In the 1930’s. as a graduate student at UC Berkeley, M. Wells Jakeman founded the Itzan Society with a handful of LDS friends. These included Milton R. Hunter, Hugh W. Nibley, and Thomas Stuart Ferguson. This was the first LDS organization dedicated to serious Book of Mormon research. Its successor was the University Archaeological Society (UAS) at BYU which became the Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA). When SEHA ceased operations in the 1980’s, most of its assets passed to the newly-formed Foundation for Ancient and Historic Studies which was soon renamed Covenant Foundation. Covenant Foundation changed its name to Ancient America Foundation (AAF) in 1984. Key people involved in the formation of AAF included Paul R. Cheesman, F. Richard Hauck, Vaughn E. Hansen, Bruce H. Jensen, Macoy A. McMurray, T. Michael Smith, and Sherman Young. AAF was granted preliminary non-profit status by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1985. The IRS final determination letter granting AAF 501 (c) 3 status was issued in 1988. During the 1990’s and 2000’s, key people in AAF included Richard K. Miner, V. Garth Norman, and Bruce W. Warren. Kirk A. Magleby joined the organization as General Manager in 2010. That same year, AAF began funding projects managed by John W. (Jack) Welch. In 2015, major donors came forward and tasked AAF with a mission to re-vitalize Book of Mormon studies. AAF’s principal initiative, Book of Mormon Central, was born with Jack Welch as chairman.
- M. Wells Jakeman (1910-1998) is often called the “Father of Book of Mormon Archaeology”
- Milton R. Hunter (1902-1975), as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, was called by David O. McKay (1873-1970) to be the Church’s point man for Book of Mormon Studies.
- Hugh W. Nibley (1910-2005) was the most influential Book of Mormon scholar in the Church in his era.
- Thomas Stuart Ferguson (1915-1983) founded the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF).
- Paul R. Cheesman (1921-1991) was the leading Book of Mormon enthusiast on the BYU religion faculty in his era.
- Bruce W. Warren (1928-2013), ceramicist, established the stratigraphic sequence at Chiapa de Corzo.
- F. Richard Hauck is an expert on the archaeology of Guatemala’s Salama Valley.
- T. Michael Smith led historic sites archaeology for the Church.
- V. Garth Norman is the world’s leading authority on the Mexican site of Izapa.
- John W. Welch founded the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).
AAF has in its genes much of the good work that has been done on the Book of Mormon in modern times.