A Proposed Location for the Hill Cumorah
First let us outline the Criteria for the Land and Hill of Cumorah.
1. It was "many days" travel from the Jaredite city of Moron (Ether 9:3).
2. It was in a land of many waters, fountains, rivers, etc .(Morm. 6:4).
3. It was near an eastern sea. The seashore was eastward (distance unkown) from Cumorah (Ether 9:3).
5. The hill Ramah of the Jaredites, and the hill Cumorah of the Nephites, where Mormon hid all the records, are the same (Ether 15:11).
6. It was located in the Nephite land northward being north of the land they called Desolation, and north of narrow neck of land (Mormon Ch. 4 and Ch. 5:3-7).
7. It was located in an area which was large enough area to contain at least 230,000 Nephites, plus the much larger invading Lamanite armies, and support the Nephites for four years while they prepared for the final battle (Mormon 6).
8. The hill was tall enough, and situated in such a way that Mormon could look down and see all the slain from top (Morm. 6:11).
9. The hill was large enough, and of such a nature as to conceal 24 Nephite survivors from the Lamanites following the battle (Mormon 6:11).
10. The hill was composed of material (such as limestone) where a cave could be found in which to hide the Nephite records (Morm. 6:6).
11. The hill was situated in such a way that it would afforded the Nephites a military advantage over the Lamanites (Morm 6:4). This advantage could have been strategic with natural barriers, such as rivers, lakes, etc. Higher ground would have afforded an advantage. There may have been existing fortifications left from the Jaredite wars. There may have been logistical advantages such as good supply of food and water to withstand a siege. There may have been large numbers of left over arrow points, ax heads, etc. which could be re-used, if the Jaredites had used stone weapons.
12. The hill was geographically situated so that the surviving Nephites could escape southward from Lamanite armies (Morm. 6:15; 8:2), but apparently not northward, which would have been the logical choice.
13. There should be archeological evidences of a battle, or great destruction, such as weaponry (flint points, ax heads, etc.), fortifications, or other artifacts from the dead. There should also be evidence of a large, but short term, Nephite habitation.
14. It was near Jaredite places called Ablom and Ogath (Ether 9:13, 15:10).
15. It was near the ocean called Ripliancum (large or to exceed all) by the Jaredites (Ether 15:8).
16. Some have suggested that the hill should be near the narrow neck of land and not far northward because of the experience of Limhi's search party (Mosiah 21:25-27). As you will recall, this party went north in search of Zarahemla, but missing it traveled into the land of Desolation. There they discovered evidence of the Jaredite wars and destruction as well as the twenty four plates of Ether. Some modern researchers have assumed from this account that Limhi's party went as far north as the land of Cumorah. However, this is probably not correct. The southern Jaredite lands, as well as the capital (Moron), were in or near the land Desolation and the early battles of the Jaredites left millions dead and rotting on the face of the land before they ever got to Ramah (Cumorah) (Ether 14:22-23; 15:2). In addition, Ether did not bury the 24 plates at the site of the last battle, but purposely hid them at the place where the Lord inspired him to, so that the future party of Limhi would find them (Ether 15:2). This could have been anywhere within reason.
Cerro San Gil: A Candidate for Cumorah.
Cerro San Gil is a prominent mountain located in southeastern Guatemala which rises 1267 meters above sea level and lies at the eastern extension of the major mountain chain, the Sierra de las Minas. It fronts the Caribbean at the Bahia de Amatique on the Bay of Honduras. It lies between two major northwesterly trending valleys, the Valley of the Motagua River, and the Valley of the Polochic, which includes a major lake, Lake Izabal. These valleys are the surface expression of two major strike slip faults which separate the Chortis and Maya continental plates. The mountain itself covers an area of approximately 450 square kilometers, and as far as I can determine, is principally composed of pre-Jurassic sedimentary rocks. It is covered with semi-tropical vegetation, which in many areas has been cleared for cultivation or pasturage. There are a number of small pristine streams flowing down its slopes fed by at least 27 springs. A number of small caves have been found in the region.
Its location is ideally suited for natural defense. To the north it is isolated by the Lake Izabal--Rio Dulce waterway which flows into the Amatique Bay. The east side of the mountain borders this bay. To the west is a flat plain bordering Lake Izabal. This plain is separated from the Motaqua Valley to the south by a continuous range of low hills. There is also a small isolated plain to the north of the mountain. This plain is protected by the mountain mass itself, the Rio Dulce to the north, a spur of the mountain to the west, and the eastern front of the mountain which slopes steeply into Amatique Bay.
