The  Weather During Book of Mormon Times
 


    It is interesting, that the most often asked question about the northern setting regards the weather, supposing it was too cold for the Lamanites, who the scriptures say wore nothing but loin cloths. However, the loin cloth noted beneath the blanket on the Algonquin of the Canadian northeast in this 18th century watercolor prove the descendants of the Lamanites dressed in the same way their ancestors did back in Nephite times. Even his wife is nearly naked except for a short skirt beneath her blanket covering.

    And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a bloodthirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us. (Enos 1:20.)


Champlain's drawing of the Iroquois and Algonquins at war wearing nothing at all.

   The French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, actually described the Iroquois and Algonquians of New York and along the St. Lawrence River as going entirely naked in his writings and drawings in 1602, a scene he captured in the accompanying illustrations. Sier de Roberval, the first Governor General of America’s “New France,” said of the Iroquois along the St. Lawrence River (a New York based tribe), “. . . are a people of goodly stature and well made; they are very white, but they are all naked, and if they were appareled as the French are, they would be as white and as fair, but they paint themselves for fear of heat and sunburning.”(Malory, p. 170.)
The reference to sunburning adds impetus to the fact that it gets hot in the northeast, not just in the tropics. Moreover, it is not likely that they would wear heavy skins in the tropics which remains hot all year long. However, the Book of Mormon mentions that the Lamanites in Book of Mormon territory wore very heavy skins, which we can take to be bear or buffalo hides, often worn to withstand the blows of their enemies, but likely also during periods of extreme cold.


   Now the leaders of the Lamanites had supposed, because of the greatness of their numbers, yea, they supposed that they should be privileged to come upon them as they had hitherto done; yea, and they had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness. (Alma 49:6.)


    It would be good to remember that cold weather was also implied in the scriptures, for hail was mentioned twice, and Nephi mentions snow when he was recording the Tree of Life. He said: “and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” (1 Nephi 11:8) While a gentle snow falls in Israel about every seven or eight years, it melts away rather quickly. Thus, Nephi likely did not experienced driven snow, the kind that blows in with a snow storm, until after he arrived in the promised land and had secured the ore he needed to record the experiences of his family. Rain, or the lack of it, is also mentioned in the Book of Mormon, usually in reference to the Lord’s sending it or withholding it according to the righteousness of the people. Thus, we have four separate weather conditions, heat, hail, snow and rain.
    More important than looking for heat or cold in the scriptures is the need to find an area where all the ordinances of the law of Moses could be kept, which means an area with four distinct seasons such we find in the temperate climate of the northeast, for the observance of the Law of Moses is dependant upon the ripening of specific crops at different times of the years, such as wheat, corn, and barely, each of which are grown in abundance in New York.

    Unfortunately, a comment by John Sorenson to the effect that the promised land of the Nephites should be place in the tropics because of one lone statement to heat in the scriptures (see Alma 51:33) seems to have stuck in the minds of many, for it is the most often asked question by those investigating New York as the proposed setting for the Book of Mormon saga. He said:

“The promised and was quite surely located in the tropics since no indication of cold or snow is given in the text while heat is.” [1]

    As important as the weather patterns and seasons seems to be, the plates of the Nephites had to be kept for more important issues, such as the spiritual progress, their wars, the reigns of their kings, dealings with apostates, their ship building and migrations, their various episodes of righteousness and wickedness, their temple building, and most important of all, the visit of the Risen Lord among them. Moreover, anyone given the arduous task of engraving on metal plates would not have wasted their energy and time on such trivial matters, and not just as a matter of convenience, but by way of commandment.

Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men. (1 Nephi 6:1-6.

    Nevertheless, since it is a subject of much interest, a discussion of the weather patterns of the northeast during the Book of Mormon era, both Nephite and Jaredite, seems appropriate here.

The Archaic Period

    The close of the last Ice Age saw the weather patterns in the northeast change from bleak and cold to warmer than it is today which precipitated the melting of the great glaciers covering so much of Canada and the northeastern United States. This warm condition persisted until around 1000 B.C., when it became somewhat moister and cooler, although still warmer than currently. Another drop in temperature took place around the time of Christ and has persisted relatively unchanged until our present day—notwithstanding various fluctuations over the years, such as the little ice age which is thought to have begun somewhere between 1250-1600 and ended around 1900.
    New York Archaeologist, William A. Ritchie explains that the archaic period, (that being the era of the Jaredites), experienced the latter portion of the hypsithermal episode, which is believed to have considerably surpassed the present in average warmth.[2] Moreover, for a thousand years between 2000-1000 B.C., little rainfall came, with the result that the northeast experienced a number of devastating droughts, just as was noted in the account of the Jaredites who lost a great many of their people to the famines which followed.

