Becan: A Dramatic Validation of a Book of Mormon Warfare Pattern
By Raymond C. Treat
About 73 B.C., Alma 11 turns over the leadership of the church and the sacred records to his son, Helaman. The Nephites become proud and rich and will not listen to Helaman The leader of the rebellion is Amalickiah. He wants to overthrow the government and become king. Moroni, the chief commander of the Nephite armies, seeing this great threat to freedom, tears a piece from his coat and writes on it, "in memory of our God, our religion and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children." He fastens it to a pole and goes throughout the land enlisting all those that will fight to defend their freedom. Amalickiah and his followers, seeing they are defeated, defect to the Lamanites. Through treachery and deceit, Amalickiah becomes the king of the Lamanites and leads their armies against the Nephites.
Moroni, knowing that the intent of Amalickiah is to become king of both the Nephites and the Lamanites, begins strengthening the cities on the borders between the lands. A description of these fortifications proves to be very interesting:
... the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and arrows at them ... neither could they come upon them, save it was by their place of entrance. Alma 21:152
. . the Lamanites could not got Into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about ... Alma 21:170
... upon the top, of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers; yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man ... upon those works of timbers, there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers ... and they were strong and high; and he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets ... Alma 22:2,3
So we see that the Nephite fortifications consisted of a deep ditch and a high bank with timbers and towers. We know that these fortifications which Moroni made In every city in their borders were unique. It was a tactic never used before by the Nephites (Alma 21:157) and took the Lamanites completely by surprise. Certainly Moroni was inspired to prepare his people in this manner.
Five years later the Lamanites were able to take possession of a line of fortified Nephite cities from the city of Moroni, to the city of Nephihah to the city of Lehi and on to several other cities.
And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified, after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni. Alma 23:33
In accordance with the best information presently available on Book of Mormon geography, this line of fortified Nephite cities extended across the Yucatan Peninsula from the Laguna do Terminos on the Gulf Coast of Campeche to the southern part of Belize (fig. 1). Even though we know the land southward experienced great destruction and upheaval around A.D. 34, we can reasonably expect some evidence today of General Moroni's Inspired fortifications because the land southward was not as disturbed as the land northward (3 Nephi 4:10).
Although most of the life of ancient peoples is not recoverable through archaeology without written records, the sheer size of the ditches and the banks should insure enough preservation to be recognizable today. The ancient Maya site of Becon (bay-KAHN) does have such evidence (Webster, 1974, 1976).
Becan is located in the center of the Yucatan peninsula about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of the well-known Maya site of Tikal (fig. 1). (Tikal also has evidence of fortifications. A 9.5 kilometer or 5.7 mile ditch protects its northern side.) Becan is easily accessible, being only 500 meters from the road which runs east-west across the Yucatan Peninsula. Before this road was constructed, Becan was as inaccessible as most of the sites in the rainforests of the southern Maya lowlands.
Becan was first brought to the attention of the modern world by the Third Campeche Expedition of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1934 (Ruppert and Denison 1943). Webster's report on the fortifications are the result of his work with the three-year Becan Project which began in 1969 and was co-sponsored by the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University and the National Geographic Society.
Becan is a compact site. The ditch around the site is 1890 meters (about 1.2 miles) long. While the site is considered small (46 acres), the fortifications represent one of the largest earth moving projects presently known in Maya archaeology.
About 117,607 cubic meters of fill were taken from the ditch during its original construction. The bank on the inner side of the ditch contained about 80,000 cubic meters of fill. It is estimated that this construction would have required 352,821 man-days of work. This amounts to 70 days work for 5000 men.
The width of the ditch varies from 12 to 27 meters with an average of 16 meters (52.5 feet). The average depth is 5.3 meters or about 17.4 feet. Webster (1976: 88) states: "To judge from the bedrock outcrops which are still visible, the sides of the trough must have been vertical or near vertical, steep enough to keep attackers from clambering up them." It would not have been possible to get out of the ditch without a ladder.
The minimum width of the bank above the ditch is 10 meters (32.8 feet). In many places, it is wider. The average height is estimated to have been about 5 feet, Webster indicates that an attacker In the bottom of the ditch would have had to scale a height of about 37 feet to reach the top of the bank. Webster believes there were wooden palisades on top of the bank. He states: "I suspect that a palisade may well have existed but that all traces of it have been obliterated. About the only remaining evidence would be a line of post holes or soil discolorations along the outer edge of the embankment.
Seven narrow causeways provided entrance into the site. The following verses give us a graphic description of what happened on causeways such as these in Book of Mormon times:
Now behold, the Lamanites could not got into their forts of security, by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance. And thus were the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way, by costing over stones and arrows at them. Thus they were prepared; yea, a body of their most strong men, with their swords and their slings, to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security, by the place of entrance; and thus were prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the captains of the Lamanites brought up their armies before the place of entrance, and began to contend with the Nephites, to get into their place of security; But behold, they were driven back from time to time, insomuch that they were slain, with an immense slaughter. Alma 21:170-174
The Becan fortifications provide a dramatic archaeological validation of the military preparations of General Moroni. The way in which a particular culture wages war is as much a part of that culture as any other trait and helps to identify that culture in time and space. The Becan defenses are unmistakably a part of the pattern initiated by General Moroni. In addition, Becan is in or near the area where the Nephites fortified their cities. Chronologically, the Becan fortifications could have been constructed in the Pakluum phase which is dated about 150 B.C. to A.D. 250. Therefore, not only does Becan provide evidence of a similar pattern but could very well be one of the very cities fortified during the time of General Moroni.
Puleston, D.E. and D.W. Callender, Jr.
1967 Defensive earthworks at Tikal.
Expedition 9 (3):40-48.
Ruppert, K. and J.H. Denison
1943 Archaeological reconnaissance in Campeche,
Quintana Roo and Peten. Carnegie Institution of Washington.
1974 The fortifications of Becan, Campeche, Mexico.
In Archaeological Investigations on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Middle American Research Institute. Publication 31.
1976 Defensive earthworks at Becan Campeche, Mexico.
Middle American Research Institute. Publication 41.
This article taken from Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 1 p. 25-26.