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Where Are all the Dead Soldiers?



A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting mounted Norman knights attacking Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. (Wikimedia)


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: July 8-14; Alma 23-29


We are told in Alma 28:2, “And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.”


Some people have asked: if large battles took place in ancient America, like the one described in Alma 28:2, where tens of thousands died, why have no such battle grounds been discovered in the Americas? For example, Gene Curl, who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints as a teenager, has since left the Church, and is now an avowed atheist; has stated, “The only logical explanation for never finding any supporting evidence of the Nephite battles is that they never happened.”1 

 

First of all, we have no idea where those battles took place. Second, as it turns out, even if we know where battles occurred, dead bodies are often missing.

 

One of the most famous and well-known battles in history was the Battle of Hastings, which occurred 14 October 1066 — one thousand years more recently than the wars described in Alma 28:2 — where some 2,000 Normans and 4,000 Englishmen were killed (around 600 to 700 horses also died in the battle). We know exactly, or we think we know exactly, where the battle took place. Construction of Battle Abbey on Battle Hill was begun only four years after the battle, and was dedicated in 1095. Yet, as John Grehan and Martin Mace have pointed out, “Unhappily, not one relic or fragment, not a vestige of bone or even a rusted piece of steel or other metal has emerged from the field of combat.”2   

 

Grehan and Mace explained, “In 1070 four Monks from the Benedictine abbey of Marmoutier on the Loire arrived at a place close to the Andresweald some eight miles or so to the north of [what is now] Hastings…on the orders of King William I of England [the victor of the battle]…Though these men had not been present at the battle four years earlier they were apparently able to positively identify the battlefield amongst the [thinly populated] rolling hills of the Weald with astonishing precision, laying the stone of the high alter on the very spot where King Harold had been killed.”3 

 

Grehan and Mace have proposed that historians doubt the details handed down concerning the particulars of the battle. They quoted Mark Lower, from a talk given at Battle Abbey in 1852, as saying, “‘Few things are more difficult to describe than the events of a battlefield…’”4 Most historians now agree the Battle of Hastings actually took place on and around Caldbec Hill, about a mile north of Battle Hill.5 Only one mile off and the remains of 6,000 soldiers have been lost to history. A wind-mill and other buildings have long-since existed on Caldbec Hill, inhibiting the possible excavation of that alternative site.

 

There are other famous places where the people have vanished. One of the most famous is the Lost Colony at Roanoke, Virginia. That colony was settled in 1587 by people sent there by Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1590, when a resupply ship arrived, the colony had disappeared. No trace of the 112-121 colonists has since been found and no bodies were ever discovered.6  

 

Furthermore, much archaeological research has been conducted of ancient Mayan cities in the Yucatan and other areas. Numerous lost cities have been discovered, such as, recently, Ocomtún, a city of perhaps 40,000 people, yet few if any human remains are ever recovered from the excavations. Usually, the only remains ever found are from careful burials in temples or caves — what may be thousands of war dead have never been found at any of those sites.7 

 

People who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon often point to what have been considered anachronisms, many dating to the 19th century, not long after the Book of Mormon was published. That list of “anachronisms” has waxed and waned over the years as old ones are shown to be incorrect and new ones are invented, “Yah, but what about…” As many others have done, Gene Curl has said, “I currently don’t have any faith in the existence of god but I still occasionally attend church because there are still times when I wish I could believe.

 

I and many others have addressed many of the “anachronisms” brought up over the years – the leading ones being “no horses and no wheels in America during Book of Mormon times.” I have addressed those and many others in my past blogs. However, as has been pointed out many times by others, the Book of Mormon’s historicity resists being disproven or definitively proven. I write about Science and the Book of Mormon for the same reason I did the Old and New Testament — to get people to go back and read the eternal messages in the scriptures and not get caught up in the 1% that seems strange or (at the time) anachronistic. When I left on my mission, Elder Bruce R. McConkie told us that we could only begin to understand the Book of Mormon after we have read it twelve times. I have read it far more times than twelve, and am still learning. To people like Gene I say: “keep reading, be humble (teachable), realize the blessed message in the 99% — including it being another testimony of Jesus Christ — read and apply Moroni 10:4.

 

 

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

 

References

 

2.     Grehan, John, and Martin Mace, The Battle of Hastings 1066: the Uncomfortable Truth, Pen and Sword, Barnsley, UK, p. 5, 2012

3.     Ibid, p. 1

4.     Ibid

5.     Ibid, p. 151

7.     Stein, Eliot, Ocomtún: A long-lost Maya city that was just discovered, 2023 bbc.com/travel/article/20230704-ocomtn-a-long-lost-maya-city-that-was-just-discovered; retrieved 30 June 2024

 

 

 

 

 

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