What is desolation? Here Mormon says that the land itself was not desolate except for the lack of timber. Desolation happened because of the “greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land.” This definition of desolation appears to be fairly consistent for Mormon. When Mormon describes the aftermath of the destruction of the city of Ammonihah by the Lamanites, he describes it in terms of a “desolation.”
11 Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.
The land formerly controlled by the Jaredites is also a desolation, and for the same reasons:
30 And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.
For Mormon, then, desolation was an area where a populace had lived and thrived, but which was now destroyed and empty. In this verse he adds the interesting sidenote that a deforestation accompanied at least some of these “desolations.” In this, Mormon paints an accurate picture of the Mesoamerican world, and one of the significant causes of the demise of many of the great civilizations. Work has not yet been published for the Olmec area, but the same cultural pressures existed for the Olmec (Jaredite times) as for the later Maya and Teotihuacanos. It will be no surprise at all when the results are available as we find that the Olmec also created a deforestation that would have led to the same alteration of climate that was the downfall of the other great civilizations in Mesoamerica. These are the precise descriptions that Mormon is giving for all of these areas.