: THE TRUE HISTORY OF ARCHAEOLOGY AT BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY
. By Ross T. Christensen.
Adapted from a paper of the same title read at the Nineteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, held at Brigham Young University on October 18, 1969.
A misleading report has lately been circulated concerning the archaeology program at Brigham Young University. Perhaps the best way to set the record straight—next to the direct rebuttal of this report contained in the Newsletter, 117.0—is to present here a detailed account of just what has happened in this program over the past third of a century.
In 1938—eight years even before the BYU Department of Archaeology was founded—the first Latter-day Saint ever to earn the doctorate in the field of archaeology (combined with ancient history) graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. His name was M. Wells Jakeman. His dissertation was entitled, The Maya States of Yucatan, 1 441-1545. It was researched largely from the early Indian and Spanish accounts of ancient Mexico in the light of modern archaeological findings. The Department of History at California had supervised his advanced program, in cooperation with the Department of Anthropology for training in New World archaeology. (He had previously studied ancient history and biblical and other Old World archaeology, it may be added, at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California.)
Thus Dr. Jakeman entered archaeology primarily through the door of ancient history. His orientation is therefore that of “historic” or text-related archaeology—in contrast with that of those who enter the discipline through the door of anthropology and whose orientation is therefore that of “prehistoric” archaeology.
But in fact his training also included grounding in the theory, method, and content of anthropology. The newly-graduated Ph.D. thus possessed a broad academic preparation for a career of teaching, research, and writing in his chosen fields, namely historic Near Eastern— chiefly biblical—archaeology and ancient American studies, especially in the bearing of these two fields upon the historical claims of the Book of Mormon, a purported account of certain ancient peoples of Near Eastern origin in the New World.
The breadth and depth of Dr. Jakeman’s training is reflected in his scholarly publications (partially listed in the Newsletter, 116.2, pp. 4-6). One of the first of these to appear came out in the Church Section of the Deseret News on August 27, 1938, less than three months after the degree was awarded. Entitled “Present Trends in Maya Research,” it is masterfully comprehensive in its scope. Although it delineates some problems that have since been solved, or at least that are now seen in a different light, still it is an excellent statement of its announced subject matter for the day in which it was written.
Far from being narrowly specialized on the archaeological and epigraphic aspects of what he termed “the general reconstruction problem of Maya History,” without neglecting these, he outlined—following the Carnegie Institution of Washington—a far-flung “pan-scientific attack.” This approach comprised studies of the living Mayas, including physical anthropology, tropical medicine, ethnology, linguistics, and agronomy; historical studies, including both archaeology and pre-Conquest and post-Conquest documentary research in such sources as the extant ancient hieroglyphic books (“codices”) and the sixteenth-century Maya manuscripts found in the archives of Spain and Mexico; and environmental studies, including geology, vulcanology, climatology, geography, botany and zoology.
But, more than just analyzing contemporaneous trends in Maya research, the 1938 article also contained what may perhaps be considered the first statement of Book of Mormon archaeology in its scientific dimensions, the initial theoretical orientation upon which most of the work of subsequent years has been based. And the fact that it was submitted to such a periodical as the Church Section seems to foreshadow a complete dedication on the part of its author to the archaeological study of the scriptural foundations of Mormonism. Such a view is borne out by the following passage:
“The ‘authenticity problem’ of the Book of Mormon is therefore the foremost problem of future [Maya research] . . . . It is difficult if not impossible to conceive of a scientific problem fraught with greater significance for the modern world. . . . The admittedly paramount scientific and religious significances which it involves make its undertaking, by both ‘Mormon’ and non-’Mormon’ scientists or agencies, a matter of greatest urgency. Further delay on the excuse of unimportance or insufficient data is no longer admissable.”
This is a ringing challenge, a resounding call to action, both to the archaeological profession and to Latter-day Saints. Whether others were willing to take up the challenge or not, it is certain that M. Wells Jakeman and a few associates of those times did not hesitate to do so. These men felt the “greatest urgency,” and their efforts, together with the efforts of those who have followed, have led to a substantial accomplishment over the past 32 years.
