Burrows Cave

A Chronology of Events

by Dr. James P. Whittal, Jr.

The following text is taken from Dr. Whittal's Book titled MYTH MAKERS

printed in spring of 1990 beginning ff. pp. 32.

One cool October's eve in 1986 my phone rang, and answering it has led me as close to Pandora's Box as I have ever been. "Jim, this is Virginia Hourigan," (VH) came the voice through the receiver. "I'll be up for the Early Sites meeting tomorrow, and do I have something mind-bending to show everyone! I have just returned home from Indiana where I have been looking at artifacts from a cave in Illinois which are covered with inscriptions; Ogam, Iberic, Libyan, Egyptian, and what have you. There are amulets, carved heads, boat models, and other ritual items too numerous to list. I have photographs, and several of the artifacts with me. I'll need about half an hour during the meeting to tell about the site".

VH, an Early Sites member, is an enthusiastic traveler always looking for a new archaeological site to investigate. In the summer months, she climbs aboard her motorcycle and hits the highways of America seeking participation in some active archaeological research. Some of her trips have taken her across the ocean, where she rented a bike for exploration and archaeological digs in England and France. She is always seeking answers to the mysteries of the past; therefore, this find was a natural for her.

At the meeting, VH presented her material and talked about the site. The story was intense and the audience was captivated with a wide range of mixed feelings from awe to skepticism.

VH related how she was motoring through Indiana and noticed a small museum by the roadside. She stopped to investigate. In a showcase, she saw artifacts that intrigued her. Engraved on the artifacts were inscriptions that she recognized as coming from the Old World. VH contacted the director of the museum, John Ward, and became entranced by the maze of information he presented about the artifacts. Thus the story unfolded at the Early Sites Meeting.

But wait, that is not where the story starts. To set the stage properly, we must go back to 1975 and develop circumstances in a chronological order, otherwise events since 1986 become muddled.

The details listed here in chronological order are not necessarily complete, and it is possible that some critical information may be missing. What is presented comes from personal phone conversations, correspondence, and published accounts relating to issues bearing directly and indirectly on Burrows Cave. Much of the story is John Ward's from whom we have more of it than anyone else. Now, to go back in time.............


John A. Ward of Vincennes, Indiana was asked to serve on a committee of the Old Northwest Bicentennial Corporation, as part of his city's participation in the Bicentennial. The corporation acquired property adjacent to the "Sugarloaf Mound," which they already owned, and a dwelling on the property was made into an interpretative center and museum. The organization renamed the mound, (the largest in the region) after the Patriot Indian, Francois Son o' Tobacco, also called Sonotabac. At that time John Ward held the position of Director of the Sonotobac Prehistoric Indian Mound Museum. Mr. Ward later became President of the Old Northwest Corporation.

John Ward had a 50 year career in the field of highway construction, traffic, aggregate production, and marketing. His specialty was prospecting for mineral resources. By his own account, he became thoroughly involved with geology, particularly with relationship to stones and their different characteristics. In the course of his career, he also became involved with archaeological sites, was an active member of four archaeological association, and self-styled bibliophile of antiquarian books (Ward 1984).


In 1976 John Ward acquired a copy of Dr. Barry Fell's America B.C. As he stated, "I was introduced to an avenue of artifacts I had completely overlooked" (Ward 1984). He noted that an inscribed stone illustrated in Fell's book was similar to an artifact in the Sonotabac Museum. Checking various stone artifacts in the Sonotabac collection, Ward noted that there were dozens of stones in the exhibits that appeared to have markings on them. It was Ward's contention that the markings were inscriptions. He carefully transcribed each inscription to paper and sent copies to Barry Fell for an opinion. In due course he received a reply. Fell stated that he couldn't come and see the material himself, but arranged for a local member of the Epigraphic Society, Dr. Alex W. Cavins to examine the artifacts. Cavins visited the museum, photographed the stones, and found several more with apparent markings of interest. The collected data was sent to Fell for information about his "Credential Stones" (as he named them). Fell explained that he did not have anyone qualified and available at the time to study the artifacts, and suggested that Ward subscribe to the Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications (ESOP) and "give it a try" himself.

With tremendous zeal Ward charged into the epigraphic field, armed with data from the publications of the Epigraphic Society on languages he had never known to exist, and began a 5 year study of the various transcriptions he had made from the stones.

