In 1982, a spelunker named Russell Burrows from the southern Illinois town of Olney, discovered a mysterious cave along a branch of the Little Wabash River. The startling contents of the cave would set long-held standards of American archaeology on its ear and provide evidence that visitors from the old world may have reached the center of the North American continent long before it was generally believed.
Or were the contents merely an elaborate hoax? Did the weird figures and strange carvings really just prove that trickery was alive and well in Illinois?

The discovery of enigmatic archaeological finds is nothing new in America. For many years, scientists and ordinary people have happened upon everything from the skeletal remains of visitors that should NOT exist to ancient coins that logically cannot exist where they are found, bizarre writings and carvings, mystery stones in ancient languages and more. Entire theories have been formulated to explain such things, along with well-written books like AMERICA BC by Barry Fell.

So what makes Burrows Cave so different? Perhaps it is the sheer number of oddities, consisting of ancient corpses and thousands of black stones that have been carved with symbols and languages seemingly unknown in the Illinois country of earlier times. Needless to say, mainstream scientists immediately dismissed the discovery as a hoax. More kindly, others suggested that the carvings may have been placed in the cave, and forgotten, by an innocent hobbyist years before. They believed this unknown person would have never dreamed the stones would be accepted as genuine.

Other researchers were not so quick to dismiss the site and continue to study the artifacts today. They believe that it just might be possible that the stones are real... that ancient travelers somehow journeyed up the Mississippi and ended up in southern Illinois. With the death of a number of the party, they created the hidden tomb and filled it with the carved stones, created as the travelers passed the time in this harsh and uncivilized land. Is this possible?

One thing is sure, whether authentic or not, the cave was certainly well hidden. Russell Burrows was walking along a wooden path and literally stumbled onto the opening. As he fell, he dislodged a massive stone that, if it had not jammed, would have flipped over and deposited him into a stone chamber that was 12 feet deep. The stone had then been designed to turn over and seal the intruder into the chamber... permanently. Instead, Burrows noticed the strange carvings and writings on the bottom of the stone and peered deeper into the cavern. On one wall was a huge face that had its eyes fixed on the deadly “trap door”. This nearly fatal discovery would begin a mystery that remains unsolved today.

For those who have seen the carvings and artifacts from the cave (seen in the book MYSTERY CAVE OF MANY FACES by Russell Burrows and Fred Rydholm) most confess to being puzzled, mystified and skeptical. The stones seem to have a disturbingly amateurish look to them that does not conform to the types of ancient drawings were are used to seeing. Some would say that this is because of the conditions the ancient travelers were forced to work under, while others would say this provided proof of the hoax. Many of the other theories about the artifacts have puzzling questions and theories concerning them.

One thing that is always pointed out is that the writings on the stones (in tongues like Egyptian, Punic, Libyan, Green and Arabic) make no sense in the languages of their scripts. Skeptics point to this and say that the writings were obviously done by someone illiterate in these actual languages and who simply copied the text from somewhere else. However, those who continue to study the stones offer alternate explanations. They point to the fact that the writings show a curious consistency and may actually be made up of an older language and one that provided a basis for the others. Its also possible that this could be a language that is only similar to the others as well. The early American settlers noted that the Algonquin language of the American Indians sounded like Hebrew. (NOTE: Author Barry Fell even claims that the Algonquin language DID include remnants of Hebrew, Greek, Norse, Arabic, Gaelic and Egyptian... could these languages have been absorbed into Algonquin, thanks to the ancient visitors?)

Another criticism is that the engravings do not fit with historical precedents as we know them, but could they represent something previously unknown to archaeologists? The carvings depict mostly warrior profiles, animals, and ships of many periods and traditions. We must also remember that the cave is also a mausoleum containing skeletons and grave furniture, weapons and urns. Whether or not these bodies have been studied closely is unknown.

No matter what you may think of the discovery, or believe about its authenticity, it remains a puzzling enigma. Is it real? And if not, then why was it created? Who would stand to gain from such an expensive, elaborate and time-consuming hoax? Is it all a mistake? Could the stones be the work of some strange hobbyist who never expected his creation to be found?

Who knows? At this point, Burrows Cave is as much a mystery as it was in 1982. Speculation, debate and conjecture continues... and will not cease at any point in the near future!

Sources & Bibliography:
Ancient American Magazine
Burrows, Russell & Fred Ryholm - Mystery Cave of Many Faces
Childress, David Hatcher - Lost Cities of North & Central America (1992)
Joltes, Richard E. - The Burrows Cave Controversy (2001)
Taylor, Troy - Into the Shadows (2002)
Personal Interviews & Correspondence