MIDWESTERN EPIGRAPHIC JOURNAL
Volume 10, Number 2, 1996
PROPOSED METHODS FOR THE DETERMINATION
OF BURROWS CAVE ARTIFACT AUTHENTICITY
by Virginia Steen - McIntyre, Idaho Springs, Colorado
[Editor's Note: The author is a PhD geologist with roughly 30 years of experience. Her major interest is in sophisticated scientific methods of dating as may be applied to very old archaeological sites. A paper related to her presentation at the Western States' Conference in Orem, Utah on July 4-5, 1997 was recently published by the Ancient American (Issue No. 19/20). This article is a post-deadline letter to Professor James Scherz in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of Directors of BCC, Inc. BCC, Inc is a not-for-profit organization that attempts to develop interest, research, publicity, and knowledge about Burrows Cave. Whether of not the investigations proposed in this article can take place, they represent a scientific basis for determining the truth about the Burrows Cave artifacts. The alternative apparently is to argue over the honesty of lack of same in Russell Burrows face. Would you, dear readers, share a foxhole in far off Korea or Vietnam with the likes of Russell Burrows? I would! Perhaps you would rather trust one of the brilliant Burrows Cave critics.]
July 7, 1997
Prof. James Scherz
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Wisconsin
Forgot to get your address, so am sending this to Ancient American to pass on to you, with a copy to Jim Michael of the AKHA.
On the plane yesterday, I thought a lot about means for checking authenticity and dates for the Burrows Cave artifacts -- from a geological viewpoint, and using only the artifacts themselves. Lots can be done to narrow down the possible age range, but you'll need the help of a geology department somewhere, and access to dated collections of marcasite materials. It would make a good MS thesis in geology for some gung-ho grad student (bloodhound variety).
I'm postulating several hypotheses. There could be many more, but this will give us a start.
(1) Engravings on stones made by people contemporaneous with the cultures represented. (Possible age: 1,000 + years? I'm not very familiar with the stones or their purported dates.)
(2) Engravings made later, by a people familiar with the cultures.
(a) Made to preserve the memory of those cultures. (Possible age: 1,000 years? to present.) (b) Made as a hoax, to thumb nose at professionals. (Possible age: Time of white contact for area to present.) (c) Made to make $$$$. (Possible age: 19th and 20th centuries.)
So, the possible date range as I see it is 1000 + years to modern time. Any way to narrow the possible range of hypotheses? Yes, by using the stone material itself, and especially the marcasite crystals.
But first, we want to know what the material is that has been worked. Is Burrows Cave located in Southern Illinois? In the early 60's I worked for a consulting geologist involved in gas storage projects, and one of those projects was near the town of Olney.
One of my jobs was to examine well cuttings of New Albany shale; a very black shale, often with black limestone lenses, that had a lot of tiny marcasite crystals. It also contained, if I remember correctly, pretty (real) amber pollen spores and other microfossils. I'd suggest you get a micropaleontologist familiar with the rocks of the region to look at fragments of the stones that were carved. (Chip tiny flakes off the back of some of the stones.) He/she should be able to tell you what formation the stones came from. (Check with any big oil companies active in the area. They usually have their own micropaleontologist, or can tell you who the local expert is.) Then, go to the geologic maps of the region and see where the nearest surface outcrops lie. It's a start.
Next, concentrate on the tiny marcasite crystals protruding into the cut-lines of the engravings. Marcasite is a brittle iron sulfide mineral, one that oxidizes rapidly. When a broken surface of the mineral is still fresh, it is gold in color, one of the ''fool's gold" minerals. (If it were actually gold, it would leave a golden streak on a white ceramic unglazed tile, a streak-plate: marcasite leaves a black streak.) Have your geologist look at the marcasite crystals in the grooves of the engravings with a binocular microscope. Some of those tiny marcasite crystals will have been crushed and fractured by the engraving tool. Look at those crushed surfaces. If they are still golden, the cut marks including the crushed crystals will have to be very recent., and you can throw out hypotheses (1) and (2a). If oxidized, blackened.....how much blackened?
You'll now have to make up a "blackening index" for comparison. One way to do this is to look at dated marcasite specimens in geology departments, museums, and private collections. Lots of people collect marcasite when it's fresh: it's so pretty. But, as I said, it quickly oxidizes. Some will put a coating of some kind of the crystals, to keep it golden in color. But others will have forgotten to do this, and the samples will have oxidized in a drawer somewhere. Find when the fresh material was collected, the see how much it has oxidized in the air -- how black it is. Compare the crushed surfaces of the marcasite in the engraved grooves with this "index" and you'll have some idea how long ago the grooves were made.
Are there any marcasite crystals protruding into grooves of the "old style" writings and figures? (The ones that record Arthur's or Madoc's passage through the area, for example.) If so, to be authentic, the crushed surfaces should be very black. If they are not, and especially if they still look golden, expect a fraud.
The next thing to do is assume that the artifacts are fraudulent or the result of a prankster. If you were a forger, how would you go about the business? If you didn't have much smarts, you would engrave those stones any old way, using what was at hand, including an electric engraving tool. If you had smarts, you would use only those tools that would have been available a millennium ago -- whatever the local Indian artifacts are made of. Chert? Quartzite? Flint? Jasper? Find out from the local museums, then, using the same (sharpened) materials, make experimental cuts on the back sides of some of the artifacts. Make single strokes and multiple stroke cuts, using various techniques. Cut as deeply as the grooves on the face of the artifact. The more materials you test, especially modern engraving tools, the better. If you can use someone's "arrowhead" collection to make the cuts, great! Take photomicrographs and /or electron-micrographs of the experimental grooves and the artifact grooves. Each type of cutting edge should give a distinctive microfracture pattern. By comparing grooves made by known materials with grooves on the artifacts, you should get a good idea what had been used to make the engravings on the artifacts.
Next, look at the edges of the artifact grooves themselves, using a binocular microscope. Our dumb forger would leave the edges sharp. Our smart forger would round the edges some, making the engravings look old. A not-so-dumb forger would use anything at hand to round those edges, even jeweler's rouge or other modern fine abrasive. Our smart forger would use natural silt; the genius would use silt from Burrows cave. Check the sediment in the grooves with a binocular microscope. Anything but Burrows Cave sediment (you'll need a sample for comparison) would suggest fraud.
Finally, how would a forger found the engraved lines? Most natural would be to rub the abrasive into the lines or rub the stone across a tray filled with abrasive. Such rubbing should produce fine circular swirls on the artifact face. I can't think of any natural way to form such swirls in a cave environment. Again, it would suggest fraud.
Those are my ideas on the subject at the moment; at least some of them. They outline a series of scientific experiments that should tell you the origins of those pebble engravings in Burrows Cave. Let me know ho things develop!
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
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