With that in mind, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about the role of Egypt in American history. As always, if you are familiar with the background, you are welcome to skip down to the “Episode” heading for the episode review.
Egypt in America
The second reason was ideological: The most important claimants to America were the Lost Tribes of Israel, through whom America absorbed the mantle of Promised Land. To have Egyptians in America would be to ally the continent with Pharaoh, the biblical oppressor of Israel. Ideologically, this simply would not do in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, when allying one’s homeland with God was a key component of national identity. Egypt, like Babylon, was a place where God’s grace did not extent. Josiah Priest, one of the most popular early authors on the “ancient mystery” genre reached just this conclusion: America had been inhabited by a lost white race, probably the Lost Tribes of Israel—not Egypt.
This changed for a number of reasons as the nineteenth century wore on. First, Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt launched the French Egyptomania, which spread to Britain and to America. As Americans began importing mummies and Egyptian artifacts to fill museums and cabinets of curiosities (as Edgar Allan Poe described), the old civilization of Egypt took on an air of the romantic. By the end of the nineteenth century, a full-scale effort was underway to make Egypt acceptable to pious audiences. Adapting the myth of the Two Pillars found in Flavius Josephus, in which Seth’s children build a pillar of stone in Siriad (Egypt) (Antiquities of the Jews 1.2.3), Victorian scholars began to see in the Great Pyramid of Egypt a building created by Israelites to encode God’s plan, laying out mathematically the entire history of the earth.
The apex of this line of thought was Scottish astronomer Charles Piazzi-Smyth’s Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid (1864), which reclaimed the Great Pyramid for the Abrahamic faiths through math and wishful thinking:
The Great Pyramid, a pre-historic and entirely pre-Mosaic monument, had remained sealed in all its more important divisions, from the date of its foundation up to an advanced period of the Christian dispensation; and was then found, on being opened and examined, entirely free from that accursed thing which formed the leprosy of the East in ancient days—idolatry.
As religious orthodoxy declined in the nineteenth century, especially after Darwin’s Origin of Species, Egypt began to loom ever larger. The nascent sciences of anthropology and archaeology adopted the idea of cultural evolution, and they looked to Egypt and to Mesopotamia as the first great civilizations. These cultures were quickly becoming not God’s enemies but the foundation of Western civilization itself.
The American congressman Ignatius Donnelly captured the trend well when he decided in his 1882 Atlantis: The Antediluvian World that the greatest ancient civilization, Atlantis, bequeathed its civilization to both the peoples of the Americas and to the peoples of the Old World—thus accounting for “Egyptian” elements in America, such as pyramids, hieroglyphs, and mythology: “the mythology of Egypt and Peru represented the original religion of Atlantis, which was sun-worship.” In so doing, Donnelly proposed a connection between the Americas and Egypt that allowed for Egyptian-style influence without the need for actual Egyptians. This was a step up from Josiah Priest, who proposed that Atlantis had been the land bridge that let the Hebrews walk to America.
It was from the Atlantis story that modern claims for Egyptians in America indirectly emerged, influenced strongly by the Egyptomania spawned by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 and the subsequent use of Egyptian motifs in Art Deco design. Shortly after, the “sleeping prophet,” Edgar Cayce, claimed to have been an Egyptian priest named RaTa in a previous life, and this RaTa was, just as in Donnelly, a worshipper only of the sun and, as in Piazzi-Smyth, the architect of the Great Pyramid as part of God’s plan. RaTa apparently revealed that the original records of Atlantis could be found in Egypt and America: “And in the temple records ...in Egypt... Also the records that were carried to what is now Yucatan in America...” (session 440-5, September 8, 1935). It astonishes me how believers ignore that Cayce’s description of Atlantean life is so clearly derived from Victorian fringe history, Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, and other obvious sources. RaTa is essentially Akhenaten filtered through Theosophy.