But the going was not easy. There were but few who understood or grasped even an inkling of the great vision of research that this small group could see. A handful of friends got together late in 1938 to found the “Itzan Society,” which continued to investigate the “civil ized pyramid-building peoples of ancient America” until 1945.
(For a further statement on Dr. Jakeman’s training and accomplishments see Newsletter, 116.2.)
On July 1,1945, Howard S. McDonald became the fifth president of Brigintm Young University. One of his first official acts was the founding of a permanent chair of archaeology, and M. Wells Jakeman received the first appointment thereto.
Dr. Jakeman’s first class in this capacity, entitled “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon,” was offered in the spring quarter of 1945-46. Among the 59 students in the class were Clark S. Knowlton, now director of the Center for the Study of Social Problems at the University of Utah and vice-president of the SEHA; M. Carl Gibson, now chairman of the BYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese; and myself. (Newsletter, 33.1.)
Archaeology as a regular academic department came into being late in 1946. At a meeting held on December 17, Dr. John A. Widtsoe of the Executive Committee of the BYU Board of Trustees presided. Also in attendance were President McDonald, Dr. Jakeman, Dr. Sidney B. Sperry, and Dr. Francis W. Kirkham. (See Fig. 1.) The guidelines for the building of the Department— its scope of interest in both hemispheres—were agreed upon. All five of those present at this meeting were since elected Life Members of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology (see below). Dr. Widtsoe passed away in 1952. The last three, Drs. Jakeman, Sperry, and Kirk-ham, are now general officers of the Society. (Newsletter, 9.3, 21.4, 22.3, 37.02, 96.03.)
The original twofold assignment of the Department was: (1) to serve BYU and the Latter-day Saint church as a center for research and publication on the archaeology of the Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, and especially the Book of Mormon; and (2) to offer academic instruction leading to the bachelor’s and the master’s degrees in archaeology. This dual assignment continues in force to the present day.
Please note that this assignment of research and publication was given to the Department of Archaeology, not to a department of anthropology. The latter study seeks to know the nature of culture. Archaeology, on the other hand, tries to discover what happened in the past. Since the authority of scripture-based religion, hence of the LDS church, inheres to a great degree in an exact, recorded knowledge of actual events of the past, it is imperative that Brigham Young University investigate its scriptures within a framework of archaeology, specifically historic or text-related archaeology. Although anthropology has other values than those of archaeology the quest of which, within a university, can be fully justified, the former cannot be expected by itself to give BYU the answers it needs in the great program of scriptural studies in which it is engaged, since this is concerned chiefly with the historical claims and authenticity of the Book of Mormon. If in the future an anthropological approach should somehow be substituted for the archaeological one it would result in only confusion and frustration.
The conceptual framework upon which the Department’s program was built is further brought out in a statement appearing on October 28, 1960 (Newsletter, 69.1)
…”Archaeology is as comprehensive as the total history of all ancient civilization. What BYU should do, therefore, is to incorporate within its program all the main archaeological areas of the world. The principles and methods of the science should also be emphasized. In a word, this university should devote itself to the whole science of archaeology. Once such a broad and firm foundation has been laid, BYU can then face with confidence the investigation of certain special problems, in other words, can build the superstructure of particular inquiries upon the foundation of the whole science. ... The thing to do, then, is first to lay the broad, firm foundation of the whole science of archaeology, and thereafter build upon it the superstructure of the Archaeology of the Scriptures, which is the special and peculiar responsibility of Latter-day Saints. . . . These concepts…have, in fact, been those which have guided the development of the BYU Department of Archaeology from the beginning.”
Fig. 1. Founders of the BYU Department of Archaeology, who attended the meeting of December 17, 1946. ABOVE: Dr. John A. Widtsoe (left) and President Howard S. McDonald. BELOW (left to right): Dr. M. Wells Jakeman, Dr. Sidney B. Sperry, and Dr. Francis W. Kirkham
Until four years ago, a total of four faculty members had served in the Department: (1) Dr. Jakeman himself has taught from 1946 until the present and served as its chairman from 1946-1960. (2) Mrs. Irene Briggs Woodford taught in 1950 and 1951. (3) In 1952 I was appointed myself and have continued to serve to the present, and also filled the office of department chairman from 1960 to 1967. (4) John L. Sorenson was appointed to the Department of Archaeology in 1953 and continued to serve until 1955, when he left to continue his advanced training—this time in anthropology— at the University of California at Los Angeles. (After his study at UCLA he returned to BYU to serve as a faculty member a second time—now, however, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology— from 1958 to 1964.) (See Fig. 2.)
