29 – The First Study of the Cave’s Artifacts – 1986

Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Mr. Ward informing me that we at last had an opportunity to learn what had transpired in the cave so long ago. Not only that, he told me, but we could finally get the stuff authenticated.

One of the Old Northwest Corporation officers, a judge no less, had a friend who worked at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He had come down to Vincennes at the judge’s request to arrange for a study of the artifacts on display at the Sonoftobac Museum.

What a wonderful break! The Field Museum is one of the great ones in the country, and has a lot of prestige. Now we were getting somewhere, for surely these people would open up a thorough long-range study of the whole situation, and they had the staff to do it. Let me explain what actually happened.

To start with, we were told, they would like to see a sampling of the artifacts. Not actually meeting with anyone to tell them any of the particulars of the find, we boxed up about twenty inscribed stones that we felt were a good cross-section of the stuff I had taken from the cave, and carried it over to the judge’s home. We understood that a fellow from the museum, an anthropologist, would pick them up, take them to Chicago, study them for as long as necessary for a determination, and then return them to us. We were very pleased with this arrangement.

Several weeks later, Mr. Ward called me again. He was very upset.

“Maybe those things are fraudulent,” he said.

I asked him “Why?” He told me that he had received reports from this fellow at the Field Museum by way of the Old Northwest officers, and they were worse then anything we had encountered so far.

I was shocked! As fast as I could move I got myself over to Vincennes. Upon arriving there, I read the report from the Field Museum. The artifacts were fraudulent, no doubt about it, and Ward and I were a couple of scalawags, according to the report.

(Fred Rydholm):
The six letters that Jack Ward showed Russell Burrows that day are as follows – quoted in their entirety.

The cover letter is addressed to “John A. Ward, President, Old Northwest Corporation.” It is on Vincennes University letterhead, from “Robert R. Stevens, Director, Lewis Historical Library,” and reads:

May 16, 1986

Dear Jack:

I am enclosing the following reports from the staff of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. They are as follows:

  1. Report of Dr. Robert B. Pickering.
  2. Report of Bettram [Bentram] Woodland, Curator of Petrology.
  3. Report of Frank J. Yurco, PhD candidate in Egyptology, University
    of Chicago.
  4. Report of Catherine Sease, Conservator, Field Museum.
  5. Report of Dr. David S. Reese, Research Associate of the Oriental
    Institute, University of Chicago.

The reports were not what I had hoped for, and I am sure you will be very disappointed. The entire Board of Directors of the ONC now needs to have an opportunity to digest the reports and then meet to discuss them.

I wish to call a special meeting of the Board for Wednesday, May 28, 1986 at the Lewis Library. I will be out of town until late Wednesday night (May 21, 1986) and back in the office the next morning.



The second letter is on Field Museum of Natural History letterhead, and reads:

8 May 1986

TO: Gus Stevens, Chairman, Board of Trustees, ONC.”

FR: Bob Pickering, Education Department, Field Museum

RE: Artifacts at Sonotabac [Sonoftobac] Museum

I have examined the purported “Libyan” artifacts loaned to me by Jack Ward. My evaluation focuses on how the images were cut into the stone. Analysis of raw material and stylistic considerations were accomplished by other specialists who donated their time for this purpose.

Comments are divided between the two types of stone, whitish marble and shale/slate. Note that I am not using the incorrect terms of diorite and limestone that Jack Ward uses.

The dirt from the marble slab was washed off very easily with tap water and a soft brush. Once clean, the underlying lines cut into the surface stood out as being lighter in color then the rest of the stone’s surface. The cutting appears to be fresh; no weathering or patination had occurred. These characteristics (light color, lack of weathering or patination) indicate recent rather then old cutting. An examination of some of the cutting under binocular microscope revealed short, straight, sharp-cornered cutting marks. The best explanation is that they were cut with a chisel made of steel. Again the indication is of modern manufacture rather than ancient.

