Burrows Cave

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By Sabine Duvall

Burrows Cave is a supposed cave that Russell Burrows claims to have discovered along the Little Wabash River in south eastern Illinois in 1982. [1] He brought forward thousands of artifacts representing a multitude of ancient cultures from said cave. No location of the cave was ever discovered. [2] Many in the archaeological community discredit Burrow’s findings as obvious fakes and call the authenticity of his story into question.

Burrows' Story

Burrows, claims that was walking along the Little Wabash River in 1982, when he stumbled upon a cave full of thousands of artifacts. Many of said artifacts contained varying languages and deities, traversing both culture and time period. He brought back many of these artifacts for examination and further study.[3] Upon telling his story to the public he was met with much backlash and many wondered about the actual location of the cave. In 1989 He said he had used dynamite to close the opening of the cave closed to keep those who wish to find the treasure. In 1999 he brought Wayne May founder of Ancient American Magazine and publication editor Frank Joseph to a site that he claimed was the collapsed mouth of the cave. Following an attempted exploration, Burrows revealed that this cave he has brought them to was a new cave, and that the original cave is on private property. He however assures them that the new cave too has artifacts and untold riches. [1]


The artifacts range greatly in supposed culture and age. Many depict somewhat recognizable Egyptian and roman gods to the casual observer but upon any kind of critical observation don’t have any archaeological consistency. Many of the “Gods” are combinations of both Egyptian and Roman deities which is not a practice found in any historical record.[4] Additionally, the artifacts, primarily stone tablets, contain a multitude of languages including Egyptian, Sumerian, and Greek. Burrows describes the cave having many gold statues, burial crypts, and skeletons.[5] Many of the supposed relics were gold and worth untold fortunes. There was rumor of bowls of diamond and skeletal remains.[5] However, a majority of the supposed artifacts recovered from the site are stone tablets many of which have been sold to private collections. Many of the artifacts portray boats and imply a Phoenician origin. As well there are several christian symbols. The presence of both of these cultures in the finds, encourages some believers in the cave to speculate that the collection was created by a group coming to North America Significantly prior to current estimates. [5]

Who are Russell Burrows and Frank Joseph

Russel Burrows is a former soldier for the US Military. He claims to be a retired Army Ranger who is trained in Guerrilla warfare, but those claims are questionable at best. He then became an Illinois state prison guard.[1] Frank Joseph formerly Frank Collin a Neo-Nazi who lead a white power march in Skokie, Illinois, was later arrested and went to prison.[6] He became editor of the Ancient America Magazine. He met Burrows through this and is one of the only other people who claims to have seen the cave [5]. Joseph claims that he saw the cave in 1983 prior to its demolition.[1] Joseph is today a known pseudo archaeologist who has written over a dozen books on subjects including Burrows Cave. Both of these men come from questionable, at best, backgrounds with varying facts source to source. Neither have any archaeological or anthropological background, yet they are the only sources on this cave existing at all and have avoided any true academic study of the site or artifacts that they claim are both ancient and extremely valuable.


In reality, Burrows cave is almost certainly a hoax. No one except Burrows claims to have actually been in the cave and the cave or evidence of it ever existing has yet to be found.[3] As well there is no real evidence of there being any caves in that region of Illinois.[2] None of the artifacts have been proven genuine. Several Archaeologists presented with photos and the supposed artifacts determine them forgeries. Some of the inscriptions are even obviously copied from books or come out as gibberish.[3] With no cave and no legitimate artifacts there is no other option than to consider the cave an elaborate hoax on the part of Burrows and most likely Joseph as well.


There are many reasons to create a hoax such as this one ranging from fame, to money, to religious fervor. Outside of the obvious glory of having your name attached to a famous archaeological site there are many reasons to want to create a fantasy such as this one.


Burrows has written a book Mystery Cave of Many Faces a History of Burrows Cave which outlines his discoveries. As well he regularly sells his up to four thousand stone tablets recovered from the site. He sells these and many other so called artifacts to unsuspecting collectors. Both of these facts outline part Burrows’ motive as being profit. Burrows still today makes money off of his hoax despite the fact that it has no scientific, geological, or archaeological backing.


