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The Burrows cave: African gold in Illinois

The Burrows cave: African gold in Illinois

The story of the                 Burrows Cave is more about human behaviour than archaeology. It                 is the story of an alleged cave containing the tomb of an African                 king who reached North America in the 1st century AD – and                 the subsequent controversy that the artefacts created.               

Philip Coppens        

Every                 discovery has its dangers. In version one of our story, Russell                 Burrows accidentally discovered a cave along a branch of the Little                 Wabash River near his home town of Olney, Illinois, USA, in 1982.                 Hunting for discarded archaeological relics, he found a shallow                 cave leading into a subterranean corridor, the likes of which                 you'd not expect to find in rural Illinois. The passageway was                 lined with oil lamps, the ceiling black from smoke. The 500-foot-long                 tunnel had several chambers along it—but what it contained,                 Burrows was unwilling to divulge. In version two, in 1982 Burrows                 created a hoax: claiming to have discovered a tomb, he then tried                 to sell faked stone artefacts of his own making, which he'd copied                 from various books. The so-called Burrows Cave is famous for its                 large numbers of inscribed stones, often containing profiles of                 people who look African, Egyptian and European as well as Native                 American. On first sight they look crude: the work of an amateur                 or someone meeting an imminent deadline. Furthermore, preliminary                 analyses of the writing on the stones revealed a mix, if not a                 mismatch, of various styles, words and languages that archaeologists                 and linguists quickly labelled as "obviously fake" ("obvious"                 being a preferred word that scientists use to underline what they                 can easily, obviously, see is fake, though amateurs are fooled                 by it, obviously). As early as 1983, Burrows did place a very                 small collection of the artefacts on sale in a local antique shop—but                 if he created the entire collection, it is clear he created so                 many that he could never have got rid of them all. Moreover, it                 was not until 1997 that he or anyone else would "cash in"                 on the stones themselves. If Burrows wanted to get rich from creating                 fake artefacts, his hoax was obviously ill executed. But the cave                 is more than just a collection of inscribed stones. Burrows allegedly                 found and removed many gold artefacts. These look genuine and                 contain the same mismatch of writing. You can only wonder why                 a fraud, if Burrows were indeed one, would use gold—which,                 to begin with, is costly to obtain. It is true that there are                 conflicting stories about this gold. Burrows at one point stated                 that some of the gold had been melted down and then sold. The                 Swiss author Luc Bürgin claimed that Burrows removed huge                 quantities of gold, had it melted down and then sold it, depositing                 a grand total of US$15 million into Swiss bank accounts. If true,                 this indicates that Burrows did indeed get his hands on tremendous                 amounts of gold and decided to sell for the gold's monetary value—not                 the archaeological value. But others have stated that Bürgin                 was merely told this "information" by a fellow researcher                 and possesses no evidence for his assertion. Some sceptics claim                 that the "gold" never existed, that it has never been                 seen. That's not true, because early researchers did see it. I                 have been shown colour photographs of apparently gold artefacts                 by Burrows himself; I still have some of these photos in my possession,                 and they are available for viewing on my website. Other critics                 argue that the "gold" was just metal, finished off with                 gold paint to make it look real. If they are correct, then Burrows                 merely created these artefacts to fool archaeologists, amateur                 scientists and the media and he could never allow any direct contact                 with or testing of the artefacts. It would also mean that he could                 never have regarded the "gold" artefacts as part of                 a quick money-making scheme. In short, this conclusion is incompatible                 with the other sceptics' argument, which is that Burrows tried                 to make money from a hoax.               

