Friday, April 8, 2011

Animals in the Book of Mormon - Part I: Cattle

Animals in the Book of Mormon
Much has been made by critics of the Book of Mormon regarding types of animals it lists as being present in the Americas before 1492. Yet, a detailed examination verifies their presence in Book of Mormon lands. Probably the most common criticism is the presence of horses in the New World before they were introduced on Columbus’s second voyage in 1493. This will be discussed more fully below.
Tomb Painting of Egyptian Cattle c 1422 B.C.
In addition to the horse, cattle represent a type of animal that archaeologists at the Smithsonian and others declared were not in America before the time of Columbus. There are archaeological records, though, that show domestic cattle were here well before then. Caves in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico in Mesoamerica have yielded bones of Bos taurus (the domesticated species of cattle) found in association with man going back thousands of years. Paleontologists as well as archaeologists have found a number of sites throughout North America, including Mesoamerica, where different types of cattle have been found associated with man.
Two Species of Extinct Bison
 It is not known if, when listing “cattle”, “oxen”, and “cows” in both the Jaredite (Ether 9:18) and Nephite (1st Nephi 18:25) records, whether different species are indicated. Nevertheless, several different species are possible. While they were thought to be extinct before Book of Mormon time by the Smithsonian Institution archaeologists, paleontological research now shows that many animals lived here much less than 10,000 years ago.  In the record of Leif Ericson’s voyage to America around 1000 A.D., mention is made of “cattle” along with wheat. The statement is, “A bellowing steer [emphasis added] bursting from the woods struck such terror into the Skraelings [natives] that they took to their boats and hastily departed.”
Besides domestic cattle (oxen, cows), there are several types of cattle native to North America. None of these, however, entered into South America before being introduced by man. Extinct species, in addition to extant species, are among the cattle known to be associated with man. These did not all become extinct before association with man.  Some extinct types may well have survived into Book of Mormon time. One or more of these could be included in the “cattle,” “oxen,” and “cows” listed in both the Jaredite and Nephite records. Early Spaniards in North America often referred to bison as “cows” or “cattle.” There are two other types of cattle besides bison native to North America. One is the woodland musk ox and the other the shrub ox. Although both these species are extinct, they might well have been living a very few thousand years ago. There are at least five different species of native North American cattle that could have been known to Book of Mormon peoples. It should be stated here that organisms which live in warm, humid conditions quickly decompose and disintegrate upon death. Therefore, the fossil record in these climatic conditions is generally poor. So, in areas like Mesoamerica, fossils of various organisms are especially incomplete.