Hyperdiffusionism is the idea that all major cultures can be traced back to one original greater race of people. [7] This theory is completely wrong and a common core belief in fake archaeological ideas. This concept also encourages racism and supports many ideas involving a master race. Burrows Cave is an example of a pseudo archaeological site that supports Hyper diffusionism. It implies that the native peoples of the region where not part of this so called great race, and that only a group from outside of North America would be able to create such an archaeological site if it even existed. Along with the obvious hints towards hyper diffusionism within the artifacts there is a total disregard for any of the cultures represented painting them i a completely different context than they ever existed in real life. In total Burrows created a


Many of the artifacts in the cave are meant to replicate real artifacts that have been uncovered around the world ranging from Greece to Egypt. As well some of the artifacts depict what can only be assumed to be Phoenician ships.[5] All of these artifacts together is genuine would point to pre-Colombian contact. As they stand this evidence points to an attempt to make it look like these are the remnant of pre-Columbian contact. Proving that the Phoenicians landed in North America prior to 1492 would have been a groundbreaking discovery within the archaeological community. The fact that Burrows wanted to attempt to achieve this fame is not surprising.

Indiana Jones

One year before Burrows brought forward the Burrows Cave story the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. If you keep this movie in mind when hearing some of Burrows accounts of his cave the similarities are clear. Burrows, an artifact hunter, stumbles upon a cave when he is observing wall glyphs on a rock. A door opens to him lined with lit lamps. In a harrowing tale complete with mystery, traps, and snakes, Burrows claims he entered the cave. In the cave he recounts solid gold statues, mummies, scrolls, and a large bowl of diamonds. His story has also included variations that involve conversations with the ghost of one of the skeletons he found. Like Indiana Jones, Burrows attempts to protect his artifacts from those who would loot it, or like the fictional villains use them for evil.[5] This story is very reminiscent of the fictional artifact hunter Indiana Jones who was featured in a story that was nearly the same only a year before.[5] Burrows was most likely inspired by this story to create a great tale of his own. This is not the only version of the story, but it is the one presented most and that there are the most variations of. This would imply that this story of the suave adventurer is the one that Burrows most wished to have told about him and his cave.



In the archaeological community there is no evidence that anyone has ever considered Burrows Cave anything but an elaborate and misconstrue hoax. Very few in the archaeological community have even addressed Burrows at all.[3] The Few who have addressed Burrows have done so with great skepticism and have brought up many factors of the story that not only change but fail to match up with any kind of reality such as conversations with ghosts and even caves existing in this region at all.[5]

Pseudo Archaeologists

The pseudo archaeological community hail Burrows as a great archaeologist and support his many discoveries. There are many theories about how such a cave got there including Phoenicians, the lost tribe of Israel, and pirate treasure. Despite the fact that it is an obvious hoax people wish to believe that a cave of treasure could really be out there somewhere along the Little Wabash River.[4]


The book of Mormon takes place in North America and some who follow this religion believe that there is evidence of groups like the Lost Tribe of Israel in North America. The Burrows Cave story like other archaeological hoaxes in the region has been attributed by some groups as evidence of The Book of Mormon being right.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Whitetrashpeg 2015 Russell Burrows: The Bizarre Adventures of Olney, Illinois' Own Indiana Jones. Week In Weird. Planet Weird. http://weekinweird.com/2012/09/23/indiana-jones-olney-illinois/, accessed December 6, 2019
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lepper, Bradley T. 2013 Archaeology: Magic Caves in Illinois and Other Archaeological Myths. The Columbus Dispatch. The Columbus Dispatch. https://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/science/2013/03/03/magic-caves-in-illinois-and-other-archaeological-myths.html, accessed December 6, 2019
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Joltes, Richard E. 2001 Critical Enquiry. Burrows Cave. https://www.criticalenquiry.org/burrowscave/burrows.shtml, accessed December 6, 2019
  4. 4.0 4.1 White, Paul 1997 Saga of Burrows Cave. https://www.illinoiscaves.com/saga_of.htm, accessed December 6, 2019
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Wilson, Joseph A P 2012 The Cave Who Never Was: Outsider Archaeology and Failed Collaboration in the USA. Public Archaeology 11(2): 73–95
  6. Marcovitz, Hal 2009 Extremist Groups. Edina, MN: ABDO Pub.
  7. The Argumentative Archaeologist. https://www.andytheargumentativearchaeologist.com/hyperdiffusionism.html, accessed December 6, 2019