On the slate/shale items, most of the cuts are thin and parallel sided while others show some beveling on one side of the cut, but not the other. There is also evidence of intentional polishing of some surfaces. Microscopic examination clearly shows marks which are most probably made by hard steel tools. A perforation in one of the pendants (showing an Egyptian-like falcon headed image) was also examined. The hole is perfectly round and appears to be conical for part of its length. Small circular striations are visible inside the drilling. The size, shape and striations suggest that the whole was first drilled with a steel bit and then partially countersunk to provide the beveling. The drilling is unlike those observed on authentic artifacts from the Midwest U.S. or Egypt.

The characteristics of all of the intentional cuts on the marble and shale/slate items are similar to those produced by modern steel tools, but are inconsistent with those made from stone or soft metal tools from antiquity. In short, the carving is new, not old.

A further comment on the marble slabs. These slabs are remarkably uniform in thickness and width. Their surfaces are regular. Most of the broken edges of both the slabs examined are fresh. Their color is lighter than on the other surfaces of the stone and the fracture pattern suggests intentional rather then accidental breakage. Since the carvings are not authentically old, one might want to ascertain the source of this fine, white marble. One suggestion that immediately comes to mind is that these are old tombstones that have been modified. If true, state law may have been broken.

A further comment on Jack Ward’s narrative, “A Study of the Origin of Artifacts Found in a Cave by Russell Burrows in a Remote Area of Illinois.” This work is full of errors: spelling, grammatical, factual, and logical. Mr. Ward identifies the two stone types as diorite and limestone. He proceeds to build a case for attributing to Old World origins by telling why they are not from the Vincennes area. The problem is that Ward has misidentified the stone! His diorite is slate/shale and his limestone is actually marble. In fact, in Ward’s own narrative are included letters by Indiana geologists John B. Patton and Nelson Shaffer which contradict Ward’s identifications.

The entire narrative is a hodgepodge of isolated facts from the history and prehistory of many north African and Mediterranean cultures, and totally fabricated fantasy. It is incorrect, at best and at worst, dangerous. Ward makes some very negative statements about the Oriental Institute of Chicago and staff of Egypt’s Department of Antiquities. I have been encouraged to turn over this information to both institutions for their consideration. At present, I am still considering the matter.

To summarize my comments, I see no indication that these artifacts are old or authentic. The most likely explanation is that they are modern fakes perpetrated by someone with a superficial and jumbled knowledge of the ancient Old World.

Robert B. Pickering Ph.D.

The third letter is also on the stationery of Field Museum of Natural History. It is written in longhand to “Dr. Bob Pickering” by “Bentram Woodland, Curator, Petrology.” It reads:

April 23rd 86

Dear Bob,

I have examined the three specimens with the following results:

1) Large white slab – is a fairly crystalline marble – a metamorphic rock not found in Illinois or in adjacent areas.

2) Black specimen with sphinx-like carving. This is a soft black shale not an igneous rock.

3) Black specimen with carved face. This is a carbonate concretion which had formed in black shale. The fracture at one end is an old natural fracture. Of sedimentary origin not an igneous rock.

Bentram Woodland
Curator, Petrology.

The fourth letter is typed on plain stationery, and is addressed to “Dr. Robert Pickering, Field Museum of Natural History” from Frank J. Yurco. Considering the return address, it was probably composed in Mr. Yurco’s
residence. It reads:

30 April 1986

Dear Dr. Pickering,

With reference to the objects from the Sonotabac Museum that you showed me recently, I would make the following observations. Stylistically, there is nothing in these objects to link them with authentic ancient Egyptian antiquities seen by me in Egypt and in 18 years of the study of Egyptology.

