Mystery Cave Could Prove Ancient Visitors Were Here

By John Tiffany

As it appeared in the Barnes Review of September 2001 and available to the public on their Webpage @

A spelunker named Russell Burrows from the southern Illinois town of Olney allegedly discovered a mysterious cave along a branch of the Little Wabash River. If even some of the stories told surrounding this mysterious event are true, what are said by some to be the startling contents of the cave would set traditional American archeology on its ear. In 1982, Russell Burrows was a man with a hobby: He liked to explore places that had been untouched for a long time. He knew of one region in Illinois where, according to rumor, there had once been a number of old homesteads. Burrows decided to explore the area. Burrows headed into the rugged, wooded countryside. He carried a metal detector, with which he hoped to locate relics of a century and more past: parts of old stoves, lamps, wedges, ax heads and other traces of early settlers and homesteaders.

Burrows stopped to eat his lunch on a bluff that overlooks a valley. He stood up and stepped on the edge of a flat, round rock. His weight on the side of this rock flipped it as if on a pivot, and Burrows found himself falling into a pit below the rock. What happened next is told in his own words: I found myself falling into a pit which had been secreted beneath a large oval stone which, as I later discovered, was fitted into the pit opening and designed to flip or turn over when stepped on. The unfortunate victim would fall to the bottom of the pit, the stone would swing back in place and the victim would be trapped. I was fortunate: When I stepped on that stone, I was in the act of turning, and the stone, instead of flipping over, slid off to one side and left the pit open. I do not actually remember hitting bottom; my next recollection is of hanging on to the lip of the pit by my elbows, in great alarm. I admit that I have a great fear of holes that I'm not ready for, because of snakes. But I found none. When I freed myself and regained my composure, I began to examine the pit and have a look at what was to be the beginning of the greatest adventure of my life. . . . I sat down to calm my nerves, catch my breath and give the situation some thought.

Burrows found himself in a chamber, with a huge face on one wall. I did not have to be a genius to figure out that I had stumbled into something that just should not be in Illinois. I have hunted for and found many artifacts of the American Indians and there are many of their sites in my part of the state, but I knew then that this was not American Indian. The face I had been nose to nose with was different from anything I had ever seen. The nose was flat, the eyes were wide-set, and the lips were thick. Then, of course, there were all those strange symbols to consider. I had crawled under a ledge and was looking for petroglyphs such as I had seen in the pit. I had searched all the walls of the entire length of the valley, and while I had seen a few scratchings, I was not all that excited about what I had seen so far. Finally, I gave up on this last place, and decided to quit. In disgust, I tossed my small rock pick against the inside wall of the overhang. The rock gave out a distinctly unnatural sound: a hollow ring, not what I'd expect from solid rock. . . . As it was now clear that a cave was on the other side. . . . My first entrance was through this portal and into a tunnel-like passage which has a drop-off of about three feet just inside of the portal. I was met with a strong, musty odor. Not of decay, but musty. As I moved my head and light around, I saw a full human skeleton reposing on a large block of stone. It scared the hell out of me! Then I began to see other things lying there with those bones. I saw ax heads, spear points, and something elseómetal! The skeleton was laid out upon a solid block large enough to hold not only the remains but artifacts as well. The artifacts include ax heads of marble and other stone material, an ax head of what appears to be bronze, a short sword of what appears to be bronze, and other artifacts which might be considered personal weapons. There were also a set of three bronze spears, the longest being about six feet long and the shortest about three feet. . . . The skeletal remains bear several fine artifacts such as armbands, headbands and other such items, all of gold.

The cave is said to lie somewhere along the Skillet Fork of the Little Wabash River in southeastern Illinois. It supposedly contains 13 elaborately ornamented burial crypts. It is unclear and a matter of controversy who, besides Burrows, has actually been inside the cave. But Burrows has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of curiously carved stones that he says came from the cave. And some of the artifacts allegedly were not of stone, but of gold. It is claimed that Burrows sold off enough artifacts to unknown buyers that he was able to place $7 million in Swiss numbered bank accounts. According to Swiss journalist Luc Buergin, this money derives from the illegal sale of gold artifacts from the North American burial site. (Other sources claim that Burrows melted down all the gold and sold it as ingots. Still others question whether there ever was any gold in the first place.) Buergin accuses Burrows of having clandestinely sold thousands of "burial gifts." In his recently published book Geheimakte Archeologie ("Secret file: Archeology," ISBN 3-7766-7002-9, Munich 1998) he presents documents, financial papers and pictures which indicate that Burrows has removed enormous quantities of gold from the cave system.

