An anachronism is something that is historically out of place. Like if someone claimed to have a document where Abraham Lincoln was talking on a cell phone. The CES Letter claims there are anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Let's take a look.


Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times. Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC - 421 AD?

Unofficial apologists claim victories in some of these items but closer inspection reveals significant problems. It has been documented that apologists have manipulated wording so that steel is not steel, sheep become never-domesticated bighorn sheep, horses become tapirs, etc.

CES Letter, Page 11



The Letter to a CES Director make claims of anachronisms. An anachronism is "a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists." However, such claims ignore valid contradictory evidences in every case and the fact that language translation may make literal interpretations impossible. Also, many things existed in ancient America that have yet to be discovered. The most common charges include the following (click on item for more information):



  • Bones of domesticated cattle have been reported from different caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
  • John L. Sorenson explained: "As with many other animals in the Book of Mormon, it is likely that these Book of Mormon terms are the product of reassigning familiar labels to unfamiliar items...The Miami Indians, for example, were unfamiliar with the buffalo and simply called them 'wild cows.' Likewise the explorer DeSoto called the buffalo simply vaca, cow. The Delaware Indians named the cow after the deer, and the Miami tribe labeled sheep, when they first saw them, ‘looks-like-a-cow.’”
  • The Spaniards noticed herds of deer similar to our herds of cattle.

  • It is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.



  • It is not certain that the "chariots" had wheels. It might be assumed but it is strange that there are no references to wagons, carriages, or carts in the Book of Mormon even though they are all mentioned in the Bible and were very common in Joseph Smith's world. 
  • Chariot use among the Book of Mormon peoples is mentioned only twice, both times in association with King Lamoni (Alma 18 and 20). No other king is mentioned have a personal chariot. If chariots were common this is unexpected.
  • The other reference is in conjunction with an effort to consolidate resources in preparation to battle the Lamanites:

And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies (3 Nephi 3:22; emphasis added).

  • The context was for the chariots to assist in bringing in the “grain and all their substance.” Neither horses nor chariots are mentioned in the ensuing battle (3 Nephi 4:7–14).
  • The precise animal and conveyance reference in the Book of Mormon are not known. The original writer (Alma) and the compiler (Mormon) would not have possessed any firsthand knowledge of Old Testament chariots. Joseph’s understanding would have been limited to Biblical descriptions.
  • Wheels would have been made from wood, which would not have endured over the centuries. Clearly, the wheel was not widely used, if it was used at all. 
  • The use of chariots as described in the Book of Mormon is different from their uses as described in the Bible. They are never mentioned in any of the wars or battles in the Book of Mormon. However, they are commonly highlighted in Biblical accounts (see Exodus 14:25; Judges 4:15). David had “a thousand chariots” (2 Samuel 8:4; see also Exodus 14:7). The chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.
  • Excavated toys demonstrate that the wheel was known. This is from about 450 A.D. discovered in Mesoamerica.

    Dated to about AD 450

  • Researchers acknowledge that it is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent. Current excavations are very limited compared to the areas that could be explored in order to more fully understand the early peoples of the Americas, including their modes of transportation.


  • Elephants are only mentioned once in the Book of Mormon in connection with the Jaredites who arrived in the New World between 2600 and 2100 BC. Within the Jaredite record (the Book of Ether), they are not prominent.
  • There is no mention of elephants during the later Nephite period. It appears that within a few centuries they became extinct. While there may have been large numbers in the Jaredite period, their extinction would support that overall their numbers were fewer making it more difficult to find archaeological evidence of their existence millennia later.
  • We don’t know where the Jaredites lived so it is impossible to excavate specifically to look for the bones of elephants. An infinitesimally small portion of possible geographical locations where the Jaredites may have lived have been explored by archaeologists. 
  • The bones of elephantine mammals have been found in Ecuador and elsewhere in South America some dating to 3700 years ago.
  • Evidence for the survival of the elephant can be found in Native American myths and traditions. Oral traditions have been documented for Native American groups from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico persuading some scholars that they are based upon a core memory of actual historical encounters with elephant-like species who may have survived into the region as late as 3,000 years ago.
  • The Book of Mormon describes animals as existing several thousand years ago. It is impossible to prove they did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.