A collection of ancient artifacts constituting a museum of archaeology has been in the possession of Brigham Young University, I am informed, since the 1890’s. When the Department of Archaeology came into existence in 1946 this collection was placed in the Department’s care.
At the time that the Department moved from the Carl F. Eyring Physical Science Center to the Karl G. Maeser Memorial Building in 1961, the collection was installed as the Museum of Archaeology, and space and facilities for display were obtained for the first time since World War II. (See Fig. 3.) Somewhat later, Dr. Jakeman was appointed curator and served in this capa
city until 1968, when he was succeeded by Dr. Dale L. Berge. (Newsletter, 77.3, 96.4, 106.91.)
In February, 1966, by decision of the BYU Board of Trustees, the name was changed to the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
The Museum exists primarily for student instruction, but the public is also welcome. It occupies most of the first floor of the Maeser building. The central part of the exhibit area is the Tree of Life Salon, containing a cast of the “Lehi Tree-of-Life Stone” (Izapa Stela 5), made from a mold obtained by a BYU expedition in 1958 (Newsletter, 50.01, 51.3, 110.0).
Fig. 3. The Karl G. Maeser Memorial Building, where the Department, the Museum, and the Society for Early Historic Archaeology have been housed since 1961.
Fig. 4. Areas of BYU and SEHA archaeological expeditions to Middle America. Map by Robert L. Layton.
During the first 15 years of the Department’s history five archaeological expeditions to Middle America were sent out: those of 1948, 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1961 (Newsletter 44.03, 48.0, 75.0;Progress inArchaeology, pp. 174-191). These five expeditions are numbered in departmental records from the Second to the Sixth (the first having been the Brigham Young Academy expedition of 1900-02). They were undertaken primarily to elucidate problems of Book of Mormon place identification. Significant results have been obtained in such areas as the Xicalango jungle west of Ciudad del Carmen and the middle reaches of the Usumacinta River. Important studies of the “Lehi Stone” are also included. (See Figs. 4 and 5.) The Society for Early Historic Archaeology (see below) and individual expedition members contributed heavily to the expenses of these field investigations.
Fig. 5. Brigham Young University Archaeological expeditions to Middle America. ABOVE: At the ruins of Aguacatal, Campeche, Mexico, the probable city Bountiful of the Book of Mormon.
Earthen city wall on the left; exterior swamp on the right. Second expedition, 1948. BELOW: Trenching through Mound E.3 at the ruins of Aguacatal. Sixth expedition. 1961.
Dr. Widtsoe and President McDonald, back in 1945, sensed the need for some sort of organizational unit to assist the Department of Archaeology in its program of research and publication bearing directly on the Scriptures, since the Department as such would largely be occupied with academic matters like classroom instruction. Their original thinking on this matter took the form of an institute of archaeology, then later shifted to the form of a society, i.e. an organization which would accept paid memberships.
On August 19, 1946, an early effort was made to establish such an organization, to be named the “University Archaeological Society.” The organization committee appointed on that day consisted of Dr. Jakeman as chairman, Clark S. Knowlton, and myself. The Society did not actually get underway, however, until two and two-thirds years later.
On April 18, 1949, the University Archaeological Society was actually founded (see Fig. 6; see also Newsletter, 116.0). It was meant to serve as an auxiliary organization to the Department, with the task of assisting it in researches in scriptural archaeology and especially that of popular dissemination of discoveries in this field. It was also considered to be a reorganization of, or the successor to, the old Itzan Society, founded in California in 1938 (see above).
The original name, University Archaeological Society (UAS), was changed to Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA) in 1965 (Newsletter, 95.0).
