The hypothesis that Mulek escaped with the aid of Phoenician mariners is hardly more than a guess; I cannot actually prove it from the Book of Mormon. But this guess seems to take on substance when one considers the name of the principal watercourse of the Book of Mormon: the river Sidon. In fact the Sidon is the only river that is explicitly mentioned in the record, the only one that is actually given a name. Why was it that the Nephites gave the name of the principal metropolis of the Phoenician homeland—Sidon—-to their main watercourse? The answer is probably simply this:  the Nephites did not give it that name; the Mulekites did.


There is in the Book of Mormon no mention of the name Sidon until after King Mosiah brought his people down out of their mountain kingdom about 200 BC and they discovered the city of Zarahemla on the west bank of that river, where dwelt the descendants of Mulek and his colony (Omni, 12-19). Only after that time is the river Sidon mentioned in the Book at all (for the first time in Alma 2:15, which refers to an event of 87 BC). The name was evidently given to the river by the Mulekites or “people of Zarahemla.” This suggests, does it not, something of the origin of that people.


Another suggestion: Omni records (vv. 17, 18) that in order to communicate with the newly-discovered Mulekites there had to be a lapse of time until they could be taught the Nephite language. The implication is that in the four centuries of isolation that had elapsed since the departure of the two colonies from Palestine there had developed sufficient difference between their languages that the two peoples could not readily understand one another. However, I suspect that the real truth of the matter is simply that the Mulekite language was not Hebrew in the first place but actually Phioenician, a language closely related to Hebrew but sufficiently different even in 600 BC that you could easily have recognized that difference; then inside of 400 more years, by the time Mosiah arrived at Zarahemla, the two languages had separately evolved to a point where they were hardly intelligible to each other.



May I call your attention to the ocean currents of the Atlantic? Unknown in the days of Columbus was a great, broad current that sweeps southward from the lberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) along the coast of western Africa then veers westward into the Atlantic in a great arc that strikes the New World at about the West Indies (see map). Then this same current—now called the Gulf Stream—swings around, passes Florida, and arches northward in another great sweep that returns to Europe. (Theoretically, one could just drift on this southern current from the Old World across the Atlantic to the West Indies and then back to Europe. This must have been confusing to ancient mariners: to be able to cross and yet not be able to go back the same way.) Mrs. Irwin presents considerable evidence in her book (pp. 218-242) to the effect that the Phoenicians did in fact on occasion sail that way, perhaps at first by accident.



We should also note the distribution of supposed Phoenician sites in the New World. I have not yet made a careful study of this, as I hope to do someday, but unless someone else does it first I am going to plot the distribution of all purported Phoenician inscriptions on a map of the New World. As far as I now know, they are practically all on the Atlantic seaboard or within a short distance from it, exactly where one would expect to find them if they were indeed left by Phoenicians.


These inscriptions are not found in North America alone; there are also some in South America. For example, there is a Phoenician inscription of some length which has been reported from Pararba, the easternmost state of Brazil.


The original inscribed stone has been lost, however. The text has nevertheless been translated at least three times and was once presented before the London Anthropological Society. Each translation is different, which is puzzling. But the message ms something about a shipload of mariners coming out of Sidon and reaching the New World. That much seems to have been agreed upon by the different translators.


I suspect that none of the translators was really trained in the Phioenician language and therefore competent to make a translation. The whole matter should be re-studied. But to do this one would need the original Paraiba stone or at least a reliable copy, and I know of no such copy. Anyway, we can continue to investigate. (Cf. the last question-and-answer at the end of this paper. See also 111.01, below.)


In view of the fact that Dr. Welby W. Ricks, about an hour from now, will present a paper on certain inscriptions from the Valley of Mexico, which I had not realized when the handout for my own discussion was drawn up, I think I shall simply skip over what is listed here on the outline under the heading, “the Mexico Valley script.”


Suffice it to say, there do exist presumed Phoenician inscriptions in the eastern parts of the United States and Brazil. But I know of nothing in the Pacific portion of the New World that could be called Phoenician.



At this point I should like to present for your consideration a multiple hypothesis as to



possible Phoenician elements in the Book of Mormon and the New World.


