BELIEF IN ACTION: A CHALLENGE TO BURROWS CAVE BELIEVERS
By William R. McGlone
In Watermelon, Green Cheese, and Smoke" (Ancient American #10), my colleagues and I showed how the power of unsubstantiated belief can affect research on new ideas and listed a series of syndromes displayed by entrenched believers on both sides of such issues. The expected response came in the form of letters by Evan Hansen and Russell Burrows (AA #11). They prompt me to reply and this will be done through a more detailed analysis and explanation of the two examples we used, namely Burrows Cave and Gloria Farley's book, In Plain Sight. Both letters show the result of unsubstantiated BELIER IN ACTION and display some of the syndromes we identified. My reply will cove each of the examples in this light, but first some thoughts about the methodology of science and scholarship.
Speaking of believers, Hansen tried to defend starting in the middle. It is true that a subject can be entered at any point, but my objection as stated in our 1993 book, Ancient American Inscriptions (AAI), is to starting in the middle and proceeding onward without checking basic data sources, one of the most fundamental tenets of good scholarship. Revolutionary claims are traditionally made using secondary data, and such claims can become secondary data themselves. This is where the difficulty comes in the two examples. The claims are of little or no value unless they are based on acceptable primary data. In the Burrows Cave case, I call for release of the primary data, and in the other, we have carefully consulted it to the point of rejecting most of the claims.
Portable artifacts must be considered secondary data regarding the question of pre-Columbian contact unless they can be tied to time, geography, or culture by archaeological context. This brings up the question raised by Hansen about "authenticity" of the Burrows Cave artifacts. Authentically what? Without archaeological context, they may authentically be artifacts, i.e. the may exist, and they may be authentic epigraphically. But when were they inscribed and by whom, and most importantly, were they in a cave in Illinois before Columbus? The answer to the latter is the primary data needed to establish pre-Columbian contact, and Hansen's viewing of the photographs is secondary data at best. Proceeding by leaps and bounds without the primary data, when it should easily be available, is nothing but unsubstantiated BELIEF IN ACTION.
The question of the importance of primary vs secondary data is clearly shown in our evaluation of the work of Barry Fell. Supporters and critics alike began in the middle with his transcriptions and proceeded on through his translations, both of which are secondary data. We went to the actual inscriptions on the rocks and began there with the primary data. We found many major discrepancies that confuted his conclusions and gave numerous examples in AAI, where we also said, "After careful examination of dozens of his translations, we must reluctantly conclude that all we have examined are flawed, most to a serious degree, and a large portion fatally. The acceptance of his work by advocates and rejection by critics, without examination of the primary data, is another example of BELIEF IN ACTION.
A corollary issue described in our paper is the Green Cheese Syndrome, to which Hansen and the other believers readily succumb. Like saying the moon is made of green cheese until someone goes there and collects primary data to the contrary, interesting claims can be made and accepted in large part because they agree with preconceived belief, not because a reasonable case based on primary data has been made for them. In this malady, once claims are accepted, the believers oppose any challenge to the claims by saying they are not disproved, despite the fact they were never proved. And when negative evidence is offered, it is usually resisted. Evan Hansen's letter, like the moon is made of green cheese.
Complaining about how their ideas are treated by critics is another characteristic of believers in action. Some of their concepts may be within the realm of possibility, but consider what our body of knowledge would be like if we were to add as fact something just because someone states it is true. Standards of acceptance and testing by others are necessary methodological requirements. No one should be offended when new or unusual data are questioned, and supplying primary data sources to critics should be considered routine. It is certainly true that rejection by conventionalists can be too precipitate the unsupported, but that does not make a new idea correct or relieve claimants from the responsibility of supplying good evidence supporting their claims.
THE BURROWS CAVE CONTROVERSY
Throughout the history of this controversy, advocates have complained about the rush to dismissal by critics. As critics ourselves in this case and as advocates in others, we understand both sides of this complaint. What the advocates miss here is the basic lack of primary data and the dubious, farcial atmosphere surrounding the Burrows Cave question. Consider teh following aspects in the presence of which all of us are asked to "believe":
1) The story of the initial finding by the farmer who in the 1800's dynamited the cave closed with all its treasure intact.
2) The contention that the men buried in the cave are sun kings, "the descendants of extraterrestrial immortal progenitors."