The                 Golden Sarcophagus and Human Remains

If                 the story is genuine, Burrows discovered a human skeleton—                  a male—in the first crypt. The second chamber had a funeral                 bier with the remains of a woman and two children. A golden spearhead                 lay in the woman's ribs, where the heart would have been. The                 skulls of the children showed signs of perforation. The scene                 suggested that the woman and children had been murdered at the                 time when the male, her husband, died. In total, there were 12                 crypts. The central chamber, containing the golden sarcophagus,                 was closed by a stone that had to be rolled away. The room, including                 the ceiling, was decorated and white marble was seen throughout.                 The golden sarcophagus inside the stone tomb resembled the ancient                 Egyptian form of burial: it displayed the same style of wearing                 the hair as well as the crossed arms on the body, and the hands                 were holding the ankh symbol. It is said that Burrows was able                 to prise open the sarcophagus and note that it seemed to contain                 human remains as well as a death mask, also thought to be of Egyptian                 origin. Although the sarcophagus was of tremendous value—to                 be compared with the golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamun—it                 could not be removed from the cave by just Burrows with the help                 of his brother-in-law. Furthermore, Burrows was unsure as to whether                 he might face prosecution if he disturbed the human remains he'd                 found in the cave or if he tried to sell any of its contents.                 The sceptics seldom address this part of the story, as they claim                 that there never was a cave at all, and hence no sarcophagus,                 and hence no human skeleton inside.

Reactions                 to the Discovery

Map                 of the Burrows Cave

Let                 us assume that the cave exists, and see how far we can follow                 Burrows into it. His situation was extremely complex: he was totally                 unprepared for such a find (who wouldn't be?), and his volatile                 character did not help in a situation where patience is a virtue.                 On 27 July 1984, the local Olney Daily Mail ran a small article                 identifying Burrows as the discoverer of a local cave, but provided                 little more except for this hope: "...the university [with                 which he was in contact] will probably begin the dig next year.                 At that time, more information can be given." Though Burrows                 sought help from the scientific world, he received mixed reactions                 from it. Soon afterwards, one "amateur archaeologist"                 after another pressed his doorbell. Each one almost immediately                 asked to see the cave. It's like a person in a plaster cast getting                 constantly asked whether someone can see or sign his/her plaster;                 at some point the answer will be "no", because it feels                 as if no one is interested in you but only in your plaster. For                 Burrows, it felt like all they wanted was to see the cave; they                 had no basic respect or regard for his own wishes, often not even                 bothering to ask about them. People such as these came away disappointed,                 hurt because Burrows did not want to play their game, and they                 often voiced scathing opinions. Some even considered Burrows's                 presence incidental. One attempt to commercialise the cave occurred                 in 1994 when Harry Hubbard and Paul Kelly claimed the ancient                 alphabets on the stones to be a combination of Latin and Etruscan.                 The inscriptions revealed, they claimed, that the tomb of Alexander                 the Great was buried in Illinois. What made Hubbard and Kelly                 stand out from competing theorists was their Jack Russell–type                 attacks on anyone who disagreed with them. They have also been                 described as appearing "to spend the majority of their time                 seeking investors and peddling home-made videotapes". They                 did not need Burrows; they were going to locate the tomb themselves.                 They are typical examples in a long line of people who have tried                 to use the cave for their own financial benefit, for fame or to                 confirm their pet theory—and most often all three mixed                 into one lethal cocktail. In the "pet theory" category                 was Joseph P. Mahan, author of the 1983 book The Secret, who suggested                 in a 1991 lecture that the cave was connected with "sun-related                 semi-divine mortals [who] were the descendants of extraterrestrial                 immortal progenitors who had come to Earth in fire ships, had                 resided for a while [and] had upgraded the humanoids they found                 here by modifying the genes of these children of Earth, thus producing                 a hybrid progeny" . Such a nonsensical conclusion is not                 based on anything at all that Burrows ever said about the case,                 but it is clear that it rubbed off badly on Burrows's image and                 the cave. Another example of how the cave became a hostage in                 other people's battles is the story of Richard Flavin, who used                 the cave to persecute Frank Joseph. For more than 15 years, Joseph                 had nothing to do with the story until, in his position as a writer                 for The Ancient American magazine, he became interested and eventually                 wrote a book about it (The Lost Treasure of King Juba; Bear &                 Co., 2003). But Flavin instead focused on Joseph's past as a neo-Nazi                 (dating back to the early 1970s) and uses this as ammunition to                 "prove" that anyone suggesting the cave could be real                 is hence a neo-Nazi. Flavin met Burrows on a few occasions, but                 his interpretation of events is spurious at best and his account                 reads more like that of a Christian missionary in the lands of                 the "primitives" or a communist witch-hunter of the                 1950s than a scientific approach to the subject (see                 In the final analysis, the story of the Burrows Cave is typical                 for a finding of this nature. Just look at other similar discoveries                 and replace the names; the general storyline would hardly alter.                 The same basic stand-off is here, with the scientific experts                 quick to condemn the artefacts they were shown as "obvious                 forgeries". By default, the artefacts could not be genuine,                 for we all "know" that Columbus was the first to reach                 America. When it came to the amateurs, Burrows was unprepared                 for and unaware of the amount of in-fighting and controversy that                 exists in most amateur organisations— though communities                 such as those interested in UFOs, the mystery of Rennes-le-Château                 and crop circles have so far easily outperformed anything that                 the "diffusionists" (those researching anomalous evidence                 in the New World, suggestive of transoceanic contacts) have been                 capable of. Burrows had thrown out a giant bone and the dogs were                 fighting over it. In the process, he was eaten—and so was                 his story.