The area has only been superfically explored archeologically probably because it doesn't contain the spectacular Mayan ruins of some other areas of Guatemala. However what has been found is very interesting (1). On the western slope of the mountain, along the valleys of four of the more prominent streams, are thousands of "monticulos", or house mounds, upon which the ancient inhabitants erected their thatch homes. These mounds are evidence of a large and active human population. This occupation has tentatively been dated as late preclassic to late classic (300-900 AD). An interesting anomaly is that the lithic (stone) artifacts outnumber the ceramic ones.
How well does Cerro San Gil match the criteria?
It is "many days" travel on foot from my proposed location of the Jaredite capitol of Moron on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua or El Salvador.
It is in a "land of many waters" with the Caribbean on the east, Rio Dulce on the north, Lake Izabal to the west, the large Motagua River to the south, and many streams and springs on the mountain itself.
It is adjacent to an eastern sea (the Bay of Amatique), and a short distance from the larger Bay of Honduras.
It is northeast of what I have postulated as the Narrow Neck of Land (the Isthmus of Rivas), as well as the land of Desolation.
It would have been large enough to contain the Nephite population (estimated at 235,000 to 1,000,000) in either the plain southeast of Lake Izabal, or that between the mountain and Rio Dulce. The thousands of ancient house mounds on the Izabal side attest to the presence of a sizable population, and the lack of a public centers or plazas may infer that their presence was of short duration. As far as sustinence of this sizable group, the area is very fertile and prime agricultural land, and there would have been abundant fish and other marine resources available, as well as wildlife in the surrounding forests.
The mountain is large enough to have concealed the survivors of the last battle on its upper slopes, and from prominent ridges and the summit itself, one can overlook the surrounding area and the valleys and foothills below.
The mountain is composed (at least in part) of limestone which would favor the presence of caves and caverns, and in fact a number of these have been discovered.
As noted above, Cerro San Gil provides a natural fortress with two protected valleys surrounded by water, ridges and mountains. If one position were lost, it would be possible to retreat to several others. Logistically, the area would have had all the resources necessary to sustain the given population for the given time period. Interestingly there seems to be a preponderance of stone artifacts (obsidian, etc.) at the sites which would generally not be the case if they were strictly habitational sites. This may indicate a society preparing for or participating in warfare.
The Motagua Valley, which borders the mountain to the south, is a natural corridor from Highland Guatemala and the Pacific coast , to the Caribbean coast ,and has probably been used as such since Olmec times. The upper Motagua Valley also contains the famous jade deposits known from antiquity, where most of the Mayan, as well as the Costa Rican jade originated (2). One of the most important Central American obsidian sources is also found in the upper Motagua drainage.
As far as evidence of fortifications, weapon artifacts, etc., I have not been able to expore and evaluate the actual battle area. I spent all my time at the mountain exploring other areas which I mistakenly thought were the battle sites, and did not recognize what I now believe was the actual battle site until shortly before my departure.
Any survivors who escaped the final battle would have had to travel south or west and would have been unable to travel north (the logical direction of escape from the Lamanite invasion from the south or west) unless they had watercraft.
In summary, Cerro San Gil appears to fit the required criteria quite well, and as a result should be considered as one of the prime candidates for the Hill Cumorah, the site where the prophet Mormon hid the vast storehouse of Nephite records, and where the Jaredite and Nephite final battles took place.
The first figure is a simulated satellite view from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing an aerial view of the SE Guatemala region surrounding the Cerro San Gil.
The second figure is a view from the western Izabal valley looking NE.
The third is a view from Puerto Barrios looking west over the Bay of Amatique towards Cerro San Gil.
1. "El Projecto Arqueologico Izabal". Elsa Chang Lam. Also "Nuevas Evidencias Arqueologicas en la Cuenca del Lago de Izabal". Luis E. Cruz and Juan Luis Velasquez. Both in "Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicas en Guatemala" Vol. 1 and 2 (1989 and 2004). Museo Nacional de arqueologia y Etnologia.
2. "Guatemala's Olmec Jade". Geotimes. Aug. 2002.