Evidence #25 | September 19, 2020

Early Ceramics

Post contributed by


Scripture Central


The approximate timing of the Jaredite’s arrival in the New World coincides with the development of ceramics in locations near the center of Olmec culture (which some researchers have associated with the Jaredites).

Ceramics as Temporal Markers

Ceramics are generally important temporal markers for a society because they are plentiful in the archaeological record, can usually be dated with confidence, and (unlike many organic materials) are often found in a good state of preservation. Attestations of unfired and low-fired clay and eventually ceramics in the archaeological record often represent major milestones that coincide with a civilization’s development from primitive hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers, to chiefdoms, and eventually to state-level societies.

Ceramics throughout the Americas

Caral, 27 kilometers inland from the Pacific coast of Peru (about 200 kilometers north of Lima), is a preceramic urbanization. It dates to ca. 2,600 BC and is often called the earliest city in the Americas.1 As many as 30 preceramic sites have been identified in the Huaura, Supe, Pativilca, and Fortaleza valleys in the “Norte Chico” of coastal Peru.2 Complex ceramics are attested in Andean archaeology in the Chavin culture, ca. 1,700 BC.3 Watson Brake in northern Louisiana is a preceramic urbanization that dates to ca. 3,400 BC.4 Early ceramics are attested at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Poverty Point, Louisiana, which dates to ca. 1,700 BC.5 Regional trade in ceramics throughout the southeastern United States can be dated ca. 1,500 BC.

Ceramics in Mesoamerica

In Mesoamerica, early ceramics have been excavated in the Tehuacan Valley, Puebla, and the Oaxaca Valley, Oaxaca.6 They date to around 2,200 BC.7 By around 1,900 BC, complex ceramics were being thrown and fired in the Soconusco region of the Chiapas and Guatemalan coasts, including sites in Veracruz, such as San Lorenzo and La Venta.8 The potters who created these beautiful pieces were highly skilled.

Bowl (Tecomate) 12th-10th century B.C. The thick walls of this example suggests that it might be from one of the Gulf Coast Olmec sites such as San Lorenzo or La Venta. Image and description via metmuseum.org.

Possible Ceramics in Jaredite History

According to the book of Ether, the Jaredite saga began at the Tower of Babel, which traditional biblical scholars have dated to ca. 2250 BC (after Noah’s flood and before Abraham).9 This time frame is, broadly speaking, consistent with the chronology published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its most recent edition of its scriptural canon.10 After the founding Jaredite colony left what the text describes as the “great tower” (Ether 1:3), they traveled through the wilderness and camped at a seashore for a number of years (Ether 2:14) before embarking on an epic 344-day journey across the ocean to the New World (Ether 6:11). Their first capital, Moron, was on elevated terrain,11 and may have been located at or near what is known today as highland Oaxaca.12

The Jaredites were an advanced civilization for their era (Ether 10:22–28), which means they would likely have fired clay to produce ceramics. Textual evidence that the Jaredites were familiar with ceramic materials possibly comes from the “dish” metaphor repeated six times in Ether 2 and 6:

And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish. (Ether 2:17)

And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah … (Ether 6:7)

While this possible reference to ceramics (dishes can come from a variety of materials) could be due to Moroni’s influence on the text as its abridger, it is quite possible (and perhaps more likely) that it derives from the underlying Jaredite record itself. If so, then there is at least some evidence that the Jaredites may have had knowledge and interest in the production of ceramic materials.

It is also worth noting that ceramics sometimes held cosmic significance among the pre-Columbian Maya. For example, the following lip-to-lip bowls (AD 150–300, from structure 7, Santa Rita Corozal, Belize) which were on display at the Maya exhibit in The Natural History Museum of Utah were accompanied by the following description: “In a ‘lip-to-lip’ cache, one pottery vessel is placed upside down on another. Together, the vessels create a sealed container. When the materials inside represent the underworld, our world and the sky, the cache becomes a Maya universe in miniature.”  

Lip-to-lip vessels on display at The Natural History Museum of Utah. Photo by Ryan Dahle.

If the Jaredites or Nephites attached similar cosmic importance to some sealed vessels (whether literally or figuratively sealed tight), then Moroni’s repeated emphasis on the Jaredite barges being “tight like unto a dish” may take on additional significance.


Descriptions of Jaredite society indicate that it was advanced enough to have developed quality ceramic materials. Although the textual evidence that the Jaredites actually produced such ceramic materials is inconclusive, it may be noteworthy that the development of ceramics in regions of Olmec influence (Oaxaca, Puebla, and later in southern Veracruz) coincides with the approximate estimated timing of the Jaredite’s arrival in the New World. Whether or not the development or perpetuation of ceramics in these regions was either partially or significantly due to Jaredite influence is, of course, unknown, but the correspondence in timing suggests a possible connection.

E. Wyllys Andrews V, George J. Bey III, & Christopher M. Gunn, “The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands” in Pathways to Complexity: A View from the Maya Lowlands, ed. M. Kathryn Brown and George J. Bey III (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2018), 49–86.

Ether 2:17 Ether 6:7, 18Ether 10:22–28

Ether 2:17

Ether 6:7, 18

Ether 10:22–28

  • 1 Ruth Shady Solis, Jonathan Hass, and Winifred Creamer, “Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru,” Science 292, no. 5517 (2001): 723–726.
  • 2 Jonathan Haas, Winifred Creamer, “Crucible of Andean Civilization: The Peruvian Coast from 3,000 to 1,800 BC,” Current Anthropology 47, no. 5 (2006): 745–775.
  • 3 Rebecca Stone-Miller, Art of the Andes: from Chavin to Inca (New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2002).
  • 4 Joe W. Saunders, et al., “A Mound Complex in Louisiana at 5,400–5,000 Years Before the Present” Science 277, no. 5333 (1997): 1796–1799.
  • 5 See Jon L. Gibson, The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point: Place of Rings (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001); Christopher T. Hays and Richard A. Weinstein, “Early Pottery at Poverty Point: Origins and Function” in Early Pottery: Technology, Function, Style, and Interaction in the Lower Southeast, ed. Rebecca Saunders and Christopher T. Hays (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2004).
  • 6 Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus, Early Formative Pottery of the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1994), 374–275.
  • 7 E. Wyllys Andrews V., George J. Bey III, and Christopher M. Gunn, “The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands” in Pathways to Complexity: A View from the Maya Lowlands, ed. M. Kathryn Brown and George J. Bey III (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2018), 49–86.
  • 8 Michael Blake, et al., “Radiocarbon Chronology for the Late Archaic and Formative Periods on the Pacific Coast of Southeastern Mesoamerica” Ancient Mesoamerica 6, no. 2 (1995): 161–183; Andrews V., Bey III, and Gunn, “The Earliest Ceramics of the Northern Maya Lowlands” 50.
  • 9 Traditional biblical dating was significantly influenced by James Ussher, Annales Veteris Testamenti, a Prima Mundi Origine Deducti (London: Flesher, Crook, and Baker, 1650).
  • 10 See “Bible Chronology,” in the 2013 Edition of the Scriptures published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This chronology places the Tower of Babel sometime between 4,000 and 2,000 BC.
  • 11 The text says people went up to Moron Ether 7:5; 14:11 from both the land of Nehor and the wilderness of Akish.
  • 12 See John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 37, map 5. Sorensen subsequently changed his mind on Moron being located in Oaxaca, and assumes in Mormon’s Codex that Moron was located in south-central Veracruz. See John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 29. Either way, no evidence for either location is definitive and they are both generally associated with the influence of the Olmec civilization (of which the Jaredites were likely only a part).
Book of Mormon

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264