From A New Artistic Rendering of Izapa Stela 5: A Step toward Improved Interpretation by John E. Clark:
Given the nature of LDS interest in Stela 5, most of my discussion has been forced to focus on what the scene is not. If it does not show Lehi’s dream, what does it show?
The monument is clearly Mesoamerican in theme, style, technical execution, and quite surely meaning. It derives from a long tradition of stone carving which predates the people of Lehi by at least 700 years. The scene shown has cosmic significance; the heavens, the earth, and the underearth are conventional framing features for earlier art in this area. So is the tree—the world tree that is considered in Mesoamerican thought to grow at the center of the earth, from whose surface it reaches up to heaven and down to the underworld. Supernatural monsters appear in the scene. So do other figures, either gods or mortals (both male and female) who are dressed as though they were gods (they were probably royalty), and their attendants. Ceremony, pomp, and ritual are clearly represented with individuals depicted in elaborate dress, masks, and jewelry positioned before smoking incense burners. Some individuals hold piercing implements used to draw their own blood as an offering to deities. Overall the carving shows the basic symmetry, balance, and concern for geometry and numerology that one also expects in Mesoamerican art. Of course, some elements for the moment do not make sense, such as pairs of fish; comparison with other monument scenes will probably clarify their meanings.
None of these elements fits one’s expectations about Lehi’s dream. Instead, the scene appears to concern royalty, their subjects, and their relationships to deities and the cosmos. I suspect that the basic theme of Stela 5 is the king as intercessor with the gods on behalf of his people. This was a concern of the ancient Mesoamerican rulers who commissioned the carving of monuments for the sake of their own glory, and this all accords with the ancient tradition of art and culture within which Stela 5 fits comfortably.
Some Latter-day Saints may still feel the need to seek a relationship between Stela 5 and Book of Mormon history. The Lehi connection that Jakeman espoused goes nowhere, in my opinion. …