Note from Harry: This article is included in its entirety, even though only a few paragraphs are specifically about Burrows Cave.  This is done because we affirm wholeheartedly with what this group has to say concerning Barry Fell, Gloria Farley as well as Burrows.  They attempt to make some logical sense out of all this mess and come up empty handed.  This article appeared in the Ancient American Issue #10.  The two editorial comments at the end by General Hansen and General Burrows appeared in Issue #11.  Since this scenario involved other letters and reports, it appears in this section with its own kind.  Information relative to our specific subject starts at paragraph 12.

Watermelons, Green Cheese, and Smoke

by William R. McGlone, Phillip M. Leonard Jr. and Rollin W. Gillespie

June 1995

This paper may seem to belong in a country gourmet magazine, since it deals with watermelon, green cheese, good old boys, and smoke and fire.  But it is actually about belief, as shown by both sides in a long and bitter controversy.  We will use the tem belief idiosyncratically, so that in this paper it will mean the inordinate adherence to unsubstantiated ideas, a kind of intuitive faith or credulity as opposed to testable science.  Such blind and even obsessive belief can endanger clear thinking, and one may be so enmired in his belief that he automatically defends it without realizing he is doing so.  We know this because we, like everyone else, have faced this difficulty at one time or another.

The controversy is over epigraphy in America, the possible presence of ancient inscriptions made by Old World visitors on the rocks of this country long before the arrival of Columbus.  On one side are the late Barry Fell and his followers, who have claimed finding scores of such inscriptions in many alphabets and languages and have proposed complete readings for a large number of them.  ON the other side is conventional scholarship, as represented principally by archaeologists, who have ridiculed and rejected most of these claims out of hand, being unwilling to investigate in detail because of what they consider to be incomplete and unscholarly presentations.

In our view, neither side has come to the "debate" with clean hands.  Both are liberally smeared with belief, and rather incredibly, each has chosen to argue its case without evaluating the work of the claimants.  Even Fell's adherents have not checked his work, but have accepted it and supported him, because his claims agree with their diffusionist beliefs.  His opponents have rejected his claims, also without detailed study, and have attacked him personally, largely because the ideas disagree with their own anti-diffusion beliefs.  So, there they are, fighting it out in the wrong way over the wrong issue--difference of belief.

The old saying that one without a badge who tries to break up a bar fight gets hit by both sides is certainly true in our experience.  Together with one of our colleagues, we have spent several years checking the epigraphers' data and evaluating their work in some detail.  The results have been mixed, as we have found much of it to lack substance and to be just plain wrong, while some does seem to have the potential to stand up enough to deserve scholarly consideration.

We recently (1993) wrote a book, Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History? (AAI), that generally held the middle ground, showing the impossibility of many examples while suggesting the plausibility and even probability of others.  Because we realized how the power of belief had blinded us in our own early epigraphic research, we set out criteria in AAI for ourselves and others to follow in testing the epigraphic claims.  We took both sides to task for their behavior in the "debate" and called for the epigraphers to clean up their act and to make a clear scholarly presentation so a few critics could examine some of the better epigraphic material in a detailed manner like scholars usually do.  As with stopping the bar fight, this approach, however will intended, apparently does not appeal to either side. 

The epigraphers reacted violently to what they considered to be an attack on their leader, Barry Fell.  It has proved useless for us to assert that AAI showed the issues objectively, giving both pros and cons, and actually favored the epigraphers 2 to 1 in terms of pages employed.  Belief was too strong, and anything that challenged the security of that belief by suggesting error in any part of the largely mythical data base that had been constructed was bitterly attacked.  These attacks were not based on substance and not one of our refutations of Fell's work was realistically challenged.  Belief was reiterated again and again, and we were castigated for vilifying a great man" whereas despite some debunking, we had shown the positive potential of part of his work, surely a normal situation--some bad, some possibly good.  But the reaction was not normal, because we had committed the ultimate sin in undermining their most basic belief.

The responses to our book clearly reflected the irrationality of the situation, varying from direct attacks on us personally to pure mendacity.  What we had tried to bring about was an hones reappraisal by the epigraphers and a re-presentation by them in a form that could be checked by the critics.  We had plugged the watermelon and found sections of it spoiled: it was up to the seller to cut it in half and show what portion, if any, was saleable.  This did not take place, as belief overrode rationality, and no one enjoyed the melon.