But the real push to find Egyptian antiquities in America came after zoologist Barry Fell started an epic quest to identify scratch marks around the world as evidence of a Greco-Egyptian circumnavigation of the world by a sailor named Maui and Eratosthenes during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes in 232 BCE. His “discovery” of scratches in Indonesia that he tied to Maui led him to search for other ancient voyages, culminating in America B.C. (1976), his epic of how scratch marks worldwide show that Europeans of every shade of white civilized the non-white parts of the world: Phoenicians, Greeks, Irish, and many more. Fell’s work fed back into Cayce’s, and some confused fringe historians today misidentify RaTa as the voyager of 232 BCE.
By this point, the religious stigma of Egypt had fallen away, and as a result of countless mid-century fringe history and ancient astronaut writers like Erich von Däniken, Egypt was now an “ancient mystery” and the target of mystery-mongering authors, the ultimate source of high technology, lost magical powers, and esoteric truth. It was in this context that shortly after the 1970s fringe history craze a series of fake antiquities that seemingly confirmed every aspect of America B.C. started to emerge from Burrows Cave in Illinois beginning in 1982. That the Burrows Cave artifacts were fake was so obvious that even Barry Fell himself confirmed that one was in fact a poor copy of an illustration from America B.C., complete with Fell’s own transcription error!
Scott Wolter has long been interested in Burrows Cave, and he discussed the site in his first Committee Films/History Channel production, Holy Grail in America (2009). I’ve written about it before, and I will reprint that discussion below, in slightly edited form:
Investigators found evidence that the Burrows Cave hoax had ties to Mormon cult archaeology, and some fringe groups suggested that the objects were the fabled Temple Treasure of Solomon, lost when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem in 568 BCE. This aligned with Mormon claims that Jews fled Jerusalem and came to America. Among supporters of this view is the convicted neo-Nazi pedophile Frank Joseph (a.k.a. Frank Collin), who edited articles about the cave in his magazine Ancient American with funding from Mormon extremists. Ancient American also published some of Scott Wolter’s only non-self-published reports using his “new science” of archaeopetrography. Another supporter of this view is Arnold Murray, a Christian extremist, who believes that the British were some of the Lost Tribes of Israel and therefore Anglo-Saxons in America are God’s chosen people, and America His chosen kingdom.
Other fringe writers differed from the Mormon/Evangelical-influenced view, however, concocting a conspiracy whereby the Knights Templar found the treasure buried in Jerusalem while headquartered on the Temple Mount and spirited it away to America after the suppression of their order in 1307. The treasure was meant to be the patrimony for a new state, one celebrating the “sacred feminine” and ruled by the Bloodline of Christ, a state represented by the Kensington Rune Stone, the major land claim to the entire Mississippi watershed.
Here’s how the story played out in Holy Grail in America:
Narrator: Legend says the cave lies somewhere along a branch of the Little Wabash River in Illinois, in an area known as Little Egypt.
Wolter: I find it kind of ironic that we have this cave that’s down in that same area that has many artifacts with Egyptian iconography and symbolism, so it’s a very interesting coincidence.
Narrator: All of the artifacts show Egyptian and religious scenes, a reverence of gods and goddesses that was part of a Gnostic belief system strictly forbidden by the Church, but allegedly practiced by the Templars.
Wolter: What we have here are, uh, appears to be a female goddess figure, perhaps with a dog or wolf’s head holding a crosier vertically and an Egyptian-style ankh in the right hand.
[The narrator asserts that Burrows Cave is located in the “supposed rune stone land claim.”]
Wolter: If you could prove you navigated to the headwaters of a major waterway and buried this land claim, you could claim that entire waterway and the land adjacent to it. By placing a land claim, these people claimed the Mississippi watershed and the Red River watershed to the north all the way to Hudson’s Bay, which is essentially over half of the North American continent.
Narrator: … Most archaeologists think they’re fakes, part of a fantastic hoax. … It is very doubtful that these objects of dubious origin represent the Templar treasure.