I propose that the Mulekites of the Book of Mormon were largely Phoenician in their ethnic origin.


I also propose that the Phoenician-like inscriptions found in the eastern United States and Brazil were indeed left by Phoenician (or possibly Carthaginian) travelers ranging in time between, say, 900 and 200 BC.


You are doubtless aware of a view of Book of Mormon geography that has been developed in our BYU archaeology department called the “limited Tehuantepec” correlation (Newsletter, 22.00, 40.0, 85.01; Christensen, pp. 81-85). It is a view that puts the events of the Nephite record in a more limited locale than has customarily been thought likely. If this interpretation of the evidence is correct, then the eastern parts of the United States and Brazil are far distant from the scene of Book of Mormon history.


It is therefore my proposal that the Phoenician-like inscriptions found in the two mentioned areas have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon peoples but represent the visits of other travelers. These were either Phoenicians or Carthaginians who were perhaps lost or perhaps knew their way perfectly well, but in any case reached those parts of the New World and left inscriptions.


Moreover, I should like to believe that in the eastern United States and Brazil the Phoenician element constituted only a tiny part of the total population and therefore had no great influence upon either racial or cultural types.


In Middle America, however, where according to our view of Book of Mormon geography the Mulekites were strong and numerous, in fact even more numerous than the Nephites (cf. Mosiah 25:2), I should like to think that the Phoenician element was also strong. If this be the case then doubtless it is still important in the population of modern Mexico and Central America.



QUESTION: Were the Phoenicians Negroid in physical type?


ANSWER: The Phoenicians were not Negroid. I know of no evidence to this effect. They belonged rather to the Mediterranean branch of the Caucasoid race.


QUESTIONER: The reason I ask this question is that I saw a picture recently of those giant stone heads found in Veracruz, southern Mexico. They have a sort of Negroid look about them.


ANSWER: In last year’s symposium a paper was read by Fred W. Nelson, Jr., which bore on this very point (Nelson, 1967). The author came to the conclusion that the colossal stone heads of Veracruz do not represent a Negroid strain in the New World.


QUESTION: You mentioned only Phoenician inscriptions in your discussion. Are we to understand that there are no other remains which could be attributed to a Phoenician origin in the Western Hemisphere?


ANSWER: I had in mind particularly inscriptions, but there may very well also exist other kinds of Phoenician antiquities.


QUESTION:  Which of the two main rivers of Mesoamerica do you think is the river Sidon, the Grijalva or the Usumacinta?


ANSWER: My colleague, Dr. M. Wells Jakeman, has identified—and you may find this discussed in various issues of the Newsletter (22.03, 34.01, 40.0)—the Usumacinta River as the Sidon of the Book of Mormon. Others have proposed the Grijalva, but this seems unsatisfactory to me.


QUESTION: For our information, do you have any published source on the Brazilian inscription you mentioned?


ANSWER: My source is a little journal called New World Antiquity, which we receive under our SEHA exchange arrangements. It contains one important article written on this subject by L. M. Young (1966), as well as several by the editor, Egerton Sykes, on related matters.


The Phoenician Theory of New World Origins in 1968. Nearly a year ago, at the Seventeenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, I presented a subject entitled, “The Phoenician Theory of New World Origins Re-examined” (Newsletter, 104.0: see also above, 111.00). At that time a recent publication (Irwin, 1963) had convinced me that the whole question of possible Phoenician contacts should be re-opened for consideration against the background of our Twentieth Century knowledge of American archaeology.


Particularly impressive to me were some indications within the Book of Mormon itself of an important Phoenician element in the native population of Mesoamerica.


The tentative hypothesis presented in the 1967 paper may be summarized as follows: The Muhekites of the Book of Mormon were largely Phoenician in their ethnic origin; a sizable proportion of the present native population of Mesoamerica is therefore of the same ultimate extraction; the Phoenician-like inscriptions of the Atlantic seaboard of both North and South America—although heft by Phoenician or Carthaginian voyagers—nevertheless represent non-Book of Mormon contacts from the Old World; and finally, the Phoenicians responsible for those inscriptions had no great influence on either the racial or cultural types of the Americas.