Several aspects of the manifestation of overweening belief in a situation like this are of interest.  Consider the Green Cheese Syndrome, one of a believer's common pitfalls.  In belief, the most far-fetched ideas can be accepted without challenge until they are disproved, and even then some believers let go of them very grudgingly.  Someone may suggest in an intriguing way that the moon is made of green cheese.  The idea might not be opposed if tit fits previous biases and might even become belief, until someone goes to the moon and brings back rocks.  The belief still might not be abandoned by those believers who would claim that this did not prove the moon is all rock.  In science, ideas (hypotheses) are welcomed as long as they are maintained only as possibilities until proved; but in belief, ideas become dogma without confirmation and are accepted by believers until disproved.

This problem also manifests in the Black or White Syndrome.  Believers on both sides refuse the middle (of temporary) ground and immediately insist that everything is either true or untrue.  Whereas a new idea might best be held in an "unproven" category while under review, any form of "maybe" is unacceptable to critics, who think this gives the idea too much of an aura of respectability.  They therefore say it is false, when they actually have no data for this judgment, only their belief.  Advocates also refuse the "unproven" classification, rushing to acceptance, because it fits their contrary belief.  Both sides thus stampede to a black or white decision on ideas that involve individual beliefs.

The Smoke and Fire Argument is another common expression of belief.  If enough claims are tossed out to believers, whatever the degree of supportive data supplied with them, some of the claims surely must be right.  Right?  Enough smoke must mean some fire, and so, to the believer it cannot all be wrong.  Wrong!  The problem is not how many claims have been made, but what part can we test and then accept into our common fund of knowledge.  Nothing is supposed to be certain except death and more taxes; but it should be certain, despite believers' disagreement, that it is unwise to accept a new idea as truth just because someone claims it, no matter who he may be or how many poorly presented examples he may give.  Real fire, not just smoke, is required for acceptance.

Another symptom ob believers is their tendency to start in the middle and not first check fundamental aspects of a researcher's work.  Without consulting his basic sources of data, they readily accept a claimant's information and his interpretations, especially if his ideas agree with their own prior belief.  This their belief is incestuously reinforced without the cautious and careful checking of scholarship.  Fell's drawings of inscriptions are accepted by his supporters essentially because they want to believe, and when we showed that he often did not correctly transcribe what is actually on a rock, we were attacked as irrational and unethical.  It is simple belief without objective testing that is irrational, and starting in the middle without checking fundamental aspects of the research that is dangerously unethical.

The current debate over Burrows Cave is a prime example of the fallacy of starting in the middle.  The argument has been over the validity of a group of portable artifacts from an Illinois cave that reputedly have Old World scripts and icons carved on them, when there is no acceptable evidence about the circumstances of their discovery.  The question of whether they are epigraphically correct, or were make anciently by Old World people is not critical to their value as evidence of pre-Columbian contact, unless they were in the ground in Illinois before Columbus.  Starting in the middle, with just the examination of the artifacts that have allegedly been removed from the cave, should be replaced by the more basic stucy of the site itself -- the cave -- and its reputed remaining archaeological contents.  A normal order of investigation would thus be established, including demonstration of existence of the cave and its remaining contents, time of emplacement of the items within the cave, and finally, the study of the artifacts themselves.  Starting in the middle leaves the debate hanging in mid-air without any foundation of age or context.

Incredibly, historian Cyclone Covey (1994) argues for the practice of starting in the middle.  He is so blinded by the support the purported Burrows Cave artifacts would give to his pre-Columbian contact belief system that he sees no need to establish the context of their discovery..  He protests, "We don't need to lose time over speculation that no one but Burrows has seen the cave," and goes on to say that several people have visited the site.  But none of them other than the finder has seen the inside of the cave and its reported fabulous remaining contents (e.g., amphorae, gold, and sarcophagi).  Only overpowering belief would lure a reputable scholar into abandoning his fundamental scholarly precepts by failing to test the basis of Burrows' extraordinary claims and thus start in the middle and merely fuss over the artifacts.

Our call for a scholarly presentation by the epigraphers has not been answered.  Their latest amphigory is the new book, In Plain Sight by Gloria Farley, that is a believers paradise.  It contains some 250 examples of inscriptions and petroglyphic icons that she claims were made by Old World visitors to America before Columbus.  Most of what she shows is simply misinterpreted rock art of the historic Plains Indians.  These petroglyphs are not old, as is shown by scientific testing (ca. 300 years)< and are made in the Plains Biographic Style as illustrated in our new book, Petroglyphs of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle.  When examined in the field, they are quite obviously not the carvings of ancient Romans, Iberians, or Carthaginians.  We could find only 9 of her examples that deserve further examination, base on her presentations.  Such a finding, of course, is unacceptable to believers who have started in the middle and not studied the actual glyphs as we did.  There is much too much smoke in her claims along with an overly generous serving of green cheese in the reactions of the believers.