The "Egyptian" Grand Canyon Cave
The story begins in March of 1909 when on a newspaper called the Arizona Gazette began recording the adventures of an explorer called G. E. Kinkaid. On April 5, 1909 it published under the headline “Explorations in the Grand Canyon” the story of how a Smithsonian scholar named S. A. Jordan and an adventurer named G. E. Kinkaid had found a series of caves in the Grand Canyon stuffed with artifacts of no certain provenance and room for 50,000 (!) people. I have of course placed the full text of the article in my Library.
The article is and remains a hoax, not dissimilar to the great Moon Hoax of 1835, Mark Twain’s Petrified Man hoax of 1862, or, more closely still, the Atlantis hoax of 1912, when William Randolph Hearst’s New American ran a two page “report” about an archaeologist’s discovery of proof of Atlantean influence on ancient cultures worldwide. We’ll look into the characters involved more below, but suffice it to say that 1909 was in the middle of a period of rampant hoaxing, what by some accounts was the heyday of hoaxing. In 1899, reporters from four Denver newspapers hoaxed the claim that American businesses were bidding for the right to demolish the Great Wall of China. In October 1899 McClure’s Magazine published a story claiming that a live wooly mammoth had been found and killed. The magazine had to apologize that it wasn’t labeled as clearly as it could have been that it was fictional after readers complained to the Smithsonian about the death of the last mammoth. In 1909, Wallace Tillinghast hoaxed a super-advanced airplane that supposedly could travel 120 miles per hour.
More darkly, the Russian government hoaxed the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1903, and someone—it’s still not known for certain who—faked the Piltdown Man skull in 1912, impacting scientific understanding of evolution for four decades.
The Arizona Gazette article, backed by no contemporary documentation, very clearly falls in line behind its more famous contemporaries. This becomes still clearer when we look at other troubling signs. The article never quotes S. A. Jordan, and it mistakenly calls the Smithsonian Institution the “Smithsonian Institute.” No records document the existence of S. A. Jordan, G. E. Kinkaid, or any Smithsonian expedition to the Grand Canyon in 1909. (There was a real S. A. Jordon—note the spelling—but he was a European field archaeologist.)
While fringe writers see this as proof of a conspiracy, the Smithsonian itself has repeatedly fielded questions about the 1909 article. In 2000, the Smithsonian wrote in response to one inquiry from the old Sightings website:
The Smithsonian Institution has received many questions about an article in the April 5, 1909 Phoenix Gazette about G. E. Kincaid and his discovery of a 'great underground citadel' in the Grand Canyon, hewn by an ancient race 'of oriental origin, possibly from Egypt.' According to the article, Prof. Jordan directed a major investigation of the 'citadel' that was mounted by the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology, has searched its files without finding any mention of a Professor Jordan, Kincaid, or a lost Egyptian civilization in Arizona. Nevertheless, the story continues to be repeated in books and articles.
The Smithsonian gave a nearly identical reply to Jack Andrews in 1999.
Contrary to modern claims that the cave system described in the article was the work of Egyptians, the article suggested that its closest connection was to the Tibetans, in keeping with Theosophical ideas about the mysterious East. Consider the ancient statue supposedly found in the caves: “The idol almost resembles Buddha, though the scientists are not certain as to what religious worship it represents. Taking into consideration everything found thus far, it is possible that this worship most resembles the ancient people of Tibet.” The article has Kinkaid tell readers that the cave was filled with objects like those from “oriental” (i.e. Asian) temples and Malay-style figures.
At no point does the article ever claim that the caves are Egyptian. That connection comes from confusion over a few lines of the article, where the writer tries to use Hopi myths about the tribe’s origin in an underground civilization to suggest, as Theosophy had done, that a lost civilization from Asia or Atlantis was the origin point for both Egypt and the Native American cultures:
Egypt and the Nile, and Arizona and the Colorado will be linked by a historical chain running back to ages which staggers the wildest fancy of the fictionist. […] There are two theories of the origin of the Egyptians. One is that they came from Asia; another that the racial cradle was in the upper Nile region. [German historian Arnold Hermann Ludwig] Heeren [1760-1842], an Egyptologist, believed in the Indian origin of the Egyptians. The discoveries in the Grand Canyon may throw further light on human evolution and prehistoric ages.