Ward relates in his book, Ancient Archives Among the Cornstalks, how the study of ancient Numidian/ Libyan, Tifinag, Punic, and Ogam scripts required months of research. The decipherment of one stone alone piled up thirty to fifty pages of notes before the inscriptions began to make sense. In his book, he made the observation that the inscriptions were "applied in ancient Numidian using Libyan symbols, other words may appear in Punic script or the use of Ogam may appear in the same writing."

As his work progressed over the years, Ward narrowed down his decipherments to messages of Nubians seeking to trade for stony metal (copper) in the New World. Then Ward considered the time had come for him to present his research to the public. The place was chosen for him when he was asked to give a presentation at the 1983 Conference of the Institute for the Study of American Cultures (ISAC) in Georgia.


In October of 1983, John Ward went to the ISAC conference with several of his inscribed stones in hand. At one point before his presentation, he showed his artifacts to a couple of Epigraphers who were also attending the meeting. Both thought the markings on the rocks were most likely of natural origin and not inscriptions. Then, a very unusual event took place that is best described by John Ward in a letter to William McGlone. As

Ward recounted the event, "I am enclosing a copy of my paper 'Libyan Inscriptions in the Central Wabash Valley'. I didn't stay for the rest of the Saturday program as I was at quite a loss to reason why Mahan cut me off in the middle of my presentation just as I was about to explain the meat and potatoes of my assigned 30 minute paper which he had asked me to give. I was puzzled by Totten's introduction build-up, and then expressing a doubt of my interpretations because he couldn't see inscriptions on two stones too large to get into a microscope" (Ward 1984a).


In the previously mentioned letter to McGlone of February 2, Ward stated that in January, on the way back from a visit to Florida, he stopped at Poverty Point in Louisiana and discussed his theories with a Mr. Hillman there, concerning Old World contact and "stony metal." He was informed that areas of collected copper residue were found in the Poverty Point region, and important addition to Ward's theory of contact. Ward also related that, "An associate has found in a cave in Illinois, an array of stone sculptures and artifacts that is mind-boggling. The finder brought me a tablet with Ogam and other Libyan script which I am presently in the process of decipherment..... Most all bear inscriptions. Photographs were sent to the Smithsonian Institution who replied back that 'They are nothing prehistoric'."

Later on in the year, Ward's book Ancient Archives Among the Cornstalks was published. In this privately printed book, Ward began by describing all his work and theories concerning artifacts he had translated from the Wabash Valley area. The main thrust of his book was that through his translations, he was able to put together a history of contact of Nubians with camp followers who went to Asqa Samal (America) and traded with the local natives for copper. The time period he assigned was c. 726 B.C., and the interchange of commerce was led by Chief Ras along the Wabash River and also along the Cimarron River in Oklahoma under the direction of King Piankhi back in Egypt. Generally, many of his ideas seem to have been influenced by concepts derived from inscription in papers in the ESOP.

1983 Again

At this point we have to backtrack to 1983, when Russell Burrows and John Ward became associated. Russell Burrows, active woodsman and hunter of Indian artifacts, related to me (1986) that he was exploring an area near Olney, Illinois looking for some bowl-shaped configurations in a ledge about which he had heard. On finding them, Burrows saw that their shape, plus some indication of fire-burning, made him conclude that they were molds, perhaps for making copper artifacts. Poking about the area, he accidentally discovered a cave, whose entrance was blocked by fitted stones. Searching farther to the south he found another blocked entrance with an animal-headed keystone. He removed the blocking stones and went into the cave. Seeing nothing at first, he probed about in the silt and started discovering artifacts. Burrows was aware right away that some of the artifacts were not "Indian" in typology.

According to Burrows, he went to the Sonotabac Museum seeking the identity of the artifacts, which brought him in contact with John Ward. You can well imagine the excitement Ward felt over the discovery, and an alliance was established between the two men. Burrows told Ward that he had established contact with the owner of the property and received permission to continue his exploration and to remove artifacts from the cave at will.

John Ward sent photographs of some of the artifacts with inscriptions to Barry Fell, and offered to pay Fell's expenses to come and see the impressive collection that Burrows had gathered. Fell wanted someone to verity "the cave" as he felt the material was highly suspect.

In April, Ward communicated with Gloria Farley, an epigraphic consultant in Oklahoma, telling her that some 1500 artifacts and carved tablets had been found in a cave in Southern Illinois. He wanted to bring some samples to show her, but Farley requested photographs instead, so he complied and sent her a set. In a communication to Epigrapher Phil Leonard, Farley expressed very strong doubts about the artifacts' "old" age as she had "found duplicate illustrations, or almost duplicate, published in books in my own library." Farley related that she also warned Ward that they might be fakes. He commented to the effect that "she sounded just like his Board of Directors" (Farley 1985). Farley suggested that Leonard, along with William McGlone should go to Indiana to investigate the situation.

