Ancient Pirate Treasure In Illinois?

by Frank Joseph, Wayne May and Russell Burrows


Does Burrows' Cave contain the remains of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra? Was it, or is it a landing site for aliens from outer space? Sure, and I have a pig that can both whistle and fly!

In 1982, an off-duty officer in the Illinois National Guard was casually exploring an infrequently visited area of his state outside Olney, when he saw the entrance to a cave. He entered it and found a series of decorated chambers containing numerous manmade objects. But these were not items usually associated with Native American Indians.

In the flicker of his improvised torch, Russell Burrows saw great, stone sarcophagi of the kind he had seen in books about ancient Egypt. There were monumental statues of what appeared to be Olmec, Phoenician or Hebrew dignitaries, and carved portraits of men in Roman and Libyan uniforms were scattered about.

Since that discovery, the cave has become the focal-point of a controversy as heated as it is still unresolved. Many theories have been offered to explain its mysterious contents. But who should know more about the cave than the man who found it? Here he offers his interpretation of the evidence for what some believe is the American equivalent of Tutankhamun's tomb.


In the thirteen years following the discovery of that disputable cave, many theorists have tried to determine who was responsible for its bizarre interior. Who could have filled it with such a great diversity of the apparently Egyptian, Roman, Olmec, Hebrew, Phoenician and other types of artifacts found inside?

In the last year, someone came to the startling conclusion that Burrows' Cave is not only the final resting place of Alexander the Great, but of Queen Cleopatra, as well! While such a claim might be suitable for the screaming headlines of a cheap tabloid newspaper, it hardly deserves serious consideration here, except that this preposterous assumption has gained some attention from otherwise sensible persons. In the first place, had the people who supposedly spirited away the bodies of these two famous figures managed to reach American shores, they would have undoubtedly erected some monument that read, to the effect, "Here lies Alexander III and Cleopatra." They would have left something behind to mark the spot, not squirreled away the royal remains in an obscure cave. And the plain, historical fact that Alexander and Cleopatra were separated by 300 years makes this theory all the more ludicrous.

No less unpalatable are claims by the inevitable UFO devotees, who insist the items in Burrows' Cave are not human artifacts from the past, but material proof of creatures from outer space. While these two interpretations represent extreme viewpoints, they are really no more incredible than most arguments used to explain the cave. But it is not my intention top bore or amuse readers with a catalog or summary of these theories.

One of the very few that does intrigue involves surviving reports from 17th Century French missionaries, who came upon a tribe of Indians living on the banks of the Illinois River. The natives were friendly and identified them selves as the Piankhisha. Interestingly, Piankhi was the ruler of Kush (modern Sudan), who conquered Egypt from the south and helped found the 25th Dynasty, in 745 B.C. We know Piankhi returned to die, not in Illinois, but at the Kushite capital, Jabal Barkal. It is nevertheless true that his successful invasion of the Nile Delta drove the seafaring Libyans into the Mediterranean, perhaps much farther.

Then there was Piankh, an Egyptian high priest of the 20th Dynasty, when the last great pharaonic expedition was sent to the Lands of Punt, which some investigators believe they can trace to the Americas (see The Ancient American, No. 8). The Illinois Indian name, Piankhisha, may translate from the Egyptian as "Men of (sha) Piankhi or Pinakh." That such a tribe should happen to be found in the vicinity of Burrows' Cave, with its late-style Egyptian artifacts, should at least give us pause. But both the king and the priest (of 8th and 12th Centuries B.C., respectively) lived many centuries after the Olmecs and before the Romans, both of whom are culturally represented at the site.

A cursory examination of most of the Burrows Cave artifacts appears to date them around the middle to end of the 2nd Century B.C. What was going on in the rest of the world at this time? Scipio Africanus, the great Roman general, finally destroyed the Carthaginian Empire in 147 B.C. The Carthaginians were originally Phoenicians from the Near East, who settled in Libya to build their powerful capital, Carthage, from which they threatened Rome in three Punic Wars. With their final defeat, they resorted to piracy on a large scale, so much so, a new Roman fleet was especially built to hunt them down.