TBR managed to reach Mr. Burrows personally at his home in Windsor, Colorado on August 15. He told us that Buergin got his information from Harry Hubbard and Rick Flavin, "both of whom are high school dropouts. Hubbard is trying to sell stock in a company called Ptolemy Productions, but has been on the run from the police for selling fraudulent stock for over a year. Flavin is a guy who stole artifacts from a woman in Cadillac, Michigan and who just likes to shoot his mouth off."

Fred Rydholm is an amateur archeologist (with 50 years' experience) who, along with Russell Burrows, authored a book about the site, called Mystery Cave of Many Faces. TBR interviewed him regarding the discovery, which many have labeled a hoax. Rydholm was asked how much gold, in terms of weight, has been taken out of, or is in, Burrows Cave. He replied that Burrows claims "huge amounts" of gold are involved. However, Rydholm himself has only seen one small box of golden artifacts, and has not examined them closely. Burrows himself told TBR that over a ton of gold was found in the cave, and that none of it ever left. According to Huston McCulloch of the Economics Department at Ohio State University, Vol. 3, No. 16 of Ancient American magazine "has a series of interesting articles on the Burrows Cave, which is surely either the biggest find or biggest running hoax of the 20th-century American archeology." McCulloch said on the Internet: "Most if not all of the 'gold' on the cover and inside Ancient American is known to be gold-painted lead casts of purported original artifacts." (He did not explain how this was known.)

TBR asked Rydholm, "Has any of the gold been analyzed to determine its origin or fineness?" "I don't know anything about that," he replied. Burrows told TBR that none of it was ever tested. However, he was of the belief that the gold must be very fine, "because you can bend it with a thumbnail."

Rydholm was asked whether any accepted or establishment organization has taken an interest in Burrows Cave. And if so, what have they done? He replied that a Dr. John White, of Columbus, Ohio, who is a physicist and is also an officer in the Midwestern Epigraphic Society, believes the artifacts are authentic. Zena Halpern, of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society and the Institute for the Study of American Culture (ISAC), is working on an inscription that she claims appears to portray a Jewish menorah, from the cave. He said she also claims that a silver menorah was removed from the cave by Burrows. White said: I have not been confronted by physical evidence that would tend to prove it is a fraud. I am a scientist, and the type of things that have been said that are negative seem to have little substance; but they do open your eyes to the possibility that you are never really sure, even when you enter a major museum. Very few artifacts have a good pedigree. No more than 1-10 percent really have a good pedigree. Nearly always (in museums, for example) they are called Greek because they look Greek; they are called Egyptian because they look Egyptian. By the way, I have no certainty that there is a Burrows Cave. I am just talking about the artifacts. So you look at these artifacts, and they look old. I know nothing about the gold objects, other than just the talk. As long ago as 1994, I was offered a chance to pick up a set of lead replicas. I have about 50 replicas that are gold painted. I am sort of an authority on Burrows' propaganda. If it is fraudulent, it would have taken a team of about 10 experts and I do not know how many craftsmen to make them. The going price for these objects would not compensate anyone for making them. No one that I have ever been introduced to has ever seen the cave, other than Burrows.

"What I can authenticate," Zena Halpern told TBR, "is a very, very rare menorah with a triangle base. The unusual aspect of a triangle base menorah is what distinguishes these stones and makes them so unique. There are only two known examples in ancient Jewish sources of this unusual menorah with a triangle base, and they date from the first century B.C., when the menorah still stood in the Second Temple. Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, menorahs were not depicted due to the prohibition against reproducing sacred objects from the temple. How ever, after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., in about the second and early third centuries A.D., menorahs began to be represented in the diaspora, and they all had three legs as a base. The first example of a menorah with a rare triangle base is relatively unknown and is found on coins minted by the last Judean king in the years from 40 to 37 B.C. The name of the king appears on the coins: Mattathias  Antigonus II. This was a daring and innovative act for the king, as the reproduction of the menorah was forbidden by Jewish law. However, he was engaged in a desperate struggle against Herod and the Roman legions for control of Jerusalem, and he minted the coins as a Jewish symbol to rally the people to his cause. This triangle-base menorah never appeared again on coins and did not appear on any Jewish objects until the late second or early third centuries A.D., and when it appeared it had a base of three legs.

