Many tales of buried treasure and allegedly “mysterious” sites are to be found in popular culture and folklore. The story of “Burrows Cave” is a fairly recent addition. It involves no treasure in the normal sense and no mysterious legends. Instead the basic facts, if facts they are, are well known and traceable to their original sources. The people who were initially involved in the tale are still alive to discuss their side of the story, and the site is supposedly somewhat undisturbed and available for study.
So what’s the mystery, and why is the site controversial? The background to the incident must be examined in some detail before discussing any “facts” surrounding the discovery of the site.
First, numerous individuals and groups (often referred to as diffusionists) believe significant pre-Columbian interaction took place between native American peoples and various ancient and early modern civilizations, such as the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and others. It is definitely possible that such communication took place, but so far little verifiable, objective evidence has been found to support such theories. It’s one thing to find a fragment of Phoenician pottery in Boston Harbor. Such a find can be explained as the result of a European ship discharging a load of stone ballast that happened to contain the fragment. It would be quite a different situation if someone found translatable, legible writings on a datable stone standing in a field in Missouri that could be successfully traced to ancient Phoenicians. The former has happened. The latter has not.
Complicating matters further, at least a few supporters of diffusionist theories are the inheritors of 19th century racist attitudes toward native American cultures. At that time it was widely held that, for example, the “lost Moundbuilder culture” could not have possibly been related to the “savage Indian tribes” regularly encountered by white settlers. A theory arose that the Moundbuilders must have been of a race that died out prior to the arrival of Europeans, since the “savage” native American tribes were “too primitive” to have created such wonders. It is certainly not the case that all diffusionists are racists. However, some racists have apparently seen fit to associate themselves with this movement in order to give themselves a measure of respectability. This is similar to the process by which social Darwinists who promulgated “Aryan superiority” myths in the early 20th century hijacked and twisted the theory of evolution in pursuit of their own goals.
It is also certainly not true that some shadowy group is attempting to “suppress” legitimate evidence. This is the cry of the pseudo-scientist or conspiracy theorist who believes himself in sole possession of the “truth” while vast forces are arrayed against his attempts to spread it to others. It is possible specific scientists or historians allow their beliefs or biases to influence their objectivity, but this is simply human nature. The same can be said of any field, and happily science is a self-correcting endeavor. Mistakes made by a misguided or sloppy individual will eventually be discovered and corrected by other researchers.
Second, it has often been the case that certain theories are targets for people wishing to make names for themselves by overturning “establishment” systems. For example, Newton’s gravitational theories were almost immediately attacked by opponents; some were legitimate challenges to the new ideas while others were nonsensical, irrational claptrap offered up by individuals with no knowledge of the subject. Attacks on Newton largely ceased once Einstein proposed relativity; deniers then aimed their barbs at the new quantum theory, and Newtonian physics became the “sacred cow” they were trying to defend.
As a corollary to the above, many pseudo-scientists and cranks become mortally offended when their ideas are not immediately accepted by mainstream science. They do not understand that a long held theory generally cannot be overturned by a single piece of evidence or one successful experiment — especially if the results are contrary to a great deal of established knowledge. Academic study moves slowly and deliberately. Experiments must be verified through repetition, and evidence evaluated for correctness or alternative explanations so no one rushes headlong down the wrong path. History is rife with stories of researchers who embarrassed themselves and others by announcing “discoveries” later found to be the results of misinterpreted evidence or poorly-controlled experiments. Academics are correctly skeptical of new evidence that runs contrary to well documented ideas, especially if the new evidence is insufficiently documented, comes from an untrained or unknown individual, or is advertised publicly before being peer reviewed for accuracy.
In relation to Burrows Cave, the alleged discovery of the location and the events that followed it are subject to debate. Certain individuals involved in the saga certainly had hidden agendas that called their objectivity into question. The site may be an intentional hoax, or perhaps it represents a desperate attempt by one or more individuals to focus attention on the diffusionist agenda. Even more sinister is the possibility that it was created deliberately to embarrass or mislead legitimate researchers. It is also very possible the entire story was fabricated for the sole purpose of bilking potential investors out of large sums of money.
Burrows Cave represents an ideal data point for anyone who seeks to deny “establishment” history for whatever reason, whether personal, religious, or professional. But is it a legitimate find or a hoax?