The year that has gone by since the Seventeenth Annual Symposium has seen at least two developments which have a major bearing on the Phoenician theory of New World origins.


SAA Meetings. A pervading theme of the Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, held on May 9-11, 1968, at Santa Fe, New Mexico, may be said to be that of transoceanic contacts with the Old World. Of the 30 sessions held at the three-day meeting, at which 181 papers were read, no less than four sessions listing 28 papers are labeled on the printed program, “Symposium on Problems of Pre-Columbian New World Contacts.” Most of these 28 papers bore directly on the problem of Old World contacts with the New World across either the Atlantic or the Pacific.


Discussed at these four symposia was evidence on the travels of corn (maize), beans, squash, cotton, coconuts, gourds, and sweet potatoes, and of chickens, pottery, and funerary customs; evidence on boats and rafts, and on Quetzalcóatl and Vinland; and the controversy between Diffusionism and Independent Inventionism.


In my view a new wave of scholarly thought in the field of Americanist studies has begun. A discontent among some of the younger, more flexible scholars—discontent with the traditional, orthodox interpretations of the old Independent Invention —Bering Strait — Mongoloid Race school—has now made itself manifest. After nearly a century of scholarly disenchantment with such theories as those of Sunken Continents and British Diffusionism, a more sophisticated generation of Neo-Diffusionists has arisen. In this new atmosphere such a theory as the one we are now considering may possibly receive a fair hearing.


Incidentally, judging from the papers read at the May meeting of the SAA, the Americanist profession still regards the study of historical problems and problems of origin as being valid, along with the study of “processual” archaeology.


Parai’ba Inscription. In my 1967 paper (see above) I made reference to a rather lengthy Phoenician inscription found in Paraita, the easternmost state of Brazil. The discovery has been known since 1872, but has generally been regarded as a clumsy forgery. Last spring, about May 20, Dr. Cyrus H. Gordon, a widely-recognized Semitic scholar of the Department of Mediterranean Studies of Brandeis University, near Boston, announced the results of his restudy of the ParaCba inscription. In his opinion, …. it is obvious that the text is genuine” (Gordon, p. 75).


The stone, according to Dr. Gordon’s translation, records the trading voyage of ten ships containing “sons of Canaan from Sidon.” They set sail from the port of Ezion-Geber, near modern Elath, into the Red Sea and thence southward around Africa into the south Atlantic. The intention was to continue on around Africa and back to Phoenicia, but a storm at sea separated one ship from the rest. Carrying 12 men and three women, the lone vessel landed on the eastern tip of Brazil, the part of the American continents nearest Africa.


Dr. Gordon states that the script is Sidonian (Phoenician) and estimates that it dates to the Sixth Century BC. The voyage would thus have taken place within a century after the initial circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenician mariners under orders from Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt, about 600 BC (see above).

The stone was found in 1872 by slaves looking for building material on the plantation of Joaquim Alves da Costa in the easternmost corner of Brazil. Dr. Ladislau Netto, director of the national museum at Rio de Janeiro, presented his translation of the message to the London Anthropological Society shortly afterwards. At the same time, two other translations were also published. (Young, pp. 110-112.)


Apparently, none of the three translators was well versed in Semitic languages. In any case, their respective translations differed widely from one another. Perhaps for this reason, and also because some of the extant transcriptions were evidently garbled, because the original stone had been lost, because the text contained a number of way-out grammatical constructions, and because of the general skepticism of the times, the discovery was rejected as spurious by practically all scholars. Zelia Nuttall, writing in 1901 (see bibliography), did not so much as mention the Paraiba text in her large volume, even though she had placed herself in the unpopular position of openly advocating Phoenician contacts with the Americas.


Then in 1966, at a rummage sale in Providence, Rhode Island, Professor Jules Piccus of the University of Massachusetts bought an old scrapbook for a few cents. In it he discovered a letter from Dr. Netto, mailed in Rio de Janeiro on January 31, 1874. With the letter was Dr. Netto’s tracing of the copy of the inscription which had been sent to Dr. Netto in the first place by the plantation owner’s son.