Even after being informed of the about difficulties, David Barron (1994) started in the middle and wrote a green cheese review of the Farley book in which he said that he did not have the technical expertise to judge the work, but he still proceeded to state that it showed a better understanding of epigraphy than anything previously published!  Surely, if there is one single thing that it does not contain, it is a good understanding of epigraphy, beginning with the simple need for consideration of the age of the inscriptions.  George Carter wrote a glowing introductions for her book, and when the book's difficulties were outlined to him, he said, "I can't believe it is that bad," using the B-word (our italics) in typical reaction of a believer.  Belief, belief, and more belief.

Lest one get the impression that belief is confined to one side of the controversy, it should be understood that the critics also have a bad case of "belief-itis" with most of the symptoms described above.  Generally, they too have neither tested the data nor delivered technical critiques of the work, being willing to rely merely on their instincts regarding the nature of the epigrapher's presentations and the extent of the claims.  The extremist critics did not plug the watermelon and also tend to start in the middle.  And they show another chronic affliction, the Good Old Boy Syndrome.  If a critical writer belongs to their professional club, he is surely right about an outsider's work and should be believed, most especially when what he says agrees with consensus belief and repeat previous critics' versions of it.  It does not matter how the consensus was reached, it is a consensus of the good old boys.  Perhaps more surprising is the vehemence with which critics voice their objections, despite the fact that they have not personally investigated the claims and often believe only because that is what they were taught.  Belief, once again, is enough if you are a good old boy. 

Another ploy by both sides is the practice of following the politicians' "Negative Ad" Scholarship, in which one group labels the other negatively on a personal basis, contending that their side is right and the other wrong because their opponents are bad guys.  These ad hominem attacks may center on education, egoism, cultism, experience, elitists positions, degree of professionalism, crank behavior, intellectual inferiority, and establishment arrogance, among others.  Such attacks are made out of frustration from challenge to an attacker's belief system and his lack of solid evidence for his position.  It is easier to stay locked in belief and to disparage an opponent personally.

both sides also fall victim to the Unwarranted Positivism Syndrome, the excessive use of overly confident statements.  Because of the power of belief, undocumented matters are too often stated in terms that are much too certain.  Covey (above), with more than two dozen unwarrantedly positive statements in a 4-page paper, argued portions of his case with unjustified certainty, and failed to conduct the investigation of basic data that would have prevented much of this.  It is his overwhelming belief that was speaking, and his excessive confidence in that belief apparently relieved him from the objectivity that would have permitted the weighing of alternative explanations.  Science and scholarship have safegaurds to prevent unwarranted positivism, but when belief is too strong, these safeguards are readily by-passed.

There is also the critics' Hold the Fort to the Last Man Syndrome in which an accepted belief is defended at any cost.  Consider the role such belief plays in the objections of archaeologists to the presence of a form of Ogam writing in southeast Colorado.  This case is examined in detail in AAI, where we show the plausibility of partial readings of very old Ogam-appearing inscriptions and corroboration of the readings by archaeo-astronomy.  We maintain that the case for Ogam is strong but unproven, and recognize there are some loose ends epigraphically.  The archaeologists vigorously deny even the possibility of the presence of Ogam, because no confirming Old World artifacts have been found.  The issue, then, is between the presence of potentially valid inscriptions and the apparent absence of expected artifacts.  To reach a judgment on this issue, one must either deny the validity of the inscriptions or reduce his expectation regarding the artifacts.  In actuality, this is not understood by either side and judgment falls back on belief.

The argument might be settled epigraphically without artifacts if the loose ends were eliminated; if, for example, a corroborated Ogam inscription were found on the back trail of visitors in route to Colorado, and if Ogam of the same vowel-less variety found in Colorado, were securely demonstrated in the Old World.  The archaeologists' problem of proving the absence of artifacts, as with proving any negative, is not enviable.  No excavations have been made at epigraphic sites, and this, coupled with the probable sparsity of diagnostic artifacts as argued in AAI, leaves them in an untenable position.  One negative dig would not suffice, whereas, two dozen might put them on fairly sold ground for denial, not standing as they now are in the quicksand of belief.  Unfortunately, their position is one of futile Catch 22 belief when they say, "Ogam cannot be present without artifacts and we won't dig for them because we know they are not there."  Until they do dig extensively, the evidence of the inscriptions far outweighs their hold-the-fort expression of belief. 