“Discovery” of the site
According to the basic story, a man named Russell Burrows was walking through the countryside in Illinois one day in April 1982 when he either a) fell on a large rock that suddenly tilted sideways under his weight, nearly throwing him into a pit; or b) stumbled across the mouth of a cave where he noted the presence of numerous artifacts. Inside the cave he claimed to have found hundreds, perhaps thousands of carved stones bearing figures or letters in some unknown language. Others were said to contain depictions of deities, humans, ships, and so forth.
Burrows is said to have taken some of these items away for analysis and later examination by a number of archaeologists and epigraphers. Many, including retired botanist and amateur epigrapher Barry Fell (who previously had proposed similarities between certain native American languages and Hebrew) pronounced the stones to be fakes, as did many members of the Epigraphic Society. However other researchers – mostly non-academics – disagreed, declaring the inscriptions were written in Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Etruscan, and other ancient languages that were never spoken in North America. They also claimed that many stones bore a strong resemblance to others found in each of these ancient lands. Thus, say supporters of the artifacts’ authenticity, we have strong evidence of significant contact by numerous ancient cultures with the North American continent long before Columbus or the Scandinavians set foot here. The same people claim other such sites must exist and point to allegedly similar carvings found in Michigan and other locations.
The cave received scant attention from mainstream archaeology. No scholarly journals attempted to document the “finds” made there, though the Epigraphic Society and several other diffusionist newsletters carried stories about it sporadically for several years. No archaeological digs were conducted under properly controlled conditions. Indeed, supporters of the cave’s authenticity derided science’s inattention to the subject, claiming it represents a near conspiracy to “suppress” evidence that history as it is now being taught is massively incorrect. However, a significant body of evidence suggests that Burrows and his close associates consistently prevented such studies from being carried out and even refused to allow the extant artifacts to be closely examined by professionals qualified to judge their authenticity.
For example, in 1986 a group called the Early Sites Research Society contacted Burrows about the cave. By one account he was “quite enthusiastic about Early Sites interest” but then
A list of ten (10) suggested points of procedure was sent to him, including: the creation of a data base for all the material submitted for a radiocarbon determination; 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” (Whittall, 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 (Burrows, 1986). A discussion with Burrows on the telephone thenceforth, suggested to me that Early Sites was out of the picture. No further correspondence took place.” (Whittall, 1990)
Thus, rather than an active avoidance of the subject on the part of “mainstream scholarship,” it appears Burrows himself deflected academics from performing legitimate studies of the cave’s alleged wonders.
At last report, Burrows continued to refuse to divulge the location of the cave on the grounds that he was afraid it would be looted and destroyed by artifact hunters–not an unreasonable viewpoint since archaeological sites regularly are looted by pot hunters and other thieves. As of 1998 he claimed to have no further involvement with the site and asserted he had been told to stay away from the area. Allegations were made that Burrows and others removed “thousands” of artifacts from it for sale to private collectors. One seller claimed to have purchased hundreds of pieces from Burrows only to find later on that the “artifacts” were fake and worthless. At the time this article was written, few professional scholars supported the authenticity of the cave and only a few die-hards continued to believe it represented a legitimate find.
What Are The Odds?
It seems at least suspicious one site would house huge numbers of these “rock art pieces” while no similar artifacts have been found at well known native American villages, burial grounds, or other locations in North America. Some supporters have suggested the Cave represents a “central repository” of these supposedly ancient, possibly sacred objects. While this is possible, it is improbable. At least a few similar stones should have been found at other sites. Anthropologists and/or archaeologists should have encountered them during their research, or their existence should have been disclosed by tribal elders. The likelihood of such evidence being overlooked is small given the large number of sites already investigated and the significant effort already expended in studying native American customs and culture.
Also, if ancient Eurasian or Middle Eastern cultures were in regular contact with tribes in North America, one would expect folktales or other stories to have been created by one or both cultures describing the ways of the other. If a group of native Americans held these “carved stones” in such reverence that they created a special repository for them, then oral traditions and legends about the “great ones” or “mysterious people from the East” – with accompanying art, descriptions of the other country, and so forth – would also be expected among these same tribes. Instead there are none, or at least none which have come to light as a result of anthropological study. If Etruscans or other cultures left carved stones containing written records of some type, it also would be expected that native American tribes with which they were in contact would have learned at least some of the writing system and integrated it into their own culture. The formation of cargo cults or other groups among the native Americans, mimicking the actions or appearance of the Eurasians who allegedly visited with such regularity, should also have occurred.
