By Lincoln Hubbard
Two BYU geologists have discovered new deposits of iron ore in Dhofar, Oman — the likely place where Nephi built the ship that brought him to the promised land.
“We have discovered iron ore in two previously undocumented places,” said Ron Harris, associate professor in the Department of Geology.
Swiss geologists had already mapped the region south of Saudi Arabia, and no ore was noted.
So when Harris and his colleague, Jeffery Keith, professor of geology, landed at Dhofar they were amazed to see iron oxides everywhere they looked.
“It was incredible. There was no indication on the maps. We talked to everyone and it was not documented anywhere,” Harris said.
Nephi’s account in the Book of Mormon describes a place he calls bountiful where there were trees, fruit, and wild honey. It was here the Lord commanded Nephi to build ships and showed him the ore for making tools.
Harris said most of the Arabian Peninsula is almost the exact opposite of what Nephi describes.
“Its all just as bleak of a desert as you could possibly imagine — it’s just rock,” he said.
The small coastal region of Dhofar however, supports vegetation just like Nephi describes, except that no one had found any metal ores there he could have used for tool making.
Harris was surprised at finding ore there when the maps said there was none.
“There are only two places where the rocks underneath the sedimentary cover are exposed, and they are right where we would expect Bountiful to be,” he said.
Keith said that while the deposits were certainly not big enough for commercial mining, they were ideal for making the tools Nephi would have required.
What makes their discovery more astonishing is that the geologists’ itinerary did not include a visit to the Dhofar site. They stopped there on their first day to visit a monument to a son of Mohammed.
“We could have easily spent the entire three weeks searching our planned sites and found nothing,” Harris said.
Harris described the find as a unique test of the Book of Mormon.
“There two things we have to prove,” Harris said. “First of all, that there’s ore there, second that it would be possible for Nephi to do what he said he did, use a billows, cook it and get something usable.”
To see how usable the ore was, samples were processed on BYU campus.
“We heated the samples with charcoal just as Nephi would have done and found wrought iron would have been easy to make,” Keith said.
S. Kent Brown, director of Ancient Studies at BYU, agrees the find is significant.
“We have found places where Nephi could have got timber, and now we have established iron was there,” Brown said.
Brown said such research is significant.
“It’s important, so we have a grasp both of the text and its setting,” he said. “But our purpose is not to prove something or answer critics, but to open possibilities that the narrative fits a real place in this world.”
Harris said he hopes the find will generate curiosity about the Book of Mormon as well as give it historical validity.
Although evidence supporting Nephi’s descriptions is mounting, Harris said it is impossible to say for sure exactly where events took place.
“I don’t think we will ever know the exact location, but it has to be in that area because nothing else fits the description,” Harris said.
Brown said that there are only two places mentioned in the Book of Mormon known for certain, Jerusalem and the Red Sea.
“Everything else is probabilities and possibilities,” Brown said. “But based on what we know, Southern Oman fits the account best.”
Harris said the fact that archeological, ecological and now geological support for the Book of Mormon are all found in the same place is important.
“Completely independent studies converge on a place the size of Utah valley in a country several thousand kilometers square,” Harris said. “To me that’s significant.”
“The fact that there is ore in a lush green area means Nephi’s story is certainly plausible,” Keith said.
Harris and Keith are planning to return in January for more fieldwork and to formally present results to an international conference on Oman geology.