And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine. (Ether 9:35.)

    Ritchie instructs us that when the last remnants of the ice sheets disappeared from the northeast, forests of mixed evergreens and hardwoods covered much of the land. Many of the existing mucklands were shallow lakes in those days, and “the streams flowed clearer, deeper, and certainly more constantly than now due to the thick spongy covering of the forest floor.”[3] Fossil samples indicate that the relatively warm, humid conditions made it especially favorable for hunting and fishing and gathering wild plant foods, especially fruits and nuts. Ritchie points out that while the expansion of people also took them into lower Ontario, the archaic population was more numerous in New York, with its milder winters and probably more abundant wildlife than in lower Ontario, with the possibility that the weather was becoming increasingly warmer and drier during this era.[4]

The Nephite Era

    The weather remained the same during the first 600 years of Nephite occupation in the land, only changing again after the birth of Christ when pollen samples indicate a cool, moist climate phase began to prevail over most of the area,[5] much as it does today. Yet, while New York enjoys a temperate climate, the regions to the east of the lakes can sometimes be hit rather hard during the colder winter months. Thus, since Book of Mormon territory appears to extend along much of the region to the east of Lake Erie, there can be little doubt that the Nephites experienced harsh winters at times during the last 384 years of their existence in the land. Yet their summers would have been as moist and hot as they are today as well, a condition hard to travel in, let alone fight in. The time period given the episode which speaks of Teancum’s army successfully overpowering the Lamanites because they were fatigued due to their labors and the heat of the day came in 67 B.C., according to Book of Mormon footnotes, which was before the climate change which took place at the time of Christ. But, whether before or after, the region would have endured hot, humid summers in either case. Thus, it seems foolish to discount New York as a plausible setting for the Book of Mormon saga simply because of one lone reference to the heat of the day, which some speculate can only be referring to the tropics. People still die in New York in the summer months, due to the heat and high humidity.

    And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day. (Alma 51:33.)


    Such hot moist conditions also promote the spread of various fevers in the land, another fact mentioned in the scriptures (see Alma 46:40). Malaria is a bad fever, and has plagued the people of the northeast for centuries. Literally hundreds died of the dread disease while building New York’s Erie Canal.
    Regardless of the hot moist summers and the heavy snowfall which falls in New York at times, the state is still said to enjoy a temperate climate. But, even in the harshest conditions, Native Americans have been inhabiting this region for millennium and have survived nicely without central heating or electricity. Moreover, Joseph Smith, as well as numerous early Saints lived in New York without such conveniences and without complaint until forced from their homes by angry mobs. Thus, the Nephites no doubt also lived comfortably in the region after the weather turned cooler. The lush timberlands surrounding them would have provided them with plenty of firewood to keep them just as warm as the pilgrims and early gentile settlers of the past few centuries.
    As for Alma 3:5 referring to the Lamanites wearing nothing more than loin clothes, the Native American Indians in New York continued that practice until modernized by the Gentiles who made every effort to civilize them. Many of the early colonizers were amazed by the Indians ability to go so scantily clad even during some of the harshest winters without the cold seeming to bother them. Yet, we must not overlook the fact that the scriptures also refer to the Lamanites wearing heavy clothing made from animal skins, which was the more common dress among them during colder weather.


     Now the leaders of the Lamanites had supposed, because of the greatness of their numbers, yea, they supposed that they should be privileged to come upon them as they had hitherto done; yea, and they had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness. (Alma 49:6.)




Notes,

1-John Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, p. 351. F.A.R.M.S.
2-William A. Ritchie, The Archaeology of New York State, p. 32.
3-William A. Ritchie, Indian History of New York State, Ed Leaflet, No. 6, p. 6.
4-William A. Ritchie, Indian History of New York State, Ed Leaflet, No. 6, p. 10.
5-William A. Ritchie, Prehistoric Archaeology and the New York State Museum. Ed. Leaflet, No. 22, p. 5.


 

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