Moreover, the exchange of language and symbolism is only one facet of the impact contact of any significance would have on both cultures. One of the first consequences of Columbus’ arrival in the New World was the exchange of diseases for which each group had no resistance: syphilis came to Europe and smallpox devastated native Americans. If significant cultural exchange occurred long before Columbus, why did it not have similar effects? The simplest answer is that no such interaction occurred, or that any contact that did occur was very limited in scope. It might be more reasonable to suggest Europeans made some limited contacts with North American cultures but died due to exposure to disease before they were able to return home or exert any significant influence on the native cultures. However no records are known to exist that lend support to such a hypothesis.
Aside from Barry Fell’s assertions that Algonquin contains elements that bear a resemblance to Hebrew, how much unambiguous evidence exists to support contact between North Americans and European or Asian cultures in the pre-Columbian era? The answer, to this writers’ knowledge, is little to none — leading to the conclusion that the very basis of diffusionist theory is invalid. Occasional travelers may have landed in North America from Europe or the Far East, but present evidence does not support widespread contact over long periods.
Why the Controversy?
Supporters of Burrows Cave and diffusionists in general claim academics are actively suppressing the “secret” that ancient cultures maintained contact with native American tribes; they assert scholars want to maintain an “orthodoxy,” and refuse to re-write history texts or admit to their error. This is simply preposterous since such a discovery, properly documented and presented in the academic community, would be the cornerstone of a scholar’s career. Like Einstein and quantum theory or Crick and Watson with DNA, the sudden introduction of a radical new piece of supportable, well-researched material would guarantee a life’s worth of grants and notoriety. What possible motivation could so-called “mainstream scholarship” have for suppressing such a discovery, and how could it possibly be done in any case, since scholars are free to present their views in any forum they might choose?
A site in Newfoundland known as L’Anse aux Meadows was the location of a Scandinavian settlement that far predates Columbus’ sea voyage in 1492; it is generally accepted this was the earliest European settlement in the new world. By comparison, certain diffusionists believe ancient North American sites represent evidence of the “lost tribe of Israel” while others insist the controversial Book of Mormon (BOM) is a legitimate Biblical document that discusses what is now known as North America in great detail. Still others have no religious or cultural bias and are solely interested in the search for hard evidence, which they believe exists. The sudden discovery of a site like Burrows Cave–a location apparently stuffed with likely-looking artifacts that seem to validate diffusionist theory–would be, to say the least, hailed as a major step forward.
From the above it can also be inferred that diffusionists themselves are not a monolithic group; many viewpoints and extremes are represented. Some proponents of these ideas seem only to want the notoriety attached to the support of a controversial viewpoint. Others feel they have legitimate scientific evidence. Still others are clearly misinterpreting evidence, either wilfully or due to a lack of professional knowledge in the relevant areas of scientific research. A Mormon who contacted Critical Enquiry during research on this article revealed that accepted practice states the BOM is not a Biblical document, that it does not refer to North America in any way, and that the cultures mentioned therein do not have any relationship to the “lost” tribe of Israel. Those who believe otherwise are considered a fringe group within the LDS Church and are not taken seriously by the members at large.
A short reading of diffusionist literature demonstrates a significant gulf separating the academics from those who support the theory on religious or other grounds.
Many archaeologists and other scholars have labelled Burrows Cave as an outrageous hoax, infuriating diffusionists who feel it’s a legitimate and important find. Some academics may be reacting in a very predictable, pedantic manner by rejecting outright a site that seems to invalidate a great deal of widely accepted historical data, but they are correct in being very skeptical since it does represent an extraordinarily bizarre situation. As we noted earlier, why would we find a high concentration of artifacts in only one location when by all odds others should have turned up at numerous native American sites over the years? The situation is an unusual one and deserves to be handled with special attention: if the site’s authenticity were established it would represent a staggering find with repercussions across numerous fields — history, archaeology, anthropology, and others. If it’s a hoax, whoever perpetrated it deserves jail time and public censure for misleading those who long to find validation of their beliefs, as well as for selling fake artifacts at what are said to have been very high prices.
