“Houses of Cement”

Brant Gardner

History: One possibility is that the “cement” buildings Mormon describes might refer to the lime surfacing used on most of the public buildings in the Maya-influenced areas. I consider this explanation unlikely. Although lime stuccoing is malleable and creates smooth surfaces like cement, Mormon would have been familiar with the stucco and would not have considered it worth mentioning.

The alternative explanation is that the buildings really were constructed of cement—as they were in Teotihuacan by at least A.D. 250. Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch explain: “Mesoamerican cement was almost exclusively lime cement. The limestone was purified on a ‘cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product.’ The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement ‘attests to the ability of these ancient peoples.’”

Significantly, Mormon accurately describes the absence of trees and the presence of cement, but he gets the causation wrong. Mormon assumes that cement exists because of lack of trees, when actually it was the creation of the cement that led to the area’s deforestation. As I have already argued, Mormon is describing the world of his time, not its earlier history. The construction of the concrete complexes, the pyramids, and the other pieces of monumental architecture developed between around A.D. 1 to A.D. 150.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5