3) The assertion that an excavation basecamp would be too far from a populated center.
4) The Elephant Stone brouhaha.
5) Gaffes in the boat representations and ludicrous iconographic errors on the portable stones.
6) The leaving of large quantities of gold in the cave for safekeeping.
7) The incredible gunfights, one with locals, one with unknown agents.
8) The concentration of the debate on the artifacts and away from truly demonstrable fact - the cave and its remaining contents.
9) Film exposed in the cave either does not develop or does not produce clear pictures.
10) Ghost-like spirits who guard the cave, speak to an intruder, and kiss him on the cheek.
11) The "closing" of the cave in 1989 after insistence on visits became more marked.
12) The use of deceased fall guys like John Ward and Warren Cook to answer embarrassing issues.
13) The manner in which agreed-upon inspections of the inside of the cave are turned aside; e.g., Cyrus Gordon and Jim Whittall.
14) Cockeyed reasons for not showing the cave; e.g., snakes, flash floods, and proximity to the New Madrid fault.
1o5) Car salesman tactics where all offers have to be cleared with an unseen manager (owner).
16) The continued use of straw-man arguments to blunt inquiry; e.g., the site would have to be destroyed to be proven authentic.
17) The "unopened box" explanation for the Field Museum opinions on the artifacts.
18) Expert opinion on the non-authenticity of the stones, including the apparent freshness and technique of their carvings.
19) Claim-and-then-dodge tactics; e.g., that archaeologist have confirmed the artifacts but do not want to be bothered about it.
20) The similarity of artistic style and hand across the many cultures represented in the inscriptions.
21) The Chief Ras argument backfiring, since we have found the Colorado inscription in all probability is a local cattle brand.
22) The showing of the cave entrance, that when about to be located became a decoy cave shown to protect the "real cave."
23) Withholding of "translation" details.
24) The claim that Illinois law prevents examination of the cave.
The net result of all of the above is to preclude reasonable conclusion that the cave can exist as described; i.e., with the remaining contents of statuary, script and painting on walls, burial crypts, urns containing scrolls, a death mask, rooms cut from stone and lined with marble, a "lot of gold," and bronze weaponry. All of these items are verifiable as fact and constitute the primary evidence, if they exist. The value of the artifacts is more dubious and debatable and they must be considered secondary evidence until their connection to the cave is securely demonstrated or their time of manufacture is clearly shown.
Another important point is that the Burrows Cave artifacts are used by believers to support the diffusionist position. But the cave alone would serve that purpose if verified. Some or all of the artifacts may come from a variety of sources, including manufacture by a 19th century cult. Sorting all of this our is complex and adds to the desirability of believers to also insist on seeing the cave. Learning the provenience of the artifacts is a difficult research project, and even if they are proved old and the epigraphy valid, they would be a side issue regarding pre-Columbian contact unless they could be tied to the cave.
Based on the above 24-item list, as we said in AAI, "the warning flags are flying, the alarms are screaming, but the advocates are both blind and deaf. The desire to believe is too great." Had the primary data, the cave and its contents, been examined early, 13 years of fruitless controversy could have been avoided, grants for study and protections obtained, cooperation of experts gained, and everything conducted in an orderly, safe, systematic fashion. Unless, of course, there is no such cave. The fact that it has not been shown, convincingly supports the conclusion that it cannot be, because is does not exist.
We are charged by Hansen with insisting that only we be the ones to confirm the cave, that we be allowed to study it, and he asks what evidence we have the cave is not there. Nothing could be more wrong-headed, as we neither want nor expect to be involved in its confirmation. We advocate that a small group of unimpeachable witnesses view the inside of the cave to confirms the primary data. This can be done quietly and legally in a matter of hours; the results could then be used to obtain the cooperation of experts and to acquire funding for protection and study of the cave in a manner acceptable to all parties including Native Americans. If such a cave does exist, it would be endangered no more than it has by present publicity; and, with funding, it could quickly be protected far better than it is today. Asking us to prove no cave exists, i.e., to prove a negative when Russell Burrows could so easily demonstrate the putative cave's existence is beyond reason. Readers should consult the list of two dozen items above and decide how much of the family farm they would wager that the cave exists.