Burrows Cave involves two highly polarized camps. On one side are academics, who may be rejecting the “artifacts” prematurely and without sufficient study. Ideally, someone in the archaeological community should conduct a valid, unbiased test excavation of the site–presuming its location is revealed by Burrows or someone else who possesses this information. Validation of the site is a relatively simple matter since faking the deposits and strata one expects to find in such an area would require incredible expertise and a great deal of labor. Faking a number of carved stones is a relatively simple proposition (though such fakery is easy to expose through proper scientific study), but faking the context in which legitimate, ancient items would be found is a very different thing indeed. One can travel to various places in South and Central American and find any number of entrepreneurs who will sell “artifacts” (stones covered with convincing-looking artistic carvings, artificially “aged” with shoe polish or dung) to unsuspecting tourists, so it would not be a difficult task for someone to produce a large number of forged carvings in a very short period of time.
On the other side are those diffusionists who feel the Cave represents a treasure trove of artifacts proving their pet theories. They feel the “scientific establishment” is ignoring a legitimate or valuable find; conversely it could also be argued that since these people have already decided to believe in the idea of ancient contact, their biases may be allowing them to accept the site’s legitimacy without having conducted sufficient study. That the cave has never been visited by anyone with the credentials to determine its authenticity and that the carvings have constantly been kept out of the hands of qualified researchers is critical; one cannot offer an unbiased opinion without sufficient hard evidence to conduct a proper study.
In the past hundred years there have been several attempts at creating forged artifacts that “proved” Moundbuilder or other native American sites were created by some other culture, so it would not be a unique event if Burrows Cave were to be exposed as a hoax. Also, the tale of the “lost tribe of Israel” has been associated with the American west for at least 150 years and supporters have looked in vain for corroborating evidence to support the idea. One of the more infamous hoax attempts involved the so-called “Soper-Savage artifacts,” said to have been found in Michigan around the turn of the century, and the authenticity of numerous other allegedly ancient artifacts such as the “Kensington Runestone” and “Bat Creek Stone” has been an ongoing source of debate. Many researchers accept their authenticity while others feel they’re certainly hoaxes for various technical reasons.
Burrows cave may well be a hoax, and a reading of past interactions–such as the exchange with the Early Sites group described above–involving Russell Burrows and the academic community supports this theory. Between roughly 1985 and 1995 numerous academics contacted Burrows to arrange for a viewing of the cave; in every instance he managed to find some reason to cancel their visit, set unacceptable conditions on their research, or otherwise prevent the sort of academic study that would have either confirmed or denied the authenticity of the site. On at least two known occasions professional archaeologists offered to conduct site studies on a volunteer basis; each time their request was denied. Burrows often blamed these changes on the owner of the property where the cave is said to be located, but no one but Burrows had any contact with this landowner so there is no way to know for certain. In 1986 an archaeologist (James P. Whittall) “…offered to inspect the cave and suggested guidelines for proper study. But his insistence on scientific rigor angered Burrows, who denied him further information about the location” (McGlone, et. al. 1993).
On at least two instances Burrows himself contacted the Illinois State Archaeologists’ office to ask about appropriate measures when ancient burial sites and artifacts were discovered; on both occasions he asked for and received the necessary instructions and documents but made no further effort at registering the site with the state. Later he asserted that he avoided doing so because he thought the state would “steal” the $60 million in gold he claimed was concealed in the cave (Benedict, 1992).
To date, Russell Burrows is apparently the only person who has actually been inside the alleged cave. No one else has been allowed into it or given its location. The shadowy landowner’s name is still unknown though many have guessed at his identity. Some people have been taken to a wooded area and told that the cave is nearby; at least one was shown an overhanging rock ledge purported to be close to the cave’s mouth, but none have ever been inside the actual cave. The only evidence of its existence is Russell Burrows’ testimony to that effect. Apparently one of Burrows’ excuses for not taking people into the cave itself is that “Illinois has taken over the cave, and refused to to let me dig anymore, or I have to ask their permission to take anyone to see the cave without an appointment (of course when he is asked, he tells those asking, that the request was denied, as there is such tight security and personnel involvement to allow visitors).” (Benedict, 1992). This contradicts a letter from the Illinois State Archaeologists’ Office, which stated that no one ever attempted to register the site.
