“Horses and Chariots”

Alan C. Miner

Alma 18:9 states that "the king had commanded his servants . . . that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi." Two major questions have been raised by anti-LDS critics of the Book of Mormon concerning the statement that there were "horses and chariots" on the American continents before the time of Christ (see Alma 18:9). These critics have maintained that:

(1) no horses existed on the American continents before the time of Columbus; and

(2) the people who lived on the American continents did not know the principle of the wheel before the coming of Columbus.

However, since the publication of the Book of Mormon, considerable archaeological evidence has come forth to reinforce its claims that there were horses on the American continents before the time of Columbus and that these early peoples did know the principles of the wheel. [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 206] [See the commentary on Enos 1:21; 3 Nephi 3:22; Ether 9:19]

“Horses and Chariots”

David Kelley of the University of Calgary is an influential archaeologist. He is a Harvard-trained scholar of catholic interests, which range from ancient calendrics and archaeo-astronomy to the prehistory of the Celts to the decipherment of Mayan glyphs. In his own contribution to Man Across the Sea: Problems of PreColumbian Contacts (1971), Kelley wondered "why neither the true arch nor the wheel [was] to be found in Egypt for more than a thousand years after Mesopotamian influence transformed Egypt from a Neolithic farming stage to a semiurban, literate society, although [those inventions] already had a long history in Mesopotamia." Moreover, the ancient riddle has significant modern ramifications. "In the light of such evidence," Kelly continued, "it is surprising to find scholars . . . arguing that the absence of the true arch and the wheel in the New World proved that there had been no contacts between New World and Old World."

Kelley believes that in the prevailing academic climate the challenge for diffusionists is not only to build a solid scientific case but also to win a fair hearing. His role in the Mayan-decipherment controversy of the 1970's has steeled him against the predictable rebukes of mainstream colleagues. . . . "When it is clear that a 'fantastic' interpretation has many reasonable components if the data are valid," he has observed, "most professional archaeologists regard that as . . . adequate reason to assume that the data are invalid." . . . The problem Kelley says, "is in the fact that there are influences, but they don't show up in 'dirt archaeology." Basically, they show up in ideological materials: mythology, astronomy, calendrics. These are precisely the areas which are hardest to deal with archaeologically. And so they don't get much attention from traditional archaeologists."

[Marc K. Stengel, "The Diffusionists Have Landed" in Atlantic Monthly, January 2000, 35-48. Reprinted with permission by FARMS]

Chariots Wheels

According to Diane Wirth, it appears there was no utilitarian use of the wheel at the time of the Conquest. . . . Mesoamericans may have understood the principle of the wheel but decided not to use it for a reason, or reasons, unknown by researchers. . . . Perhaps the answer lies within priesthood organization since its members were usually the artisans chosen to portray objects of religious significance. Perhaps these people rejected the utilitarian use of the wheel because it was, for them, a sacred religious symbol. Frances Gibson, who lived among the Maya and studied their ways, found this to be true: "One notes that the Mayas of Guatemala still walk and carry loads on their backs after more than four hundred years of exposure to wheels. I discussed this point not long ago with a modern Maya at Merida, Yucatan, and he informed me that the wheel was a symbol of the ancient sun god and as such it was a sacred symbol. . . . One does not use the symbol of one's god in a disrespectful fashion."

Not only did the wheel represent the sun, but the commonly portrayed dog, often carried on wheels, was also a symbol of the sun. With regard to this symbolism, the eminent archaeologist, J. Eric Thompson, stated: "Both the dog and the jaguar are intimately associated with the underworld, the former because he led the sun and the dead to the underworld." . . . It was believed by peoples in both Old and New Worlds that the sun made its transit at night through the underworld. Thus we have the Mesoamerican dog, like the Egyptian dog Anubis, taking a role as a guide for the dead--giving the deceased a means of transportation through the underworld to the dawn of resurrection when the sun once more rises to the heavens. Thus a complete sacred cycle of death (the underworld) and rebirth (the rising sun) is portrayed in the combined symbol of dog and wheel. This phenomenon alone would be reason enough to explain why the wheel was not used by the common people of Mesoamerica before the Conquest. [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, pp. 62-63]

Alma 18:9 Chariots [Wheels] (Illustration): Wheeled Toys Found in the New World--These ancient New World toys with wheels were all found in Mexico. In fact, all were found between Panuco and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Note* All of the toys and wheels were ceramic, ceramic wheels being the only kind of wheels that would have survived the intervening centuries. [Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p. 260]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary