How to Make Nephite Cement

by W. Vincent Coon, MS

I took some limestone from the Onondaga escarpment near the Clarendon-Linden fault in western New York. The Onondaga escarpment is a massive and readily accessible source of limestone in the genuine Book of Mormon "north country", adjacent to scriptural Cumorah. (D&C 128:20) The Native American name "Onondaga" is strikingly like the name "Onandagus" (variously spelled). This name was revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith to the brethren of Zion's Camp. (See the various "Zelph" accounts, .e.g. Times and Seasons, January 1, 1846, pg. 1076)

Onondaga Limestone Escarpment

The Onondaga escarpment “…the more part of it is one solid mass…broken up…found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments…both above the earth and beneath” (Helaman 14:21-22)

Limestone and Reeds

Onondaga limestone and reeds

I pulverized the limestone to powder and heated it to incandescence, converting some of the limestone (calcium carbonate) to calcium oxide. Ancient North Americans capable of smelting copper, could have produced temperatures hot enough to make moisture resistant lime plaster. Burnt lime "plaister" was known to the Israelites of old. (Leviticus 14:42, Isaiah 33:12) Hebrew scripture, in fact, may have inspired Nephite "cement".

I then made a "wattle and daub" type structure of reeds cemented with clay.

I mixed the cooked powdered limestone with water (it warmed exothermically as I mixed in the water). I applied the moist paste to the exterior of the reed and clay model. When dry, the cooked lime plaster formed a moisture resistant coating on the exterior of the model shelter.

"Wattle and daub" type structures are known to have been made by many ancient peoples around the world, particularly in areas where timber was scarce. Such was the condition described in Helaman 3:5-7. The Nephites allowed, "whatsoever tree should spring up" in the lands northward, "that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings." As "timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by way of shipping." (Helaman 3:9-10) It should be clear that the "tents and .. houses of cement" set up in the land northward, were not intended to be permanent dwellings. In time, timber structures would take their place. In fact, "houses of cement" are never more mentioned in the Book of Mormon land northward, but timber cities are. Mormon 5:5

A 19th Century definition of "cement" is "any substance applied in a soft or glutinous state to the surfaces of solid bodies to make them cohere firmly". (Oxford English Dictionary)

Wattle and Daub Model

Model "wattle and daub" structure with moisture resistant coating

Wattle and Daub Model Shelter

The mound builders of North America are known to have made "wattle and daub" houses using materials that qualify for the definition of "cement" in use in Joseph Smith's day.  The Bible makes mention of "daubed" structures. (Ezekiel 13:15)

In there eagerness to point out Mesoamerican equivalents of "cement", some LDS apologists seem to forget the stone box which contained the plates. This stone box was imbedded in a New York hillside, and was held together with "some kind of cement". (JS-H 1:52) Don’t you think it is more likely that this moisture resistant "cement" was manufactured from material found locally in western New York, rather than from some source thousands of miles away? Do you think that Moroni stoked a high temperature fire, and risked signaling his whereabouts in order to process ground limestone? I think it is far more likely that he used materials already available and prepared (not necessarily by himself) in his northern American homeland. I think it is far more likely that Mormon prepared and laid up for his son Moroni, many essentials.

Mound Builder Type Wattle and Daub Dwelling

A Native American "cement" house of a type made by the mound builders of North America. (Photo by H. Roe)

So what became of all the plastered houses made by ancient Israelites in their promised lands? Subject to the extremes of a temperate climate, not to mention the destructive activities of men, these types of dwellings simply do not last through the centuries! You would have to really know what you're looking for to find the slightest remnant of one.  You might search for some surviving trace of a regular pattern in the ground - the remains of postholes and pieces of what might appear to be only limestone or clay but on closer inspection might reveal traces of fiber of some kind in them.

There are a lot of things mentioned in the Bible that do not appear to be present in the Land of Israel. For instance: what became of all the gold and silver articles that were so common in the days of King Solomon? (1 Kings 10:16-29) Scripture answers this question! (1 Kings 14:26; 15:18) Compare this situation to the disappearance of treasure in Book of Mormon lands - the American Land of Israel. (Helaman 13:18, Mormon 1:18; 2:10)

Isaiah reminds, "…the multitude of their terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away…" (2 Nephi 26:18, Isaiah 29:5)

Professor Hugh Nibley stated:

"In view of the nature of their civilization one should not be puzzled if the Nephites had left us no ruins at all. People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear, and do not realize that the ancients almost never built of stone. Many a great civilization which has left a notable mark in history and literature has left behind not a single recognizable trace of itself. We must stop looking for the wrong things." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, pg. 431)

Professor Nibley also observed:

"A closer approximation to the Book of Mormon picture of Nephite culture is seen in the [mound builder] earth and palisade structures of the Hopewell and Adena culture areas than in the later stately piles of stone in Mesoamerica…" (The Prophetic Book of Mormon', pp.272-273)

Scripture before impressive ruins - lest we be guilty of Promised Land identity theft!

Copyright 2010 by W. Vincent Coon

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