The artifacts themselves are by all accounts ludicrous, obvious fakes created by someone who paged through various books, found likely-looking inscriptions, and copied them onto available pieces of stone. Many of the “rock art pieces” depict the same “lantern-jawed” profile of a human male, and numerous artists and archaeologists have noted that all appear to have been drawn by the same individual. Several pieces have been recognized as copies of known artifacts that have been depicted in various books over the years, and Barry Fell commented that the “Elephant stele” was an obvious copy of one he depicted in his book America BC. The forger even copied a mistake Dr. Fell made on the transcription in the first edition, which allows the forgery to be dated to sometime after 1976.
Many comments have been made, in fact, that numerous stones closely resemble other known examples of various art forms which have been found in various parts of the world. This, according to supporters of the cave’s authenticity, is evidence in their favor. However, an alternative and apparently overlooked interpretation is that someone simply copied known inscriptions and images from readily-available books!
From a technical standpoint, several researchers commented upon the condition and material from which the “artifacts” had been made. One said “on close inspection of the artifacts it was determined that they were recently created as the stone they were made from showed geologic characteristics that only exist during a short span of time after being exposed to the atmosphere.” This same researcher commented “…one other aspect of these stones that differs from the norm is the nodular nature and uneven shapes that were used for the art work. Normally art of this nature is found on well formed flat surfaces…and not soft shale. These stones also showed two textures and color differences that are indicative of fresh and not ancient buried artifacts” (Pyle, 1994). In yet another report, it is stated that “every professional archaeologist who has seen photos (or in the rare instance been allowed to examine actual artifacts) has judged them to be very modern and very crude fakes made by someone with no real knowledge of ancient cultural symbols” (Hayden, 1994).
Burrows once admitted that ten of the stones were forgeries created by a young relative of the landowner. This is extremely difficult to verify since the young man was killed before Burrows made this assertion, which was later retracted when it apparently became inconvenient. Jean Hunt, then president of the Louisiana Mounds Society, noted that in 1990 when this tale was fabricated, Burrows told her he was attempting to get it published “to get [Barry] Fell off his back.” When he thought the information was about to be published he made a feeble attempt to have it retracted and when told it could not, he “laughed…and told me that the story of the stolen artifacts was a lie…he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, laughing or chuckling throughout the call” (Hunt, ESOP V. 21. 1990).
As for those researchers who claim to have made successful translations of some of the inscriptions, at least one is highly suspect since the translator made free use of various alphabets and languages in constructing his results. Some characters were taken from Etruscan, others from Hebrew or another language. An academic who reviewed the translators’ efforts commented that “if one is allowed to pick and choose the letters and their translations, and fill in the blanks with vowels of one’s own choosing, then words can be composed to fit any story.” (Chapman, 1995)
If the rest of the translations are similarly flawed, then Barry Fell’s assertion that the stones were “nothing but gibberish” becomes all the more likely.
The matter of the Cave’s provenance is further complicated by the colorful background of some of the people whose names have become attached to it. Writer Rick Flavin wrote a column about a fellow named Frank Collin, best known as the neo-Nazi who attempted to organize a march through predominantly Jewish Skokie, IL in the 1970s. In the article Flavin touched on the subject of Burrows Cave and the apparent relationship between Frank Collin (who is no longer a neo-Nazi but has picked up a new vocation as a “new age” icon and writer while operating under the pseudonym “Frank Joseph”) and Russell Burrows. Collin is an editor for Ancient American magazine, a glossy, non-scholarly publication that publishes numerous articles in support of diffusionist theory (it is also the only national magazine to publish any articles about the Cave). Several of the magazine’s publishers and staff are members of a fringe sect of Mormons who, according to mainstream members of the LDS Church, are a “bunch of loons making the rest of us look bad.” (message from Ben Spackman, July 2003).
Another name strongly associated with the Cave is that of Dr. James Scherz, a retired engineer and surveyor who wrote numerous articles in support of the Cave’s authenticity. It should be noted that Scherz is (or was?) the president of a diffusionist group called The Ancient Earthworks Society; thus his support for the Cave may be somewhat biased for the reasons noted above.
