#50 – Dr. Fell’s Stand – 1986-90

Written by Fred Rydholm:

The question which arises is: why this great interest in a cave filled with artifacts, when the people who are used to working with artifacts say the whole thing is a fraud?

Barry Fell, founder and president of the Epigraphic Society, claims that these artifacts are all copied from his book America B.C.

If anyone should be supporting a cache of Mediterranean evidence in the New World it should, by rights, be Dr. Fell. He is the leader of the movement trying to prove that many people in ancient times crossed and recrossed both oceans for thousands of years before Columbus, a theory that has little or no support from leaders in archaeology, anthropology and other related fields.

But Barry Fell has to be very cautious. While literally thousands of articles have been published in the Epigraphic Society’s Occasional Papers, very few of them have been dramatic enough to lay it right on the line, so to speak, to the point where the evidence is beyond the shadow of a doubt to scientists and laymen alike.

There have been great cracks in the dam over the past twenty years, however. The first was the undeniable fact that the Norsemen did spend time on Newfoundland during the eleventh century. Then there is the admission that St. Brendan and his Irish monks probably were in America for several years, as early as the sixth century. More recently, there has been a claim that King Solomon’s copper mines could have been in Peru, and now even the hardest of hard-liners admit that several Old World ships probably landed in the New World, after being blown off course.

But none of the establishment in America will believe that ships passed back and forth at will, or that there could have been any kind of trade or cultural exchange going on.

Fell has proven that these things did happen, to the satisfaction of a growing number of people. But Burrows’ Cave is not one of his favorite topics. His opinion is that the whole thing is some kind of fraud.

Dr. Fell says that the artifacts claimed to be from Burrows’ Cave are in fact copied from figures in America, B.C. The basis for his charge stems from the tablet which has become known as the “Elephant Stele.” According to Dr. Fell, the second character on the top line of that tablet is in error, an error which he published in America, B.C.

(Russell Burrows):

Dr. Fell claims that when he received a photo or a tracing, (I’m not sure which) he took one look at it and said, “The person who carved this did not know what he was doing.”

But Dr. Fell is talking about a man who was living at the time when that language and the script were alive, and in use. Now, along comes Dr. Fell making the change in the tablet’s wording. Is the mistake alluded to by Dr. Fell and published in America B.C. really a mistake? According to Virginia Hourigan, who talked with Dr. Fell about that, he stated that he changed it so that it would say something about an elephant.

If the tablet was correct to begin with, and if the photo (or tracing) was an accurate copy of the tablet, then Dr. Fell was wrong in his assumption that the carver made an error. If that’s so, then does the tablet even say anything about an elephant at all? The one thing I have learned is that those people who lived long ago did things funny. I don’t think it is wise to go and change anything because of the animal depicted on it.

(Fred Rydholm resumes):

Dr. Fell’s side of the argument is printed in Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, vol.19 (1990):

On October 22, 1986 Ms. Virginia Hourigan kindly forwarded to me a series of photographs of engraved tablets of some unstated material, said to have been found in a cave in Illinois known as Burrows’ Cave, whose location is secret. Ms. Hourigan authorized me to report on the translations of the inscriptions. In my reply to her, however, dated October 29, 1986, I expressed my regret at having to inform her that the tablets are “meaningless fakes of very modern origin, in which childish drawings and absurdities were applied to surfaces that obviously had required an advanced technology to produce.” [FR’s emphasis added.] In a subsequent letter Ms. Hourigan forbade me to use the photos, of which she claimed the copyright, so I could not report to the Epigraphic Society on the matter. Since then I have received from James Whittall, Harvard graduate and archaeologist to the Early Sites Research Society, drawings that he was permitted to make by Mr. Russell Burrows, dealing with the same plates, and as these are not subject to copyright, I am now able to report upon them.

I have to state that the plates illustrated in this report are meaningless combinations of pseudo-ogam and Phoenician and Libyan letters, apparently copied from various papers I have published in ESOP or in my books, but so jumbled and utterly unlike the originals as to imply modern incorporation of my results by other persons. I draw attention in particular to Figure 3 on the following page, in which an erroneous version is given of the elephant plate originally excavated at the airport in Cuenca, Ecuador. The original report of this plate is shown in Figure 1, (by Charles Berlitz), and an erroneous version in Figure 3 included in my book America B.C. (1976). Soon after I discovered the error and corrected it as shown in Figure 4, in the NEARA journal for 1976. Figure 2 shows a sketch by Gloria Farley of a stone or tablet recovered from Burrows’ Cave, recording the erroneous version of my 1976 figure. Thus I date this Burrows’ Cave figure to 1976 or later, showing it to have no antiquity but merely an irrelevant and improbable Illinois version of an inscription properly to be related to Ecuador.

I claim to be a friend and great admirer of Dr. Fell. I have known him to be a scientist in every sense of the word and certainly among the most capable people in the world, if not the greatest, in epigraphy. However, to throw out the whole Burrows’ Cave collection on the strength of slant of a line, when everything else checks, seems absurd.

Jack Ward showed me more examples of the slanted backward Z on several inscriptions on other stones in the Burrows’ Cave collection. To condemn everything and everybody on this one point does not seem right. But Dr. Fell also cites the five letters from the Field Museum scientists to support his conclusion that Burrows’ Cave is a modern forgery.

I wrote Dr. Fell, offering him free first-class air transportation for him and his wife if he would come to Illinois and accompany Russell Burrows and me to the cave site, and examine the collection of artifacts in Vincennes. At the time I did not know that Jack Ward had made the same offer, and Dr. Fell had turned that down. He refused my offer on the grounds that the whole thing was one big fraud. He said, “You aren’t one of them, are you?” I didn’t know what to say.