Victorious on the seas as they had been on land, the sons of Romulus ruthlessly swept the Carthaginian buccaneers out of the Mediterranean and the near-Atlantic. In the process, the freewheeling pirates plundered the cities and towns of a dozen different cultures, collecting booty from virtually every civilization within the Pillars of Melchart, their name for the Straits of Gibraltar. But what became of those who escaped Roman justice?

The Carthaginians were redoubtable sailors, as documented by the prodigious voyage of their famous Admiral Hanno to Africa's Ivory Coast. They earlier, under Egyptian Pharaoh Nekau's sponsorship, circumnavigated the whole continent. A cache of Carthaginian coins was discovered in another cave on the island of Corvo, in the Azores, and the Phoenicians certainly visited the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco. Closer to the subject of our discussion, the so-called "Wabanse Stone" is the 2-ton granite sculpture of a human head discovered on the south bank of the Chicago River near Lake Michigan's shore, the 19th Century site of Fort Dearborn, presently Wacker Drive and State Street, in downtown Chicago. An article in World Explorer magazine (Stelle, IL., Spring, 1991) argues persuasively for its identification as a Phoenician tophet, or sacrificial altar. The renowned epigrapher, Cyrus Gordon, translated the Paraiba Stone, which tells the story of a Phoenician landfall on the coast of Brazil. It was off those same Brazilian shores, in the late 1960s, that a verified Roman shipwreck was found and dated to the early 1st or late 2nd Century B.C. Was that vessel commandeered by Carthaginian brigands, or had it come in pursuit of old enemies turned pirate, fleeing to the Opposite Continent?

In any case, it appears that the Carthaginians, more than anyone else in the early pre-Christian era, had not the only motive but the means to reach the Americas.

Pirates traditionally store their ill-gotten gains in secret places, and Burrows Cave may have seemed just such a perfect spot for buccaneers in ancient times to hide the loot they took from the European Classical World and the rich ceremonial centers of the Americas. The Cave's otherwise impossible jumble of cultures appears to only make sense if we accept it as the collected booty of pirates who had sufficient maritime skills and technology to victimize both sides of the Atlantic from 150 to 100 B.C. The types of the artifacts themselves and the consequences of the fall of Carthage seem to compliment each other and define the ancient occupants of Burrows Cave as Carthaginian privateers of 21 centuries ago.

Regarding the present status of the Cave itself, the question I hear most often is, "What are we going to do now?". The answer is simple. Regardless of what anyone says or does, we are going to protect the site. In the process, we shall obey state and federal laws which apply to all archeological sites. Moreover, we are not going to violate any religious beliefs of our Native American allies and friends. If ever the day arrives when we feel certain that a study will not resulting serious disturbance and removal of remains, providing their are remains; we will then go forward.

As a final word, I wish to take this opportunity of expressing my sorrow at the passing of Dr. Joseph Mahan to his family and friends. He was my good friend and a great supporter of the Cave. He will be sorely missed in the days and troubles to come.

This article appeared as a rebuttal to our findings concerning Alexander the Great. May had publicly stated to the press "...anybody but Alexander the Great....". May nor Joseph had ever examined our data and could not correlate why we had determined Burrows Cave to be the Sema of the Ptolemies. After May had visited us in Illinois and viewed the evidence for himself did he think we had hit upon what Burrows Cave really was. I have indicated Joseph, May and Burrows as the authors of this article because their fingerprints are all over it. Burrows is not literate enough to compose this kind of work on his own, however, he did write the first and last paragraphs. May wrote the introduction and Joseph wrote the rest. They were attempting to add a little credibility, for Burrows' sake, to an otherwise grade-school level effort.