More amusing coincidences came to light when an odd article (original site lost, now found at a new location) was discovered on the Internet; according to the original site’s administrator it “appeared in his inbox one day” and no author was cited. The text described the discovery of Burrows Cave and then recounted some of the wonders found there, including Etruscan, Greek, and Sumerian texts and pictograms. The article appeared to be a very scholarly work, and dropped the names of various researchers who’d examined the artifacts and judged them authentic.
First we hear of “Fred Rydholm,” an amateur who apparently has been involved in a great deal of archaeological research in the past in association with Russell Burrows and James Scherz. He is also said to have produced an excellent 2-volume work on another topic unrelated to Burrows Cave.
Next there is a reference to “Dr. Arnold Murray of Arkansas.” Research reveals that far from being a scholar, Murray is a fundamentalist Christian televangelist whose views are strongly condemned by mainstream Christianity. Exactly what credentials he is supposed to have to assist in the decipherment of Hebrew, Etruscan, or other texts are not mentioned. It’s also obvious that Murray would be happy to support diffusionist ideas since his teachings involve “Anglo-Israelism,” i.e. the idea that “Anglo-Saxons are the chosen race, and America and Great Britain are the lost tribes of the children of Israel. Murray claims that the northern ten tribes of Israel are the ‘the same tribes that later went north and populated Europe and North America.’ ” (1)
“Zena Halpern” is cited as “a Hebrew scholar from New York.” Another source says that she is “a scholar who CAN do good work” but has become a “true believer” regarding Burrows Cave and therefore refuses to believe any evidence contradicting her interpretation that it’s legitimate.
“Dr Joe Mahan” was the founder of the Institute for the Study of American Cultures (ISAC), described by the same source (who is on this group’s board of trustees) as a “pro-indian, pro-diffusion group.” This source, as well as numerous other academics who’ve written commentaries on Burrows Cave, claim that Mahan was a very good scholar who was “suckered” into the Burrows controversy, and apparently also became a “believer.” During a meeting of the group another scholar called for validation of Burrows Cave (a standard practice–ALL archaeological sites must be validated). At this, Mahan “stood up and yelled at her: Burrows Cave needs no validation” (Buchanan, 2001). This is an unconscionable attitude for a supposedly impartial scholar since it means his personal feelings about the site were interfering with his ability to approach it from a rational, analytical standpoint.
The list continues. If the other names listed are also people of the same stripe, i.e. “believers” who have naturally come to accept the validity of the evidence, then the article is merely a smoke screen. It pretends to be a scholarly work while tossing out important-sounding terms and dropping lots of impressive-sounding names, but really says nothing much at all.
Something of a parallel can be drawn between the perpetrators of the Soper-Savage hoax and the principals involved in Burrows Cave, as well as the discoveries themselves. Daniel Soper was a former Michigan secretary-of-state who was thrown out of office for demanding kickbacks; his partner, James O. Scotford, was described as “a sleight-of-hand performer turned sign painter.” Almost as soon as the men formed their partnership they were selling “rare copper crowns that had been found on the heads of prehistoric kings, whose heads crumbled into dust when exposed to the air.” (2) Later they claimed to have access not only to copies (!) of Noah’s Diaries, but also the original Ten Commandments. Compare these two men with Burrows and Collin (aka Joseph); the former was a prison guard about whom unsubstantiated rumors involving confidence games have been circulated. The latter served time (in the same Illinois prison where Burrows was a guard) for pederasty, after which he changed his name and began a new career as a New Age guru and editor. In too many cases the people who make grandiose claims regarding mysterious artifacts are later found to have “colorful” backgrounds that suggest a history of charlatanry.
Soper claimed to have found his site by accident, upon viewing the debris an animal was excavating from its burrow. Russell Burrows claimed to have nearly fallen into the cave that now bears his name.
A New Twist (update 1/2002)
Soon after initial publication of this article, a number of readers requested information about a man named “Glenn Kimball” and his association with Burrows Cave. As this name had never before been seen in the context of this saga it seemed prudent to perform some additional research, which is still underway. However, the story so far is as follows.