Those who hold the fort so passionately do so in an almost fearful way.  They seem to flinch reflexively from new ideas in the manner in which archaeologists first fought the concept of radiocarbon dating.  Despite the usual lack of documentation and the overstatement of such claims, it is difficult to accept the critics' blanket lack of scholarly consideration of concepts that would prove highly useful, if valid.  It does not matter in judging the critics' conduct whether the epigraphers ultimately prove right or wrong; what is important is that the epigraphy has been rejected out of hand without technical evaluation.  What are the critics afraid of?  Is it that they might lose their status as accepted experts and need to return to the basic study of their field?  Their unsupported denial is an abandonment of scholarship base on unsubstantiated belief, for it is their belief that petroglyphs cannot and may never be interpreted as communication that is part of their basis for holding the fort so desperately.

Most review of our book hold the fort for the good old boys in the best tradition and are clear examples of the power of belief.  The reviewer sees the book through the filter of his belief, as a one-sided presentation of the epigraphers' case; while through their own filter the epigraphers see just the reverse, the one-sided presentation of the critics' case.  Such reviews typically show lack of technical familiarity with the epigraphy-in-America question and repeatedly descend into the belief-oriented syndromes presented here, along with the insane charge of racism.  If our search for limited aspects of Amerindian culture that may have been influenced by contact with Old World visitors is racist, then so is virtually all activity in anthropology and archaeology that involves the possibility of traits being transmitted from one culture to another.  Should we therefore consider these disciplines to be inherently racist?  In actuality, such research is not based on superiority of one race but on priority (and transmission) of discoveries. 

Critics charge that we do not understand how science is conducted despite our long professional experience and the careful delineations of our approach.  The real problem is their failure to understand our methodology and the simple fact that our research revealed evidence differing from their belief.  The say there is a continuum of parallel marks around the world, some of which would necessarily look like Ogam by coincidence.  We have used continuum to indicate there has been a production of parallel marks over time, but these parallel marks are not of one family and were made at different times for different purposes.  We use defined criteria for separating any possible Ogams and confirming them, a procedure that critics' belief cannot accommodate, so they must find fallacious arguments to remain secure in their belief.  We are indicted for not making an hones effort as bridge builders between the two sides, but this could only be done in their eyes if we had tried to convince the epigraphers that their epigraphy is impossible, not just in error or poorly done.

And finally, perhaps the most unseemly practice is the Beat the Tom-tom Syndrome too often displayed by pseudoscientific archaeologists.  Their discipline by its nature is at best only partly scientific, and they are often disappointed and discouraged at how they are limited by the restricted number of artifacts that live through time and by the correspondingly limited number of cultural traits these artifacts imply.

Many spectacular discoveries and some exciting detective work has been done by archaeologists.  But their desire to escape the tedium of the effort needed to gather data, their perceived need to assert themselves as scientists, and their attempt to justify large expenditures that achieve only nit-picking results drive them to publicly beat the tom-tom of hyperbole.

A new archaeological discovery is described in a press release as the "largest," "richest," "oldest," "finest" or "most important" discovery ever made and that it will teach researchers much that is not already known about some ancient people.  Sometimes so little is known that a new increment of knowledge may be an advance buy in actuality is of limited scope and obtained at a questionably high price.  Still, radical archaeologists' belief in their "science" is so strong that they overstep selling themselves by loudly beating the tom-tom to obtain support for their work. 

Most recently, there have actually been some signs of softening of the opposed positions.  The epigraphers seem to be willing to attempt to clean up some of their methodology in the manner we called for in AAI.  They have begun to indicate that in their journal, ESOP, they will conduct the basic evaluation of Fell's work instead of blindly defending it and that they will open ESOP's pages to objective debate.  Time will tell.  On the other hand, one qualified scholar, David Kelly, has considered some of Fell's work seriously and has recommended that others do so as well (Kelley 1990).  He has also found that some of Fell's work on the Peterborough, Ontario site may be well founded and deserves further study by specialists (Kelley 1994).  Additionally, Eugene Fingerhut (1994) extensively, and fairly, discusses our book from a neutral rather than partisan viewpoint.  He also details the tendency of critics of diffusion and epigraphy to attempt to debunk by personally attacking advocates as kooks, cranks and frauds, instead of making presentations that refute with technical evidence.