Ground-Penetrating                 Radar Tests

Unfortunately,                 Russell Burrows's personal disillusionment led him to dynamite                 the entrance to the cave. He reportedly did this in 1989, three                 years before his co-written book The Mystery Cave of Many Faces                 was published (with Fred Rydholm; Marquette, 1992). It's an extremely                 level-headed account of his discovery of the cave and the artefacts                 inside—and something that he considered to be his final                 word on the topic. But though Burrows often claimed to have lost                 interest in his discovery (largely due to the difficult people                 he had to deal with), he still returned to it, like to an old                 flame. The fact that he could not let go, even though there was                 nothing in it for him any more, should perhaps be seen as the                 best evidence that Burrows had indeed made a legitimate discovery.                 For if this discovery had started as a money-making scheme in                 1982, by 1992 he had long abandoned such hope. But the story did                 not die. In 1993, diffusionist thinkers now had a new magazine                 to turn to, The Ancient American, which over the course of the                 subsequent decade continued to follow the story of the cave. In                 1999, the magazine's founder/publisher Wayne May decided that                 if no one else could bring about a change in the situation, he                 would do so himself. Having reported on the subject for the previous                 six years, spoken to the man and heard him out, May got Burrows                 to sign a contract and to disclose and show him the location of                 the cave—despite his initial belief that Burrows had lied                 about the location and had actually laid a false trail. I have                 to say that, from my personal dealings with Burrows in 1992 and                 1993, I found him to be a man of honour. If he promised something,                 he would do it (cue for the critics to laugh at what they will                 see is my "obvious" gullibility). And that, it seems,                 is what May felt as well. So, despite his initial reluctance to                 believe, May finally knew the location and persevered with his                 investigations. His groundpenetrating radar indicated that "a                 cave" was indeed there. The problem was how to get in, considering                 that Burrows's explosion a decade earlier had destroyed the entrance.                 Unfortunately, it soon became evident that the explosion had not                 only blocked the entrance but had also damaged the interior of                 the tunnel. During May's various attempts to gain access, each                 time he stumbled upon huge quantities of water. This seemed to                 indicate that the explosion had diverted the flow of an underground                 river and as a result had caused water to gush into the underground                 complex. It therefore looked like salvaging anything from the                 underground complex would be terribly complex—and largely                 outside May's capabilities.

Sceptics                 versus Truth-seekers

In                 a nutshell, this is a nearly 25-year-long story that has left                 hardly anyone who has looked into it untouched or without an opinion.                 It is all too easy to label Burrows a hoaxer. People who have                 known and worked with him have called him many things, but not                 a fabricator of evidence or a liar. He has an explosive nature                 on occasions and has sometimes not been the best judge of character.                 But Burrows's character flaws are largely incidental in this narrative.                 Only his sceptics focus too heavily on them, whereas they should                 be focusing instead on whether or not he could actually have fabricated                 any, let alone such huge numbers of, inscribed stones. If we were                 placed in the same situation, the end result would be the same,                 for it is in the nature of such discoveries and how we react to                 them that they tend to produce the same kind of outcomes. The                 sceptics would call it an "obvious hoax" and the proponents                 would call it "clear evidence", finally proving their                 respective arguments, whatever they may be. So, the fate of the                 cave was sealed, doomed, from the moment that Burrows slid down                 into it. Where does this leave us? For sceptics to cry foul, they                 need to come up with better than "obvious" statements.                 There is no evidence that Burrows faked the stones. The sceptics                 argue that Burrows was known to work with wood and create wooden                 artefacts in his spare time. Indeed. This they see as "evidence"                 that he faked the stones. More importantly, there is evidence                 that a cave system exists where Burrows claims it exists. If it                 is all a hoax, the sceptics will need to provide evidence instead                 of repeatedly using the word "obvious". Still, even                 if the cave system is there, it may perhaps be lost to us forever.                 Any operation that could be mounted to provide a conclusive answer                 would cost an extraordinary amount of money— and such resources                 are "obviously" not in the hands of the diffusionists.                 So it seems that, once again, the establishment has won the fight—                  and that may be the only obvious thing about this entire story.                 