“Glenn” Kimball’s real name is Eldon W. Kimball; he may be a Mormon and he operates a Web site where he sells books, or at least photocopied works, relating to religious topics such as the “secret teachings of Jesus” and other apocryphal subjects. Since at least mid 2001 he has been posting messages on his discussion board regarding the “excavation” of a cave near the rumored location of Burrows Cave; he claims to be in the process of performing site studies in preparation for the recovery of golden coffins, inscriptions relating to the Bible, and so forth. Kimball claims to have conducted GPR (Ground Penetrating RADAR) and other technical studies of the area in question. Some of the charts and other data from these studies are posted on one of Art Bell’s Web sites since Kimball has been a frequent guest on Bell’s show. However, as another researcher points out on his site, none of the charts show any sort of legend or distance scale. This means we are presented with ambiguous, meaningless data that could have been obtained anywhere. There is no way to determine what the images show or where they were taken without the chart certification data and scale indicators, or even if they were created by a competent operator. See an off-site article for more information, as well as allegations (as yet uncorroborated) that the GPR and other sensing equipment was tampered with in order to cause it to produce spurious results.
At first it seemed Kimball represented a completely new, independent player who was trying to capitalize on the notoriety of the cave, possibly in order to promote his Christian-text sales efforts. However, subsequent postings on Kimball’s e-mail list revealed that the old triumvirate of Wayne May (publisher of The Ancient American magazine), Frank Collin, and Russell Burrows are involved in Kimball’s efforts. This is extremely interesting, given the latter’s statement that “In January, 1998, I was informed by the person now in charge of the property that my responsibility to what has become known as Burrows Cave had ended” (Burrows, 1998). If this is true, how has he suddenly become involved in this saga yet again?
Kimball himself is an interesting character. He uses the honorific “Dr.” but does not specify in what field it was awarded . On his résumé he claims to have “taught at Southern Illinois University” in the 1976-78 time frame. The personnel department at this institution was unable to find any record of Kimball’s status as a faculty member; instead he was listed as a graduate teaching assistant in the Communications department during the time frame mentioned above. They were also unable to find any record of his having received a PhD or any other advanced degree.
Similarly, Kimball recently claimed he was in discussion with The Discovery Channel regarding “his” new TV series; in one message he claimed “we have met with [the channel] on Monday and shown them the pilot of my new series. It was so well received that they told us point blank they are sending us a package contract for our consideration” (Kimball, msg. of 25 Oct., 2001). When contacted about this, an individual working on the concept for the series in question replied:
“All I can say is that Glenn Kimball is exaggerating. We are developing a concept with a producer…[who]…is the same guy who put us in touch with Glenn to begin with and he put Glenn in the demo reel as the host. Glenn is not going to be the host. He may come in as an expert here and there, but he is not the host…I think we mentioned the show to Discovery (and only in passing) but at this point they have not expressed any level of interest.” [identity withheld by request]
Another researcher who is familiar with Kimball’s activities commented on a portion of his résumé:
“I can give you a concrete example of how Kimball inflates his (self-)importance:
3- Glenn was the keynote address speaker at the UFO convention in 1999 in Nevada
In reality, I was the keynote speaker at that conference (UFO Congress). Because I teach that Christ is an ancient mythical motif found in many pre-Christian cultures, Laurence Gardner, who was set to speak after me (I had replaced Sitchin, who couldn’t make it), objected to my presence, and I was asked not to show up. I stepped down, and Gardner decided not to show anyway. I was replaced by Jordan Maxwell, who likewise teaches Christian mythology, and Gardner was replaced by Kimball, who likewise spreads pablum. He was very much a last-minute replacement, and followed Maxwell, who would then technically be considered the keynote speaker.” (Acharya S., msg of 17 Aug, 2001).
The same writer noted that many of Kimball’s “hidden Christian documents” are known apocrypha — texts of highly questionable authority and authenticity — that are not accepted by the mainstream Church. Kimball often claims to have “found” these himself, when in reality most have been known, and known to be forgeries, for centuries.
If the rest of Kimball’s credentials and alleged accomplishments are similarly exaggerated, it bodes ill for the future of his escapades with the Cave. He may be involved with fringe members of the LDS Church who are attempting to manufacture evidence to support the authenticity of claims regarding pre-Columbian Americans and “the lost tribes of Israel” (also recall Dr. Murray, mentioned above). This assertion is strengthened by the knowledge that Kimball supports the authenticity of documents that have been rejected by generations of Biblical scholars.
