Mounds and Earthworks

Many people are unaware of the tremendous amount of ruins, artifacts, and remains of the ancient Nephites and Lamanites that have been found in America and Canada, especially by early settlers. There were many mounds and earthworks and fortifications and many books have been written about these — but it is not widely known. The first and most famous book is Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations (1848) by Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis, with 306 pages, 48 lithographed maps and plates, and 207 wood engravings in the original book. This link is to a .pdf file scan of the original. A faster, easier version for viewing is found online. Below at the end of this page are two examples from the Book.

Discovering the Walls of Zarahemla

The earthwork berms identified as the walls of Zarahemla have been traced, on and off, for 9.42 miles using LiDAR images taken by Don Cummins of Air Data Solutions and with ongoing ground surveys. From the LiDAR, berms are evident for 5 miles and another 4.42 miles contain destroyed or partial berms. All of the berms detected with LiDAR are elevated above the crop fields and within the tree line. The image below shows a small section of the southern bluff that contains a distinct wall berm (B). LiDAR vs Satellite imagery of the same area is contrasted. Note that the berms detected in the field are of modern construction and used for field water retention. The areas south of the berm, on the foothills and on the top of the foothills may have once contained additional defensive structures but more examination is needed.

April 3 2022. Boots on the ground research work began for the wall foundations of Zarahemla.


  • Over 2 Years Ago: Wayne May discovered a large berm that extended about 500 feet along the southern foothills of the Zarahemla plain, west of Montrose. It was located within the tree line. It was suspected at the time that the berm could be the foundation remnant of an ancient fortification wall. The height of the berm was about 13 feet.
  • November 2021: Don Cummins of Air Data Solutions scans over a flight path of 34,000 acres of Hi-Resolution LiDAR for the Heartland Research Group. The target area starts just south of Fort Madison and extends south beyond Montrose and also includes Nauvoo on the east side of the Mississippi. LiDAR is a process of shooting billions of laser beams of various wavelengths to the ground which bounce back to the plane where the timed results are recorded. Later the raw data is processed to remove trees and vegetation in order to reveal precise ground elevation and contours.
  • January 2022: The processed LiDAR files (i.e. point cloud files which are used to create GeoTIFF files for ArcGIS and QGIS visualization programs) are made available to the Heartland Research Group.
  • January 23, 2022: Multiple berms, potentially part of the ancient walls of Zarahemla, are first identified along the entire foothill region south and west of Montrose and north along the foothills to the outskirts of Fort Madison, where the scanning stops. Out of 9.42 total miles of scanned foothills, 5.0 miles of distinct berms are identified from the LiDAR, far more that the original 500 ft originally found by Wayne.
  • Week of March 27, 2022: An HRG expedition team visited one of the berm sites with permission of owner Roger Chatfield, to gather information and establish if the berms are man-made, and to try and date them.

The following has been reported from the expedition team:

  • From Roger Chatfield: He first saw the berms in the early 1940’s. At that time they were forested. The berms are fruitful areas for hunters of ancient artifacts and much has been found over the years. The berms are not used for water retention or flood control. Farmland at the top (plateau) of the foothills was once used for cattle which destroyed vegetation and led to flooding and washed out some of the berms in modern times.
  • From Mike Stahlman: A large tree on the Chatfield berm was found and a core sample taken so the growth rings could be counted. The tree is estimated to be 144 years old.
  • From Larisa Golovko (LandVisor scanning) and Yuri Manstein: They have done some scanning on the berms. Results have not yet been processed.

Research is ongoing but so far I think there is a general consensus that these berms are man-made, not of modern construction, and have the potential to be part of the wall defenses of the ancient city of Zarahemla and that it is worth our continued study and exploration (especially when the weather is better). The berms are where we would expect the walls to be for the ancient city of Zarahemla.

A description of the construction of defensive walls is given in the Book of Mormon. The image below is just one possible view of interpretation but it gives an idea of what we are considering and finding on the ground.

This berm south of the Zarahemla plain was discovered by Wayne May in 2017. This is a large berm rising 13 feet.
Someone walking along the top shows the overall shape of the Wayne May berm in an area that has been cleared of brush.
Looking west. The bluff is left to the south. Notice that the berm slopes south which shows it is man made. It is cleared off here for convenient tractor access to the north fields. This berm rises at this point about 30′ feet above the field.
Here is seen the long length of a low lying berm, looking to the west.
One one short expedition in March of 2022 has been undertaken so far to visually inspect a very short section of a wall berm that may have once formed a foundation for the walls of Zarahemla.
This is Mike Stahlman taking a tree core sample so the rings can be counted. The tree growing on the berm was 144 years old.
The diameter of the cored tree was 9 feet 1/2 inch.
This berm discovered by Jay, Jeri, and Michael Mackley in November of 2020.
This wall berms begin to rise up the hill as one heads toward Bluff Park. The berm here is much smaller than the ones at the foot of the bluff.
Chatfield berm looking south. This is a smaller berm than most. It has been eroded by the stream that is just beyond the top of the berm where there is a 15 foot dropoff.
Along the top of the Chatfield berm, looking west.
Beginning of this berm is only about 6-8 feet above the field.

