#38 – Jim Whittall Approached – 1986

Written by Virginia Hourigan:

In late October I had some slides made from my prints and rode my “new” bike up to Rowley, Massachusetts, to the meeting of the Early Sites Research Society at the home of Jim Whittall. Someone had withdrawn from the program and Jim put me in his place to drop my bombshell on the members. When Jim saw the pictures he was astounded too, and as I had brought 500 still pictures plus a dozen or so artifacts that I’d borrowed from Jack Ward’s collection, he had plenty to look at. He has seen plenty of fakes, but he didn’t think these were fakes. He said, as almost everyone has, “There are just too many. How can all these be fakes?” He looked at one sculptured stone under a microscope, a face with a sort of hat on top, and discovered that the edge of the hat was a thin line of quartz, so thin you couldn’t disturb it without breaking it, and the quartz was formed around a pebble that went right through it in the middle of the forehead of the figure. On the flat back of the artifact are two vertical lines of characters from some unknown script. I thought that was pretty interesting too.

Geologist Virginia Ross was at the ESRS meeting and looked at the stones I’d brought. She said they were not very hard – in fact, she could make an impression on one with her fingernail, making it about a 4 on the 1-10 scale for hardness. A siltstone, she said. This certainly didn’t jibe with Russell’s account of breaking a diamond drill on a piece of stone from the cave because the stone was so hard, but I concluded there must be different kinds of stone there, and indeed there were.

One thing Jim wanted very much was a piece of the action. I gave him Russell’s address, and Jim wrote an enthusiastic letter to which he received a very positive response. But then Jim went into his blustering mode and read me a letter over the phone that he was going to send, more or less demanding that the whole cave be turned over to him. I thought it wouldn’t go down very well and suggested he not send it unless he toned it down a lot, but he sent it anyway, and got his head handed to him. He never forgave Russell for that.

At Whittall’s suggestion, after I got home I sent a shaped but unmarked stone I’d been given by Norman Cullen (the third member of the “partnership” in Vincennes) to Norman Nielsen, a retired materials engineer who had access to the DuPont laboratories, for nondestructive analysis. Nielsen was very interested in ancient scripts and stones, and had corresponded with Jim, offering to help any time analysis was in order. Later he sent me a handwritten letter with his preliminary analysis and asked for a piece for a more thorough but destructive analysis. The following spring Jack Ward sent me a broken ushabti that Norman Cullen had had on a windowsill in the sun, and I sent that on to Nielsen.

Among other elements, Nielsen found some wax in the stone and concluded it was a man-made stone (which doesn’t say anything about when). I have never seen this report, so I can’t give any further information on it. Nielsen sent it to Jim Whittall, asking him to send it on to me, but he never did, and never even told me he had it. Had I known, I could have explained the wax, as Jack and Norman had put car wax on some of the stones to make the markings show up in the museum, rubbing off the excess with lighter fluid. (They didn’t ask me if that was a good idea!) But by the time I found out about it Jim was using the report as ammunition and calling everyone he could think of to tell them that the stones were fakes.

When I phoned Nielsen in 1990 he seemed very upset that I’d never gotten the report, but he hadn’t kept a copy so he couldn’t send me one. He promised to send back the first piece I’d sent him, but it never arrived. By the time we spoke another engineer, James Guthrie, had analyzed the same stone and concluded the wax was a later addition, as I could have told him, and the stone was not man-made. Nielsen agreed that he’d been misled by finding the wax.

After I got home from the ESRS meeting I phoned Dr. Cyrus Gordon, author of books on ancient scripts found in America, distinguished Semitic scholar and then chairman of the Department of Semitic Languages at New York University. I wanted to show him my photo album, but he didn’t want to see it. He didn’t believe my description and suggested I contact Barry Fell.

I also contacted two geologists from the American Museum of Natural History. They said the stones I had were argillite, a siltstone, and explained that if there’s a lot of organic material in it you can rub it with a cloth and it will become very shiny, which is quite true of some of “my” stones. They weren’t sure about the others but thought all of them fairly soft. None of “my” pieces are of the hard stone with a “core” of a different texture and color.

Barry Fell also asked Gloria Farley to be on the “committee to find out where these frauds are coming from,” but she said the only stone she knew anything about was the elephant stone very like one from the Crespi Collection in Ecuador. I had sent her a picture of it and she had called me to tell me Barry had asked her to write an article comparing them and ask my permission to make a drawing from my picture. It seemed it was that stone that had convinced Barry the whole lot were frauds. Dr. Clyde Keeler had made a ceramic from a drawing of the Crespi stone, and one of the letters was wrong. The ceramic had been pictured on the cover of another publication in this field, the NEARA Journal, with this mistake and others had picked it up, so when the cave stone turned up with the same mistake, Fell knew it must be a copy of the ceramic. Gloria respected my opinion that there must be some explanation for this and they couldn’t all be frauds, but she wasn’t convinced and later sent me a copy of a pretty negative article using a well-known photograph of the Crespi stone, the Keeler ceramic and the cave stone, and suggesting fraud. The following summer she made a trip to Vincennes with me to the see the stones for herself, and withdrew the article from ESOP.

A week or so after the ESRS meeting Dr. Warren Cook phoned from Vermont. He’d heard about my pictures and was really excited about such a discovery. He was teaching a class on Ancient Vermont at Castleton State College until December and wanted to borrow my slides to show the class – as well as to see for himself, of course. I promised to send them right away.

Just as I was packing them up Jim Whittall phoned about the letter he was sending Russell, and when I mentioned that I was sending slides to Warren he said oh please, please send them to him first so he could make drawings of a few of them for his own use only.

“Just one day,” he promised. “I’ll send them on the very next day.”

“Well, you’d have to,” I said, “because Warren needs them before December 10th for his class.”

“Oh, he’ll have them long before that, I guarantee it. Nobody has ever seen anything like these stones before and I’d like to be able to study some of them. I won’t send them to anyone else, and I certainly won’t publish them.”

“Well, OK, I’ll send them to you first,” I agreed. I didn’t find out until January that Warren never got them.


I want to tell you, Virginia takes good pictures. She claims that she didn’t know too much about photography when she arrived here the first time. But she purchased equipment and took lessons and suggestions and the next year came back and did a beautiful job with the artifacts at the museum.

She is slow, I mean a dead person could work faster than Virginia, but the main thing is she does good work. She knew all about the Epigraphic Society. This is another organization that we were having trouble with, which we will address later.

As time went by I began to accept this big, tough-talking woman and eventually a friendship developed between us that has endured a lot of straining. We are the opposite sides of the coin. Virginia and I have totally different methods of doing things but our goals seem to be the same. We just have a different approach, that’s all.

It was through Virginia that I made several other contacts; some were good ones but there were a few that hurt. There was one that would affect not only me but the entire project and would shake it to its very foundations. That contact was Jim Whittall.