The roles of Burrows, Collin, and May in these recent developments are still under investigation, but some of the connections may become obvious since May and the Ancient American staff are alleged to be members of a similarly fringe-oriented Mormon sect.
As of January 2002 the Illinois State Museum had no record of any registered archaeological digs in the area of Richland County mentioned on Brian “Harry” Hubbard’s site. The researcher who checked on the status of known sites in this area even commented “boy, it’s awful flat in that vicinity, and hardly the place I’d expect to find any caves. I’m not aware of any limestone formations around there” (Klobuchar, 2002). Is the reported location incorrect? Is this yet another hoax?
ILittle progress appears to have been made regarding the alleged cave since the 2002 update. A new page appeared on The Ancient American‘s site and “Glenn” Kimball continues to send updates to his readers, but none of the long-awaited spectacular discoveries have been announced; even if they were their accuracy and authenticity would be highly suspect. Indeed, a reading of the article at the URL above reveals that (at least as of late 2001) there was some heated debate over the location of the “real” cave and its ownership. Some of the “technical” people on the site allegedly tried to break into the “cave” and steal artifacts, or take over aspects of the project from May and Kimball.
The circus continues, and it seems likely the situation will remain unchanged. Believers will continue to believe and the rest of the world will await the publication of reliable evidence produced by unbiased scientific inquiry.
The major problem with Burrows Cave is that the more one examines the story, the more hoax-like and fabricated it begins to sound. At first glance it sounds plausible–a hiker falls into a cave and finds a trove of potentially-important artifacts. Then we are told the artifacts are not from only one culture, but are Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Scandinavian, Roman, Vedic (from India/Pakistan), Hebrew, and so forth. Suspicion naturally grows since it’s highly unlikely that all these cultures would’ve been interacting with the same native American tribes, much less at the same time, without leaving records of their own to tell the tale.
The situation is further complicated by the appearance of Frank Collin, the former neo-Nazi and convicted felon who’s restyled himself in a new and more respectable mold. Loud alarms begin going off once murky relationships involving certain diffusionists, fringe-group Mormons, and fundamentalists begin to emerge. Here we are presented with groups who desperately want to believe in extensive contact between native American tribes and various Old World cultures, for a variety of reasons, and who reject interpretations that fail to support this theory.
Worse still, these groups label mainstream science as the “defenders of orthodoxy” who are attempting to “suppress” their discoveries and keep “the truth” away from the public at large. These are the rantings of the pseudoscientist who believes in his own genius and that everyone else is simply misguided or wrong, or of fundamentalists who reject science in favor of Biblical literalism. One is reminded of UFOlogists who treat government denials as “proof of the conspiracy,” hawkers of perpetual-motion devices who claim their revolutionary breakthroughs are being ignored or “suppressed” by jealous scientists, and creationists who wrongly equate “theory” with “guess.”
Burrows Cave may be a legitimate find or it may be an elaborate hoax; given the available data the latter conclusion seems far more likely. If it is the former, then it behooves its supporters to bring it more fully to the attention of mainstream archaeologists using the same channels and publications that are used for scholarly purposes; write and publish solidly researched articles, allow a legitimate archaeological survey of the site, and let the evidence stand on its own. If it is indeed a hoax, then the reason the location of the cave (if one even exists) is being kept secret becomes obvious–a close examination would reveal the lie.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Until Burrows supporters allow proper studies to be done by competent and unbiased researchers, and until they are willing to accept legitimate criticism from scholars who find the evidence sketchy at best, their claims will remain relegated to the “junk science” file. Likewise, scientists and historians who have dismissed the site as a hoax would do well to publish at least one detailed refutation discussing all the available physical evidence to support their own viewpoint. A blithe dismissal of the site without publishing a readable, accessible refutation only provides additional fuel to support the views of those who accuse mainstream science of excessive orthodoxy and an inability to accommodate new ideas. But the burden of proof is firmly upon the supporters of the cave’s authenticity since their extraordinary claim has, to this date, produced no reliable proof and a great deal of suspiciously evasive maneuvering. To echo the words of several academics, it’s time for Burrows supporters to put up or shut up.
Note: All information contained in these pages is © 2001-2003 Richard E. Joltes. Short excerpts may be used in other publications where proper credit is given and permission is granted in advance. All rights reserved.