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“When the Land and the Stones, and the Books Tell the Story So Plain”: Quiriguá

Structure at the top of the tower at Quirigua
Late last night, I finally arrived in Guatemala after being delayed in Dallas for the weekend. This morning, Stephen Smoot and I joined up with our tour group, and from there went to Quiriguá, some Classic Maya ruins dating from approximately the 5th–9th centuries AD. This, of course, means that it is post Book of Mormon. Despite this, however, there is an interesting Latter-day Saint connection to Quiriguá.

The Site history at Quirigua, talking about John Lloyd Stephens
Quiriguá was one of the sites visited by explorer and author John Lloyd Stephens and artist Fredrick Catherwood, and described in their 1841 volume Incidents of Travel in Central American, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which caught the attention of several early Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, in 1842. Although some are eager to distance the Prophet Joseph Smith from all this, he was almost certainly among those who were fascinated by these findings. An editorial which ran in the October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons, during Joseph’s tenure as editor, suggested that Quiriguá was a Book of Mormon city.
We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.
The authorship of this and a handful of other editorials is disputed by some, but the best evidence points to Joseph Smith as the author.

A lakam-tuun, lit. large stone
Of course, at the time the actual dating of Quiriguá and other sites were not yet known. Although we now know that Quiriguá is post-Book of Mormon, Matthew Roper has explained why Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saints might have seen a similarity between the ruins discussed by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood, and Book of Mormon cities, Quiriguá and Zarahemla in particular.
A lakam-tuun, from a side with
Mayan hieroglyphs


In particular, the mention of “a large stone brought … with engravings on it” (Omni 1:20) found at Zarahemla caught the attention of the Times and Seasons editor.
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said.
Such “large stones,” or lakam-tuun (from Mayan, lit. large stone) are of course found throughout Mesoamerican ruins. However, the tallest are here, at Quiriguá.
Me, next to one of the tallest
lakam-tuun at Quirigua

Despite knowing it is not directly related to the Book of Mormon, it was fun seeing the ruins of Quiriguá and standing next to the largest known lakam-tuun in all of Mesoamerica. The role it played in early LDS thought—and very likely Joseph Smith’s own thinking about the Book of Mormon—makes it a significant site for Latter-day Saints and the intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography and archaeology. 

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