Dr. Piccus, in 1967, sent a Xeroxed copy of the tracing to his old friend Dr. Gordon. This version was evidently not garbled, but it did contain the odd quirks of grammatical construction and vocabulary that had helped make scholars suspicious in the first place. These “errors,” as it turned out, were exactly what convinced Dr. Gordon that the text is genuine. For such peculiarities of usage were unknown to scholars in 1872 but have since then been discovered in other well-attested Phoenician texts. The alternatives would seem to be either that the text is genuine or else that the 1872 forger had a prophetic knowledge of what was to be discovered in Semitic paleography!


Dr. Gordon is known for his identification of the ancient Cretan “Linear A” script as Semitic. Also, he has long believed that the ancient civilizations of Middle and South America were somehow influenced from the Near East. It is reported that he would like to start an archaeological program in search of “more definite traces” of Old World influence on the civilizations of the New World. (See Anonymous, 1968, l968 a.)



In order to undertake a comprehensive testing of the Phoenician theory of New World origins, one would need, it seems to me, to consider at least five distinct classes of evidence: textual studies, geographical inquiries, somatic comparisons, culture-trait comparisons, and linguistic and paleographic studies. Following is a brief analysis of these five approaches, including in some cases statements of how developments of 1968 and other recent years have affected the picture:


Textual Studies. Since there are ancient texts which bear upon the Phoenician origin theory, the present inquiry would at least in part come within the scope of historic archaeology, as defined by Dr. M. Wells Jakeman (cf. Jakeman, 1968). The proper procedure, therefore, would be to begin with a study of these texts. These include both classical and scriptural sources.


Classical (Greek and Latin) texts containing important information about the Phoenicians include writings by Homer, Herodotus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Josephus. To these should be added Hanno, whose work, although he was a Carthaginian, is preserved to us only in Greek translation (see below).


Despite the existence of a great library at Carthage prior to the Roman destruction of that city in 146 BC, no long Phoenician text has been passed down to us from antiquity. Modern archaeological discovery, however, has done much to fill the deficiency (e.g. the library at Ugarit).


There are numerous references in the Bible to the Phoenicians and their ancestors, the Canaanites. The most useful passages are found in the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Ezekiel.


The Book of Mormon itself contains some important clues to the Phoenician presence in America. This theme was developed in last year’s symposium discussion (see above). A further example of the non-obvious evidence that may exist abundantly in the Book is that of Hagoth.


About the middle of the First Century BC the Nephites were active in colonizing the Land Northward, having been thwarted in their southward expansion by the Lamanites. The migratory movement went both by land and by sea. Particular mention is made of a shipbuilder, Hagoth, some of whose colonists many Latter-day Saints believe became the Polynesians:


  1. And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges [55 BC], there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward.


  1. And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, 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.


  1. And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward….


  1. And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.


  1. And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.


  1. And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. .


  1. And it came to pass in the thirty and ninth year… 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 63:4-10.)


Is there any character in classical or biblical literature of the Phoenicians comparable to Hagoth? Yes. Hanno of Carthage, who planted a number of colonies on the west coast of Africa about 425 BC. At the time, Carthaginian expansion in the Mediterranean had been frustrated by the Greeks, and it was therefore diverted to the lands beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. Hanno’s account was evidently copied off a tablet in a temple at Carthage by some Greek traveler. The text reads in part:


This is the story of the long voyage of Hanno “king” of the Carthaginians into Libyan [African] lands beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he dedicated on a tablet in the temple of Kronos:


  1. The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should sail beyond the Pillars of Heracles and found cities of Libyphoenicians. He set sail with 60 penteconters and about 30,000 men and women, and provisions and other necessaries.


  1. After sailing beyond the Pillars for two days we founded the first city, which we called Thymiaterion. Below it was a large plain.


III. Sailing thence westward we came to Soloeis, a Libyan promontory covered with trees. There we founded a temple to Poseidon.


  1. Journeying eastward for half a day we reached a lake not far from the sea, covered with a great growth of tall reeds, where elephants and many other wild animals fed.


  1. A day’s sea journey beyond this lake we founded cities on the coast called Karikon Teichos, Gytte, Akra, Melitta, and Arambys. (Harden, p. 174.)