The first president of the Society was Dr. Jakeman, who served during its first seven years until 1956. Dr. Franklin S. Harris, Jr., then served until 1959. Following the latter, Mr. Otto Done occupied this office until 1962, and after him Dr. Welby W. Ricks until 1965. Thereupon, Mr. Virgil V. Peterson served until 1968, when Dr. Ricks once again took up the reins of office. (See Fig. 7; see also Newsletter, 37.00, 61.1, 82.0, 96.00, 109.20.)
The original UAS of 1949 included only students and faculty members of BYU. Under a revised constitution ratified in 1950, however, the Campus Chapter, a student-faculty group, became merely the core unit of the Society, while provision was made for setting up other chapters off the university campus. Beginning in 1952, seven such chapters came into existence as follows: Reno, Nevada (1952); Los Angeles (1953); St. George (1953); Columbus, Ohio (1953); Salt Lake City, (1954); Mexico City (1955);and Long Beach, California (1956). (See Fig. 8; see also Newsletter, 8.13, 11.10 ,13.1, 23.5, 27.1, 38.23.)
Fig. 6. The Heber J. Grant Building, one-time home of the BYU Department of Archaeology, where the SEHA was founded on April 18, 1949.
By decision of the departmental faculty and the Society’s Executive Committee in May, 1966, all then-remaining chapters of the Society were discontinued, and with the rewriting of the Society’s constitution in 1967 this feature of the organization was omitted. (Newsletter, 99.2, 102.0.)
Fig. 7. Presidents of the SEHA. Left to right: Franklin S. Harris, Jr. (1956-59), Otto Done (1959-62), Welby W. Ricks (1962-65, 1968- ), and Virgil V. Peterson (1965-68). (M. Wells Jakcman, 1949-56, is pictured in Fig. 1.)
THE ANNUAL SYMPOSiUM
One of the means which the Society and the Department found to stimulate research in their chosen field and to popularize their findings therein, has been the “Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures.” The first such symposium appears to have been held on July 22, 1947. I have not been able to find any minutes of the first and second of these annual meetings, but beginning with the third, held on November 3 and 4, 1949, all of them are fully documented in Society records. From that time until the nineteenth, held in 1969, the symposium has met every year, with the exceptions of 1955, 1959, 1962, and 1965. (See Fig. 9.) Also, plans have been laid for the Twentieth Annual Symposium, to be held next October 10 (see Newsletter, 120.0).
Among the 152 papers and comparable presentations delivered at these 17 annual meetings there have been reported such important developments as the identification of the “Lehi Tree-of-Life Stone” (Izapa Stela 5), and the discovery of what is apparently the true relationship between the hieratic characters of the Hor Sensen Papyrus, once in the possession of the prophet Joseph Smith, and the English text of the Book of Abraham. (Newsletter, 13.03, 109.0, 114.1, 120.4.)
Fig. 8. The Mexico City Chapter of the Society in a special meeting following the Fourth BYU Archaeological Expedition to Middle America, 1956. Dr. M. Wells Jakeman, expedition director and Society president, front row, second from right. Photograph by chapter director Otto Done.
Fig. 9. SEHA members at entrance to lecture hail, Fourteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, April 13, 1963. Photograph by James C. Dean.
Also in these annual symposia—as well as in the Society publications and in classes offered by the Depart men t— the essential geographical and historical framework of the Book of Mormon record has been identified in American archaeology. From the very beginning, in fact, the departmental faculty has stressed the importance of geography as a prerequisite and essential ingredient of any well-founded archaeological investigation, while papers alluding to geographical problems have frequently been heard at the Symposium.
(For further historical notes on the Annual Symposium and a complete bibliographic listing of papers to 1964, see Newsletter, 89.1 and 89.2.)
In my opinion the Department and the Society were created at the only place and time they could have come into existence: at Brigham Young University during the presidency of Howard S. McDonald. With the coming of his successor in February, 1951, important changes took place. A climax was reached in 1959 and 1960, when four decisions were announced by the University Administration which reduced student enrollment in the Department to approximately one-eighth of what it had previously been and otherwise profoundly affected its work: (1) all lower-division classes were removed from the departmental curriculum; (2) the bachelor’s degree was removed; (3) four anthropology classes were removed in deference to the program of the (then) newly-constituted Department of Sociology and Anthropology; and (4) the practice of giving religion for certain archaeology classes was discontinued. (Cf. Newsletter, 69.15.)
