#8 Viewing the Artifacts – 1988

Written by Fred Rydholm

I told Jon I was planning to go to Vincennes that fall, to see the artifacts from the cave, and if he was interested he could come with me. We could see for ourselves what there was to see. After being away from it all for so long and having so many unanswered questions, I was beginning to wonder a little about the whole thing, myself.

We made the trip in September of 1988. I drove to Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where I stayed with old friends, the Tom Cox family. They had come from Scotland to Marquette years before, and after they moved to Williams Bay we had visited back and forth many times.

The next day I met Jon Clark at the airport in downtown Chicago and we drove to Vincennes, where we were treated royally by the MRD associates. Russell Burrows came in from Olney on a motorcycle. He was wearing the uniform of a Confederate Army colonel. At that time a large group of people were re-enacting a battle of the Civil War. Russell explained to us that he had been involved in one of these on two other occasions, where he was a part of the Union Army, and now he wanted to take the part of a Confederate. We shot a few pictures.

In a very average-looking house, on 4th St. in Vincennes, we were shown the cave artifacts. Two rooms were devoted to the collection. I was overwhelmed by the number and variety of the rocks, every one carved. Some were flat rocks crudely carved with pictures and inscriptions. Others were beautifully done and it seemed as if the whole rock had been shaped or the artist had used the shape of the natural rock to form a certain face or animal. There were some large ones (two feet across), but most seemed to be of a size that could be held in the palm of the hand. Several kinds of rock had been used, including what looked like white marble and even sandstone, but the majority were of a black rock that looked like slate but without cleavage. Several experts had attached different names to it. Some pieces were highly polished, with beautiful stone work.

While many of the figures seemed to have what appeared to be American Indian headdress and attire, some wore armor and others appeared to be what I thought of as Roman and Egyptian. There was just no question that if these carved stones were real – and I had no reason to doubt them with such an array – then these people were from the Mediterranean region. They had come here by boat, and they had been familiar with the sea. There were ships and whales, dolphins and camels. One large piece delicately done in fine faint lines was a lion’s head. It had a flat broken bottom at the base that was maybe six or seven inches across.

I inquired about this particular stone and was told that one room in the cave had several large life-size statues in it, one of which had been broken (possibly by an earthquake) and this was the top of the head piece of that statue.

I was only vaguely familiar with hieroglyphics, ogam, cuneiform and a few other ancient scripts. One thing that puzzled me was that the stones on display seemed to have everything. Looking at them carefully, nearly every kind of dress and armament could be found. Also, it all seemed like a hodgepodge of ethnic groups (almost a blending of them), and you just couldn’t make an intelligent guess at the pieces’ time period, although it was obviously pre-Christian or at least non-Christian. (The display had none of the Christian elements that are so easily recognized.)

More then ever before I was filled with great wonder and curiosity. I asked Jon Clark what he made of it. Jon was very quiet.

“I don’t know what to think,” he murmured. “It sure seems authentic. But I want to know more about it, and I’d like to hear what Dr. Fell says about it.”

I did not know it at the time, but Barry Fell had already published his first reaction to the pictures he had seen of the cave artifacts, in ESOP 16 (1987).

“Indications of another series of fraudulent inscribed tablets are coming from Illinois at this time. Of several hundred photographs so far examined some show objects that carry a jumble of letters of several ancient alphabets, making no readable words, and mixed together in a melange that cannot be a real language or writing system. Most striking is an imitation of the Cuenca elephant tablet from the excavation at the airport of that Ecuadorian city. In 1976 an incorrect copy was accidentally used on the cover of ESOP vol.3 part 2. A corrected version was later published, both drawings by Fell. Ironically the Illinois forger chose the wrong illustration to copy, and thus the newly “excavated” tablet is the 1976 version, with a misshapen ya symbol, and copy-righted by the Society. Thus the ludicrous sit- uation arises that the “antique” from Illinois has infringed the registered copyright of a drawing first published in 1976.”

We will hear more about the events that led up to this denunciation.

To start with, I wanted to hear more about the actual discovery of this cave. When learning about something I like to start at the beginning. How could it go undetected for so many years? How could the scientists who spend a lifetime in this work miss so many of what appeared to me to be obvious clues as to the origin of these people? If there was fraud, how was it perpetrated and who were the perpetrators? There was much work and much study to be done here, but the one story I could get first-hand was the story of the discovery of the cave. The man who had gone through this experience was right there next to me. I wanted to hear that story in detail.

Well, that story is so involved and has so many twists and turns to it. that it just seems to come out piece-meal. There are many irrelevant but distracting events that are remotely connected to it, and it now spans almost ten years of time.

First let us take a look at the man, Russell Burrows, the one who started it all. I have already given my first impressions and described him from an outsider’s viewpoint in a cursory sort of way. Russell himself can give us a better insight. He was born on July 11, 1935 in Richwood, West Virginia to Earl V. and Amanda J. Burrows. Russell was the fifth of six children with a sister younger then he. There were five children that grew up together, as one was stillborn.