Book Review: “Ancient American Indians”

This was published in 1991, which was the year of Paul Cheeseman’s passing while he was serving as a missionary in Palmyra. As my study continues, I am still trying to figure what his mission was, and if he served at the Hill Cumorah or just around Palmyra. It would be kind of ironic being that he was part of the group that believed the Hill Cumorah in New York was the “secondary” hill.

But the few sources I have studied it almost seems that Cheeseman had a heart for the North American study of the Book of Mormon (before it was labeled the Heartland Model). AND that he was criticized for it by his peers.

As a reminder, Wikipedia says that Paul Cheeseman was an archeologist and professor of religion at Brigham Young University, and spent a lot of his time in search of Book of Mormon Evidence with that group. In fact, he is the man that appears in the video “Ancient America Speaks”, produced in 1974 where he goes all through Mesoamerica and shows the ruins and how they connect to the Book of Mormon. (One of my favorite VHS tapes to show on my mission).

What led me to this book began with an article in 1975 Ensign entitled “Transatlantic Crossings: A New Look”. First off, the Ensign rarely gets into physical evidence of the Book of Mormon, they stick to the spiritual side of things…but then, this is 1975.

In this article, Paul Cheeseman goes into a meeting of diffusionists he attended where non-Mormons, led by Dr. Joseph Mahan (who we will be writing more about in the future) all brought together evidence that there was a religious and advanced pre-Colombian presence here in North America. What threw me off about that article was not ONE lick of evidence talked about Central or Mesoamerica.

15 years later comes this book “Ancient American Indians”. The introduction reads as follows: “The author is of the opinion that students and scholars have neglected the studies of North American Indian cultures before the Spanish conquest. Some have believed North America had little to offer regarding ancient American studies because there are no magnificent stone pyramids. Therefore, the author has devoted three years to investigative, on-site studies, in over thirty five states, photographing and cataloging the better-known ruins and civilizations of pre-Columbian North America”

Now my question is WHO are these “students” and “scholars” that are neglecting North America? The ones in academia in general? Or the ones down the hall from his office? I don’t honestly know.

I do know that he got criticism for this book by his peers. His book was panned by the likes of Martin H. Raish and John L. Sorenson (main members of the Meso-club) as “a work of shoddy scholarship and hurts more then helps a true understanding of the Book of Mormon”. My question is why?

The book is simply a list of sites, artifacts and history that most of us who study the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon already know (the Bat Creek stone, Decalogue Stone, Cahokia, etc). I have admittedly read half of it and sped-read the other half, simply because I already knew the material. Not sure how it “hurts” an understand of the Book of Mormon. Maybe because it “hurts” the Mesoamerican theory. There are plenty of Central American pieces riddled all through the book, but then again, it is a 2014 reprint of the 1991 publication.

Probably the most interesting quote I picked up was this: “It is the authors opinion that whenever there are discoveries which might possess even the slightest religious overtones, some scholars brand the research as fraudulent, simply to protect their academic reputation”. I wonder if that same fear comes to those at BYU when ever something from North America is discovered.

Go get this book!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Ancient American Indians”

  1. Hello Kels,
    Never knew Paul but Millie lives in our ward, In fact she is out “Mini”. I had been told that her husband believed that Lehi landed on the Chilian coast, but she just gave us a copy of her book “Ancient American Indians” and I was shocked to read about their North American research. Had intended on introducing her to the Heartland information. She was way ahead of us.
    Kelly Peterson


    1. Thanks Kelly. I did notice from others who were kind of fighting back the 2-Hill Cumorah theory (in the 40s and 50s) that they felt Lehi still landed much further south (like Chile) and the battles still made their way up to New York. That is interesting to hear that side it. Thanks Kelly


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