Subsequent developments, however, required major changes in most of these decisions. In 1961 lower-division instruction and the baccalaureate degree were restored to the Department. The most recent such change came into effect in 1966, when by decision of the BYU Board of Trustees the anthropology section of the (then) Department of Sociology and Anthropology was merged with the (then) Department of Archaeology to form a new, combined “Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.” Since that time separate baccalaureate degrees have been offered in the latter department in both archaeology and anthropology, while the former master’s degree in archaeology has continued substantially unchanged. (Newsletter, 76.2, 98.1.)
The combined Department of Anthropology and Archaeology has been in operation since June 1, 1966. The department chairman since June 1, 1967, has been Dr. Merlin G. Myers, Ph.D. in social anthropology, University of Cambridge, 1963. The other four members of the present departmental faculty are all trained as archaeologists. They are: Dr. Jakeman, Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley, 1938; myself, Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1956; Dale L. Berge, Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1968; and Ray T. Matheny, Ph.D., University of Oregon, 1968. (See Fig. 2. above; see also Newsletter, 98.1, 102.4, 105.51.)
In 1961, the New World Archaeological Foundation was attached to Brigham Young University as an agency for field research in Mesoamerica. This organization had been a creation of Thomas Stuart Ferguson of Orinda, California. It had been incorporated under the laws of California on October 20, 1952, as a “private, non-profit undertaking, not connected with or supported by any other organizations” (Newsletter, 8.4). Since 1961, however, the Foundation has served BYU as its exclusive agent for archaeological excavations in Mesoamerica using LDS church funds, and large appropriations have been spent in field research characterized by “strict scientific objectivity” and in the printing of a publication series which is “free from any scriptural interpretations” (Newsletter, 75.1).
In the summer of 1969 the BYU Annual Field School in Archaeology was instituted. Under the direction of Dr. Matheny 17 students received intensive training in field methods on location in Montezuma Canyon, southeastern Utah, over a ten-week period. (See Fig. 10.) It is planned to continue the School every summer as a regular part of the Department’s academic offering. (Newsletter, 111.12, 116.5.)
Fig. 10. The dining and lecture tent of the First Annual Archaeological Field School of BYU, Montezuma Canyon, southeastern Utah, August, 1969.
The Department’s original twofold assignment, i.e. (1) to offer academic instruction leading to degrees in archaeology and (2) to serve the University and the Church as a center for research and pub1ization in the archaeology of the Scriptures, has continued throughout the Department’s history to the present day. Nevertheless, two fundamental changes in the total situation in which its labors are carried out have been introduced into the picture:
(1) Since the attachment of the New World Archaeological Foundation to BYU in 1961 there has existed no departmental program of field research in Mesoamerica. While individual faculty members may obtain their own grants and make their own arrangements—as individuals—no field program organized by the Department as such and directed to the solution of specific Book of Mormon problems has been possible.
(2) The archaeology of the Scriptures, which once occupied the center of the picture, indeed was the very purpose for which the Department was created in the first place, now seems to be only a peripheral field. This great study, for which Elder Widtsoe and President McDonald had such high hopes and which from 1946 to 1959 occupied first place in the hearts of faculty and students alike and elicited such enthusiasm from them, has now been relegated to the position of simply a private research interest on the part of two of the Department s five faculty members. Although it is true that two of the 30 classes listed in the university catalogue under the archaeology curriculum are essentially scriptural archaeology, and although it is also true that the present department chairman follows a policy of giving what assistance he can to the separate research interests of the individual faculty members over whom he presides, still it cannot be said that BYU now officially supports through its archaeology department any kind of research program in the archaeology of the Scriptures. In other words, even though the Department’s original assignment in this field has never been explicitly annulled, still no genuine official support is now forthcoming.
