Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Animals/Elephants

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    Book of Mormon anachronisms: Elephants

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Detailed Analysis


The only place that elephants are mentioned in the Book of Mormon is in Ether 9:19 in approximately 2500 B.C. Thus any elephants existing upon the American continents need not have survived past about 2400 B.C...Besides the traditions, five elephant effigies have been found in ancient Mexico. Dr. Verrill, a well-known (non-Mormon) archaeologist describes one of these figures as “‘so strikingly and obviously elephantine that it cannot be explained away by any of the ordinary theories of being a conventionalized or exaggerated tapir, ant-eater or macaw. Not only does this figure show a trunk, but in addition it has the big leaf-like ears and the forward-bending knees peculiar to the elephants. Moreover, it shows a load or burden strapped upon its back. It is inconceivable that any man could have imagined a creature with the flapping ears and peculiar hind knees of an elephant, or that any human being could have conventionalized a tapir to this extent’”...
The oral traditions, written records, and artwork depicting elephants lends strong support for the claim that the elephant existed in ancient America. Even more substantial support-- actual remains-- have also been discovered. Today all scholars agree that mastodons and mammoths (which are unquestionably elephants to zoologists) once lived in the Americas. The dispute today is how late they lived. According to the Book of Mormon they need not have lived later than 2400 B.C. Within recent years archaeological evidence has demonstrated that the elephant could very well have survived to such a late date. Butchered mastodon bones were recently discovered at one archaeological site which dates to shortly after the time of Christ. Another site, dating to approximately 100 B.C. has yielded the remains of a mammoth, a mastodon, as well as a horse.[1]

Mastodon or Mammoth?

Some scholars have suggested that the elephant (mammoth or mastodon) lived later than hitherto believed. Ludwell Johnson, in an article entitled “Men and Elephants in America” published in Scientific Monthly, wrote that
“Discoveries of associations of human and proboscidean remains [Elephantine mammals, including, elephants, mammoths, and mastodons] are by no means uncommon. As of 1950, MacCowan listed no less than twenty-seven” including, as noted by Hugo Gross, a “partly burned mastodon skeleton and numerous potsherds at Alangasi, Ecuador...There can no longer be any doubt that man and elephant coexisted in America.... Probably it is safe to say that American Proboscidea have been extinct for a minimum of 3000 years."
If the elephants had died off at least 3000 years ago, they would still have been well within range of the Jaredite era. And as noted above, some evidence indicates that the elephant may have survived in limited numbers for centuries later.[2]

Other elephants

This is a public domain image of Tetrabelodon angustidens, a member of the family Gomphotheriidae. We do not yet have a public-domain image of the South American species believed to have persisted into historical times. This should not be considered an image of a Jaredite "elephant," but simply an illustration that these recently-extinct animals certainly qualify as "elephants" in appearance. (Image source:CW Andrews, A guide to the elephants (recent and fossil) exhibited in the Department of geology and palæontology in the British museum (London, Printed by order of the Trustees, 1908). 46 pp. Original graphic file from here.

A lesser-known type of elephant-like creature also existed from 12 million years ago until around A.D. 400. These were the Gomphotheres:

The Gomphotheres are a diverse group of extinct elephant-like animals (proboscideans) that were widespread in North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, 12-1.6 million years ago. Some also lived in parts of Eurasia and Beringia, and following the Great American Interchange, in South America. From about 5 million years ago onwards, they were slowly replaced by modern elephants, but the last South American species did not finally become extinct until as recently as 400 CE[1].
Gomphothere remains are common at South American Paleo-indian sites.[2] One example is the early human settlement at Monte Verde, Chile, dating to approximately 14,000 years ago.
Gomphotheres differed from elephants in their tooth structure, particularly the chewing surfaces on the molar teeth. Most had four tusks, and their retracted facial and nasal bones prompt paleontologists to believe that gomphotheres had elephant-like trunks.[3]

In short, the elephant presents no problem for the Book of Mormon.



  1. John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]),297–298.
  2. Mike Ash, off-site
  3. "Gomphothere (accessed 9 December 2008). The article is citing [1]Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. pp.239–242. ISBN 1-84028-152-9 [2] Prado, J. L.; Alberdi, M. T.; Azanza, B.; Sánchez, B.; Frassinetti, D. (2001), "The Pleistocene Gomphotheres (Proboscidea) from South America: diversity, habitats and feeding ecology", in Cavarretta, G.; Gioia, P.; Mussi, M. et al., The World of Elephants - Proceedings of the 1st International Congress, Rome October 16-20 2001 (Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche), 337–340, ISBN 88-8080-025-6, PDF link, retrieved on 25 July 2008. off-site See also Jeff Lindsay, "Elephants -- or Gomphotheres?" Mormanity (4 December 2008). off-site

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