These two instances of maritime colonization—that of the Nephites in the Land Northward and that of the Carthaginians on the west coast of Africa—are strikingly similar, both as to what happened and as to the social situation in which the events occurred. Both cases appear to be similar responses to similar population pressures. Such expansion by sea was not typical of the ancient Israelites. But it was typical of the Phoenicians, and I like to think that both Phoenician seamanship and attitudes toward the sea persisted for centuries among the Mulekites.


Hagoth, incidentally, is not stated to be a Nephite, as are so many other characters of the Book of Mormon—from which circumstance I assume he may have been a Mulekite.


Geographical Inquiries. In the investigation of any instance of proposed diffusion of culture traits, it seems to me that there must be found a satisfactory route and means of actual physical contact across the geographical space separating the two cultures.


Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame (Newsletter, 12.1; Christensen, pp. 214-216) has presented an important study (1963) in which he has shown that there are only a few feasible routes by which ancient or primitive man might have crossed the ocean to reach the Americas. (In this particular paper Heyerdahl makes no explicit claim for any of them, however.) These routes are predetermined by the existence of powerful ocean currents which cross from one continent to another.


Heyerdahl has the advantage of being not only an ethnologist but also a mariner. And his knowledge of seamanship includes not only the practice of it but also its literary history.


According to Heyerdahl (pp. 485486) a powerful current which he labels the “Columbus route” starts off northwest Africa, passes the Canary Islands, and runs “straight to the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico” (see map). It “offers gentle climatic conditions and extremely favorable ocean currents and prevailing winds.” It seems likely that the Mulekites of the Book of Mormon, as also Christopher Columbus 2,100 years later, came this way.


An interesting detail in this connection is that Columbus set sail on his second and fourth voyages from the port of Cadiz, an ancient Phoenician colony on the southwest coast of Spain. For any Phoenician exploration of the Atlantic and beyond, Cadiz would have been the last port of call.


(Dr. Sidney B. Sperry, SEHA general officer and BYU professor of Old Testament languages and literature, later in the day called the attention of Society members to the fact that, appropriately enough, the Eighteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures was being held on Columbus Day, which marked the 476th anniversary of his landfall. Ed.)


Although Heyerdahl gives no name to it, he also mentions in his article and locates on a map (his Fig. 1) “a strong southern feeder from Madagascar and South Africa, which also enters the West Indies but by way of the Brazilian coast.” This is tributary to the current which governs the Columbus route and appears on the map accompanying the present paper as the Equatorial Current. Undoubtedly, the Phoenician ship that was separated from its nine companions by a storm at sea in the Sixth Century BC (see above) was carried to the Paraiba coast by this same Equatorial Current.


Having once arrived at the American shore, the Phoenicians could have made their way along it in either direction without great difficulty. It is most interesting to note that practically all purported Phoenician sites in the New World—so far as I am aware—are located either on the Atlantic coast or within easy access of it by way of some water route. Included is the site of the Paraiba inscription, as well as others in both Brazil and the United States. Included also is Zarahemla, which, if our geographical interpretations are correct (see above), was located on the west bank of the Usumacinta River, the largest inland stream of Middle America, which flows northward to the Gulf of Mexico. I know of no instance of a probable Phoenician site being located on or near the Pacific coast.


Somatic Comparisons. Following such preliminary studies as those mentioned above, in texts and geographical space, there should come a host of direct comparisons—comparisons between Phoenicia and elsewhere in the Near East on the one hand and Mesoamerica on the other. Hereditarily-determined traits of the human body itself will be of considerable importance. It is necessary to identify New World populations which can be related to that of ancient Phoenicia by means of precise statistical comparison of somatic traits.


A good beginning has been made by Dr. M. Wells Jakeman in his textbook, The Races of Man (Jakeman, 1957; see especially pp. 213-218).


Of particular significance should be studies of the various blood antigens. An SEHA publication on blood groups in the New World (Haws, 1956) should have at least general application. Especially important as laying a foundation in original field work should be the research of SEHA member Dr. G. Albin Matson, formerly director of the Minneapolis War Memorial Blood Bank and research professor in the University of Utah departments of Anthropology and of Molecular and Genetic Biology, perhaps the world’s leading authority in this field (Newsletter, 46.21, 46.5, 61.7, 91.43, 91.52).