The second example of a menorah with a triangle base is from an archeological dig in 1969 beneath the Old City of Jerusalem from a house partially destroyed in the Roman assault on Jerusalem. This menorah was incised in plaster on the wall of the house and is considered the earliest clear depiction of the menorah which stood in the temple. It is dated to the Herodian era, 37-4 B.C. Prof. Nahman Avigad, director of the excavation, stated that the menorah had been found only a few hundred yards from the Temple Mount, and the artist probably saw the temple menorah every day. The depiction is rare because of the holiness of the object. (New York Times, Dec. 3, 1969)

Two other objects were also represented on the plaster and were reconstructed to be the altar and the shewbread table, objects which stood in the temple. The golden menorah was carried off to Rome by Titus, and a representation of the menorah was carved on the Arch of Titus; but it had an octagonal base. A description of the construction of the menorah is given in Exodus 25:31-37, and while the specifications are [otherwise] extremely detailed, no mention is made of the base. The appearance of this menorah, an obscure and rare object, from a brief window of time, on these stones remains an intriguing mystery. Along with the menorah, three ancient Hebrew letters also appear on the stones, which are yod, heth and daled, possibly an ancient spelling of "Judea," but more analysis is needed to confirm this. There are also depictions of sacred objects from the temple on some of the stones such as the shewbread table, musical instruments and a possible shofar. There are many unresolved questions remaining about the cave, and much controversy has occurred over the years. However, the reproduction of this rare, triangle-base menorah poses a most intriguing and fascinating mystery. Cyclone Covey, a historian who has studied many languages and epigraphy, is convinced the cave is genuine. He stated: Carthaginian religion was Egyptian, and their outpost was the Siwa oasis, a place visited by Alexander the Great, and called by them Amonia, from the Egyptian god Amon. It was a famous oracle throughout antiquity because it was like the Delphic oracle; it was one of the four major ones that could predict the future. It was visited by the Emperor Hadrian. All the Libyans of north Africa adhered to the Egyptian religion. The cave is an Egyptian-style mausoleum. The tombs of the kings of Egypt are constructed in the same way as those in Burrows Cave. They are water-tight. Burrows had not been to the tombs in Egypt, but his description matches it completely. Many of the stones from the cave are written in Numidian, and some are in Libyan, while others are in Ptolomaic Greek. The Yuchi Indians used to live in a large area, among all the tribes that were Algonquin speaking. Their own language is of Scythian derivation. The Yuchi tradition is that they had a sacred mausoleum in that vicinity, which they sealed, about A.D. 800. Cahokia rose like a mushroom and became the dominant power in the region. Russell did not know anything about this tradition when he discovered the cave. The cave owner was known as "Neff," but his real name was a lengthy Italian one. Carthaginian gold coins were molded, and they have a horse head on one side. The Yuchi tradition is that there was gold in the cave, and an archive. The Yuchis in the time of De Soto lived in houses, not teepees, and were lighter-skinned than other Indians. I do not think Burrows has made a lot of money out of the cave. He lives rather simply on his military pension, like lower middle-class people. He has a motorcycle, and not a Cadillac." Is it possible that the artifacts were manufactured by a 19th-century cult, as some have alleged?" he was asked. No, sir, I think it is utterly impossible. Utterly impossible. There are no signs that the cave was discovered before Burrows fell into it. No one knew enough to fake Numidian, Keltiberian and other languages which were not known until the 20th century. It is like the Paraiba inscription that recounts how a Phoenician expedition was carried to Brazil, and the language in the inscription is Phoenician, which is very close to He brew and had certain turns of phrases that were unknown at the time the Paraiba inscription was discovered. Wayne May, publisher of Ancient American, told TBR: By the finder, a lot of gold has been taken out of the cave. Testing tells us there is still more gold in the ground. Burrows melted the gold down and sold it. He looted the sit. Burrows now claims the site [which we are preparing to excavate] is not his site. A little over 7,000 artifacts have come out of the cave, not counting the gold items. A lot of scientists have looked at the material, but they are being quiet until the location of the site is divulged.