Other Mounds and Earthworks

Cover of “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. This book is amazing.
This earthwork surveyed by Squier and Davis shows one in the shape of an oil lamp and a Menorah, which of course is evidence of a Hebrew cultural influence. In Cleremont County, Ohio. Page 94, plate XXXIV. Surveyed 1847.
This large fortification is called Fort Ancient, in Warren County, Ohio. Page 18, plate VII. Surveyed 1842.
Recent Lidar image of Fort Hill. Lidar is a laser scanning method that penetrates brush and trees to reveal land topography.
Defensive fortifications in Ohio. A wooden palisade was on the crest of the ridge.
Angel Mounds State Historic Site, Evansville Indiana. This is a good example of an elevated “place-of-arms” that would have been protected by wooden walls and towers and with a mound/mount for a fortified keep at the top.
Criel mound in South Charleston West Virginia.
From Etowah mounds in Cartersville Georgia.
A drawing of “Big Mound” in St. Louis. St. Louis was once called “Mound City”. All but one of it’s mounds have been removed for development.
Marker noting the original location of “Big Mound” in St Louis.
Another ancient (Hopewell/Nephite) era mound.
Where the Nephite prophet Zelph was buried. Known as Naples Russell Mound 8.
Reconstructed view of Cahokia as dated to about 1100 AD. Some signs of occupation at this site go back to 1200 BC.
Different shapes of wooden palisades found by archaeologists. Reconstruction is possible by detecting the post holes.
Map overlay showing ancient mounds over the current city of St. Louis.
Another view of ancient mounds in relation to the current city of St. Louis.
Map showing some of the known mound groups in the area of St. Louis.
More mound groups in St. Louis. These are near the St. Louis Art Museum west of downtown St. Louis.
Cahokia in Illinois near St. Louis. Most remains found, including wooden palisades are after Nephite times. Identified with the Book of Mormon city Shemnilom.
View of The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site as it looks today. Also looking north.
Artist construction of scene at Cahokia which, it is estimated, covered 6 square miles, had 120 mounds, and had a population of about 16,000 people.
View of Monks Mound at Cahokia. Monks Mound is man-made and about the same size at its base as the Great Pyramid of Giza (13.1 acres / 5.3 hectares). The perimeter of its base is larger than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan.
Another artist construction of scene at Cahokia with Monks mound in the background.

Alma 50
1 And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.
4 And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them.
5 And they were prepared that they could cast stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength, and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city.
6 Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.

2 Nephi 5
16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.

2 Nephi 53
3 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had finished burying their dead and also the dead of the Nephites, they were marched back into the land Bountiful; and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful.
4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.
5 And this city became an exceeding stronghold ever after; and in this city they did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands. Now Moroni was compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor, because it was easy to guard them while at their labor; and he desired all his forces when he should make an attack upon the Lamanites.

Note that in the following verses (Alma 47), the word “mount” in Bible-like English is a man-made structure and means “mound” in modern English.

Alma 47
5 And now he had got the command of those parts of the Lamanites who were in favor of the king; and he sought to gain favor of those who were not obedient; therefore he went forward to the place which was called Oneidah, for thither had all the Lamanites fled; for they discovered the army coming, and, supposing that they were coming to destroy them, therefore they fled to Oneidah, to the place of arms.
6 And they had appointed a man to be a king and a leader over them, being fixed in their minds with a determined resolution that they would not be subjected to go against the Nephites.
7 And it came to pass that they had gathered themselves together upon the top of the mount which was called Antipas, in preparation to battle.
8 Now it was not Amalickiah’s intention to give them battle according to the commandments of the king; but behold, it was his intention to gain favor with the armies of the Lamanites, that he might place himself at their head and dethrone the king and take possession of the kingdom.
9 And behold, it came to pass that he caused his army to pitch their tents in the valley which was near the mount Antipas.
10 And it came to pass that when it was night he sent a secret embassy into the mount Antipas, desiring that the leader of those who were upon the mount, whose name was Lehonti, that he should come down to the foot of the mount, for he desired to speak with him.
11 And it came to pass that when Lehonti received the message he durst not go down to the foot of the mount. And it came to pass that Amalickiah sent again the second time, desiring him to come down. And it came to pass that Lehonti would not; and he sent again the third time.
12 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah found that he could not get Lehonti to come down off from the mount, he went up into the mount, nearly to Lehonti’s camp; and he sent again the fourth time his message unto Lehonti, desiring that he would come down, and that he would bring his guards with him.