  • Goats are mentioned among the Book of Mormon peoples three times, once by the Jaredites (Ether 9:18). Later, after their arrival in the America’s Lehi’s family encountered “the goat and the wild goat” as they traveled in the wilderness in the land southward (1 Nephi 18:25). Sometime later, Enos wrote that the Nephites raised “flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats” (Enos 1:21).
  • There is no indication that Lehi brought goats, but the Jaredites may have done so.
  • References to fauna in the Book of Mormon could actually be different animals that had a similar appearance. The Red Brocket deer, Mazama Americana has but a single goat-like horn and are indigenous to MesoAmerica.

Goats brocket dear pic

  • Evidence of goats that were associated with pre-Columbian man has been excavated in caves in the Yucatan, Mexico.
  • Book of Mormon references to “goat and the wild goat” is a curious distinction that parallels the Bible that lists them separately as clean animals that could be eaten under the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4–5). It is unlikely that Joseph Smith would have understood this distinction.
  • As with all accusations of anachronisms, it is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent. Current excavations have uncovered only a small fraction of the information required to definitively declare an animal did not exit.



  • The use of iron among the Book of Mormon peoples is mentioned five times (2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Mosiah 11:3, Mosiah 11:8, Ether 10:23). The last reference is in about 170 B.C. in Mosiah 11. There is no clear reason why it is not mentioned anywhere in the remaining Book of Mormon.
  • Iron was known to exist among later inhabitants of the Americas. Early Spaniards recorded that Aztecs used iron-studded clubs.
  • Artifacts have been discovered preserved that are unquestionably of iron. A pottery vessel dating to about A.D. 300 found at Teotihuacan, and apparently used for smelting, contained a "metallic-looking" mass. Analyzed chemically, it proved to contain copper and iron.
  • Peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley.
  • It is impossible to prove iron did not exist so claiming it is an anachronism could only be done based upon unprovable assumptions.


  • The words “horse” or “horses” are found fourteen times in the Book of Mormon. In light of the numerous passages speaking of group travel, migration, and war where horses might be naturally mentioned, this seems to be a surprisingly low number.
  • Critics who claim that “horses” in the Book of Mormon are anachronisms fail to explain why the role of horses in those societies is so different from their usage in Joseph Smith’s day.  Horses and chariots are associated with travel, but the horses are never ridden. There is no mention of horses being used in agricultural activities. Also, horses are never used in battle or as a cavalry.
  • Multiple verses group horses with animals used for food suggesting that the horses, whatever species they were, may have been a food source.
  • Definitions of the word "horse" may have been expanded to include new meanings. The process of “translating” the plates was never explained so the word horse may have originated with Joseph or through a process involving the scribes. For example, LDS anthropologist John L. Sorenson suggested that one candidate for “horses” are "tapirs." A Mesoamerican type of tapir (tapiris bairdii) can grow to be over six feet long weighing more than 600 pounds. Some anthropologists and zoologists have noted the tapir's features to be similar to those of a horse or a donkey.
  • On three codex-style painted vases from the late-classic period of Mayan culture, ca. 700-850 A.D., there appears to be evidence that Mayans did in fact saddle and ride deer. These ancients used non-horse animals in ways that we today think of as "horse-like." This is not just speculation, real evidence exists showing this to be true. Click here
  • The late British anthropologist, M.F. Ashley Montague, a non-LDS scholar who taught at Harvard, suggested that the horse never became extinct in America. According to Montague, the size of post-Columbian horses provides evidence that the European horses bred with early American horses.
  • Some archaeological evidence for horses has been found. In 1957, at Mayapan  in the Yucatan horse remains were found in the ground at a depth consistent with a pre-Columbian origin. Other similar remains have been found by non-LDS researchers.  Multiple other excavation sites report horse remains including cave excavations in 1978 in the Mayan lowlands.
  • It is  possible that horses were present but their remains have yet to be excavated in abundance. The Bible states that Abraham had camels while in Egypt, yet archaeologists long believed this to be an anachronism. Camels were thought to be absence from Egypt until the Greek and Roman eras. However, more recent research indicates that camels were used by the Egyptians from pre-historic times.
  • It is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.


  • It is likely that the Jaredites brought sheep with them to American, although they are not mentioned by name specifically (see Ether 6:4). They may have been among the “flocks” mentioned in Ether 9:18.
  • The apparent recovery of sheep wool from a pre-Columbian burial site near Puebla (southeast of Mexico City) indicates that sheep existed in that period.
  • Petroglyphs from Mexico and the southwestern United States depict many prehistoric drawings of sheep. These strongly support that the association of sheep and man occurred in America before this animal was brought over beginning in 1493 with Columbus’ second voyage.
  • Research indicates that sheep originally crossed to North America over the Bering land bridge from Siberia where at one point the population in North America peaked in the millions.
  • It is impossible to prove that sheep did not exist for several reasons.  The exact creature being referred to is unknown due to the differences in languages. Also, excavations have uncovered only a small fraction of the information needed to identify the precise animals that lived anciently.