Since the creation of the Department of Archaeology in 1946, 13 master’s degrees in archaeology have been awarded. These have gone to: Ross T. Christensen in 1947; Irene M. Briggs (Mrs. Hugh Woodford) in 1950; John L. Sorenson in 1952; Dee F. Green and Carl Hugh Jones in 1961; Ray I. Matheny in 1962; Dale L. BErge in 1964; Evan I. DeBloois in 1967; Leland Gilsen, Erlinda D. Montillo, and Edward A. Wheeler in 1968; and Michael Karschti and Fred W. Nelson, Jr., in 1970 (see below, 121.1). It should be noted that of these 13, every one has been professionally placed in archaeology, except perhaps the last five, whose advanced training may be considered still in progress.
According to records kept in the Department, a total of 69 bachelor’s degrees have been awarded since 1946. All such degrees, up to the May, 1966, commencement, were of course in archaeology. Of the 38 degrees awarded since then, beginning with the summer, 1966, convocation and including those given this year to date, 20 have been in archaeology and 18 in anthropology.
During the first 15 years of its history the Department undertook a publication program. Four numbers of the Brigham Young University Publications in Archaeology and Early History, totaling 148 pages and including a circular slide-rule device, were issued—largely at university expense.
Also, the SEHA has issued the following four series of publications, most of the numbers having to do with scriptural archaeology and nearly all of them, incidentally, without printing cost to BYU:
1. Five issues of the Bulletin of the University Archaeological Society, containing 260 pages of print.
2. Two issues of the Miscellaneous Papers, containing 28 pages.
3. One hundred and twenty-one issues of the Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA (formerly UAS Newsletter), including the present issue, containing 727 pages.
4. Four Special Publications, or major works, containing a total of 687 pages and including a large wall chart (see Fig. 11).
Fig. 11. A publication of the SEHA (Special Publieations, No. 4, 1963).
In addition, the SEHA has distributed to its members a variety of other titles not in its own series, such as reprints and BYU extension publications.
Also, the SEHA and BYU publication programs in archaeology have stimulated others not connected with the University to produce slide sets, phonograph discs, miniature replicas, etc., in the fields of scriptural archaeology.
(No mention has been made in this list of the publications in the field of biblical archaeology distributed by the Society to its members, i.e. The Biblical Archaeologist. Nor has reference been made to the publications of the New World Archaeological Foundation, for the twofold reason that: (1) from 1952 to 19(1 it had no connection with BYU, and (2) following the latter date and until the present it has had no apparent interest in the archaeology of the Scriptures.)
Eleven years ago I made the following statement with regard to the BYU program of scriptural archaeology:
“…The founding of the Department of Archaeology in 1946 was a bold and imaginative stroke of leadership. Dr. Widtsoe, President McDonald, Dr. Jakeman, and their associates looked beyond the provincial viewpoint usually held by North American universities. Theirs was a far-seeing and inspired act (Newsletter, 56.2.)
I now repeat that statement with double c~np11asis. How grateful I am to have been associated with such men as Howard S. McDonald, M. Wells Jakeman, Sidney B. Sperry, and Francis W. Kirkham almost since the beginning of the present archaeology program! How grateful I am to labor among the youth of Zion and to teach and do research in the archaeology of the Scriptures! And how I long for the day when this field may come into its own at BYU!
121.1 TEN EARN DEGREES. By Susan P. Stiles. Graduating from Brigham Young University on May 29, 1970, with the Bachelor of Arts degree in archaeology were: Bernhart Earl Johnson, Prescott, Arizona; Rex Madsen, Salt Lake City; and Timothy Kent Taylor, Anaheim, California.
The Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology was received at the same ceremony by: Feurman Neil Brady, Las Vegas, Nevada; John Palmer Hawkins, La Grande, Oregon; Steven Francis Ilium, Santa Clara, California; David Virgil Nelson II, Phoenix, Arizona; and C. Joseph Powell, Yucaipa, California.
Also at this commencement, the Master of Arts degree in archaeology was awarded to: Michael Karschti, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (thesis: “An Analysis and Interpretation of Maya Hieroglyphic Combinations at Piedras Negras and in the Dresden Codex”); and Fred W. Nelson, Jr., Salt Lake City (thesis: “Archaeological Investigations at Dzibilnohac, Campeche, Mexico”). (Reference is made to Mr. Nelson’s field project in Newsletter, 113.4.)