Archaeology and Cumorah Questions. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1, article 15.
In summary, the archaeology of New York is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region. By implication, the Cumorah of the golden plates is not the Cumorah of the final battles. These conclusions follow from a few basic points and assumptions. First, I presume that the archaeology of New York State, as currently published (2004), is a fair representation and adequate sample of what is there, and particularly that the evidence for some periods has not been systematically destroyed. Second, I presume that the evidence published for the various regions and time periods is accurate—that is, that the majority of archaeologists working in this region are competent and academically honest in terms of their archaeology. Third, I assume that additional research and discoveries will not significantly alter current understandings of the times or places of prehistoric occupation nor of the cultural practices involved; rather, such data will lead to minor adjustments to some of the details of prehistory. Fourth, the archaeological record lacks evidence for cities, sedentism, corn agriculture, fortifications, and dense populations during Archaic, Early Woodland, and Middle Woodland times. In accord with these general observations about New York and Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object—the Hill Cumorah. Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand….
Statements of Church leaders on Cumorah
I borrowed most of these from a compilation by NewNameNoah here.
Elder Orson Pratt, Feb. 11, 1872 Journal of Discourses Vol. 14, pg. 331:
The great and last battle, in which several hundred thousand Nephites perished was on the hill Cumorah, the same hill from which the plates were taken by Joseph Smith, the boy about whom I spoke to you the other evening.
Elder George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, p.56:
We visited the Hill Cumorah and were accorded the courtesy of going thereon by the wife of Mr. George Sampson, a brother of Admiral Wm. Sampson, who before his death owned the property…..We were delighted to be there. Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill.
Elder Orson Pratt, May 18, 1873 Journal of Discourses Vol. 16, pg. 50:
These records were carried by Ether from the hill Ramah, afterwards called Cumorah, where the Jaredites were destroyed, as well as the Nephites.
Orson Pratt, Aug. 25, 1878 Journal of Discourses Vol. 20, pg. 62:
Thirty-six years prior to this time his nation was destroyed in what we term the State of New York, around about a hill, called by that people the Hill of Cumorah, when many hundreds of thousands of the Nephites-men, women and children, fell, during the greatest battle that they had had with the Lamanites.
Elder Orson Pratt, Sept. 18, 1881 Journal of Discourses Vol. 22, pg. 224:
It will be, next Thursday night, 54 years since the Prophet Joseph Smith, then but a lad, was permitted by the angel of the Lord to take the gold plates of the Book of Mormon from the hill Cumorah, as it was called in ancient times, located in the State of New York.
Elder Orson Pratt, April 6, 1874 Journal of Discourses Vol. 17, pg. 24:
Finally, they became so utterly wicked, so fully ripened for destruction, that one branch of the nation, called the Nephites, gathered their entire people around the hill Cumorah, in the State of New York , in Ontario County; and the Lamanites, the opposite army, gathered by millions in the same region. The two nations were four years in gathering their forces, during which no fighting took place; but at the end of that time, having marshalled all their hosts, the fighting commenced, the Lamanites coming upon the Nephites, and destroying all of them, except a very few, who had previously deserted over to the Lamanites.
President Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report, April 1928-Morning Session, pg 13-14:
The passages which I have quoted from the Book of Mormon and the more extended discussion of this subject by Elder B. H. Roberts which was published in The Deseret News of March 3, 1928, definitely establish the following facts: That the Hill Cumorah, and the Hill Ramah are identical; that it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites, fought their great last battles; that it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his’ son, Moroni. We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them.
W.W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery (‘Letter No. 12’) in The Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol.2, No.2, p.221:
Cumorah, the artificial hill of north America, is well calculated to stand in this generation, as a monument of marvelous works and wonders. Around that mount died millions of the Jaredites; yea, there ended one of the greatest nations of this earth. In that day, her inhabitants spread from sea to sea, and enjoyed national greatness and glory, nearly fifteen hundred years. – That people forsook the Lord and died in wickedness. There, too, fell the Nephites, after they had forgotten the Lord that bought them. There slept the records of age after age, for hundreds of years, even until the time of the Lord.
Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, chapter 14, pg 262:
The hill, which was known by one division of the ancient peoples as Cumorah, by another as Ramah, is situated near Palmyra in the State of New York.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation , Vol.3, Bookcraft, 1956, p.232-43:
It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Rama. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, “by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all.” Mormon adds: “And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents round about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.
It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
Further, the fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history….
Marion G. Romney bore testimony of the events of the Book of Mormon in relation to the hill Cumorah in General Conference, October 4, 1975:
In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation. …
This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites , flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites …
And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow … from the top of the hill Cumorah, [230,000] of my people who were hewn down, …
…I bear you my personal witness that I know that the things I have presented to you today are true—both those pertaining to past events and those pertaining to events yet to come.
Elder LeGrand Richards states in chapter 7 of “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” that Cumorah is in New York.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Cumorah”:
Both the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it), which hill is located between Palmyra and Manchester in the western part of the State of New York. Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and many of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us a pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah.
B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.277:
This time it will have to do with so important a matter as a war of extinction of two peoples, the Nephites and the Jaredites, on the self same battle site, with the same ‘hill’ marking the axis of military movements. By the Nephites this ‘hill’ was called the ‘Hill Cumorah,’ by the Jaredites the ‘Hill Ramah’; it was that same ‘hill,’ in which the Nephite records were deposited by Mormon and Moroni, and from which Joseph Smith obtained the Book of Mormon, therefore the ‘Mormon Hill,’ of todaysince the coming forth of the Book of Mormonnear Palmyra, New York
B.H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol.3, Ch.34, p.67:
According to the Book of Mormon the Hill Cumorah of the Nephites–the Ramah of the Jaredites–must be regarded as a natural monument overlooking ancient and extensive battle fields. Around it early in the sixth century B.C., the Jaredites were destroyed. Here, also, a thousand years later, at the dose of the fourth century A. D., the Nephites met with practical annihilation in a battle which, whether judged by the importance of the changes it wrought in the affairs of one of the world’s continents, or the number slain,a ranks as one of the world’s great battles. In view of these Book of Mormon facts one would naturally expect to find some evidences in this section of the country for such wonderful historical events. Here one has a right to expect the evidences of military fortifications; for, though a thousand years had elapsed between the destruction of the Nephites and the discovery of America by the Europeans, still some military monuments would doubtless survive that length of time.
Elder George Reynolds, The Story of the Book of Mormon, Ch.69, p.325:
One of the most noted places in ancient American history was the land in which was situated the hill known to the Jaredites as Ramah and to the Nephites as Cumorah. In its vicinity two great races were exterminated; for it was there that the last battles were fought in the history of both peoples. There also the sacred records of the Nephites found their final resting place.
In 1990 the office of the First Presidency, in a letter signed by the Secretary to the First Presidency, stated that Cumorah is in New York:
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.