Source:Reexploring the Book of Mormon:Ch:26:1:Migrations and lost arts

Examples of lost arts in the ancient world

Examples of lost arts in the ancient world

The Book of Mormon claims that groups such as the Nephites and the Jaredites migrated from one area to another. That suggestion has sometimes been rejected because a particular idea or technological feature in the area of origin has not been found in the destination area. The absence of such "obviously useful" cultural items is used to argue that no migration took place.

In some cases, it is possible that technology was simply lost. It may have lost its usefulness in the new location, or it may have been forgotten as certain people became less cultured or less civilized. In other cases, the archaeological evidence may simply be incomplete or unrecognized.

The true arch is often cited to support the idea that there was no contact between the pre-Columbian Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Professor Linton Satterthwaite had accepted that view, but then found himself having to change: "It has been usual to suppose that the principle of the true arch was unknown to the American Indian, though here and there in some particular structure it has been argued that the principle, though not obvious, was really present." Yet finally, on the basis of a field reconnaissance, Satterthwaite was left with "no doubt that the Maya at La Muñeca roofed a long room with the true arch, and that they knew exactly what they were doing."

Earlier, Alfred Tozzer had reported that at Nakum, Guatemala, "two lateral doorways have what may be truthfully called concrete arches, . . . the only examples of the true arch which I have met with in Maya buildings." E. G. Squier had reported an arch of adobe bricks from Pachacamac, Peru, in the 1870s.3 There are other examples that either are not complete arches or have questionable pre-Columbian dates. But a single good example proves the point without multiplying cases.

The potter's wheel is another feature long supposed to have been entirely absent from the New World. That notion too has now had to change. Samuel Lothrop reported decades ago seeing in an archaeological context in Peru what "seemed to be" just such a device. Then in the early 1970s, Terence Grieder settled the matter. In the grave of a high-status woman near the Peruvian site of Pashash, he found scores of wheel-turned hemispherical ceramic cups. These offerings accompanied the burial of an aristocratic woman (although cups of the same shape in commoners' graves showed no evidence of being made on the wheel). Furthermore, the grave offerings showed fifteen stone cups evidently turned on a "lathe," perhaps consisting of a wooden shaft with a flywheel attached that could be set in motion by pulling a cord wrapped around the shaft. Archaeological evidence of these wheeled devices for processing clay and stone lasted a maximum of two hundred years, then totally disappeared.

The arch and potter's wheel join other examples to warn us that even what we might consider "obviously useful" devices may be lost to a people.—(Click here to continue)[1]


  1. John L. Sorenson, "Lost Arts," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), Chapter 26, references silently removed—consult original for citations.