It was related by John Ward that an attempt was being made to get the landowner to donate the cave and contents to the Sonotabac Museum. The landowner said he would take it under consideration, but that it would be a while before be made a decision. Meanwhile, the location of the cave was to remain a secret, and the artifacts must be authenticated (Ward 1985).

Further contacts were made by Ward with various scholars throughout the year, trying to identify the material. One contact, an Egyptologist in Kentucky, warned Ward very explicitly that the material was fake.


During the spring of 1986, Dr. Robert Pickering of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, went to the Sonotabac Museum to view a portion of the Burrows Cave collection. John Ward gave him a tour of the museum and discussed the merits of the discovery. Pickering returned to Chicago with a paper by Ward entitled "A Study of the Origin of Artifacts Found in a Cave by Russell Burrows in a Remote Area of Illinois," as well as with several of the artifacts from the cave to be studied by Field Museum scholars. In May, Pickering notified the Chairman, Board of Trustees, Old Northwest Corporation (ONC), that the scholars considered the artifacts neither old nor authentic Old World objects. The Chairman passed this information on to Ward and called for a special meeting of the entire board of ONC to discuss the matter.

At the 14th Annual Meeting of the ONC in Vincennes, retiring president John A. Ward gave a presentation entitled "A Review of Prehistoric Speculations of the Archaeological Community's Aspect of the Beginnings and Subsequent Development of Early Man in North America and How it Applies in Knox, Davies, and Pike Counties in Indiana, Considered to be the Central Wabash Valley." Later in the autumn, VH returned from the Sonotabac Museum as stated at the beginning of this paper, and gave a presentation to the membership of Early Sites on the Burrows Cave. Shortly thereafter, Ward removed the Burrows Cave collection from the Sonotabac Museum.

At the Fall meeting of Early Sites, VH showed the audience her photographs and the eleven artifacts from Burrows Cave (which was being controlled by 3 partners: John Ward, Russell Burrows, and Norman Cullen). As she spoke, a tale of mystery and intrigue unfolded, that recalled the action in James Bond and Indiana Jones movies. The audience wasn't sure how to digest the story, but her presentation certainly kept interest keen and questions coming, although much requested information was lacking.

After discussing the ramification of the site at some length with VH, I suggested that Early Sites Research Society (ESRS) should take an active part in the research on Burrows Cave. It was agreed that I would contact Russell Burrows as soon as possible to discuss the subject with him. I also suggested that she contact ESRS member, Norman Nielsen, who is associated with Dupont Laboratories, and is a nationally recognized expert in the study of ancient metals and lithic material. He could provide a possible (non-destructive) determination of the type of black lithic material which represented a fairly large proportion of the artifacts. Also, she was to contact Epigrapher Donal Buchanan for his opinion of the inscriptions.

Shortly thereafter, VH returned to Indiana. In preparation for her trip, she undertook an extensive cram course in photography from ESRS photographer Malcolm Pearson for the express purpose of making a photographic record of all the artifacts which had been recovered.

In the interim, I instituted a series of extended phone conversations and follow-up correspondence with Russell Burrows. He was quite enthusiastic about Early Sites interest. I suggested that I come out with a fellow researcher, Christopher Bird, to discuss the Burrows Cave find in detail and to take an opportunity to see the site, as soon as possible. This was agreeable to Burrows. At this time, I pointed out to him that it was vital for the question of authenticity of the material to be directly confronted, as this discovery could be one of the most important of the era. It would require extensive research into all phases, from a controlled excavation at the site, to detailed analysis of the artifacts both structurally and Epigraphically.

A letter dated October 12th arrived from Burrows which advised that after a discussion with the property owner's lawyer, he felt that no one should go to the site until the following spring, and only after mapping and clearing had been completed.

At this time Burrows asked for an outline of the methodology which would be undertaken in the investigation of the cave. A list of 10 suggested points of procedure was sent to him, including: the creation of a data base for all material relative to the site; samples of metal and lithic artifacts to undergo non-destructive analysis; and most important of all, "The cave must be seen by an outsider who has archaeological expertise, and probably a geologist as well. At the time of observation, the event should be video-taped" (1986). By return mail, Burrows addressed a letter to the membership of Early Sites in which he stated that he hadn't asked for help from Early Sites and that basically my proposed methodology was unacceptable to the point that he stated "NOT ONE OF YOU WILL EVER SEE THIS CAVE and that is a statement that I will abide by for as long as the grass grows, the wind blows, and the rivers run." A discussion with Burrows on the telephone thenceforth, suggested to me that Early Sites was out of the picture. No further correspondence took place.

