OF JAREDITES AND OLMECS
By Doug Christensen
In July 1941, at a conference sponsored by the Mexican Society of Anthropology, new findings were presented about a race of people that predated the Mayas in Mesoamerica. Though scholars did their best to discredit the findings, this culture which has come to be known as the Olmecs has been shown to reach back to pre-Christian times during which most of the Book of Mormon history took place, particularly the Jaredites. Curiously, very few Latter-day Saints know much about the Olmecs. Many are aware of the Mayas and the Aztecs, but not the Olmecs. As early as 1862, colossal stone heads had been found in the Gulf of Mexico area, some weighing as much as 20 tons. The rounded facial features of the heads bore no resemblance to the Maya, but looked very large and rather Oriental instead.
The Book of Ether tells us that the Jaredites left the Middle East at the time of the tower of Babel when the languages were confused. (Estimated sometime between 3000 BC - 2500 BC) They traveled northward and then probably eastward crossing many lands and seas. They settled for some time in an area possibly inhabited by Orientals. Eventually they took a yearlong voyage across the oceans to the Promised Land. A Catholic priest named Ixtlilxochitl who wrote the history of Mexico in 1568 wrote that, after the great flood, the people built a very high tower. Their languages were confounded and they were scattered to all parts of the earth. They eventually came to Mesoamerica after having first crossed many lands and waters, living in caves and passing through great trials and tribulations. Most archaeologists and scholars date the Olmec culture between 2500 BC - 300 BC Though the Book of Mormon does not give exact dates for the Jaredites, 2500 BC - 300 BC would be very close.
Both the Olmec culture and the Jaredite culture reached their zenith around the same time period (1500 BC - 600 BC). Ether chapter 10 tells us that the Jaredites built a great city with the whole face of the land covered with inhabitants. They worked in all manner of ore, fabrics, tools and weapons of war. The Olmec empire was heavily populated and covered a large part of the Gulf of Mexico area. While archaeological finds dating that far back are inconclusive as to the extent of metal use, etc.; the more discoveries that are made, the more advanced we find the Olmecs to have been.
The Nephite Limhi expedition that mentioned in Mosiah 8 accidentally discovered the remains of a civilization that had been destroyed some 200 years earlier. They reported that the breastplates and weapons of war were very large...too big for a Nephite. Ixtlilxochitl reports that the Mexican's ancestors were giants, that they had many wars and dissensions among themselves and that their civilization came to an end in civil war as a result of their grave sins they had committed.
Both Ixtlilxochitl and Ether 11 talk about a great destruction that occurred prior to the final civil war destruction. Ixtlilxochitl reports great hurricanes with major destruction. Ether reports similar phenomena.
Both the archaeological record of the Olmecs and the Jaredite record in the Book of Mormon point to a catastrophic and violent civil war which destroyed the civilization.
We know the Olmecs lived around the Gulf of Mexico area near a huge water basin called the Papaloapan Water Basin. Ether 15 describes the last great Jaredite battle and says it was near a large body of water called Ripliancum, or "to exceed all." Moroni also reports in Ether 15 that the battle took place at the hill Ramah which is the same hill (Cumorah) where the Nephites fought their last battle. Almost every credible Book of Mormon scholar places the site of these battles at the hill Vigia in the Tuxtla mountain range in the state of Veracruz, very near to the Papaloapan Water Basin.
Jaredites and Olmecs...the same? ...or just coincidence?