We have an archeologist on hand, and will have Ho-Chunk [Winnebagoes] from Black River Falls, Wisconsin on the site upon opening late September this year [2001]. Burrows told TBR that, as a retired prison guard, he is living on Social Security, and that he manages to support a middle-class lifestyle on this as his only source of money. Beverly Mosley, former director of art at the Ohio Historical Society, and currently president of Midwestern Epigraphic Society, told TBR: There is a lot of creativity in these artifacts. Some of it is what we call minimal art, like Eskimo art. We are talking thousands of artifacts, and they are all different. They could not possibly have been made all by one person. There is no way in hell that the average Joe Schmo can put together an ancient style of writing and make it readable. There are probably 10 different alphabets written on these stones. For someone to duplicate these things, they are going to have to know five or six alphabets, and know how to draw things correctly. Probably out of the stones I have seen, I have seen 500 with ancient script on them. There is a lot of Iberian writing, ogam and tifinag writing. (Tifinag is a script of unknown origin, used by the Tuareg in certain objects, like bracelets and rock inscriptions.) Geologist Dr. Jim P. Scherz (author of Rock Art Pieces from Burrows Cave) has studied the stone artifacts. According to him, there is weathering on their surfaces that proves the stones are very old, quite possibly going back to the time of Christ, if not older than that. Certainly they are far older than the century or so that some establishmentarians have suggested as a maximum. Of course, it is not unusual for discoverers of "politically incorrect" evidence to run into serious problems with the establishment. In his book, Burrows tells of his first unpleasant brush with academia: I contacted [Eastern Illinois University] and inquired if they had an anthropologist on their staff. They did, and I was put in contact with him. A meeting was arranged, and I made the trip up to the university to meet with this young fellow, whom I will refer to as Mr. "Brown." . . . This probably could have happened at a number of universities across the country. . . . The first thing he asked me was, "Where is the cave?" I told him I didn't want to reveal the location of it at that time because of the fact that I had not yet worked out an agreement with the land owner, and, as a matter of fact, I had not met him, nor did I know who he was. Brown was a little put out with the fact that I was not going to spill the whole pot of beans to him, but he said that he doubted the artifacts were all that old. He told me he would attempt to find out what they were and that he would get back to me as soon as he could. I left the university and made the trip back to Olney. While doing so, I was doing a lot of thinking. Why didn't he think those artifacts were old? . . . The trip home took about an hour. I sat down at the kitchen table to ponder the situation. Just as I was getting into my second cup, the telephone rang. It was Brown. "Great news," he said, "I found out what your artifacts are. I called the state archeologist at Champaign, and after I described the artifacts to her, she said, 'Oh, I know what those things are. They were made by a cult in southern Illinois about 100 years ago, and they must have hid them in caves or buried them.' " "You mean she was able to make that determination from your description by telephone?" I asked, when I found my tongue. "Oh, sure," came back Brown. "She is a very sharp person and has studied the history of southern Illinois at length. She really knows what she's talking about." What do you do when you are backed into a corner like that? My first thought was to walk away and forget it. They must have had a very low opinion of my judgment. But now I had the same opinion of theirs. In conclusion, it can only be stated that nothing can safely be concluded regarding Burrows Cave at this time. Hopefully, some time within the next few months, there may be some official statement by a university or reputable archeologist, but for now, all anyone has to go on is hearsay. Rydholm says that seismographic tests are presently being conducted around the site to verify the existence of chambers. He adds that definitive results should be due out in the fall. If it turns out that Burrows Cave is for real, it could be the hard evidence diffusionists have been looking for for a generation. Not many publishers would be disappointed either. It would mean every schoolbook in America would have to be reprinted with the truth about the feats and abilities of our ancient ancestors. v