#37 – The Elephant Brouhaha – 1986-


Herewith a summary of the various narrators’ accounts of this controversy (from #s 36, 38, 39, 44, 50, 54, 56).

The Crespi Collection, in Cuenca, Ecuador, contained a stone tablet, a “stele,” with an elephant at top and an inscription below. This “Cuenca elephant stele” apparently disappeared at the death of the collector, Padre Crespi, but before his death it was photographed by Dr. J. Manson Valentine. (And Paul Cheeseman photographed another one.) One of these photos was used as an illustration in Mysteries of Forgotten Worlds by Charles Berlitz, of Bermuda Triangle fame. (The Crespi collection was full of anomalous artifacts; it is a tremendous loss that it was dispersed after Crespi’s death.) (#39)

Dr. Barry Fell saw the photo, probably in Berlitz’s book, and used the elephant stele as an illustrative example in his book America B.C. (1976). However, instead of reproducing the photo directly, a ceramicist, Dr. Clyde Keeler, was commissioned to make a ceramic model of the elephant stele, based on a drawing of the Valentine photo. This ceramic model served as the basis for the illustration in Fell’s book.

According to Virginia Hourigan’s account (#44 “A Discussion with Dr. Fell”), Fell himself was the source of the drawing from which Keeler had worked.

Fell believed the Cuenca elephant stele contained an inscription in a script (Iberic) and language which he could translate. And he thought it should say something about an elephant. He determined that the stele almost said “the elephant that supports the Earth upon the waters and causes it to quake.”

However, one of the letters, an “upright backwards Z,” was wrong for this reading. It should instead have been a “lazy backwards Z.”

Fell concluded that the original artist had made a error of inscription, and he corrected it. His drawing, with the correction, was the one given to Keeler. And the illustration made from Keeler’s ceramic model was the one published in America B.C.

Later in the same year, Fell published a retraction of this illustration, in the journal of the New England Antiquities Research Association. This retraction featured a drawing of the elephant stele with the original lettering, including the “upright backwards Z.”

(I do not know how this change of a letter affected the meaning of the inscription.)

From this date Fell apparently believed that the inscription on the Cuenca elephant stele was correct; indeed, was the only possible correct form.

In 1986 Virginia Hourigan sent Fell some copies of photos she’d taken of Burrows’ Cave artifacts. Among these was a photo of a stele remarkably like the one from Cuenca. It, too, had an elephant, and the inscription was very similar. (#36)

In fact, the lettering on the Burrows’ Cave stone was almost identical to the version published in America B.C., lazy backwards Z and all.

There are several possible reactions to this. Fell’s was that the lazy Z was an error: the inscription would never have been written that way. Therefore, the Burrows’ Cave stone was a fake. And it was a fake copied from the illustration in America B.C. And it was done by someone who saw his book, but was unaware of his subsequent retraction. And if the elephant stone from Burrows’ Cave was a fake, everything else from the cave was a fake, probably manufactured by Burrows.

This was especially easy to conclude, because none of the other inscriptions in Hourigan’s photos seemed to make sense to Fell. They appeared to be gibberish.

Fell formed his opinion in 1986; he has not since deviated from it.

Burrows, on the other hand, says that there are other elephant stelae in the cave, some with a lazy Z and some with an upright Z. And he thinks he knows of several others carved on cliff faces. Burrows does not pretend to be able to translate any inscriptions; he just knows that both variants exist.