Yesterday I reported that the original plans for America Unearthed involved exploring whether “Egyptians” had colonized the Grand Canyon. Most of us who’ve read about “alternative history” have come across the weird claim that an Egyptian, Tibetan, and/or extraterrestrial palace is hidden away in the Grand Canyon. This weird claim is based entirely on a 1909 Arizona Gazette newspaper article, almost certainly a hoax, which claimed that an archaeologist named S. A. Jordan and an adventurer named G. E. Kinkaid investigated the underground chambers for the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian has repeatedly denied that the story is true, releasing a statement in 2000: “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.” Of course alternative types took this as evidence of a conspiracy.
My 2001 article on this along with the 1909 report can be read here and was cited by Ken Feder in the Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology.
According to the 1909 article, the investigators found a large cavern housing an idol resembling the Tibetan images of Buddha along with unknown hieroglyphs. The article speculated that the works could be attributed to a pre-Egyptian high civilization originating in the Indian sub-continent and which later gave rise to Egypt. I thought I’d share another weird claim about the Grand Canyon that emerged shortly after the 1909 hoax and which can lead us to an interesting connection between them.
In 1913, Alexander M’Allan published the badly-written Ancient Chinese Account of the Grand Canyon which was, as it sounds, a weird attempt to prove that the ancient Chinese had visited the Grand Canyon. The book is all but unreadable for its incoherence, but you’re welcome to try. The basic argument seems to be that ambiguous references in old Chinese texts can be read as evidence of Chinese knowledge of the interior of North America, when read in the context of Mexican evidence about the “shared” mythic imagery of China and Mexico. M’Allan attempted to correlate vague geographical references in Chinese travelogues to American geography.
This, in turn, is M’Allan’s amplification of the still older work of Charles Godfrey Leland, Fusan; or the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century (1875). This more ambitious (and coherent) work attempted to prove that ancient Chinese records recorded a voyage by Buddhist priests to Mexico and Peru via the Pacific coast of America. M’Allan moved the locus of operation from Mexico to Arizona but similarly relied on some of the same texts Leland had cited as evidence of early medieval Chinese voyages.
Notice Leland’s interesting passage in chapter 12:
The reader may recall that in the record of Hoei-shin he speaks particularly of the images of Buddha, in connection with the holy writings and religion of that great reformer, as having been taken to America in the year 458 by his five predecessors. I mention this, that in case any other inquirer may investigate this subject, he may pay particular attention to the discovery of such images, or to possible imitations of them, in America, and among its monuments. […] Images resembling the ordinary Buddha have been found in Mexico and Central America, but they cannot be proved to be identical with it.
And what do we find inside the “Tibetan” cave in the Grand Canyon, according to the Gazette?
Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall, several hundred feet long, in which are found the idol, or image, of the people's god, sitting cross-legged, with a lotus flower or lily in each hand. The cast of the face is oriental, and the carving this cavern. 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 Gazette article features the same jumble of Mexican and Buddhist imagery that Leland identified as evidence of Chinese travels, though the Gazette differentiated its hoax from Leland’s investigation by tying back the whole of the tale to the Egyptians, proposing an origin for the Egyptians in India, following a popular but incorrect theory of the time about the origin of all civilization in the subcontinent. At any rate, it seems there is a good textual precedent for the 1909 article in Leland's popular book, and one that may help explain where the 1909 hoaxer got the idea, a suggestion strengthened by the fact that M'Allan independently developed the same weird idea at almost the same time.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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