Sep 30, 2011

The Place Where the Sea Divides the Land

Zapatera Island
Lib, one of the more righteous of the Jaredite kings, was having a successful reign and had just destroyed the plague of snakes that had blocked the narrow neck of land for four generations. This event opened up the land southward (which at a future date would be the Nephite lands of Bountiful and Zarahemla) to the Jaredites for hunting. They found that this southern wilderness was full of wild beasts that had been flourishing there for about 400 years, all during the years that the northern access was blocked by the poisonous snakes.
The Jaredites began to hunt there, and seeing the potential, decided to reserve the area as a hunting preserve. If this followed the royal tradition found in other cultures, this hunting privilege would have been restricted to the royalty and their favored subjects. Perhaps Lib became a great hunter much as Nimrod of biblical fame.
Following this successful period of growth and expansion, we read that Lib expanded his domains and built a great city by the narrow neck, at a specific place where the sea divided, or separated, the land. The scripture states: "And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land (Ether 10:20)."
This may have been the very place found by the Limhi expedition when they found evidence of the Jaredite destruction while searching for the city of Zarahemla. They wrote that they had: discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel (Mos. 8:8).”
Can this clue from Moroni aid us in deciphering the puzzle of Book of Mormon geography? It certainly could if we were successfully able to identify the location.
I envision the criteria for this landmark as follows:
It was near the narrow neck of land mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
It was probably north of the narrow neck, as the Jaredites reserved the land to the south for a game preserve.
It probably would have been a feature of one of the two seas that bordered the narrow neck; the eastern sea or the western one.
It would likely have been south of the Jaredite capitol of Moron which was near, and probably north of, the land of Desolation (Desolation included the narrow neck and the adjacent land to the north).
A large Jaredite city was built near this landmark.
The divisive nature of the landmark should have been readily visible from the ground, and it would not have been so large that you couldn't see from one side to the other.
Tipitapa River
I have postulated that the narrow neck of land is the Isthmus of Rivas, on the Pacific side of Nicaragua. If this is the case, the place where the sea divides the land should be near this isthmus.
After investigating the region, I feel that landmark would have been located in one of two places. The first possibility is the Tipitapa River which connects Lake Managua with Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua would have been the sea east of the narrow neck. I had previously read that this river was only a small insignificant stream that was often empty during the dry season. But when I visited the site, it was anything but small.
Coming from Utah, where we don't really have big rivers, I don't have much experience with major river systems. But the Tipitapa River is definitely bigger than the Jordan River in Salt Lake County. It is more on the scale of the Green River in eastern Utah. There is a lot of water flowing south from Lake Managua into Lake Nicaragua.
We crossed the river on the only bridge in the area, so the river doesn't really the two sides today.  But if there had been no modern bridge, this would definitely be a feature that would divide the land - in this case the west valley from its twin eastern half.
Satelite view Zapatera Island
The second possibility is the area around the island of Zapatera, on the northwestern side of Lake Nicaragua (see image above). This is the one I think is the most likely. 
Zapatera Island is a medium sized, volcanic island south from Granada. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel and could easily fit the description of a place where “the sea divides the land.” It is 1 ¼ mile offshore from the mainland and easily accessible by small boat.
What about the great Jaredite city? Is there any evidence for a Jaredite era civilization near the Tipitapa River or the Zapatera mainland? Yes there are several sites and arqueological evidences which may relate to the Jaredites.
Most have been dated later than the time of the Jaredite civilization, but a recent study at the Santa Isabela site suggests that the overall dating of Nicaraguan sites may be too late. One of the problems with the archaelogy of Nicaragua is that it is the least explored of any country in Central America. As a result, many ancient sites still remain undiscovered. Another problem is that there has been so much volcanic disturbance that many older landscapes have been blanketed with ash and volcanic debris – the older the site, the more volcanic cover. Nevertheless, there are a number of archaeological evidences that still suggest a Jaredite presence in the area.
Near the Managua airport, and alongside the Tipitapa River, are the ruins of San Cristobal, a large site that has been dated to as early as 300 BC. This is a tentative dating by ceramic comparison as no satisfactorily charcoal could be found to use for carbon dating. This site contains a number of large mounds, surrounded by numerous lower housing mounds. The ground surface covering the site is littered with pottery sherds, and these cultural evidences go down as deep as 100 cm. There are also 5 other sites reported in the immediate area (Los Placeres, Barrio Domitillo Lugo, Los Torres, El Rodeo, Tepetate).
As far as the Zapatera location is concerned, there are a number of possibilites. First we have the statues of Zarapater Island and vicinity which I have suggested are of Jaredite origin and design. There are also a number of ancient ceremonial sites on the island which probably served a large, as yet unidentified, city on the mainland.
In a newspaper article in the Nuevo Diaro (a Managua newspaper) dated 18 Sep 2007, it was reported that the inhabitants of a village named San Jose del Mombacho had recently been selling fine pieces of pottery from an undisclosed site. They had apparently located a new archaeological site and were profiting from their find by selling the artifacts on the black market. This village is located on the mainland just across the channel from Zapatera Island at the base of the Mombacho volcano.
The newspaper article also reported that in 1570 the Volcan Mombacho had erupted and a dibris avalanche from the volcano flowed down and covered the ancient city of Mombacho killing all 400 Indian inhabitants. These reports would suggest that there is a site located in the area that hasn't been discovered, or that may have been covered by volcanic debris.
Hopefully, future investigations will more clearly defined the ancient sites located in this unexplored area of Nicaragua.  Such finds would validate my hypothesis that the Istmus of Rivas is the narrow neck of land.   

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