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The believer

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 264-268
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6373.264

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Summary

According to the Book of Mormon, ancient people called the Nephites sailed from Israel to the Americas around 600 B.C.E. Centuries later, Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection. Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a Mormon lawyer from California, was determined to use science to prove these scriptures true. He and other Mormons were certain that these events had happened in the ancient Americas, but debates raged over exactly how their sacred lands mapped onto real-world geography. After years of studying maps, Mormon scripture, and Spanish chronicles, Ferguson concluded that the Book of Mormon took place around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of Mexico. He went on to found an organization that supported archaeological excavations in southern Mexico, opening an important new window on Mesoamerica's past. His quest eventually spurred expeditions that unearthed traces of the region's earliest complex societies and explored an unstudied area that turned out to be a crucial cultural crossroads. Even today, the institute Ferguson founded hums with research. But proof of Mormon beliefs eluded him. His mission led him further and further from his faith, eventually sapping him of religious conviction entirely. Ferguson placed his faith in the hands of science, not realizing they were the lion's jaws.