In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Friday, May 23, 2014

From Teotihuacan to Tikal: Fire Is Born and the Book of Mormon

Stone Monument from Tikal representing the
arrival of Fire Is Born 378 AD
So I was recently directed to an interesting article from the August 2007 National Geographic titled, "The Maya: Glory and Ruin" by Guy Gugliotta.  In his article he speaks of a few different cases that changed the history and outcome of the Mayans.  One of the occasions was in regards to inscriptions on Stela 31 in Tikal that gives the date of January 8, 378 AD and speaks of four different people.  I will list these for people in hopes to give a better understanding of the circumstances that took place and to hopefully clarify an incorrect assumption I have previously seen tied to this story and to point out a convergence with what is taking place in the Book of Mormon during the exact same timeframe.

Not in any particular order the first person is Spear-thrower Owl who was a king at Teotihuacan (near modern Mexico City).  The second is his son Curled Snout (also known as C'ahc ay ayinon) who was a young man at the time this takes place.  The third is a military regent or commander under Spear-thrower Owl named Fire Is Born (also known as Siyaj K'ak').  And the fourth person is Great Jaguar Paw king of Tikal.  According to what archaeologists and Mayan experts have been able to put together based off of stela inscriptions it appears that on January 8, 378 AD under the instructions of Spear-thrower Owl he sent his military commander Fire Is Born and his army to Waka in central Peten.  Along with Fire Is Born was the kin's son Curled Snout.  Within a week of this date (January 16th, 378 AD) it appears that Fire Is Born and his military regiment along with support from garrisons of fighters from Waka traveled around 50 miles east to Tikal the most influential city in the region and conquered the city.  It is noted that on this same day the king of Tikal Great Jaguar Paw died, more than likely during this conflict. 

At this point a new era begins; Fire Is Born becomes an ambassador in Tikal taking the place of Great Jaguar Paw.  Although he has placed the king's son Curled Snout as the new King of Tikal, he is probably taking an ambassador/king or lord position until Curled Snout is considered competent enough to lead (Curled Snout would have been only 20 years old at the time).  It is during this time that notable changes take place not just in Tikal but also throughout the region.  Stela and shrines erected to previous rulers of Tikal were all defaced and new ones placed which show figures wearing Teotihuacan military regalia.  Fire Is Born spread the influence of Tikal throughout the Mayan lowlands as far away as Palenque, Uaxactun and other cities.  At one location a stela depicting a warrior guard in Teotihuacan garb is placed in front of a tomb in which archaeologists found the remains of two women, one pregnant, a child, and an infant.  Experts have concluded that these were the remains of Uaxactun's royal family, slain by Tikal's forces.  The king of Uaxactun was presumably taken to Tikal and sacrificed there. 

Mormon the Nephite military leader
and prophet
With this great sweep of military conquest from Teotihuacan to Tikal and surrounding areas around 378 AD it has been pointed out that this timeframe correlates well with what is taking place in the Book of Mormon  during this same period.  We read in Mormon 2 around 350 AD that on the heels of winning a few battles and regaining possession of the "lands of our inheritance" Mormon all the sudden makes a treaty with the Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers, "in which we did get the lands of our inheritance divided.  And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward and we did give the Lamanites all the land southward."

Why would the Nephites on the heels of a victory which gave them there lands of inheritance, then sign a treaty splitting part of their lands of inheritance?  Well if the Mesoamerican LGT (Limited Geography Theory) model is a correct setting for the Book of Mormon this would place the Nephites in or around the narrow neck of land known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec thus placing them right between the new encroaching superpower of Teotihuacan (Southern Mexico) and the lowland Maya civilizations (lowlands Guatemala) a perfect spot to be wiped away from either side (or both).  Now Fire Is Born is more than likely not anyone of note in the pages of the Book of Mormon but the influence that he brought with his conquering military and the implications that followed more than likely were part of the cause that eventually lead to the treaty and probably the eventual wiping out of the Nephite civilization.  This group of Teotihuacan sounds very similar to what we would know as the Gadianton Robbers also a power from the north (or northwest).   The Book of Mormon notes similar circumstances to those noted above about the handling of royal family of Uaxactun.  It states in Mormon 4:14,

"And they did also march forward against the city Teancum, and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her, and did take many prisoners both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods."

