THE ARTIFACTS OF BURROWS CAVE
Note: This is a passage printed in the book titled ANCIENT AMERICAN INSCRIPTIONS: Plow Marks or History? published in 1993 and written by William R. McGlone; Phillip M. Leonard; James L. Guthrie; and James P. Whittal. ff 54.
Self-proclaimed cave explorer Russell Burrows asserts that in April, 1982, he discovered a hoard of Bronze Age artifacts in an Illinois cave. But he admits that as of late winter, 1992, official study of the cave had not yet begun (Burrows and Rydholm 1992:3). His book, The Mystery Cave of Many Faces pretends to explain how this unlikely situation came about but instead, it may be the best published example of literature that has kept respectable scholars from wanting to evaluate American Epigraphic claims. The initial find was claimed to be of "thousands of engraved stones, bearing non-American art styles and inscriptions in ancient European and Asian scripts." But it has grown to include "regal burial crypts, metal weapons, coins, ceramics, cloth, and elegant statuary."
We learned about this in 1986 when one of us (Whittall) was shown several hundred photographs of purported artifacts as an inducement to participate in an "archaeological" investigation. Although the engraved stones looked ludicrous, he offered to inspect the cave and suggested guidelines for proper study. But his insistence on scientific rigor angered Burrows, who denied him further information about the location. To this day, the very existence of the wondrous cave portrayed by Burrows remains in doubt. Its inner recesses have been seen by only one person, Russell Burrows himself.
Photographs of the artifacts were also shown to a number of well-known authorities in a largely unsuccessful attempt to draw favorable comment. John Ward, a regional amateur Epigrapher and author of Ancient Archives Among the Cornstalks (1984) joined Burrows in promoting the find. In his farcical book, Ward had translated stones with apparently natural marks, found near Vincennes, Indiana, as outlining the history of ancient Libyan people mentioned in some of Fell's translations from Oklahoma (Fell 1976a:182), and he read the Burrows Cave artifacts as another chapter in that story. Fell and others, including ourselves, have rejected these readings as well as the authenticity of the artifacts.
Although allegedly representing several Mediterranean and American cultures over a span of more than a thousand years, most of the carved drawings appear to have been made by the same hand, with an ubiquitous lantern-jawed cartoon character appearing throughout the various costumes. There were such gaffes as ancient boats shown with the steering gear at the front, a male god with prominent breasts, the use of machine-cut marble, and absurdly illiterate renditions of Old World scripts. Nevertheless, a few gullible members of the Epigraphic community accepted the claims and hailed the cache as the most important American archaeological find of all time. Publication of the photos was forbidden, but Whittall (1990a) included several of his drawings in Myth Makers, where he described the history of the Burrows Cave affair and included opinions on the artifacts from a dozen specialists.
Complications arose for Burrows and Ward when Barry Fell became indignant over the presence of one of his own copyrighted drawings on an artifact. It portrayed the Ecuadorian Elephant Stone from page 184 of America B.C. that had been published with one letter drawn incorrectly. The Illinois version was the same, error and all, suggesting that it had been fabricated after 1976. Other Burrows Cave artifacts seemed to have been based on Fell's publications also, and he characterized them as "meaningless pseudo-Ogam and Phoenician and Libyan letters, apparently copied from various papers I have published in ESOP or in my books, but so jumbled and utterly unlike the origianals as to imply modern incorporation of my results by other persons" (Fell 1991b).
Burrows responded with an apology, explaining that the nephew of the landowner indeed had carved the Elephant Stone and nine others, but claimed that the rest were authentic. After the young man was killed in an accident, the confession was retracted by Burrows on the basis that the boy had copied a stone from the collection so that he could sell the original, and Burrows also maintained that the erroneously copied letter could have been a legitimate way of writing that letter. Later, he retracted the apology, saying that it had been contrived by one of the believers in order to appease Barry Fell (Burrows and Rydholm 1992:158-9).
Accounts of the cave and its contents became more bizarre as time went on, taking on most of the elements of treasure stories that explorers have heard at one time or another: sarcophagi, mummies, mysterious inscriptions, gold bars, and trick doors and traps. The affair would have merely been entertaining, except that the promoters made plans to solicit funds for an excavation by archaeologists, extensive security system for the site, buildings for display, a visitor center, and so forth. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been required and it was rumored that the anonymous landowner had offered a large sum toward these projects. Unfortunately, some potential donors took each new embellishment of the tale as further proof of the importance and authenticity of the find. A suspicious secrecy was maintained, allegedly because of the importance of protecting the site. This was in conspicuous contrast to the way archaeological finds are normally handled.
