“Expert in the Working of Cement”

Monte S. Nyman

The discovery of cement has brought forth circumstantial evidence for the Book of Mormon. Dr. Hugh W. Nibley has made the following observations:

“Building Materials: The Nephites vastly preferred wood to any other building material, and only worked in cement when they were forced to by a shortage of timber. Indeed, they refused to settle otherwise good lands in the north if timber for building was lacking (Helaman 3:5). Where they reluctantly settled in unforested areas they continued to “… dwell in tents, and in houses of cement,” while they patiently waited for the trees to grow (Helaman 3:9). Since cement must be made of limestone, there was no lack of stone for building in the north. Why then did they not simply build of stone and forget about the cement and wood? Because, surprising as it may seem, ancient people almost never built of stone. Even when the magnificent, “… King Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings,” their splendor was that of carved wood and precious metal, like the palace of any great lord of Europe or Asia, with nor mention of stone (Mosiah 11:8–9). The Book of Mormon boom cities went up rapidly (Mosiah 23:5, 27:6), while the builders were living in tents. And these were not stone cities: Nephite society was even more dependent on forests that is our own.
The mention of cement in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 3:7–11), has been considered as great an anachronism as that of steel. But within the last ten years or so much has been made of the surprising extent to which the ancient Americans used cement, concrete, and gypsum in their building operations. It is now suggested that the overlavish detail, the extremely high relief, and the tendency to round off all angles in the heavy and serpentine profusion of line that is so characteristic of some early American architectural adornment, are the direct heritage of a time when the builders worked in the yielding and plastic medium of cement.

Since 1929 much more cement works have been discovered. While the location of cement discoveries have been mainly Central and South America, we have not been as protective of archaeological ruins in North America as they were further south. Also some may yet be discovered. Furthermore, timber was grown and shipped in to build their cities (vv. 9–11). As this happened in the north, the evidence could have been removed as new cities were built. Therefore, the jury is still out on the location of the land of desolation.

The mention of four seas: south, north, west, and east (v. 8) has led some to identify the Yucatan Peninsula as the land northward. Again, we urge caution to avoid contention. The face of the whole land may be broader than Central America. We will comment further on this subject under Helaman 6:10.

The migration of Lamanites into the north (v. 12) is also interesting in light of geography. More light may be shed on the subject as the following verses suggest.

Book of Mormon Commentary: The Record of Helaman