From                 Old World to New?

Juba                 II

What                 sense can we make of all this? Could a golden sarcophagus, allegedly                 found in an Illinois cave, be evidence of pre-Columbian transoceanic                 travel between the "Old World" and the Americas, as                 so many people have claimed? While Burrows described what the                 cave looked like and what it contained, fortunately most of the                 artefacts removed from the cave were photographed early on, in                 part due to the efforts of James Schertz and Fred Rydholm. Various                 researchers have looked at this collection, and archaeologists                 have been quick to point out the mismatches. But most cultures                 are a mismatch of cultures! London and New York are prime examples                 of how various cultures create a new one. Things were no different                 in ancient times, Alexandria probably being the best example.                 An important clue is that some of the stone slabs displayed a                 signature that was known in the Old World. It belonged to one                 Alexander Helios, son of the infamous Cleopatra and Marc Antony                 and twin brother of Cleopatra Selene, the future co-ruler of Mauritania                 (in Africa's western Sahara). This is the angle that Hubbard and                 Kelly built upon. Amongst Burrows's earliest team of amateur researchers                 were Jack Ward and Warren Cook, the latter who died in 1989. Cook's                 analysis of the artefacts made him conclude that creating them                 would have taken thousands of hours. But more importantly, Cook                 continued Ward's analysis of their possible origin and argued                 that they were most likely the remains of a Libyan–Iberian                 expedition. He identified Mauritania's King Ptolemaeus I (1 BC                  – 40 AD), son of Cleopatra Selene and King Juba II (52-50                 BC – 23 AD), as the man responsible for this transoceanic                 voyage. Could this have been possible? The rulers of Mauritania                 had fallen foul of the Roman emperors, if only because of the                 economic power that Mauritania had become, turning the scales                 on who was in control of whom. When the Roman Empire decided to                 redress that balance, the Mauritanian king Juba II and his family                 had to flee. It's possible that he used the knowledge of the seas                 that his ancestors, the Phoenicians, had gathered: he knew the                 location of the Azores, whose goods he was able to sell at the                 highest prices in Rome and elsewhere. So, if the Burrows Cave                 artefacts are genuine and the interpretation correct, it's possible                 that the Phoenician-informed Mauritanian royal family sailed further                 west, beyond the Azores, to the Americas.

Mausoleum                 of Juba and Cleopatra Selene in Tipaza

If                 they ended up in Central America, perhaps they entered the Mississippi                 River and travelled north until reaching Illinois—where                 they settled, far removed from the squabbles of the Old World.                 The cave artefacts are not the only evidence of the presence of                 an enigmatic people in the first century AD. According to one                 Native American legend, the region contains the tomb of a king                 who was not native to America. The tribe once knew the location,                 but this information is now lost. Could this location be the same                 as the Burrows Cave? Furthermore, it is known that Juba II ordered                 a golden sarcophagus to be prepared for the mausoleum that had                 been built for him in Tipaza (in modern-day Algeria). This was                 one of the prized possessions that the Romans had tried to get                 their hands on, but they never did find the sarcophagus or the                 Mauritanian king. Official history is silent on the fate of both.                 Yet it is clear that King Juba II must have died and that he and                 his sarcophagus must have ended up somewhere, perhaps in Illinois.                 That seems "obvious" logic to me—and logic may                 be all that we can work with for the foreseeable future.

A first article on the Burrows Cave appeared in                 Forntier Magazine 3.5 (1997); an update occurred in 2004. The                 above third version, adapted, appeared in Nexus New Times 13.5                 (August-September 2006). The article also ran as the cover story                 in Ancient American Magazine Volume 11, Issues 71 (December 2006),                 as "Ancient African Gold in Illinois?", as well as in                 "Unearthing Ancient America".

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