Strangest of all, is that nobody except Burrows, not even his co-author Rydholm, has been permitted to see the inside of the cave, causing us to doubt that it exists as described. A few people have been taken to a small shelter or entrance room, but have been shown nothing more. Dangers such as snakes, flash floods, and proximity to the New Madrid fault are typical excuses for denying further access. One researcher who traveled from New England in order to see the spectacle was allowed into the "foyer," where he saw some laid-up stonework but little else. Qualified scholars who have offered to conduct on-site studies have been rebuffed when they proposed the normal professional conditions that should be observed in such work. Word is always sent that the anonymous landowner has determined the conditions to be unacceptable.
In our view, the first step in the serious investigation that Burrows claims to desire would be to confirm existence of the cave by having someone other than Burrows have a look. We called for the promoters to "put up or shut up" (Whittall and McGlone 1991) by allowing a select committee to observe the inner reaches of the purported cave. This simple inspection could be done in a matter of hours and would answer many questions. The existence of the cave, the sarcophagi, etc. is a question of fact that is subject to direct verification, whereas judgements about the nature of the portable artifacts are matters of opinion. Either the cave and its contents are there as claimed, or they are not.
So far, all requests to enter the cave have been put off with pseudo-legalistic explanations or with exaggerated accounts of potential hazards contrived to frighten non-cavers, but which would be routine to any archaeologist or outdoorsman. A revealing example was published by Cyrus Gordon just after his planned trip to the site had been aborted at the last minute, purportedly because he intended to bring his wife, who is a linguist. In his published letter, which should go far toward resolving this case for many, Gordon said:
A slide showing many large "gold coins" said to come from the Cave was projected on a screen during a meeting of ISAC in June 1991. Mr. Russell Burrows implored the audience not to talk about this golden treasure lest it endanger his family who might be taken as hostages and abused by criminals to force him to reveal where the gold-laden Cave is located.
If only a tenth of Mr. Burrows' account were true, the Cave would be an outstanding discovery. So, at the ISAC meeting in June 1991, I arranged to examine the Cave and the gold coins under the guidance of Mr. Burrows. Soon we fixed an exact date: October 19th and 20th, 1991. After a month and a half had elapsed, I received a couple of phone calls from Mr. Burrows. In the second one, he asked if I was up to walking about half a mile to reach the Cave from the road where we would have to leave the car and continue on foot. I assured him that I would be equal to it (for I walk more than that every day). Then he added that the area was infested with snakes, to which I replied that with high leather footgear, I had no objection to the presence of serpents. (I'm used to venomous creatures from my excavations and explorations in the Near East, where I regularly shook out my shoes to make sure there were no scorpions in them, when I got dressed in the morning). When his latter-day Labors of Hercules failed to dissuade me, Mr. Burrows notified me (in a letter dated 23 August 1991) that the owner had rejected our long-planned visit to the Cave site, for security reasons. (Gordon 1991)
At one point, it looked as if the Burrows Cave affair had run its course. John Ward died, and Burrows toned down his promotion, announcing that he had withdrawn from public debate over the cave (Burrows 1991). But then came the Burrows and Rydholm book, followed by another entitled Rock Art Pieces from Burrows Cave in Southern Illinois - Volume I by Dr. James P. Scherz and Russell Burrows. Scherz is a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the University of Wisconsin. The book illustrates most of the 116 pieces said to remain in the collection; Ward is alleged to have sold the other 1665 pieces (Burrows and Rydholm 1991:202). Scherz presents analyses of the rock from which these are made and the "corrosion" he says has taken place on the rock surfaces.
Scherz laments the loss of 90% of the "evidence" and pleads for the missing artifacts to be located and preserved because they constitute the "basic data" necessary for scientific study. Throughout the book, he belabors the importance of basic data in science, but has missed the fact that in this case the basic data are the cave and its alleged contents, which have never been confirmed. Portable stones are a notoriously unreliable form of evidence and are of value only if it is known when and if they went into the ground, by documentation of the circumstances of their discovery. We showed the extreme difficulty of such documentation by the examples in Chapter 1, and it becomes more difficult as we get farther in time from the reported discoveries.
The existence of Burrows Cave could be validated in a few hours by examination by someone other than Burrows. Even co-authors Rydholm and Scherz have only Burrows's description. It is hard to believe that no one, including these two, who has been taken to the vicinity of the purported cave, has been curious to see things that Burrrows claimed to be outside of the cave; such as the 12-foot deep "mantrap" pit, cut into solid rock, with a petroglyph of a face carved in it. Considering the ten years of veiling and maneuvering that have accompanied this affair, it will quite properly be viewed with suspicion by professional scholars until the presence of the cave and its contents has been established.