Turning specifically to the pieces described as nummilithic [nummulitic] limestone (which, indeed, they are not, being in fact a crystalline marble) On p.31 of the manuscript [Ward’s pamphlet, cited in Pickering’s letter above]: The left figure attempts to reproduce the stance of an Old Kingdom noble, but it fails utterly to be convincing. In fact, it seems to be a poor attempt to copy one of the wooden panels of Hesy-Re (3rd Dynasty, Saqqara) – see Jean Philippe Lauer. Saqqara. London, Thames and Hudson, 1976, pl.26. In particular, the kilt lines are incorrectly reproduced, and the sceptres have been misunderstood. Hesy-Re carries in his left hand a scribal kit (water pot, ink pads and pens) plus a long staff, plain with no ornamentation. In his left hand he holds a sekhem staff. On the Sonotabac marble slab, the scribal kit is omitted (rendering the pen that remains meaningless), and the sekhem sceptre has been garbled into an axe! The work is that of someone with a weak smattering of acquaintance with Egyptian art and absolutely no understanding of Egyptian symbolism and sceptres. The next figure, purporting to be the official Menes 30 years chief – this is utter gibberish. Nobles do not wear the uraeus; only kings do. The face is crudely done, utterly un-Egyptian and the hieroglyphs are utter nonsense, not one single sign being a standard Egyptian hieroglyph or even an attempted copy of one. On p.30, the left figure purports to be an Anubis figure. Anubis is male, not female as here shown; the royal sceptre is carried backward here (one could compare it with a Bishop’s sceptre; the hook should face out, away from deity). In seated position, one leg is not put out in front of the other in the striding pose. The arm and head are also virtual parodies of Egyptian art.

The seat too is un-Egyptian in style and detail. The facing relief is utterly ridiculous: The animal legged deity is a crude attempt at showing the Graeco-Roman Pan; the naked female then would be a maenad, but her head is straight out of some science fiction horror show – The attack of the bug-headed females perhaps. The ship on page 32 is worse still. Far from an Old Kingdom vessel it reproduces crudely a Greek style ship of the 1st millennium B.C. The water is done in grade school fashion, utterly un-Egyptian, and the attempt to show fish within it is equally crude.

In summary, not one of these reliefs on marble looks the least bit Egyptian, let alone Old Kingdom. In my opinion, they are crude imitations. Iconography is garbled; symbolism is confused; supposed hieroglyphs are gibberish. The carver clearly had a vague passing acquaintance with Egyptian art, but no understanding of it.

The supposedly basalt pieces that I was shown were even more utterly un-Egyptian in style. Some of the faces had almost New World (Mexican) appearance, and some the iconography (for instance faces on the ends of sceptres or weapons) are utterly un-Egyptian. In all the faces carved on these pieces, both the supposed basalt and the supposed limestone, I detect the workmanship of a single hand suggesting that these are all the output of a single individual who shows a woefully inadequate or utter misunderstanding of Egyptian art and symbolism as well as hieroglyphs.

A further note on the stone of these objects. I am not a professional geologist, but have a strong background in geology particularly as it impacts on Egyptology. In summary, the two types of stone represented in the Sonotabac collection are misrepresented as limestone and diorite. I agree completely with the assessment of the Indiana Geological Survey analysis cited on pp. 18-19 of the manuscript of John Ward. The dark gray stone is either a schist or a shale (there are even concretions within it); the whitish stone is crystalline type of marble, though not all the pieces are of the same marble, exactly. So, the attempt to link these objects to Egypt and Nubia are totally spurious. Neither shale/slate or marble are used in ancient Egyptian monuments of the Old Kingdom or any period. Marble appears only in the Graeco-Roman period, under the influence of the Greeks.


Frank J. Yurco
PhD candidate in Egyptology
University of Chicago.

The fifth letter, also to Dr. Pickering and on Field Museum stationery, is from Catherine Sease, the Conservator at the Museum. It reads:

May 8, 1986

Dear Dr. Pickering,

Having looked carefully at the material from the Sonotabac Museum, I must admit that I have never seen anything like them. Over the past 12 years I have worked extensively on excavations in Libya, the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. I have also worked on material from these areas in museums in England and the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Although I have not worked on an excavation in Egypt, I have worked on hundreds of Egyptian objects in the Petri Collection at University College, London. I repeat, I have never seen anything like these objects.