Culture-trait Comparisons. A culture-trait is a single item or element of culture or customary behavior. To compare traits of Old World civilizations with those of the New World is perhaps the most obvious approach to the problem of testing transoceanic contacts, and it is an approach that has been used almost since the time of Columbus. Such trait comparisons must have been used as much in connection with the Phoenician theory as with other theories.


Many papers presented at past meetings of the Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures have been based upon trait comparison between the New World and the Old (see Newsletter, 89.2). Four papers of the present meeting—not counting my own—are based upon this approach: those of Mr. Baird, Mr. Jones, and Mrs. Fawson, to which must be added that of Mr. Stoddard when it is realized that his paper of today reported only the Old World half of the research he has completed to date.


Perhaps the most sophisticated and comprehensive study having to do with Old World — New World trait comparisons to this date is that of Dr. John L. Sorenson in his paper read at the May meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (see above). Entitled “The Possibility of Near Eastern — Mesoamerican Culture Contact,” this 41-page paper contains no less than nine closely-typed pages of bibliography and 18 pages which do nothing more than list his many trait comparisons.


His work is more than a mere listing, however, for he stresses concepts rather than “traits” as such, concentrates on “the value area of culture where the most arbitrary and complex concepts lie,” and groups his concepts together into cohesive units which are thereby doubly convincing. His paper may prove to be a major contribution to the study of New World origins. I consider it indispensible to the future investigation of possible Near Eastern, especially Phoenician, contacts.


Dr. Sorenson, incidentally, earned the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the BYU Department of Archaeology in 1951 and 1952, respectively, and served it as a faculty member from 1953 to 1955. He has read a number of papers at the Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures. (Newsletter, 9.5, 16.2, 29.44, 89.2).


Linguistic and Paleographic Studies. Within the past five years Thomas Stuart Ferguson, founder of the New World Archaeological Foundation and onetime general officer of the SEHA (Newsletter, 8.4, 9.01), has organized a program of comprehensive lexical comparisons by competent linguists between Hebrew and certain New World languages. I have seen no published report of this work but have been informed verbally that the Zapotec language of the State of Oaxaca, southern Mexico, shows a 30% comparison in its word list with Hebrew.


Any Hebrew loan words in a native New World language, it would seem to me, could be construed equally as well, as Phoenician loan words — the two languages are so closely related.


Mr. Ferguson’s program may be called a venture in the field of historical linguistics; that is, it involves the scientific analysis of actual speech (not writing) and the derivation therefrom of historical information.


Closely related to historical linguistics in one way and yet very different in methodology, is the field of paleography or the study of ancient writings and modes of writing, particularly with a view to decipherment.


Dr. Gordon’s study of the Parafba text (see above) is an excellent example of the sort of help we can expect from the field of paleography.


Another instance is that reported in last year’s symposium by Dr. Welby W. Ricks in his paper, “A Possible Linear Script from Preclassic Mexico.” In it he calls attention to a “cylinder seal” containing three lines of apparent writing, found at Tlatilco and reported in 1966 by Dr. David H. Kelley (Newsletter, 102.2). Dr. Ricks also included several other examples from northern Mesoamerica of what is apparently the same script. It seems that what has been discovered is a heretofore unknown form of writing, perhaps alphabetic in principle and earlier than and very different from Maya and other previously known Mesoamerican scripts. In my opinion, there is a distinct possibility that this new script may turn out to be Hebrew or Phoenician.


Of all the approaches to the testing of the Phoenician theory of New World origins, surely that of paleography will be the most directly decisive. We should pay particular attention to it, it seems to me, without of course overlooking the other approaches.



The native populations of the New World appear to be of a multiple-racial origin. A strong Mongoloid element doubtless came by way of the Bering Strait, but various other groups must also have reached these shores, not only from Asia, but also from Europe. Although the descendants of populations spoken of in the Book of Mormon must be widespread in the Americas, they must be concentrated in “Nuclear America.” Evidence for these statements appears not only in the Book itself but is also found in abundance in the sciences of archaeology, linguistics, and physical anthropology.


