Was cement really used as a building material in ancient America, as described in the Book of Mormon?
Sidewalks, highways, skyscrapers, and ancient American dwellings. What do all of all of these things have in common? You guessed it cement. Or maybe you didn’t guess it. Could ancient Americans living many hundreds of years ago really have known how to make such a useful and durable material?
The Book of Mormon says yes. In Helmet, Chapter Three, we learned that due to a shortage in timber, the people in the land northward became exceedingly expert in the working of cement. This stuff was used in the construction of homes and even entire cities. Yet that was a pretty bold claim in 1830, and not everyone found it plausible. In 1929, Hebrew J.
Grant was confronted by a man with a doctorate degree who argued that there had never been found and never would be found a house built of cement by the ancient inhabitants of this country. Because the people in that early age knew nothing about cement. President Grant confidently replied, that does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart. If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will.
What President Grant didn’t realize was that this learned professor was already on shaky ground. A few people in the early 19th century actually did know of cement from precolumbian times, but this knowledge wasn’t yet common. Until the 1970s, researchers were still unable to identify the origins of ancient American cement manufacturing. One scholar found samples dating as far back as the first century Ad. That were so technically well advanced that he was convinced there must have been earlier, less developed forms.
His instincts proved correct. Nonstructural lime plasters and stuccos have now been found which date from 1100 to 600 BC. Not long thereafter, the lowland Maya learned that when burned into a cowdery, limestone could be mixed with water to form a very durable white plaster, as noted by Maya experts Michael Coe and Steven Houston during the late preclassic period, the Maya quickly realized the structural value of a concrete like fill made from limestone rubble and lime rich mud. This led to an explosion of cement building activity in Guatemala and southern Mexico around 100 BC. Advanced cement work appeared in central Mexico at sites like Teotiwa Khan in the first century Ad.
According to archeologist George L. Cowgill, by Ad. 300, most inhabitants lived in substantial plaster and concrete compounds composed of multiple apartments. Thus far, ancient American cement has only turned up in Mesoamerica, where many scholars believe the primary events of the Book of Mormon took place. As far as timing goes, the increased reliance on cement construction in Mesoamerica beginning around 100 BC.
Corresponds nicely with the use of cement reported in the Book of Helmet, as pointed out by one pair of Latterday Saints scholars. No one in the 19th century could have known that cement, in fact, was extensively used in mesoamerica beginning at about this time. Except perhaps a prophet of God. That’s the evidence.