During the period when I was communicating with Burrows, I received a letter from Gloria Farley expressing concern about members of the Epigraphic Society being "taken in" if the material couldn't be proven authentic. A large inscribed stone with a design faintly similar to the Pontotoc Stone was given to her by John Ward. Farley was willing to have it tested for authenticity.

In a conversation I had with Barry Fell about this time, he expressed his opinion that the material he had seen was not ancient and I shouldn't get involved.

In December, VH sent Norman Nielsen a dark gray/black oval disk, with several notches worn in the sharpened edge, for analysis.


VH advertised in the New England Antiquities Research Association Journal an opportunity for people to purchase a packaged set of Burrows Cave pictures.

A reference to a tablet said to be found in Burrows Cave was made by Barry Fell in the ESOP vol. 16 p 24; he said it carried a version of the Cuenca Elephant inscription from Ecuador. Fell's opinion was that the tablet was a forgery.

Dr. Warren Cook, Professor of History and Anthropology, Castleton College, Vermont, with his colleague, Warren Dexter, went to Indiana to see and photograph the Burrows Cave material. Cook gave the name "Burrows Cave" to the site. Russell Burrows took Warren Dexter into the foyer of the cave where he observed some laid up stonework. They returned to New England with a positive outlook on the material.


Warren Cook and Warren Dexter traveled to Maine and conferred with Dr. George Carter, geographer, Texas A & M University, to interest him in putting an archaeological team together, with the necessary disciplines involved, to investigate Burrows Cave.

I was invited to the home of Dr. Norman Totten, Professor of History, Bentley College, to review with him, Warren Cook and Warren Dexter hundreds and hundreds of photographs of Burrows Cave material taken by Warren Dexter.

Just before the 1988 ISAC Conference, ISAC President Dr. Joseph Mahan made a request of Dr. Curtiss Hoffman, Professor of Anthropology, Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts that he suggest a methodology for ISAC to use in an investigation of the Burrows Cave Site. Hoffman expressed some reservations about ISAC's getting involved, but he suggested the necessity to formulate a series of alternative hypotheses about the Olney (Burrows Cave) site. A research program "should hope to achieve the only one standing". Hoffman suggested the following as an initial series of hypotheses:

1) The site is an undisturbed burial of Old World cultural affiliation, dating prior to the "discovery" of the new World by Columbus.

2) The site is an undisturbed burial of Old World affiliation, but dates later that the arrival of Europeans into the area.

3) The site is a burial of New World Cultural affiliation, into which Old World materials have been introduced.

4) The site is a hoax, perpetrated by some person or persons knowledgeable of Old World scripts and practices, who produced the material and introduced it into the site.

5) The site is a hoax, perpetrated by a person or persons having access to genuine Old World cultural materials, who introduced these into the site.

6) The site is an undisturbed burial of New World cultural affiliation, whose contents have been mistaken for Old World materials or are natural, unmodified items.

At the annual meeting of ISAC in Georgia, a lively discussion developed on the issue of Burrows Cave. John Ward and Russell Burrows attended the conference and VH displayed pictures of the artifacts. In an open discussion on the subject, Burrows fielded an array of questions from various attendees concerning the material.

It came to my attention that a radiocarbon test on a sample of bone from the cave dated to 750 BC. Also, rumored reports of mummies being found were surfacing in conversations about the cave.

A short report concerning Burrows Cave appeared in the Louisiana Mounds Society Newsletter, No. 25.

At the Fall Meeting of New England Antiquities Research Association, Warren Cook made a presentation of the Burrows Cave material.


The May issue of the Newsletter of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Epigraphic Society published a brief article on Burrows Cave and urged that professional archaeologists be given an opportunity to examine the site.

After discussions with several colleagues, I decided there was a need to publish a general report on events concerning Burrows Cave.

By the end of the summer, analytical work had been done on one of the stones by two professional chemists. When Dr. Nielsen examined the disc in 1986, he was surprised to find that when a small area was cleaned with ethanol, its surface was dulled and the black stain came off on the cloth. Further rubbing with a clean cloth restored the original appearance. This led Nielsen to suspect that the stone was an artificial composite. He communicated this to VH, and requested more pieces that could be analyzed destructively.