The author of the newspaper article is trying to imply that the cave was a prehistoric relic of the lost civilization that gave rise to Egypt and the Americas—that the Native Americans were the degenerate remains of a once noble Asian civilization. This is entirely in keeping with turn of the twentieth century speculation about the origins of Native Americans and the longstanding belief that Native peoples were degenerate, decayed, and doomed to cultural extinction.
Modern fringe writers, ignorant of the historical context, misread this as suggesting that the Egyptians had occupied the Grand Canyon caves. This is not at all what the obviously more educated hoaxer intended. That hoaxer was trying to fabricate evidence for a Theosophy-style lost civilization that spawned both Egyptians and Native American cultures from a heartland in central Asia, then believed to be the oldest civilized area on earth, in keeping with early claims for the antiquity of Sanskrit, the presumed language of the most ancient Aryans.
This hoax was not interesting enough for other newspapers to pick up, probably because it was so easily disproved with a simple telegram to the Smithsonian. It languished until David Hatcher Childress dug it up and published a discussion of it in Lost Cities of North and Central America, which was reprinted in Nexus magazine in 1993.
Childress misread the article and announced that the inhabitants of the cave were Egyptian—and that the Smithsonian was engaged in a cover-up, even though to confirm it he did nothing more than call the switchboard. He talked to a staff archaeologist who denied the story, and he concluded that this suggested a conspiracy:
Is the idea that ancient Egyptians came to the Arizona area in the ancient past so objectionable and preposterous that is must be covered up? Perhaps the Smithsonian Institution is more interested in maintaining the status quo than rocking the boat with astonishing new discoveries that totally overturn the previously accepted academic teachings.
As should be obvious, the 1909 Arizona Gazette hoaxer took the Tibetan and Egyptian inspiration for the article from the pre-existing Hindu and Egyptian place names applied by chance to the canyon two decades earlier.
After a pirated copy of Childress’s article was published online on May 8, 1993 with a directive to repost and share, the story became a staple of fringe history. David Icke, among others, adopted the tale of the cave for his The Biggest Secret: “My own research suggests that it is from another dimension, the lower fourth dimension, that the reptilian control and manipulation is primarily orchestrated.” He further claimed that the Freemasons hold dark rites in the cave to honor the reptilians. In so doing, he originated the phrase “oriental or possibly Egyptian origin” to describe the caves, which you will recognize from the Smithsonian’s statement. (See, I told you it would pop up again!)
Weirdly enough, all of this ended up tying back to Edgar Cayce when 1990s-era writers began to speculate that John Ora Kinnaman, a maverick archaeologist who sought to validate Cayce’s prophecies, had provided proof of the caves’ existence. In the 1950s, Kinnaman tried to prove that the Great Pyramid was 35,000 years old and claimed that a giant crystal under the pyramid allowed the Egyptians to send instant telepathic messages to the Grand Canyon. For 1990s writers, this became “evidence” that Kinnaman knew of the Grand Canyon “find” but conveniently failed to mention it. Kinnaman also claimed to have found the Atlantean Hall of Records, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Does Scott Wolter know about this?
As always, not a shred of evidence exists that this cave ever had a physical reality.
At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon Scott Wolter tells us about all the caves in America that hide remarkable treasures that “are just waiting to be found,” including the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. He tells us that ancient Egyptian riches vanished from now-empty tombs and (instead of, say, being melted down by ancient tomb robbers) may have come to America, and therefore he’s looking for ancient Egyptian remains in the Grand Canyon. This bothers me because the original article from the April 5, 1909 Arizona Gazette (discussed above) has nothing to do with the Egyptians but was attributed to lost ancestral race related to the Tibetans. You can even hear Wolter read aloud that the people migrated “from the Orient” in the article, and Egypt is not the Orient. He calls the paper the Phoenix Gazette even though the paper itself lists its title as the Arizona Gazette.