Alma 49
18 Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance.
19 And thus were the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way, by casting over stones and arrows at them.
20 Thus they were prepared, yea, a body of their strongest men, with their swords and their slings, to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security by the place of entrance; and thus were they prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
21 And it came to pass that the captains of the Lamanites brought up their armies before the place of entrance, and began to contend with the Nephites, to get into their place of security; but behold, they were driven back from time to time, insomuch that they were slain with an immense slaughter.
22 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.
23 Thus the Nephites had all power over their enemies; and thus the Lamanites did attempt to destroy the Nephites until their chief captains were all slain; yea, and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain.

The Story of Zelph

Heber C. Kimball
On Tuesday the 3rd we went up several of us with Joseph Smith Jr to the top of a mound on the bank of the Illinois river which was several hundred feet above the river and from the summit of which we had a pleasant view of the surrounding country. We could overlook the tops of the trees on to the meadow or prairie on each side the river as far as our eyes could extend which was one of the most pleasant scenes I ever beheld. On the top of this mound there was the appearance of three altars which had been built of stone one above another according to the ancient order and the ground was strewn over with human bones. This caused in us very peculiar feelings to see the bones of our fellow creatures scattered in this manner who had been slain in ages past. We felt prompted to dig down into the mound and sending for a shovel and hoe we proceeded to move away the earth. At about one foot deep we discovered the skeleton of a man almost entire and between two of his ribs we found an Indian arrow which had evidently been the cause of his death. We took the leg and thigh bones and carried them along with us to Clay county. All four appeared sound. Elder B Young has yet the arrow in his possession. It is a common thing to find bones thus drenching upon the earth in this country. The same day we pursued our journey. While on our way we felt anxious to know who the person was who had been killed by that arrow. It was made known to Joseph that he had been an officer who fell in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites and his name was Zelph. This caused us to rejoice much to think that God was so mindful of us as to show these things to his servant. Brother joseph had enquired of the lord and it was made known in a vision.
(Times and Seasons, 1845, Extracts from Wilford Woodruffs Journal)

Heber C. Kimball
During our travels we visited many mounds thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of Nephites and Lamanites. This morning we went unto a high mound near the river. Joseph and many of the brethren went up. This mound was very high. From the top of it we could overlook the tops of the trees as far as our vision could extend and the scenery was truly delightful. On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three alters having been erected one above the other according to the ancient order of things and human bones were strewn upon the ground. We had taken a shovel along with us. Brother Joseph wished us to dig into the mound. We dug into it about one foot and came upon the skeleton of a man almost entire and an arrow was found sticking in his back bone. Elder Milton Holmes picked it out and brought it into camp with one of his leg bones which had been broken. He put the leg bones in my wagon and I carried it to Clay County Missouri. Brother Joseph feeling anxious to learn something governing the man prayed to the lord and the lord gave him a vision in open day while lying in his wagon. This mound and his history was placed before him. His name was Zelph. He was a white Lamanite. The curse had been taken off from him because of his faith and righteousness. He had embraced the gospel. He was a short stout thick set man. He had been a great warrior, had joined the Nephites and fought for them under the direction of the great Onandagus who held sway and command over the armies of the Nephites from the hill Cumorah and eastern sea to the rocky mountains. Though the Book of Mormon does not speak of him, he was a great warrior leader and great prophet. Zelph had his thigh bone broken from the sling of a stone while in battle. In the yr of his youth he was killed with the arrow sticking in his back bone. The vision of the great prophet at the time that Zelph was killed was opened to the Prophet Joseph and their bodies were heaped upon the earth and that great mound of near 300 feet high placed over them. I felt impressed to bury Zelphs thigh bone in temple block at Jackson County Missouri but I did not have an opportunity and I brought it to clay county near the house owned by Colonel Arthur & occupied by Lyman Wight.
(Wilford Woodruff, autobiographical account, recorded in his daily journals prepared for publication by Matthias Mowley, The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1909, page 41)

Survey of known ancient American mounds, as of 1894. Each red dot is a mound group.

