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Book of Mormon Explorers Claim Discoveries

After battling two thousand miles of desert trails, sand dunes that tower seven hundred feet into the air, occasional sand storms that remove the paint from your truck, scorpions and six years of Arabian temperatures that fluctuate from freezing to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, George Potter and his colleagues are now telling their story to the world in eight documentary videos and a book: Lehi in the Wilderness, 81 new evidences documenting the Book of Mormon is a true history.

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Potter’s Valley of Lemuel    from shoreline if Red Sea.
Potter originally set out with Craig Thorsted and Tom Culler to find the mountain some people believe is the real mount Sinai.  Not only did they locate the mountain they were looking for, but they discovered something that quickly took on greater importance.   While chasing a lead to a remote place the locals called the Waters of Moses, Potter and Thorsted came upon a spectacular canyon that opened upon the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba (see picture). 

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Hugh Nibley had theorized that the valley of Lemuel would be found in these very mountains, and here was a mighty canyon.   Dr. Nibley had theorized that the river of Laman would be only a “small local stream.”   Even so, Potter and Thorsted were unprepared for what they saw as they entered the canyon.  

The US Geological Survey had studied the water resources of the entire land known as Saudi Arabia, and had concluded, after 44 years of surveying, that the nation had “no perennial rivers or streams”.   Yet as the two LDS explorers walked into the canyon, a spring-fed stream appeared from the sands near the Red Sea.  The small stream wound up a 3 mile-long solid granite canyon.  

As he walked through the narrow canyon, with its granite walls jetting straight up some 2,000 feet, Potter recalls that it was impossible not to recall the words “firm, and steadfast and immovable” – Lehi’s terminology certainly fit this valley.  Indeed, the valley and the stream they found met every descriptive quality attributed to Nephi’s valley of Lemuel.  In November, 1999, their discovery was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (FARMS, BYU). 

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   Possibly the River of Laman
Knowing the likely starting place for Lehi’s crossing of Arabia helped Potter find its likely ending place, southern Oman.   Potter then set out to find the other locations mentioned by Nephi.  His knowledge of travel in ancient Arabia and his understanding of the unwritten laws that control tribal lands led Potter to believe that Lehi would have, by necessity, taken the Gaza branch of the ancient Frankincense Trail down western Arabia.  The Gaza branch ran somewhat inland from the Red Sea.  Potter’s theory contradicts the position held by many current Book of Mormon scholars who believe the prophet followed the shoreline of the Red Sea. 

Among those who have traveled in Arabia and who are familiar with the features described by Nephi, Potter’s theories seem the most believable.   Even so, leading LDS scholars are now taking note of Potter’s discoveries.  In August, S. Kent Brown,  Chairman of the Ancient Studies Department of Brigham Young University, who is  considered the LDS Church’s leading scholar on Lehi’s trail, presented several of Potter’s proposed Book of Mormon sites in his presentations at Annual Mormon Apologetics Conference and BYU Education Week.

The problem with exploring the Gaza branch of the frankincense trail (that passes within 12 miles of Potter’s Valley of Lemuel) was that no one alive seems to know its exact course, and no one had tried to retrace it. 

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Bellersen (left) and Potter (right) plotting GPS coordinates.
The task required the help of someone well versed in desert exploring and the Book of Mormon.  In 1997 Richard Wellington from the United Kingdom joined Potter as a full research and exploring partner.   Plotting the course of the frankincense trail required four steps.  First, Potter and Wellington studied the writings of the early Arab geographers (900 to 1100 A.D.), who provided crude descriptions of the pilgrims’ trail from Cairo to Medina.  It is known that the pilgrims followed the ancient trade route.  The second step was to use Tactical Pilotage Charts (detailed maps used by airplane pilots to navigate), maps of wells, topographical maps and satellite images to identify the probable route of the ancient trail.  This was not easy because the names of most of the caravanserais (halts) have changed over the ages.  Third, with the help of German Michael Bellersen, Potter and Wellington loaded their proposed trail into their Global Positioning Systems (GPS).  Finally, the American, Brit, and German trio and their colleagues headed into the Arabian outback tracing hundreds of miles of Bedouin trails and verifying the most likely routes.   Fortunately, their preparation paid off.  Where they had predicted the old trail halts would Text Box:  
Potter stopping for a photo before carrying on.
be found, they discovered the remains of the ancient caravanserais. 

At times Potter and Wellington’s teams were so far out in the desert that they didn’t see paved roads for days.  Carrying extra gasoline and water were a must.  At one little village, the mayor tried to prevent them from proceeding deeper into the desert.  He claimed that there was no road beyond his village.  Sure enough, at the edge of the village was a broken-down sign in Arabic and English  -  “End Of The Road”.

Based on an exhaustive review of the literature and their own field studies in Arabia, Potter and Wellington believe that they have located every important site mentioned by Nephi in the Book of Mormon.  These include, the “borders near and nearer” the Red Sea, Shazer (where they stopped to hunt), the most fertile parts, the more fertile parts, the trees from which Nephi made his bow, Nahom (where Ishmael was buried – the particular part of the area that Warren Aston believes is Nahom), Nephi’s eastwardly trail to Bountiful, the land Bountiful (correctly identified earlier by Nibley as Salalah), and the place Bountiful where Lehi camped and the harbor where Nephi built his ship.

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Potter & Wellington tracing trail in south Arabia.
Potter and Wellington books is now available at LDS bookstores and on this site (click here).    The book includes over 2000 scholarly footnotes from non-LDS sources.  Their citations include personal correspondences with scholars from universities, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Oman.  Their theories on Nephi’s ship include insights from correspondence with German Maritime Archaeologist Dr. Norbert Weismann (Arbeitshreis Historischer Schiffsbau), Tom Vosmer (Director of the Ancient Omani Ships Project of the Western Australian Museum of Maritime History), and Frank Linehan (United States Maritime Administration).  Retired BYU Professor of Religion, Wayne Brickey noted to the authors, “I think your work will revolutionize the way people feel about 1 Nephi, and thus endow with reverence their whole experience reading the Book of Mormon”.

After exhausting their research on the western branch of the Frankincense Trail, Potter and Wellington spent their 2000-2001 field work season exploring the eastern branch of the trail which crossed the infamous Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world.   They believe that the eastern branch, might provide clues as to the route of the Book of Mormon Jaredites.  Their research efforts on the Jaredites is found on the Nephi Project Jaredite video set (click here to learn more).

Potter notes that one of the real joys in researching Lehi’s trail is the wonderful support he has received from members, who like him, live and work in the Middle East.  LDS members who have accompanied him into the desert have come from the USA, UK, Germany, Fiji, New Zealand, and the Philippines. 

An early member to lend a hand was  Timothy Sedor , professional artist and photographer.  Tim brought with him a digital video camera and recorded much of their fieldwork.  

Timothy Sedor filming proposed trail

With Sedor’s footage, The Nephi Project Website, Potter and Sedor’s research group produced six videos on Lehi’s trail. (learn more, click here) Sedor is clear about his goal in making these videos, “We want to visually take every reader of the Book of Mormon into the Arabian desert, show them what is there, and then let them judge for themselves if Nephi walked in these places".

Even so, Potter states with confidence, “if anyone doubts that the Book of Mormon is a literal history, they won’t after reading our book and seeing our videos.  The evidence that is found in Arabia is straight-forward and quite remarkable”.

ã Copyright: All rights reserved by George D. Potter January 2001





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