Moreover, the events of the Book of Mormon must have been confined largely to Mesoamerica, a setting which has been discussed in many SEHA publications. We should not expect therefore to find any close connection between the Atlantic seaboard and Mesoamerica, either as to its population or its archaeological history.


I used to wonder why it is that all the Phoenician-like or Hebrew-like inscriptions found so far seemed to be located in the eastern United States and Brazil but not in the actual Nephite-Jaredite homeland. The answer is beginning to emerge: Semitic-type inscriptions found on the eastern seaboard represent Phoenician or Punic contacts entirely unrelated to Book of Mormon history. Book of Mormon civilizations, on the other hand, were concentrated in southern Mexico and northern Central America, and their early inscriptions, if they have been found at all, would seem to have been written in the newly-discovered Mexico Valley script, already evolved to a point where it is difficult to recognize its true origin.




Albright, William F.

1965 “The Role of the Canaanites in the History of Civilization,” Appendix I, pp. 438487, in Wright (see below).


1968 “Archaeology: Before Columbus or the Vikings,” Time, May 24, p. 62.

1968a “Science and Space: A First for Phoenicia?” Newsweek, May 27, p. 62.

Campbell, John M., and Cynthia Irwin-Williams (editors)

1968 Abstracts of Papers Presented at the Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Santa Fe. 45 pp.

Christensen, Ross T. (ed.)

1963 Progress in Archaeology. Society for Early Historic Archaeology: Provo. 219 pp.

Culican, William

1966 The First Merchant Venturers: The Ancient Levant in History and Commerce.  McGraw-Hill Paperbacks: New York City.  144 pp. Library of the Early Civilizations.

Gordon, Cyrus H.

1968 “The Authenticity of the Phoenician Text from Parahyba,” Orientalia, Vol. 37, Fasc. 1 (Nova Series), pp. 75-80. Pontifical Biblical Institute: Rome.

Gray, John

1964  The Canaanites. Praeger: New York City. 244 pp. Ancient Peoples and Places.  Reviewed in Newsletter, 95.23.

Hansen, George H., and H. Alvah Fitzgerald

1931 “A History of American Indian Origin Theories,” reprinted from Proceedings of the Utah Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, Vol. 8. 32 pp. Salt Lake City.

Harden, Donald

1963 The Phoenicians. Praeger: New York City. 336 pp. Paperback. Ancient Peoples and Places. Reviewed in Newsletter, 93.0.

Haws, Virgil

1956 “The American Indian and the Blood Groups.” Miscellaneous Papers, No.18.  Society for Early Historic Archaeology: Provo. 5 pp.

Heyerdahl, Thor

1963 “Feasible Ocean Routes to and from the Americas in Pre-Columbian Times,” American Antiquity, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp.  482488.

Irwin, Constance

1963 Fair Gods and Stone Faces. St. Martin’s Press:  New York City. 316 pp. Reviewed in Newsletter, 94.1.

Jakeman, M. Wells (ed.)

1957 The Races of Man. BYU Department of Archaeology: Provo. 231 pp.

Jakeman, M. Wells

1968 “The Rationale of Book-of-Mormon Archaeology.” Paper read at the Eighteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, held on October 12.  Unpublished manuscript.

Nelson, Fred W., Jr.

1967 “The Colossal Stone Heads of the Southern Gulf-Coast Region of Mexico,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA, 103.60, pp. 2-8. Society for Early Historic Archaeology:  Provo.

Nuttall, Zelia

1901 The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations. Cambridge. Archaeological and Ethnological Papers of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University.

Sykes, Egerton (see L. M. Young).

Wright, G. Ernest (ed.)

1965 The Bible and the Ancient Near East.  Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, New York. 542 pp. Anchor Books A431. Reviewed briefly in Newsletter, 95.20.

Young, L. M.

1966 “The Parahyba Inscription,” New World Antiquity, Vol. 13, Nos. 11-12, pp. 109-119.  Includes “Footnote by the Editor” (Egerton Sykes), pp. 116-118. Markham House Press, Ltd.: London.