In Search of Hard Evidence
When my wife first entered my name on the membership rolls of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society (MES), I was definitely an Epigraphic agnostic, but after several trips to Kentucky's Red River Gorge where I saw inscriptions left on sandstone walls by ancient visitors, and after considerable research into the early history of navigation and cartography, I became less skeptical. More recently I have examined some artifacts from Burrows Cave 1 in particular two pocket sized stones, each of which have carved into their surfaces a map of a river system with major tributaries. Both maps, although differing slightly, I believe depict the Mississippi River Valley. After studying these maps and comparing them to the very early history of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, I became convinced and now believe both stone maps to be at least 2000 years old or older.
Both of these stone maps (mapstones) are similar in size, approximately 3½ by 4½ inches, weight about 6 ounces, and could easily have been carried in a knapsack. These two small maps cover the same territory and include the same major tributaries: The lower Ohio, Illinois, Missouri (Platte), Arkansas, White, and the Yazoo or the Big Black River. The Wabash is also shown with what appears to be the Skillet Fork - - a continuation of the Little Wabash in central Illinois. On the West Bank of Skillet Fork, near Burrows Cave, both maps show the symbol which may indicate a town.
Although the two maps are similar in most respects, there are important differences. Map 1 extends farther north than Map 2, probably beyond the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, but not as far north as a Norse Fort2, recently discovered in Minnesota by aerial photography. See Illustration A, below, left.
This may tell us that the originators of the maps came from the south and were not Norsemen. Map 1 also shows a horseshoe-like symbol near the mouth of the Missouri River, in the vicinity of the abandoned Mandan village mention in William Clark's account of his journey to the Pacific Ocean. This map also shows the Missouri River (dotted) extending past the Platte River in Nebraska. Note that Map 1 shows a slightly different course where the Mississippi flows into the Gulf. This suble change cound mean a difference of 500 years in age. See Map 3, below right.
Map 2 includes many symbols but their translation is not available. [Editor: See: Translation made after the writing of this article]. A few of the symbols can be interpreted with some confidence because of their shapes and location. The symbol is in the exact location on the Ohio River where Cave-in-Rock, Illinois is found today. Cave-in-Rock, located 75 miles south of Burrow's Cave, was described by early settlers as containing Egptian-like artifacts. In 1833 Josiah Priest wrote, "On the Ohio, twenty miles below the mouth of the Wabash, is a cavern, in which are found many hieroglyphics, and representations of such delineations as would induce the belief that their authors were, indeed, comparatively refined and civilized." He goes on to describe the size and shape of the cave and the possibilities for its use. He also describes the paintings of animals and humans, plants and heavenly bodies that were on the walls of this remarkable cave. Although many of the paintings were faded, most could still bee seen. Priest related that the costumes worn by the humans were similar to those worn by ancient Greeks and Romans3.
In 1848 another early traveler, William Pidgeon, wrote about Cave-in-Rock and its unusual paintings. He included pictographs and believed that the humans must represent Egyptians. Pidgeon also believed that ancient peoples of the western hemisphere were multiracial, a result of countless human voyages and settlements all over the world4. Sadly, a recent visit to the cave by members of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society revealed not a speck of paint, nor a hint of its former mystery. Over 150 years of abuse, flooding, and the public's fascination with its history of crime during the nineteenth century has left its floors muddy and its walls scarred with 20th century grafiti. Sometime during its last one hundred years an upper cavern directly over the main cave collapsed, leaving a large hole in the roof and depositing rock and clay over the floor.
Another easy to identify symbol is shown on the Ohio River where Saline River towhead, once a very large island, is presently located. The same symbol is shown at the mouth of the Wabash River where Wabash Island is found today5. On Map 2 the dots along the banks may indicate the number of days it took to travel between landmarks. The number of dots between these known positions are proportional to the river miles between them. The symbol seen on both the Arkansas and Big Black rivers may indicate very large bayous, although the Arkansas River symbol could also indicate the White River junction. In 1819, Thomas Nuttal, and explorer and botanist who later became a member of the American Philosophical Society, traveled by flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for the purpose of studying the Arkansas Cave-in Rock Territory. On the Ohio he recorded many mounds and village sites, including a mound at the mouth of Little Grave Creek, West Virginia, that was 75 feet high and looked "indeed like a pyramid." Unfortunately, he passed what he called "Rock-in-the-Cave" at night.
When he reached the Arkansas River he was forced to go up the White River to reach Arkansas.
On Maps 1 and 2 the same symbol appears on both the Big Black and the Arkansas River. A satellite image of the Big Black River east of Vicksburg, Mississippi reveals a circular configuration similar to the symbol on the map. See illustration B. Except by satellite imagery or aerial photography, who would know of it today?
In studying the courses of the Mississippi River on the mapstones and comparing them to the present day channel, it is apparent that a noticeable change has occurred on the lower river past the mouth of the Big Black. On the stone maps the river continues in a south by southeast direction, staying far west of Lake Pontchartrain before running into what is probably Bayou Lafourche, the old river channel. Today the river runs southeast past Baton Rouge, Louisiana, turning almost due east until it passes very near the southern shores of Lake Pontchartrain, then continues in a southeasterly direction into the Gulf of Mexico, almost 50 miles east of the old channel. See Map 3. When did this take place?
To find the answer I turned to the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans and to the Waterways Experimental Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The following excerpts were taken from the report, Mississippi River and Tributaries Old River Control, part of Design Memorandum No. 17- Hydraulic Design, furnished by Arthur Laurent, Chief of the Hydraulics Branch, New Orleans District Corps of Engineers:
In 1944 Harold N. Fisk, a professor at Louisiana State University and a consultant to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote what became a classic monograph on the geomorphology of the lower Mississippi Valley. For the next 30 or more years this was considered to be the authoritative reference on the geologic history and chronology of this area. This classic was followed in 1952 by another study for the Mississippi River Commission7. In these studies Fisk developed a chronology for specific dating of meander belts and other Mississippi Valley features based on the rate of meander growth. These studies would indicate that the Mississippi turned east sometime between B.P. 1900 and 11008.
During the past 30 years, however, a new generation of scientists, using new tools and new techniques, have taken a closer look at Fisk's work and found it to be lacking 9. Much of this latter work has been done on an interdisciplinary basis which includes not only geologists, but also archaeologists, engineers, biologists, etc. One of the leaders of this movement has been Roger T. Saucier of the U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station at Vickburg. It has been authoritatively established that Fisk underestimated the time of some geologic events by as much as several thousand years10.
This, of course, has given us a new approximation for the date when the Mississippi River turned eastward and no longer followed the rough courses shown on the stone maps. In discussion of this problem, Mr. Saucier estimated the eastern course of the lower Mississippi to be approximately 2,000 years old, putting the age of the mapstones at a minimum of 2,500 years old or older.
This rather esoteric knowledge relating to the eastward turn of the lower Mississippi from the original southeasterly direction as depicted on the mapstones would hardly be widely dispursed today, thus minimizing possibilities of contemporary fradulent creation of the mapstones.