stood at the crest of the Dhofar mountains, in the mist, on
the edge of extremes. Inland was nothing but parched desert,
like the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. Yet, the coastal side of the mountains
was dressed with lush forests, ‘much fruit’ and fountains of
water. It is no wonder that this verdant oasis was called ‘the
land Bountiful’ by Lehi and his followers when they arrived
here at the end of a long journey from Jerusalem.
in these same mountains Nephi heard the voice of the Lord direct
him to build a ship (I Nephi 17: 7). His humble reply was simply,
“Lord, whither shall I go that I may obtain ore to molten, that
I may make tools to construct the ship…?” Together with three
other geologists from Brigham Young University, I had come to this remote place
in search of ore, as Nephi of old.
found ourselves in a similar situation to Nephi. We had few
leads, and the local geologist who arranged to meet us and assist
with the search was nowhere to be found. Although we had decades
of exploration experience in many different parts of the world,
including Oman, we faced a very difficult, but important task.
Close-up of sponge
Book of Mormon makes some very specific claims about many aspects
of the Arabian Peninsula. However, information about this place
is so difficult to obtain that the only way these claims can
be verified is to actually retrace the journey made by Lehi
and his followers. Several groups have done this and made
some amazing discoveries,1 one of the most significant
of which is the location of, “the place which was called Nahom
(I Nephi 16:34).” It was from this place that Lehi’s group
journeyed ‘nearly eastward’ for the space of eight years until
they intersected the seashore and found a place ‘with much fruit’,
a place ‘prepared of the Lord’, a place that they called Bountiful.
smelted ore from an oven heated to 1100 degrees C.
east of the place called Nahom is the Dhofar region of Oman
with the modern city of Salalah. Standing on the mountains
overlooking the lush Salalah plain, it is not hard to convince
oneself that it is the place Bountiful. There is no other place
like it in all of Arabia. The unique combination of the funnel-shape
and high elevation of the coastal mountains surrounding Salalah
forces moist air from the Arabian sea to condense into clouds
that bathe the coastal slopes of this small area nearly year-round
(Figure 1). Since climates have not changed much in the past
2500 years, it is likely that the Dhofar region has a similar
ecosystem now as it did during Lehi’s time.
the Salalah Coast is ‘the place Bountiful’, then it also must
have an ore body nearby where Nephi could, “find ore to molten…”
(I Nephi 17:9). This is a very specific and bold claim! It
requires two rather unique conditions: the existence of an iron
ore body, and a type of ore that can melt at the low temperatures
attainable in a bellow-assisted fire (I Nephi 17:11). Not only
are iron-ore bodies rare, particularly in Arabia, but also most
ores require temperatures much hotter than a wood fire can reach.
material used for smelting experiment.
rocks are commonly associated in someway with igneous activity.
Yet, there are only a few places in Arabia where igneous rocks
are found. Amazingly, one of these places is on the Salalah
Coast, which is where we started our search.
Salalah coastal plain is hundreds of square kilometers and the
ore body we were looking for may only be a few meters wide.
Other teams of geologists had recently mapped and explored the
region, but no ore occurrences were noted. It was clear to all
of us that we needed the same type of guidance Nephi enjoyed.
iron from smelting experiment. These porous pieces of
iron could be used to forge tools through a blacksmithing
process of combined reheating and hammering.
we traveled the rugged road from the misty mountains to the
coast we came across a local camel herder named Sahid. After
giving him a ride to his village, he brought us to his humble
abode, introduced us to his prize camel, and then made all of
the necessary arrangements we needed to explore the coast. The
remote southern coast of Arabia has not changed much since the
time of Lehi and much of it remains roadless. Without Sahid’s
help in securing a boat we would not have made our first discovery.
the first beach we landed we discovered a series of vein systems
with some iron mineralization. The seams make distinctive red
and orange stripes across the landscape that are well exposed.
The reddish staining is from oxidation (rusting) of the iron
in the veins. Since it is highly likely that Nephi knew what
to look for, based on his ownership of a steel bow and iron-smelting
methods that had become well known by that period of time, these
sources of iron would not have been hard to find.
The next discovery came a few days later when we were exploring
the igneous rocks east of Salalah. During our reconnaissance
of the area we decided to pay a visit to a famous monument to
a member of Mohammed’s family. While there, we noticed some
very unusual orange and red carbonate-rich veins intruding granite
and other igneous bodies. Following the veins led us to a thick
zone, several meters wide, of unique types of iron-rich mineralization.
protrusion on ridge is an intrusion of iron-rich carbonate
seemed at first as an overwhelming task of trying to find a
‘needle in a haystack’ turned out to be a windfall of discovery.
Why had the other geologists who had recently explored the region
in detail missed these occurrences of mineralization? This
is a question we still do not have an answer for. We carefully
mapped and sampled the occurrences over the course of several
days, then shared our observations with the Ministry of Mines
of Oman. They confirmed that these ore bodies were new discoveries
and are now planning to explore them further.
analysis of samples of the veins indicate they mostly consist
of minerals known as limonite and ferroan dolomite, which have
many unique properties that make it possible, ‘to molten’ the
ore as described by Nephi. These properties include a naturally
occurring mixture of iron and carbonate. Carbonate acts as
a natural flux that lowers the melting point of iron to temperatures
that are most likely achievable with a wood fire and bellows.
We tested the process to make certain it was possible by crushing
samples and mixing them with carbon, then heating them to 1100° C (2012° F). After a few hours the samples
were transformed into sponge-iron, which is a brittle form of
iron that can be further refined by a combination of heating
and pounding. The samples were essentially ‘molten’ and it
would have been possible to forge them into tools. It appears
from the scriptural text that Nephi already knew how to do this,
which is consistent with his having a metal bow (I Nephi 16:18).
vegetation and much fruit near Salalah.
those who have discovered the truth of the Book of Mormon by
applying Moroni’s challenge, the archeological and geological
verification of bold claims come as no surprise. However, for
those who reject the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, these
discoveries are hard to explain as coincidence and good guessing.
The specific claims made in I Nephi about Lehi’s journey through
the Arabian desert to the place Bountiful have taken years to
verify by several different expeditions involving many experienced
research teams. All of the claims have now been verified.
These discoveries represent knowledge not available to anyone
when the Book of Mormon was published2. Some of
the discoveries, such as the ore bodies, have remained hidden
until we were led to them in a similar way to Nephi. In the
words of Parley P. Pratt, who was one of the greatest champions
of the Book of Mormon:
“Angels from heaven, and truth from
Have met, and both have record borne…”3
Warren P. and Michaela Knoth Aston,
In the Footsteps of Lehi, (Salt lake City: Deseret Book 1994).
Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert,
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952)
3- Parley P. Pratt, The Morning Breaks,
(Salt Lake City: LDS Church Hymn Book)