Really, it’s a lovely place to live, and it’s usually easy to overlook the Mormons. The Salt Lake Tribune is also a good newspaper, except…they have a tendency to soft-pedal Mormon absurdity. Case in point: their coverage of Mormon archaeology. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the Mormon religion was founded by a 19th century con artist who wrote this pretentious, long-winded piece of fan fiction about the lost tribes of Israel colonizing North America and creating, out of whole cloth, a pseudo-history of pale-skinned people building cities and fighting wars all across the continent. There’s no evidence for any of this nonsense. But the Salt Lake Tribune reports it as if this is legitimate history and archaeology, and the religious kooks digging around for support for their myths are heroic.
Forget Indiana Jones. Try Iowa John.
Yes, John Lefgren and other supporters of the Heartland Research Group aren’t hunting for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, but they are searching high and low — in this case, really low — for archaeological evidence supporting the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.
Right now, they’re on a quest to find Zarahemla … in southeastern Iowa.
They’re using light detection and ranging sensors — along with carbon dating, magnetometry and other technological tools — to pinpoint the ancient Nephite capital, which they believe is waiting to be discovered underground just outside of Montrose.
Nope. There were no Nephites. There was no Nephite nation. There was no Zarahemla. Montrose, Iowa happens to be just across the Mississippi from Nauvoo, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and his followers fled to after they were chased out of Missouri — Smith just incorporated anywhere he found himself into his fantasy fictional history. So they’re digging in a random spot and claiming any evidence of human habitation supports the Book of Mormon.
The Heartland Research Group thinks it may have found the site of Zarahemla—a notable city in the Book of Mormon—outside of Montrose, a small southeast Iowa town located on the banks of the Mississippi River.
John Lefgren of the Heartland Research Group said in his faith, Zarahemla would be comparable to Jerusalem for Christians. The exact location of Zarahemla has not been verified, so being able to pinpoint it would be a milestone.
“Iowa is an important place,” Lefgren said. “In the fourth century, Montrose, Iowa, had the largest city in North America.”
According to Lefgren, in its heyday of AD 320, Zarahemla had a population of about 100,000 and it was the largest city in the Americas.
Nope. Nauvoo/Montrose are on the Mississippi, about 200 miles from Cahokia. This was the heartland of the Mound Builders culture, which actually existed, and was thriving at the time the Mormons claim there was an entire Hebrew civilization living in the same place, riding horses and wielding iron swords, somehow replacing the real human beings who lived there. They’re going to misinterpret everything they find.
One method they hope can help verify Zarahemla’s location is by finding fire pits. The group theorizes that with a population of about 100,000, there would be one fire pit for every 10 residents within a mile or so of the city center.
“We’ve gone down into the ground with core sampling to get charcoal/carbon from fires that are 1,700 years old,” Lefgren said. “It’s all serious stuff; all serious stuff right here in Iowa.”
The samples will be sent to the Vilnius Radiocarbon Laboratory in Lithuania for carbon-14 dating to determine the age of the recovered charcoal.
Let’s just pretend there wasn’t a thriving American Indian culture right there 1700 years ago, and that those people cooked their food in their villages along the banks of the Mississippi. They’re going to find ashes and declare victory, they found proof that Joseph Smith’s grand con was true.
And the Mormon newspapers will go along with it.