VH sent the remains of a "ushabti", made from the same black stone from which most of the artifacts were said to have been made. Supposedly, it occurred only in Egypt. The ushabti was dispensable because it had fractured while standing in the sun on a windowsill. In June, Nielsen sent me a complete report on work that he and his associates at Dupont had done on the fragments. The techniques included scanning electron microscopy, elemental analysis by emission spectroscopy, thermogravimetric analysis, and infrared spectroscopy of a chloroform extract.

The stone was mainly silicate, with considerable calcium and iron, thought to be present as calcite and pyrites. However, heating during thermogravimetric analysis caused the loss of 14% of volatile material: water, two organic substances, and finally carbon. At the final temperature of 770 C, the stone turned white, due apparently to oxidation of carbon black or other carbonaceous material. A chloroform extract was shown by its infrared spectrum to be an aliphatic ester, and electron microscopy revealed that the fractured surfaces had a waxy, micronodular porous surface. These results led Dr. Nielsen to suggest that the "stone" had been fabricated from stone dust, carbon black, and an organic binder.

At this point, William McGlone suggested that Dr. James L. Guthrie, one of our colleagues who is an organic chemist with considerable experience in polymer technology, might be able to identify the binder. In August, Guthrie had several conversations with Nielsen, studied his report, and was sent three fragments of the ushabti. His main objective was to determine whether the stone was an artificial composite and if so, whether the binder was a modern synthetic material or one that would have been available in ancient times.

The work of Nielsen was confirmed, except that the stone was characterized by one of Guthrie's associates, who is a geologist, as a fragile argillite shale that had fractured along its natural cleavage planes. Argillites are mainly hydrated silicates that may be black because of Iron or carbonaceous inclusions, and they lose their color when the inclusions are burned out. Guthrie found the some amount of water that Nielsen had in the microporous rock, and was able to identify the volatile organic as waxes; primarily lanolin. Later information indicated that some of the artifacts had been coated with car wax or with black shoe polish to enhance photography. Two fragments, apparently from the outside of the ushabti, had 4.5% wax. The third, apparently from the inside, had only 0.3%.

Guthrie tried extraction with 8 solvents of increasing potency in an attempt to dissolve or swell any polymeric binder. But even dimethalformamide failed to case any change in appearance or weight loss, or to extract any other substance other than the waxes. In order for a material to act as a binder, it would have to be present to the extent of at least 30% by volume, and the analytical data showed a maximum of 7.8% by weight of organics (waxes). Therefore, there was no support for the idea that the stone was artificial or that it contained either an ancient or modern binder. The data best fit the explanation that the stone was a piece of soft shale that had been coated with a wax, allowing some penetration into the porous interior (Guthrie 1989).

In August, I went over some of the inscriptions on artifacts from the cave with Epigrapher Donal Buchanan, who pointed out problems with mixed scripts and alphabets ranging from Latin to Northern Iberic. In some cases, letters were upside down.

I made a request to Gloria Farley to examine the stone she had received from John Ward. She conferred with Russell Burrows concerning my request and informed me that Burrows, Ward, and the landowner requested that she not submit it to me. She also expressed the opinion that she was "one the fence" concerning the authenticity of the stones.

In November, another article was published in the MACES Newsletter #3 on Burrows Cave. It reported that a university and several archaeologists had agreed to investigate the cave; however, their identity was a secret. The article also stated that Ann Kathleen Buchanan, had noted that one of the cave's inscribed artifacts could be directly compared with a "personal portrait" of Hesy-Ra inscribed on wood from a tomb in Saqqata, Egypt, dating to about 2660 BC.

Louisiana Mounds Society Newsletter #28, 15 November 1989, published a letter from Russell Burrows. (To be added to this Website later).


Another brief statement on Burrows Cave by editor Jean Hunt in Louisiana Mounds Society Newsletter #29, 1 January 1990.

Barry Fell published a letter from Russell Burrows in ESOP #18.

This concludes events known to me to date (March 1990). Further aspects of the story are illustrated in the accompanying drawings of a sampling of the artifacts and comments of some of the interested parties are presented in the following section.

Dr. Whittal's style of writing is far superior to most other authors relating facts about Burrows Cave and Burrows himself. As he stated, he and his crew for some unknown reason were all kicked 'out of it' by Burrows when they attempted to earnestly assist and procede with the project. Whittal has written several books and numerous articles about the Cave long before 1994 (our BCC initiation). Whittal has done extensive research into ancient ruins of North America and was president of the "Early Sites" organization for many years. He is a brilliant scholar whose work should not go unnoticed.

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