Brand Gardner author and speaker on Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican studies has noted that, "In the greater context of Mesoamerican history, there is every reason to suppose that Mormon was concerned with militaristic influences coming from Teotihuacan.  The time period ascribed to Mormon's last Gadianton robbers directly parallels the time frame for the expansion of Teotihuacan and their particular brand of militarism throughout the Mesoamerican region.  The rise of the Gadianton influence beginning after 200 AD  in the Book of Mormon is a direct parallel to the rise of Teotihuacan's expanding influence, and the time period that saw the construction of many of the cement buildings in that city, including the temple of the feathered serpent which is now understood as dedicated to the cult of war.  This influence increased in geographic spread and physical presence from about this time until the time of Mormon, and continued after the close of the Book of Mormon.

Map of Mesoamerica

The epigraphic record of Tikal records the installation of a new ruler, Siyaj K'ak', who founds a new dynasty in 378 AD.  By iconographic and epigraphic representation, it is absolutely certain that he came from Teotihuacan, and his descendants thereafter ruled in Tikal. Many sites of the time witness either a change in ruling dynasties or an increase in militarism that is represented in new ways that clearly point to Teotihuacan influence.  When we place known Mesoamerican history side by side with Mormon's spiritual history, we find in both accounts militarism exacerbated by a small contingent of a foreign element from the lands northward.  The Book of Mormon timing for this description corresponds directly to the secular history of the expansion of Teotihuacan throughout  all of Mesoamerica, but particularly the Maya region to their south."

I have seen noted that by some LDS Mesoamerican geography followers that the name of C'ahc ay ayinon especially the "ayinon" section is close to the name Aaron who was a Lamanite commander according to Mormon 2:9.  Some have tried to tie him into Fire Is Born but upon further review it appears that C'ahc ay ayinon was not Fire Is Born but was Curled Snout the child king that was placed on the throne in Tikal (Fire Is Born is Siyaj K'ak').  This would place him after the time of Aaron in the Book of Mormon which makes any sort of correlation or convergence on that front highly unlikely.

Stela 31 Tikal
In closing we definitely have some conversion points to look into for further study with the parallel warfare sweep found throughout the land in the Book of Mormon and in Mayan history.  Another interesting thought is that both Fire Is Born and Mormon are from the lands north and would more than likely be from prominent families.  How did this assisted in the influence both held with their contemporaries?  As I noted above although we don't specifically have Fire IS Born named in the Book of Mormon we must also keep in mind that the first thing that he did was to destroy the stela of the conquered cities and deface objects virtually doing away with their previous history.  This would be similar to the burning of records found in the Book of Mormon and also not allowing the enemies history to survive.  Without these surviving histories we would have a hard time confirming any names to Lamanite or Gadianton leaders of the time.  I would also like to note that some Mayan scholars still debate about his role suggesting that Fire Is Born came from Kaminaljuyu (central highlands Maya) and merely had appropriated symbols of prestige and legitimacy from Teotihuacan.  This would make Fire Is Born coming from lands associated with the Land of Nephi which was Lamanite territory (although this seems to be the losing side of the debate).  With that said as believers in the Book of Mormon we should not fear history and should welcome these sparks of light on Mesoamerican history when they come.  They bring excitement and many times further insight and although  they are not the type of things that we should try to build a testimony on, they sure can create an environment that allows for continual study, faith and prayer in order to obtain that testimony.



  1. The assumption that the narrow neck is between Tikal and Teotihuacan is I think questionable. Even looking for that geographical feature is misleading because what is being looked for is open to all sorts of speculation. Looking for civilization is I think a better approach. What if the Peten, with cities like El Mirador, Tikal etc is the land of Zerahemla with their correct lowland location, antiquity, culture, Israelite looking temples, highways and fortifications? What if Mormon was trying to defend Tikal and associated cities? The tie is there between the Mexicans and Kaminaljuyu. What if Cumorah is in Yucatan? The Jaradite records indicate it cannot be on an east coast. The years in question are exactly in line with the same events in the BofM it seems impossible that another major conflict was going on elsewhere in Mesoamerica against the Nephites. I don't know of a history in warfare where there were more than two sides involved, splinter groups will chose to support one side or the other, and maybe fight each other after the major conflict is decided. Mark.

  2. There is some debate in the scholarly community as to whether Spear thrower owl really came for Teotihucan. Some argue that he came from a local polity that just hasn't been found yet. there is no definite link to Teo.

  3. Mark thanks for the comment. The main point of the post was to point out the time frame correlations involved not necessarily to focus on the specific geography and cities involved just the general area.

    I would also agree that the debate is still taking place as to the role Spear Thrower Owl played and where he came from. Brant may have been a bit to forward to present it as fact when indeed it isn't but in his defense with the military regalia and shield type and number of other stela presenting these same things it tends to lean much more towards Teotihuacan than anywhere else. But even if it isn't and is actually Kaminaljuyu then it still fits the story line with the Lamanites coming down into Nephite territory.