Friday, January 31, 2014

Seeking the City of Lib

One of the more interesting stories found in the book of Ether is that of King Lib. In the Jaredite's king list, he is one of the middle kings, half way between Jared and Coriantumr.
Zapatera Island
I estimate that he lived in the neighborhood of 900 BC. During his reign the plague of serpents blocking the Narrow Neck of Land were destroyed. It is also recorded that he built a great city at the place where the sea divides the land, which place was near the Narrow Neck of Land. But before we go into detail, let us review the story and get some more background.   
In the book of Ether we read the story of King Heth. He rebelled against the Lord, refused to obey his commandments, and killed his messengers. The Lord in his displeasure cursed the people with a severe drought which resulted in wide spread crop failure and famine. At the same time a plague of poisonous snakes moved down from the north killing animals and men as they swept southward. The surviving animals fled before the serpents, going through the narrow neck of land, and into the land southward, which the Nephites later called Bountiful and Zarahemla. The snakes stopped and occupied the narrow neck, preventing any humans from passing through. Thus the narrow neck was effectively blocked for the reign of four Jaredite kings—approximately 300 to 400 years. King Heth died as a result of the famine. His people subsequently repented, and the Lord then blessed them with renewed rainfall. We find this in chapter 9 of Ether.
Four generations later Lib comes on the scene. He is a righteous king and is blessed of the Lord. He devises a way to exterminate the snake infestation (I personally think he repeatedly burned the area until they were driven off or destroyed), opens up the southern lands, and builds a great city north of the narrow neck. However, he reserves the southern lands for a hunting preserve and as far as we know, no Jaredite cities were built south of Lib's great city. This is recorded in chapter 10 of Ether. The scripture is instructive.
And in the days of Lib the poisonous serpents were destroyed. Wherefore they did go into the land southward, to hunt food for the people of the land, for the land was covered with animals of the forest. And Lib also himself became a great hunter. And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants (Ether 10:19-21).”
This is one of the few references linking Nephite and Jaredite geography. Here the key is the narrow neck of land. The city of Lib was built near the narrow neck, at the place where the sea divides the land. I have identified the narrow neck of land as the Isthmus of Rivas in Nicaragua. It is bound on each side by a sea—the Pacific Ocean on the west, and Lake Nicaragua on the east.
But what is the place where the sea divides the land. I believe that this is an island near the mainland which was significant to the people of Lib as a ceremonial center. North of the Isthmus of Rivas is an island near the shore of Lake Nicaragua. It is called Isla Zapatera and borders the mainland south of the city of Granada. It is easily seen from shore, and is no more than 2 kilometers out in the lake. At one point it is only a half kilometer offshore.
Zapatera map
I have been wanting to visit and explore this area for some time, and in January of 2014 the opportunity presented itself. My brother and I spent 10 days in Nicaragua visiting the sites and museums, and looking for archaeological evidence of habitation sites. Our objectives were to 1. Determine if there had been ancient habitations on the mainland near the island; 2. To determine if any of the artifacts housed in the local museums of the area could date to Jaredite times; 3. To visit the ceremonial sites on Zapatera Island and determine if they could possibly relate to Jaredite culture.
At the end of our stay in Nicaragua, we felt that our objectives had been met and that there is a good possibility that Lib's city could have been located there. I will now discuss each of the objectives and report on our findings.
  1. Archaeological evidence on the mainland. Our first clue, that there might have been an ancient city on the mainland opposite Zapatera Island, came from a newpaper article published on 18 Sep. 2007 in the Managua newspaper El Nuevo Diaro. It was entitled “Denucian Saqueo Arqueoligico (Archaeological Looting Reported).” It mentioned that beautiful examples of Indian pottery from the mainland opposite Zapatera Island had been appearing on the black market in Granada. No further public mention has been made of this report, but it was enough to pique our interest. While in Nicaragua we were able to spend two days in that area and were able to make friends with several of the local inhabitants.
    San Jose Mombacho is the headquarters of a large ranch, twenty kilometers, by way of a dirt road, east of the main highway. One of the ranch hands there showed us the first site, and directed us to his step-daughter, whose son took us to the second one. In both sites, graves had been opened, and the small holes were surrounded with broken, discarded pottery. They appear to be fairly large sites which have been only minimally explored. They are about a mile apart, situated on hillocks along the shore of the lake. I don't have enough experience to attempt to date the pottery, however, it does seem to resemble the monochrome style that is characteristic of the oldest period for that area. We photographed the sherds and small holes and left them in place. We concluded that there had indeed been a large inhabited site on the mainland opposite Zapatera island.