  • Linen and silk are textiles mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Alma 4:6). Traditional silk as harvested from the mulberry silkworm does not seem to have been present in ancient Americas.  However, wild silk, which is produced by caterpillars of other species like the Gloveria paidii, a moth, and the Eucheira socialis, a butterfly, have been found in the Oaxaca area of Mexico.
  • Historical documents from early conquerors include several references to "silk." One type was of thread spun from the fine hair on the bellies of rabbits.
  • Franciscan missionary Padre Motolinia reported the presence of a wild silkworm. Other reports indicate that wild silk was spun and woven in certain areas of Mesoamerica. Another type came from the pod of the ceiba tree.
  • An 1777 document, an excavation of a pre-Columbian burial site is described as containing wild silk.
  • Bernal Diaz, who served with Cortez, described that the native Mexican garments were made of "henequen which is like linen." The fiber of the maguey plant, from which henequen was manufactured, closely resembles the flax fiber used to make European linen.
  • Linens and silks in the Book of Mormon, whatever their actual composition, would not have endured well over the centuries. Hence, it is impossible to prove they did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.


  • Steel is mentioned only five times in the Book of Mormon, once in the Book of Ether (7:9), and four times in the Nephite records (1 Ne. 4:9, 1 Ne. 16:18, 2 Ne. 5:15 and Jar. 1:8).
  • Nephite steel is not mentioned after about 400 B.C (Jarom 1:8). That it was not discovered when the Spaniards arrived is not surprising.
  • Two of the references refer to Near Eastern weapons of the early sixth century B.C. 1 Ne. 4.9 states that the blade of Laban’s sword was “of most precious steel.” Nephi’s Near Eastern bow was “made of fine steel” (1 Ne. 16.18). Such references are not anachronistic; blacksmiths in the Middle Eastern were making steel by 1000 B.C.
  • Archaeologists have discovered evidence of sophisticated iron technology from the island of Cyprus. One interesting example was a curved iron knife found in an eleventh century tomb. Metallurgist Erik Tholander analyzed the weapon and found that it was made of “quench-hardened steel.”
  • Another discovery included a carburized iron sword near the ancient site of Jericho. The one meter long sword with a bronze shaft dates to the time of king Josiah, who would have been a contemporary of Lehi. This find has been described as “spectacular” since it is apparently “the only complete sword of its size and type from this period yet discovered in Israel.”
  • The absence of the mention of "steel" after the Book of Jarom (fifth book in the Book of Mormon) supports that its use diminished or vanished. Regardless, it is impossible to prove steel did not exist simply because it has yet to be discovered. 


  • “Swine” are mentioned only once in the Book of Mormon, a species of animal present among the Jaredites (Ether 9:18). Nephite swine are not mentioned.
  • The peccary is not a member of the pig family, but is often confused with the species and was present during Book of Mormon times.

swinelike peccary

  • That swine were not mentioned, but that peccaries were likely present supports that narrow interpretations of the species of animals mentioned is not always justified.
  • Two distinct species of peccary live in Mesoamerica and were hunted for food.
  • As already observed, it is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.


  • Wheat species commonly grown today are not known to have been present in the new world during Book of Mormon times. However, a similar plant call “amaranth” was present and was cultivated as leaf vegetables, cereals, and ornamental plants.
  • Amaranth has a similar nutritional profile to some grains. The Aztec Indians obtained up to 80% of their daily caloric needs from amanranth.  

amaranth like wheat

  • Amaranth is often called a "pseudograin" because it can be ground into flour like wheat or other seed grains, which biologically are grasses. Today, amaranth can be used to replace wheat flour in gluten-intolerant patients.
  • Amaranth was grown and used in Mexico at the time the Spaniards arrived.
  • Other possible pseudograins can be identified, but amanranth is the most likely candidate for “wheat” in the Book of Mormon.
  • As seen with multiple other anachronism accusations, it is impossible to prove something did not exist. The process becomes more difficult if the translation of languages is involved because it may be impossible to accurately identify the thing reportedly absent.