Perhaps most striking about the two reliefs is how crudely they are made. True Egyptian sculpture and reliefs are much more delicately made, better proportioned and finely finished. As you well know, just because artifacts were made in the past does not mean they are necessarily crude or unsophisticated. Even the “graffiti” on Egyptian ostraka are better executed then these 2 stone reliefs. Both of which, by the way, are made of white marble and not limestone. To my knowledge, marble was not available and therefore, was not used by the Egyptians or the Numidians (natives to modern Libya) until it was introduced by the Greeks and later the Romans. Both stones are unusually regular in thickness, to a degree I have not noticed on other Egyptian reliefs. (I worked on all the stone reliefs and inscriptions in the Petri Collection.) As well, the incised lines look remarkably new. If you would be interested in following through with this, it might be possible to see something further using microscopic analysis.

As for the other stone pieces, the designs on them present a bewildering mixture of motifs. They almost appear to have been copied randomly from sources as widely divergent as Ancient Egypt and Mayan Central America. Some American Indian influence can also be seen. As with the marble reliefs, the designs are crude and crudely executed and the incised lines appear remarkably fresh. I’m sorry I cannot be more positive about these objects. If I can be of further help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Catherine Sease, Conservator

The last letter in the group is from David S. Reese, Ph.D. then a research associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He, too, was not very excited at what he saw and says so in no uncertain terms. His letter, also to Dr. Pickering:

May 8, 1986

Dear Dr. Pickering:

I am writing this letter with regard to the objects from the Sonotabac Museum which you recently showed me at the Field Museum. These are the so-called “Libyan” items said to come from a cave in America, or from other American sites.

I have worked on archaeological excavations all over the Mediterranean Basin and Near East for more then 15 years, and have also worked on artifacts in many American and European museums. I have published archaeological material from Egypt, Libya, Greece and other areas.

I have never seen anything like these objects from a published excavation or a museum. I am very certain that they have recently been made – their crudity, the stone used and the figures and inscriptions present are possibly based on some real objects, but others are obvious fakes.

I hope that the purchaser of those objects did not pay too much for these forgeries.

Yours sincerely,

David S. Reese Ph.D.
Research Associate,
The Oriental Institute
University of Chicago

Russell was stunned, absolutely numb. Practically every person in any related field of study that looked at anything from the cave had come to the same conclusion – it was all a modern fraud. Nothing was old and nothing authentic and no one had ever seen anything like it before.

(Russell Burrows resumes):

I just couldn’t understand it, it didn’t make sense. I knew that I was not manufacturing these things and I knew that Ward wasn’t manufacturing them and hiding them in the cave for me to find. Hell, he couldn’t even get in the cave, let alone bring a few hundred pounds of rocks with him. It felt like someone had knocked my legs out from under me. Where were we now? It sure looked to me like we were out on a limb and it was being sawed off.

What should our next step be? It was obvious that we were beaten. We had spent a lot of time and money and now we were stuck with a lot of worthless artifacts. Ward, Cullan and I talked it over. How could anyone have faked those stones? We decided we should get back the tablets that we had sent to Chicago, and try to figure out how we had all been fooled.

The next day we went over to the judge’s house and picked up the artifacts. They were in their original box. They had apparently been repacked by the people at the Museum. Upon arriving back at Ward’s office, we began to unpack the artifacts. It was then that we realized that something was wrong. Those artifacts were packed in the same order as when they were delivered. Not only that, they were wrapped in the original newspaper and in the exactly the way we had prepared them for delivery.

“What the hell is going on here?” I asked. Ward was by this time in a near-catatonic state and quite green around the gills.

I took the reports and read them again very carefully. What made them think the tablets were fake? One report said that a study by microscope revealed short, parallel lines in the groves that indicated that a modern steel chisel had been used to make them. (And would not an ancient bronze chisel have done the same?)

I unwrapped that tablet and found that the cuts and grooves were still caked with mud and silt from the cave. How could anyone see the marks of a steel chisel or even do a microscopic examination under those conditions and see short parallel lines?

It was our conclusion that those artifacts and that box had never left Vincennes. We decided that that report was all a piece of trumped-up eye-wash. Possibly it was designed to discredit Jack Ward and in so doing force him to resign as president of the Old Northwest Corporation, a post he had held for thirteen years; or there could have been a different motive.

Why would anyone do such a thing? Well, I have an idea.