  2. Attempt to determine if local artifacts could date to Jaredite times. The earliest date given by scholars for the artifacts of this area is 500 BC. We need to go back to about 900 BC for Lib's time period. One Nicaraguan archaeological site does in fact date back far enough to fit our hypothesis. The Acahualinca fossil footprint site, west of modern Managua, has been dated anywhere from 2000-5000 BC. This is a site exhibiting ancient human footprints buried beneath up to 4 meters of ash fall sediments which show the presence of people at this time period.
    Fossil footprints
    This second objective relates specifically to the stone statues which have been discovered on Zapatera Island, and the surrounding areas. Most of these statues are now housed in the San Francisco Convent Museum in Granada.  Most scholars estimate that these statues were created by Indians living after 800 AD, however, no actual scientific dating has been done on any of them. I have discussed these statues in several previous blogs. I feel that they are much older than most archaeologists have estimated, and do not resemble the normal art work of Meso or Central America. I feel that they resemble the art work of the Sumerian culture of Mesopotamia from which the Jaredites originated. For example, some of the statues have beards, which is highly unlikely for native Americans, but is typical for Sumeria. They are presented in the nude, which is not characteristic of native American art, but is of Sumerian. They were stationed as votive images around temples, which is typical for Sumerian statues.
    A comparison was made of different types of statuary in Nicaragua. We visited the excellent Gregorio Aguilar Barea Archaeological Museum in Juigalpa which contains an extensive collection of the local statuary. The late period Chontales style statues found there are distinctly different from those of Zapatera. They were fashioned from columns of basalt, with only minor alteration of the original form, and are much cruder in style. The basalt of the Zapatera statues is much more weathered than that of Juigalpa, which to me would indicate that it is much older.
    We compared the weathering of the statues in the museums with the native stone on Zapatera island. The weathering of the two seems to be comparable, which to me again indicates an ancient origin. Comparing surface weathering on other stone artifacts would indicate that the Zapatera statues are much older. For example, there are numerous ancient grinding stones (or metates) which are apparently of more recent date. They show much less weathering on the unused surfaces than do the statues.
    From the original reports of the discoverers, many of the statues were partially buried in their standing, or reclined, positions. If this burial resulted from natural causes (ie wind blown sedimentation), it would indeed indicate an ancient origin.
    According to Ephriam Squier, one of the original discoverers of the statues, one statue, which was not recovered, was partially buried and lying under a huge fallen tree, which was impossible to remove. If this tree were a Cieba Tree, which is the largest species growing in this region, it could have been as much as 400 years old when it fell, and have lain there for many years longer.
    All of this seems to validate our hypothesis that the statues are indeed old enough to be of Jaredite origin.
  3. Visit the discovery sites of the statues on Zapatera Island. Zapatera Island is about 20 miles south of Granada, which is the closest harbour where boats can be rented. We hired a boat and operator and sailed to the island early one morning and spent part of the day on the island at Zonzapote. From this small village we hiked a mile or so to one of the discovery sites. Most of the statuary had been removed, but there were still a few pieces in the original location. What was more interesting, were the ancient mounds which had originally been temple or housing platforms. They are composed of a stone core and had originally been covered with earth. But they were so ancient that the earth had all eroded away leaving only the stone cores. We had earlier visited similar mounds near Juigalpa, which were apparently much younger. They still had the earth covering in place and the stone core was only exposed where they had been excavated.
    There was also a lot of broken and weathered pottery sherds scattered around the mounds. It appeared to me that very little has been done in the way of detailed examination or excavation of the Zapatera site. It is a shame that so little interest is shown by the government and the scientific community.
    The end result—we felt that our objectives had been met. We definitely feet that the site could have dated back to Jaredite times. Unfortunately, we were unable to spend more time on the island or explore other sites. It is my impression from visiting the area, and reading the original reports, that there still may be other sites on Zapatera island which contain statuary. But, in conclusion, there is a good possibility that this is indeed “the place where the sea divides the land.” We will need to await further developments for final proof of this theory.


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