Progress from both sides of this type is encouraged to those who have tried to bridge the gap, but this is only a beginning and there is still far to go.  It is, therefore, important that observers and participants understand what has occurred in order for a full resolution of the controversy to be achieved.  In a contest of beliefs like that discussed here, it is difficult to place the blame squarely on one side or the other.  Both are at fault, both have points in their favor, and both need to realize the situation.  One can hardly indict the epigraphers for objecting to the critics' lack of evaluation in their critiques convict the critics for their skepticism regarding the belief-ridden claims of the epigraphers.  The real culprit in all of this is the power of belief.  And so, this futile clash of beliefs still continues, largely with rancor and without reason.

Will our pointing out the situation help resolve the controversy?  Probably not with respect to the extremists who have conducted the battle, but it may help moderates on both sides to approach the question ina more temperate and intelligent manner, as the encouraging signs mentioned above show.  If so, our efforts to help resolve the controversy will have been rewarded. 

Reply to the above article by Evan Hansen fall of 1995


A far bigger mistake than acting on belief is that people use their own level of education to judge the work of others.  Who is wise enough to use his own life as a standard for everything else?  This is what they (authors William McGlone, Phillip Leonard and Rollin Gillespie) are doing.  Because they don't have enough information to be sure that Burrows Cave artifacts are real, they think no one can know.  The article condemns Cyclone Covey because he is certain of their authenticity.  Did it ever occur to any of them that perhaps Covey has been given more photos of artifacts than they?  I can guarantee that Covey has more information than they have!  Russell Burrows (see page 40 this issue) has sent me enough photos to make me totally certain of authenticity!  And this was even before Schaffranke and Hubbard were able to make their amazing breakthrough and translate several of the languages. 

They condemn Gloria Farley for her new book, In Plain Sight.  They say most of her examples are only "Plains Biographic Style."  How do they know?  Just because they see no markings in those petroglyphs does not mean that no meaning can be found by others!  How do they know they are less than 300 years old?  And even if they are, why is it impossible that recent Indians recall ancient meanings?  Indians are not stupid!  Did they ever consider that perhaps Gloria Farley might know more than they do?

How can we explain the differences between red and green to someone who sees only shades of grey?  To those who do not see color, no explanation is needed.  To those who are color blind, no explanation is possible.  So what right do they have, who see only grey, to condemn those who are doing good work?  The should look at their own work to ask why they are unable to see certain clues have meanings.

The article condemns Cyclone Covey for starting in the middle.  Why?  What is wrong with starting in the middle?  The scientific method demands that we start with whatever is known, no matter where it is located, then expand the evidence in all directions and follow wherever it leads.  Why do they demand that no one be allowed to study the Burrows material until they are taken into the cave?  They say that the cave cannot exist unless they see it?  Why?  What evidence do they have that the cave does not exist?  If there is no cave, then where did Burrows get all those stones?  Is he skilled enough to carve them in hundreds of different artistic styles?  Is he wise enough to write long inscriptions in real languages?  Where did he get all the gold?  I Burrows wealthy enough to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy enough god to fake the artifacts?

Be sure that Russell Burrows would be the first to agree that excavating the cave is the best place to start.  Unfortunately, Russell Burrows doesn't own the land or have permission to be there.  Burrows knows that he doesn't have the skill to excavate either.  He must find professionals who do have the skills.  In fact, Burrows, himself, hasn't been inside the cave since Illinois passed the new antiquities laws.  There are endless legal obstacles to overcome before Burrows can go inside again.  The whole point in bringing the stones out of the cave was to prove he had something, and so to stir up support to overcome all these obstacles.

If McGlone, et al, are interested in true science, then let them join with Burrows and the others in waiting for these obstacles to be solved.  Be part of the waiting team.  Start with what is available and follow it as far as it takes us.  Help carry the load instead of dumping their artificial burdens on top of the real burdens.


Reply to the above article by Russell Burrows fall of 1995

Let me tell you people something right here and now.  For a long time, I have listened to and read the rantings and ravings of the McGlone group.  I have endured in silence.  The time has come for me to speak out.

Neither McGlone nor anyone in his group has the qualifications to determine anything so far as archaeology is concerned, so far as I know.  It is possible, however, that I could be mistaken and so I will state this: If McGlone has a degree in anthropology or archaeology, or, if he has complete studies in philology, a requirement to be considered a genuine epigrapher, I will then apologize to him for this letter n the next issue of the Ancient American.