There was another attraction owned by The Old Northwest Corporation, called the Old French House. The Corporation had had that old house redone and had arranged for the grants to pay for the renovation, to the tune of several thousands of dollars. The Sonoftobac Museum out-drew the Old French House by many hundreds of visitors and those who were connected with it couldn’t stand it.

This may sound far-fetched but it is the only solution I can come up with. At any rate, a meeting was called by the board of directors of the Old Northwest Corporation, and at that meeting the decision was made that the cave artifacts must be removed from the Sonoftobac Museum because they were fraudulent.

Jack Ward told them that if they did that, he was going to resign. He was told that if that was what he wanted to do then he should just resign, because the Old Northwest Corporation could not be associated with anything that was not authentic; and yet I know that the Old French House is a phoney from top to bottom, even the furniture in it! I actually saw a Sears Roebuck label on the bottom of a chair which they claim, to this day, is authentic, period furniture.

This concludes my narration concerning that organization.

(Fred Rydholm):

We have to imagine the complete frustration that overcame Russell.

In his mind, no one who had examined the stones carefully could possibly think that they were modern or that anyone could take the time and had the skill to do this kind of work, however crude.

In his mind they must not have seen them at all, or at best had decided together that they weren’t worth bothering with.

These people were obviously not trained in discovering. They had carefully studied what others had found and recorded and if things they observed didn’t fit these criteria they were not real. They are so satisfied with what they knew that they were certain there wasn’t anything out there that couldn’t be recognized.

And how could it be possible to have a hoard of things pop up out of nowhere that were so completely different that they could not be recognized; things that no one had ever seen anything like before, not even close?

The answer to that question is nearly as shocking as finding the cave: it’s the mother lode, so to speak.

The people who examine Burrows’ Cave artifacts should never lose sight of the fact that these are not Egyptian or Libyan or whatever. They may have similarities, but they were found in America: the ideology might have drifted far from its base, possibly over centuries. No forger, given any models to go by, would make so many errors. If he didn’t have anything to go by he would certainly have had to know a great deal.

It also seems strange that these people would not follow through with their investigation. If they felt tombstones had been stolen shouldn’t they have reported it to local authorities?

Stealing tombstones is a felony. If they believed someone was perpetrating a fraud shouldn’t some kind of an investigation have been ordered? Someone would have to be guilty, and the law would certainly want to know who, and expose them if not impose fines or jail sentences. It just seems very strange that of all the people concerned, someone was not more curious. You would think that someone, if not some group, would have wanted to learn more about these strange artifacts.

Down through history there have been famous mistakes – like the Piltdown Man, which was exposed by modern techniques. Was it a hoax or was it a mistake? At any rate it was discovered years later, after much damage had been done. The Kensington runestone, was it a hoax? Many learned people are now coming to its defence, and some modern investigators say it is absolutely genuine.

What about the Scotford-Soper Plates? Somewhere between 3 and 10 thousand of these artifacts were found between 1880 and 1916. They all had the crudeness – as compared with Old World things of Burrows’ Cave artifacts. The tablets were called childish, and the report was that the finders were selling them. Actually, they couldn’t give them away, as one after another of the authorities called them fakes, while they turned up in mounds in northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and seventeen counties of Michigan. Thousands of carved stones found over the years were said to have been marked by plow scratches, crystal formations, Indians using them as sharpening stones, the sun, water and forgers. Now there are people like Barry Fell reading some of these very stones.

Three generations of scholars have carefully weeded out anything that would suggest people coming here from the Old World. They have rewritten history, and today the people in these various fields have little to go on, and when they go back (as few do) to read the Norse Sagas, the Irish-American history of the United States, the Iliad or the Odyssey, these are taken to be mythology. To school children today, American history
starts with Columbus.

After the initial shock, Russell’s mind was unaltered.

He shrugged off the reports as badly done; they were either a plot against Jack Ward, or at best the scholars had made superficial examinations of the stones. He was more determined then ever to keep his secret from those people. The less he talked about the cave with them the better off he’d be.

He did think it strange that not one of the scientists wanted to learn more, or see more, or find out the circumstances under which these rocks were found – but this was fine with Russell.