Was there Barley in Pre-Columbian America?
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Answer contributed by BMC Staff
Last updated on February 1, 2018

Barley is mentioned four times in the Book of Mormon.1 Once this was considered a problem because it was believed that domesticated barley was unknown in the Americas until after the arrival of Columbus.2 In the early 1980s, however, archaeologists announced the surprising discovery of pre-Columbian domesticated barley at a Hohokam archaeological site in Phoenix Arizona. Additional discoveries of this hitherto unknown species of barley (Hordeum pusillum) have been found in other parts of North America, ranging from Mexico to the South-eastern United States.

Over time, more and more evidence for the domestication of little barley in the Americas has emerged over an increasingly wider span of both time and geography. Little barley may have diffused to other regions of the Americas which were known to trade with the southwest and eastern United States. In any case, evidence demonstrates that in at least some parts of the Americas, a type of barley was a highly important crop during Book of Mormon times.

  • 1. See Mosiah 7:22; 9:9; Alma 11:7, 15.
  • 2. “It is a somewhat stubborn fact that barley was never found upon either of these western continents until imported by Europeans in modern times!” M.T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (New York, NY: Ward & Drummond, 1887), 304; “But where is the proof of this extraordinary assertion? It seems very probable that, if Americans had once had wheat and barley, they would not have given up their cultivation and use, and yet they were not to be found in America when the Europeans came.” This author then noted that while ancient pre-Columbian sites were known in Peru, Arizona and Ohio for example, “not a vestige of wheat or barley has ever been found” at any of these sites. Charles A. Shook, Cumorah Revisited (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishng, 1910), 382–383; “Barley never grew in the New World before the white man brought it here!” Latayne Colvette Scott, The Mormon Mirage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 82; “If there was no barley in America until the white man came, then Alma 11:4–19 must be false. If God were the one that wrote the Book of Mormon, is it not a reasonable assumption that he would have known there was no barley in the New World? The Book of Mormon ... falls short of authenticatable [sic] truth.” Rick Branch, “Nephite Nickels,” The Utah Evangel 29, no. 10 (October 1982): 1.

Further Reading

Book of Mormon Central, “How Can Barley in the Book of Mormon Feed Faith? (Mosiah 9:9),” KnoWhy 87 (April 27, 2016).

Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Barley,” FairMormon Answers, online at fairmormon.org.

Tyler Livingston, “Barley and the Book of Mormon: New Evidence,” Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (2010).

John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1998), 32–45.

John L. Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 335–342.

John L. Sorenson and Robert F. Smith, “Barley in Ancient America,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 130–132.  

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Mosiah 7:22