the thinker

Letter to Syracuse

A LDS truthseeker writes to Syracuse University in New York State to try to find evidence of the battles in Hill Cumorah as stated in the Book of Mormon. The following was taken from an RFM post.

To Syracuse University in New York State (ref. Link is here.): 

To Whom It May Concern:

I'm hoping that your department can provide me with some information regarding archeological research done in the Palmyra, NY area that would have uncovered evidence of armed conflict in which tens of thousands of people would have died in 385 CE. 

As you may know, the Mormon Church claims that there were two main groups of people who lived in the ancient Americas (including in the Palmyra area) known as Nephites (a fair-skinned group) and Lamanites (the ancestors of all indigenous peoples in the Americas, and of Polynesians, according to Mormonism). The Book of Mormon states that these two groups lived in the Americas from about 600 BC to 421 AD (the Mormon Church does not use BCE and CE). 

Close to Palmyra, NY, there is a hill that Mormons call the Hill Cumorah (the name given to the hill by the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith in the late 1820's). If you're wondering exactly where the Hill Cumorah is located, according to Yahoo Maps, it's 69.1 miles west of Syracuse University. 

In the Book of Mormon, in the footnote, it stated that 230,000 people were killed as a result of battles between the Nephites and the Lamanites, not including women and children. According to the BoM, the Nephites were eventually hunted down by the Lamanites and destroyed. From Chapter 6 of Mormon, one of the main sections (books) in the Book of Mormon (ref. Link is here.): 

Chapter 6 Preface: 

“The Nephites gather to the land of Cumorah for the final battles—Mormon hides the sacred records in the hill Cumorah—The Lamanites are victorious, and the Nephite nation is destroyed—Hundreds of thousands are slain with the sword. [A.D. 385]”

Has any archeological work been done in the Palmyra area that has uncovered evidence of the armed fighting described in the Book of Mormon? 

What archeological research in the Palmyra area has been done covering this time period? What native group(s) lived in the area? 

I would greatly appreciate any information that your department can provide. If you have links to related research papers and/or other info. sources, please send them to me.

Thank you.



The following is the response from Syracuse University's Anthropology Dept.:

Dear Mr. [my surname],

Your query concerning the prehistory (or history) of New York State was forwarded to me. I am familiar with both the archaeology of New York State and the passages from the Book of Mormon noted. 

Your questions are pointed and the answers complex. The quick response is that there is no archaeological evidence for the conflicts referred to in the Palmyra area, for the population densities referred to (while very difficult to assess[,] the population of the northeastern US was likely substantially smaller than is suggested by the numbers noted), and there is no archaeological or physical anthropological data suggesting the presence of distinctly different populations ("fair-skinned" and "Native American") in the Palmyra area circa 385 CE. 

The archaeological and physical anthropological data from Central New York are consistent with that from surrounding areas which provide evidence of ancestral Native American populations, beginning with Paleo Indian settlement, and continuing through Archaic, Woodland and Historic Period Occupations. While some data have suggested pre-Columbian European contact with the Americas, these data are not widely substantiated and not relevant to New York.

There is a very large and specialized literature on North American archaeology. If you are interested in an overview of the archaeology of New York, you might look at Brian Fagan's "Ancient North America," Jesse Jennings "Prehistory of North America", or Gordon Willeys "An Introduction to American Archaeology". The first of these is the most up-to-date of the three and the most assessable in terms of writing style. While not of direct relevance and somewhat dated, you might also look at "Fantastic Archaeology" by Stephan Williams. You may also find the book "Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?" by Passantino, Gretchen, and Scales, Donald R., and Davis, Howard A. of interest.

With regards,

C. DeCorse


When I was in university, I sent an e-mail to my Archaeology Prof who specialized in Central America (specifically southern Mexico). The e-mail was similar to yours, basically asking if he had found evidence of a Christian civilization that had swords, spoke Hebrew etc... His response was categorically NO. Overall my professor thought it a little silly, and seemed surprised that I once believed this stuff.