The People Who Went Forth Became Expert in the Working of Cement

Alan C. Miner

According to Joy Osborn, the enemies of Joseph Smith hooted with derision when the Book of Mormon mentioned many cities being built of cement here on the American continent. Many believed he had really exposed himself as a fraud and a false prophet this time, for cement had only recently been invented, they believed. In 1824, six years before the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph Aspdin had patented a process for making portland cement.

Many years after the Book of Mormon was published, archaeologists discovered cement in the ancient Central American ruins of the ancient Mayans, which proved superior to any cement we have in our day. When John Lloyd Stephens discovered the ancient ruins of Yucatan in 1840, the world was amazed to find that the ancient peoples did, indeed, build their houses, cities, and temples, with this excellent quality of cement, which had survived through hundreds of years, buried in the overgrown forests of Central America and Mexico.

Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, has sometimes been called the Cement City, for cement was used freely in the construction of this ancient city of the Toltecs. The city itself was four miles long and two miles wide. In the center of the city stood the great Pyramid of the Sun. With a base measurement of 720 feet by 760 feet, it rises to a height of 216 feet. Of this temple, Jack West wrote:

Although the builders knew they were going to cover the whole face of this structure with plaster . . . how beautifully they lined up the rough stones diagonally . . . Their plaster broke off after having been covered with earth for centuries, but the cement which holds all the stones of this temple together is as good as ever. When they dug inside this structure, they found it was built over one of the mounds of the Archaic people.

On one side of the Temple of the Sun stands the Temple of the Moon, and on the other side, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. West says the Indians "tell us the Temple of the Moon was built in honor of the Holy Ghost. The Temple of the Sun to the Father God and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl to the Son-God -- not s-u-n God, but Son-God." The Indians said the twelve small temples or pyramids that surrounded the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl represented the twelve helpers of the Son-God. A cement highway ran along in front of all three temples. [Joy M. Osborn, The Book of Mormon -- The Stick of Joseph, pp. 149-151]

“The People Who Went Forth Became Exceedingly Expert in the Working of Cement”

Helaman 3:7-11 reports that Nephite dissenters moved from the land of Zarahemla into the land northward and began building with cement. The Book of Mormon dates this significant technological advance to near the year 46 B.C. According to an article by Matthew Wells and John Welch, recent research shows that cement was in fact extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time. One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. Its earliest sample "is a fully developed product." The cement floor slabs at this site "were remarkably high in structural quality." Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still "exceed many present day building code requirements."

After its discovery, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. 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."

The presence of expert cement technology in prehispanic Mesoamerica is a remarkable archaeological fact, inviting much further research. It is also a significant factor in locating the Book of Mormon lands of Zarahemla and Desolation, for Zarahemla must be south of areas where cement was used as early as the middle first century B.C. Further enhancing the location of Book of Mormon activity in Mesoamerica is the interesting fact that the use of cement "is a Maya habit, absent from non-Maya examples of corbelled vaulting from the south-eastern United States to southern South America." Until samples of cement are found outside of the areas just described, one may reasonably assume that Book of Mormon lands were not far south of the sites where ancient cement is found. [Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, "Concrete Evidence For the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 212-213]

Helaman 3:7 The people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement ([Illustration]): Extensive use of cement begins in Teotihuacan, in the Valley of Mexico, around the time of Christ. This corresponds significantly with the description of cement given in Helaman 3. Photograph courtesy of John W. Welch] [Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, "Concrete Evidence For the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 214]

Helaman 3:7 Cement (Illustration): The use of cement appears abruptly in Mesoamerican archaeology around the first century A.D., as, for example, in these cement buildings at Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico. [Daniel Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 174]

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