Historian hopes there is truth to story of Book of Mormon-era artifacts found in Manti cave

By Max Higbee

Staff writer

Oct. 6, 2017

 

MANTI—Artifacts discovered in a cave behind the Manti LDS Temple may have been left there by an ancient people that figure significantly in the history of the American continent as believed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  woman asserts, despite academic non-consensus about the origins of the items.

Utahna Jessop, a field researcher and teacher with the Ancient Historical Research Association, presented her ideas at a presentation delivered at Manti City Hall on Sept. 20. Jessop said believed that a cave full of Indigenous American artifacts found by John Brewer in 1955 was actually a repository and tomb for ancient Jaredites, a people mentioned in the Book of Mormon, a piece of scripture for Latter-day Saints.

Despite the lack of certain items purportedly left in the cave , and despite conflicting conclusions by scholars, which include a charge of possible forgery, Jessup says she hopes parts of the story may still be shown to be true.

“I’m a born skeptic myself, so I approach this whole thing with an attitude of ‘Oh, I’m not too sure about that,’” Jessop said. “But the more I studied, the more I saw that, ‘How can you refute it now, when we have actual scientific testing done, what can you say?’ Now, granted, it would help a lot if we could find the cave, if we could find the bodies, and then we’ll know for positive sure. What to say to the skeptics? ‘Do your research.’”

According to the Book of Mormon, when God scattered the people and confounded their languages at the Tower of Babel, a certain prophet and his family were commanded to build submarine-like boats (i.e., “barges”) and travel to the new world.

There, they grew into a mighty civilization that Mormon historian Hugh Nibley said was comparable to that of the Mongols. They flourished from the time they arrived in the Americas until their annihilation, through civil war, in 550 B.C. According to the book, they numbered over two million people before their destruction.

Jessop claims that the annihilation described in the Book of Ether does not require that every last Jaredite was killed, proposing that there could have been many individuals far away from the battlefield. She cited Brigham Young as having said that there had been Nephite and Lamanite (other Book of Mormon peoples), and Jaredite presences in the Sanpete Valley over the years.

She relayed the story of John Brewer, a Central Utah man who claimed that an Native American tomb he had found contained tools, pottery, brass bells, ancient records and mummies of people measuring over 8 feet tall.

The records, Brewer said, were carved on metal plates bound together by rings, similar to Joseph Smith’s description of his “golden plates.” Brewer hypothesized that the records were classified according to their importance, with the most important records on gold, then in decreasingly valuable metals, then stone and finally clay.

He described the mummies as large, one male and one female, the man with red hair and a beard, the woman with blonde hair and a golden breastplate. Many of the Brewer plates, as they have come to be called, are in museum collections in Utah.

Jessop discussed the academic response to the Brewer artifacts, namely that of three professors at BYU and the University of Utah who had considered the case, two had decided it was a complete fraud. The third believed there was a possibility that the cave and the plates were what John Brewer claimed they were.

One “gold” plate from the cave had been tested to reveal its age and metallurgy, and was found to be a very recent creation made of brass similar in chemical composition to the metal found in bullet casings. However, in the testing of pieces of bark used to wrap a stone box with metal plates inside, the bark was found to be of the fourth century B.C.

Jessop cited a meeting between Brewer and LDS general authorities, including Apostle Mark E. Peterson, from which Jessop reported they verified Brewer’s claims and started plans to have the cave excavated by archaeologists working for BYU.

Brewer’s cave is behind the Manti Temple, in an area that Brigham Young proclaimed to have been visited by the Book of Mormon figure Moroni, who dedicated the hill to have a temple on it.