by Dr. J Huston McCulloch

MEJ Volume 8 number 1, April 1994

The controversial Burrows Cave was, according to Russell Burrows of Olney, Illinois, found by him in southern Illinois in the early 1980's. Hundreds, if not thousands of artifacts, many with human portraits and/or inscriptions, have reportedly come from this cave, with the sanction of the private landowner.

Because of various inconsistencies and poorly explained delays, several leaders of the epigraphic/diffusionist movement have denounced the entire cave as a hoax. (Barry Fell, "Detecting Fraudulent Inscriptions," ESOP 16 (1987), p 24; Dorothy Hayden, "The Burrows Cave Book" Institute Newsletter 8, nos. 5&6, May/June 1992; George Carter, personal communication.)

On the other hand, Fred Rydholm of the Heartland Press, Professor James Scherz of the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Joe Mahan of ISAC, and Dr. John White III and Dr. Beverley Moseley of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society (in Ancient American magazine, various issues) continue to believe that the cave is authentic. To date, no one but Burrows has actually been in the cave. Unfortunately, a 1988 Illinois law has the effect that if Burrows or anyone reenters the cave since the passage of the law, control of the cave and possession of all its contents will be taken over by the state, with criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The text of the law was published in the Institute Newsletters, and it is indeed expropriatory. There is a danger that all the artifacts remaining in the cave will be reburied in the state museum and never seen again.

Not much has been published about the inscriptions themselves. Many of them consist of scattered letters that are not well enough organized to decipher with confidence. Many are available only in fuzzy photographs. There appear to be several styles of writing, so that one often cannot be confident that letters from different stones are even from the same alphabet.

In September of 1993, Beverley Moseley acquired from Burrows the stone shown life-size in the accompanying illustration. It is larger than most of the other inscribed stones, and has a long and well-organized inscription on one side that should be sufficient to shed some light on the nature of the Burrows inscriptions. Bev lent me the stone so that I could study it first hand, which is always a great advantage.

On the side I call the front, there are some 37 carefully made and easily legible letters. At the top, there is a stick figure with a circle-cross head, upraised arms, and v-shaped legs. The circle-cross is a common motif in the Burrows artifacts. At the bottom there is a human right eye. The letters appear to be well weathered, and show no obvious signs of recent manufacture. The eye and the human figure demonstrate how the tablet is to be oriented, though it is not obvious from the lettering itself whether it should be read from left to right or right to left.

On the side I call the back, there is the head of a bird (also a common motif in the Burrows Cave artifacts), together with approximately 27 scattered letters, and a line of what appears to be Ogam. Because these letters are scattered and it is not even obvious which way they should be oriented, it is less promising for translation.

The bird itself is more cleanly made than I have drawn it. It is a simple line drawing, not a bas-relief like some of the Burrows images. The exaggerated eye demonstrates that it is not meant to be anatomically literal. However, the seed-eater's beak, the comb, and the hackles (neck feathers) suggest to me, at least, a chicken. (George Carter take note!)* It has what may be a three-part earlobe coming down from behind the eye, but has no signs of a wattle.

The back side does not appear to be as weathered as the front. The letters are smaller, and less well organized than on the front. Most of them are clear, though I would not swear that the F-like letter that appears twice is not really U-like with the bottom stroke sprawling a little to the right. I spoke with Burrows at the January 1994 meeting of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society in Columbus, Ohio, and showed him the stone. He confirmed that he found it in 1984 in "Area 4" of the passageway of the cave. Artifacts in this area were buried in silt, and appeared to have been washed from their original locations by a flood that silted up much of the passageway. This stone apparently does not appear in Virginia Hourigan's extensive photographic collection of Burrows artifacts, nor in the books that have been published about the cave to date.

I don't know what to call this stone. The figure on the front might be identified as Tanith, although Tanith would ordinarily have a triangular dress, rather than bare legs. "The V-legged, circle-cross-headed figure/Right eye/Bird Inscription Stone from Area 4 in Burrows Cave and currently in the Moseley Collection" is accurate, but a little cumbersome.


* Dr. McCulloch is not calling Dr. George Carter a 'chicken' and does not mean to imply anything bad. He makes the notation simply because Dr. Carter is a "Chicken" expert having done much research in what we call "Crypto-Zoology".

This article was published before the decipherments by Schaffranke and this stone is accurately deciphered on the ISAC Presentation video also Tomb Tape IV. We call this stone "Red Basket", note that you will not see a basket on the tablet, it is simply our nickname for the rock. It is noteworthy how much study went into this article by Dr. McCulloch. His personal feeling is definite in the sense that he feels the artifact is authentic and not a modern forgery. We applaud Dr. McCulloch for this fine piece and wish he would do more articles like this one. At his request, we will feature the decipherment of this tablet in our Artifacts for 'critique'.

As a courtesy to Dr. McCulloch, we have included this link to his Website which concerns the controversial OHIO DECALOGUE.  Note that most of the information on his site was stolen from Jackson Judge.

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