The show gets a summary of the article from Jerry Wills, whom it describes as a Grand Canyon explorer. He is instead a medical intuitive and energy healer—in short, a New Ager. He believes that by laying hands on sick people he can reconstruct their broken bodies and awaken them from comas. He says he can cure blindness, cancer, and AIDS. He says on his website this is God working through him and claims that Fox News has documented his work performing “miracles” for more than a decade. Wolter explains that the Smithsonian denies that the article is true, but he sniffs that this may be evidence of a conspiracy. Wills plans to take Wolter to the site his wife, another New Age healer, claims is where the Smithsonian explored the site. Wills claims that government “stealth helicopters” followed him as he searched for the cave. Wolter says that he won’t be scared off by the government.
We then go to commercial.
Returning, we get a recap of what hasn’t happened so far. Wolter summarizes the wealth of Egypt but fails to remind viewers that the 1909 article he’s investigating isn’t about Egypt. In fact, he explicitly misstates the content of the article, asserting that it claims an Egyptian origin for the tomb that simply does not exist. The article says it is a Native site with art similar to Tibetan sculpture. He says that the “reward is too great” to be intimidated by the government.
Wolter plans to ask the Zuni for information about the Egyptian tombs, and he speaks with Clifford Mahooty, a Zuni elder and ancient astronaut theorist currently working the fringe science conference circuit and a friend of David Childress. This is the first Native American ever to appear on America Unearthed. Mahooty tells Wolter that the Zuni believe in passages and canyons within the Grand Canyon, but here Mahooty is telling Wolter not actual Native American lore but rather stories derived from the alternative/fringe history literature! It’s rather depressing to see that Mahooty has simply absorbed Childress’s ideas and is regurgitating them under the name of Native lore, mixing them freely with the underworld of pre-1993 documented Zuni myth. Here, for your edification, are documented Zuni myths collected by the Smithsonian (and thus the conspiracy!) before Childress created the modern myth of the Grand Canyon tomb. Oh, the Zuni also believe the underground people were strange Lovecraftian reptile-monsters.
Wills shows Wolter video of planes buzzing an expedition to the alleged Egyptian cave, and Wolter suggests that it was the government trying to scare them off. Funny, it was “helicopters” before the commercial break, but now it’s small planes. Consistency must not be a gift from the divine healing power Wills channels. Wolter and Wills fly to the cave location in a helicopter, and Wolter is angry that “the government” in the form of the FAA does not allow helicopters to descend below the Grand Canyon rim, as though he didn’t know that before going up. These flight rules he is angry about were proposed in 1996, adopted in 2000, and were officially put into effect in 2012 to prevent noise pollution, over the objection of amateur pilots groups. The rules were required by law following action by Sen. John McCain in 1987 after a plane and helicopter crashed into each other in the canyon the previous year, killing 25 people. It took 25 years for the legally-required rules to be written and imposed, hardly the mark of a powerful conspiracy. In short: No aircraft in the canyon to (a) prevent crashes and (b) stop noise pollution.
After the break, Wolter and Wills leave the helicopter on the edge of the canyon above the spot where the alleged cave supposedly sits. Wolter claims that the government is “hiding” something, and he calls the low-flying plane, seen in old, pre-rules video as proof of government conspiracy. The Grand Canyon has, and I am not making this up, 57,000 flights over and through it each year. Guess what: It was a tourist plane flying under the old pre-2012 rules.
Wolter says that while he’s sure the government is hiding something, the cave can’t be accessed, so he (a) wasted our time, (b) asserted a conspiracy he can’t prove, and (c) completely misreported the contents of the 1909 article to assert an Egyptian influence that the article does not support.