The legal problems of entering the cave (#24 above) have been blown completely our of proportion. The Illinois law is claimed to prevent examination of the cave, but our simple call to the Illinois State Archaeologist's office disclosed otherwise. The cave can be entered legally with the landowner's permission without special permit as long as there is no disturbance of burial remains. Such permission should be obtainable with little difficulty and has reportedly been available in the past.
So much for imagined difficulties associated with entering and verifying the cave. But Burrows professes concern over what might happen after the cave's location has been disclosed. He has written a piece in Ancient American #13 in which he quotes a 1990 Illinois statute and gives his summary of federal law regarding the administration of unidentified burial remains. In the piece he paints a picture of protection that is contrary to the purpose of these laws and writes, "I know full well that should I reveal that location, the cave will be looted and the State of Illinois will do nothing about it." In actuality, if remains are present and are shown to be direct ancestors of present Indians, they will have jurisdiction over them; but if as some believe based on Burrows' accounts the remains are those of Old World visitors, the state would have jurisdiction. What we have here is another thinly disguised ploy intended to provide Burrows and excuse for not disclosing his fantasy cave. Of course, this dodge will completely satisfy believers, who will continue to accept the validity of the artifacts without questioning their origin. There is no basis in any of this for nondisclosure of the cave other than its nonexistence.
Much of believer Hansen's position is based on why-would, how-could thinking, a kind of convoluted straw-man argument in which he tries to outguess others as to motivation and ability. For example, why would someone have made so many artifacts fraudulently? Or, who might have had the ability to make them? Or who could have written lengthy texts on the stones? Or, who could have afforded all the "gold" involved? Such questions are not evidence and should be countered by: how certain are we of the total number of artifacts? How difficult are they to actually make? Have the stones truly been deciphered? Is gold really present in an appreciable amount? Someone who should know told us that one gold artifact was sectioned and found to be lead-filled. Speculative arguments like these are unnecessary when the issue could so easily be settled by showing the cave exists. Until then, reason dictates that acceptance for the claims be withheld.
Hansen says Cyclone Covey has probably seen more photos of artifacts than we have and he is surely right, but they are just more secondary data and do not remove the need for disclosure of the cave. Another point that is consistently missed, and which shows the level to which belief affects thinking, is why none of the several who were taken to the mouth of the cave asked to see the deep hole in the ground outside the cave with the face and symbols carved in its wall; this is the hole into which Burrows reportedly fell when he discovered the cave. Verification of its presence would constitute confirmation of a portion of the primary data that is required. The believers were satisfied merely to see a rocky outcrop of which there are many in that region.
Displaying another believer's syndrome, Burrows and Hansen get personal and question our qualifications to comment on Burrows Cave. The five authors of AAI, where two sections critique this controversy, have extensive professional experience in science and technology and have actively worked for many years on American epigraphy and diffusion, including the Burrows Cave question. Despite Burrows' contention, one of us, Jim Whittall, is a respected archaeologist who studied anthropology at Harvard, serves as a qualified archaeological expert in court, is archaeological director for Early Sites Research Society, and has led excavations for the state of Connecticut and the Gungywamp Society. Although available to us, I submit that specialized knowledge of this type is not necessary to judge this case. Anyone using the judgment and common sense employed for decisions in his daily life, is adequately equipped to review the list of 24 items above and see the need for the disclosure of the primary evidence in this case -- the cave and its remaining contents.
Recently, an overview article appeared in the Chicago Tribune describing how far into fantasy land the Burrows Cave affair has slipped. It told how some believers are seeking the cave as the tomb of a Ptolemy, Cleopatra, and Alexander the Great; how Burrows is safely sitting back claiming the "true cave" is 70 miles away; how disgustedly the professionals look at the entire farce; and how it continues to snowball despite their pointed statement to the contrary. The situation could be settled definitively by Burrows showing the cave; but since he cannot reveal a nonexistent cave, he will probably hide by attempting to retreat from the whole affair. He tried such a ploy before. Despite this, the believers will undoubtedly go on searching and believing. My goal is to help demonstrate the self-evidence of the situation by a challenge that exposes the true nature of Burrows Cave.
No one would be more pleased than I if such a cave did exist, and no one would be sooner to apologize for concluding it does not. I would welcome egg on my face, but have no concern it will appear there. I conclude this section with this challenge to the believers, "When are you going to take someone who counts into the cave, Russ?" Until this is done, the claims for Burrows Cave can be dismissed by the critics without prejudice to them.
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