HRG History — by Jay Mackley

The Heartland Research Group is a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground organization that believes that the historical narrative of the Book of Mormon took place in the Heartland of North America. The HRG is active in archaeological research and in the acquisition, restoration and display of ancient American artifacts. The HRG is currently preparing an ancient ship replica called the "Phoenicia" for display. The ships construction design is patterned after a shipwreck dating to 600 BC. The Phoenicia ship made modern voyages, first around Africa and then also from the Middle East to Florida in 2019 – proving that voyages around Africa or from Sidon to North America were feasible anciently.

Heartland Research Inc is a 501c3 private operating foundation for archaeological research and to complete preparations for the Phoenicia display. Current plans are for a museum large enough to house the Phoenicia ship and many other ancient artifacts and exhibits from North America. The location of the museum is planned to be in Zarahemla which is Lee County Iowa, near the Mississippi river and east of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Our activities are too many to list, but some recent major expeditions are listed below. Many of these expeditions are open-ended and we expect to continue research in these and other similar activities as time, resources, and volunteers become available. We have dozens of volunteers and hundreds of donors, large and small, but we need many more. Check out the websites listed below for details of Heartland Research Group projects. Our current project is is our biggest yet: to refurbish the Phoenicia ship for display.

Go to the Donation Page

We invite you to support our efforts so we can complete these worthy goals!
If you have skills or knowledge to contribute to our research and discovery projects, please contact us directly to volunteer.

  • What: Sonar scanning of Mississippi between Nauvoo and Keokuk. The purpose of the expedition was to discover a crossing route that ancient people could have taken.
  • Who: Heartland Research Inc volunteers.
  • Where: Between Keokuk and Nauvoo, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: Magnetic scanning of 221 acres of farmland near Montrose, Iowa. The purpose of the expedition was the discovery of fire-pits and other evidence of ancient occupation.
  • Who: Members of the Heartland Research Inc, local farmers, volunteers, plus technicians from German company SYNSYS. Signs of habitation were found with magnetometery scanning and then C14 dating.
  • Where: Near Montrose Iowa and between Montrose and Fort Madison Iowa.
  • How: Large and small donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: A one week seminar in Fort Madison, Iowa with 25+ participants. Included visits to the Putnam museum in Davenport, Iowa. There were twelve presentations on the ancient history and written languages of the upper Mississippi.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus presenters and interested attendees.
  • Where: Fort Madison, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations for space, time and lodging.

  • What: Ground penetrating electrical resistivity scanning for building foundations using electrical resistivity equipment from LandVisor.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc and volunteers.
  • Where: Zarahemla in Lee County, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations and ground support.

  • What: Metal analysis for alloy content. Ancient arrow and spearhead found in Wisconsin stream of cast bronze.
  • Who: Heartland Research Group
  • Where: Sample found in Wisconsin stream by scuba diver.
  • How: Private donations for lab analysis.

  • What: High resolution LiDAR scanning by supporter Air Data Solutions of 34,000 acres in Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois. The focus was to create high quality digital maps showing the terrain of the land, especially in the foothill areas where large earthworks are found. Discovery of 5-10 miles of ancient earthworks from LiDAR using QGIS and ArcGIS visualization software.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus AirData Solutions Inc.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois, covering the much of Nauvoo.
  • How: Private donations for services, data processing, and analysis.

  • What: Commence process of restoring the world's oldest ship replica from 600BC, which has circumnavigated Africa and crossed the Atlantic ocean from the Middle East to America.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus volunteers.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa between Montrose and Fort Madison.
  • How: Private donations for materials, space, and equipment plus donations in labor.

Mission Statement

The Heartland Research Group researches archaeological evidence of the ancient civilizations of America.
Heartland Research Group activities include:

  • Field Research
    Uses archeological techniques and scanning technologies to reveal the remains of ancient civilizations.
  • Ancient Artifacts
    Encourages and facilitate study of ancient North American artifacts, including tablets, tools, weapons, metal works, and other items.
  • Geography
    Research and develop maps, using scanning technologies and other means, to identify the locations and activities of ancient civilizations.
  • Linguistics
    Analyze and translate ancient writings found in North America, especially those relating to other civilizations world wide.
  • Preservation and Display
    Collect, restore, preserve, catalog and exhibit ancient artifacts and replicas, and make them readily available to researchers and viewable to the public.
  • Archaeology, Geology, and History
    Study and research into all aspects archaeology, geology, and history that shed light on ancient North American peoples and cultures.
  • Promotion and Support
    Raise awareness of our activities. Work directly with and support individuals and groups in activities that share our same goals.
The Heartland Research Group welcomes researchers and interested parties of all backgrounds to share their analysis and findings of ancient American heartland civilizations.

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