Wolter then moves on the Burrows cave, where he meets Harry Hubbard. The show, as I noted above, fails to note Hubbard’s financial conflict of interest, describing him only as an “artifact hunter,” not as the co-owner of a company designed to financial exploit the site. Hubbard shows Wolter fake artifacts that he claims are “reproductions” of original pieces from the Burrows cave. They are laughably bad forgeries that resemble no known Egyptian artifacts. Many are childlike in their crudeness. Hubbard says that the cave has one female corpse and the corpses of thirteen kings.
We then get another commercial.
After the break the on-screen graphics tell us that Egyptian treasure “could be” in the Grand Canyon or Illinois. Wolter tells Hubbard that the artifacts that Russell Burrows showed him were fakes, and after this Burrows refused to speak to Wolter. Wolter plays archival footage he shot of Burrows in 2010 in which Burrows describes finding the cave. Hubbard explains that Burrows tells a different story about the cave each time he tells it, but nevertheless he thinks the artifacts are real (as we would expect of someone with a huge financial stake in the story).
Wolter breaks down why the Burrows Cave “Isis Stone” was a fake: It’s carved on a used American tombstone. But, he says, fakery doesn’t prove that the unknown cave itself is fake. He shows us an “Egyptian shaman” and a cartouche, both carved on black stones. Neither looks at all like an Egyptian artifact of any known provenance. They’re forgeries.
Hubbard shows us Alexander Helios scratched into a flat stone in a crude caricature unfit for any real Hellenistic artist. This fellow was the son of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, and Hubbard and Wolter speculate that Alexander Helios fled the Mediterranean with Egypt’s treasure (at age 10!) to come to America to escape Octavian (soon to be Augustus) as he conquered Egypt. The fact is that Alexander Helios didn’t “disappear” under Octavian’s conquest of Egypt. He was taken to Rome and paraded through the streets. According to Cassius Dio’s Roman History (51.15.6), he was pardoned, but he was almost certainly kept under Roman control, as were all political prisoners. While we cannot prove this definitively, it was typical Roman practice to keep a pardoned ex-royal under house arrest in a palace in Rome. How would Alexander have been fleeing persecution by Octavian if he had just been pardoned? History records no more of Alexander Helios, and modern historians suspect that he died not long after, possibly on Octavian’s orders. Had he escaped, anti-imperial, pro-Senate historians would have mentioned such a humiliation of the first Roman emperor.
As we head to another commercial, Hubbard and Wolter make plans to visit the Alexander Helios cave, which is apparently separate from the Burrows Cave, using a “secret” treasure map. The land owner, Stephen Weilbacher, refuses to let Hubbard on his property, which is something I’d like to know more about. But alas, we instead get Wolter bullying a skeptical Weilbacher, forcing him to listen to Wolter loudly assert the reality that Alexander Helios “disappeared” from history and came to Illinois in the first century BCE.
Wolter and Weilbacher march into the woods in search of the cave, and Wolter repeats that Burrows’s hoaxing and fabrication calls into question his alleged discovery. The two men find a natural rock shelter, and he asks if it is possible to descend while the cameraman is standing below in the shelter filming him. Wolter notes that a rock shelter is not a cave, but he says he isn’t ready to give up on the idea that ancient Egyptian dug tombs around here somewhere. Wolter tests the rocks and determines it is “possible” that the Egyptian carved “caves” and filled them with treasure. He neglects to note that this method also “proves” that it is “possible” that space aliens, Knight Templar, or anyone else could have done the same. Not a single trace of anything Egyptian was found.
Weilbacher expresses skepticism and notes that the area and culture around Cairo, Illinois uses fanciful Egyptian names, probably inspiring Burrows. Wolter refuses to accept this and aggressively asserts that there is an “astounding truth” that the government is covering up. (By naming the city for an Islamic-era Egyptian city?) He produced absolutely zero evidence of anything and concludes with a conditional tense assertion that ancient tomb-caves “could” exist and a declarative statement that the “geology” allows for such constructions, thus eliding the conditional and the declarative to make viewers think he found something he did not.