The Burrows cave: African gold in Illinois
The story of the Burrows Cave is more about human behaviour than archaeology. It is the story of an alleged cave containing the tomb of an African king who reached North America in the 1st century AD – and the subsequent controversy that the artefacts created.
If the story is genuine, Burrows discovered a human skeleton— a male—in the first crypt. The second chamber had a funeral bier with the remains of a woman and two children. A golden spearhead lay in the woman’s ribs, where the heart would have been. The skulls of the children showed signs of perforation. The scene suggested that the woman and children had been murdered at the time when the male, her husband, died. In total, there were 12 crypts. The central chamber, containing the golden sarcophagus, was closed by a stone that had to be rolled away. The room, including the ceiling, was decorated and white marble was seen throughout. The golden sarcophagus inside the stone tomb resembled the ancient Egyptian form of burial: it displayed the same style of wearing the hair as well as the crossed arms on the body, and the hands were holding the ankh symbol. It is said that Burrows was able to prise open the sarcophagus and note that it seemed to contain human remains as well as a death mask, also thought to be of Egyptian origin. Although the sarcophagus was of tremendous value—to be compared with the golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamun—it could not be removed from the cave by just Burrows with the help of his brother-in-law. Furthermore, Burrows was unsure as to whether he might face prosecution if he disturbed the human remains he’d found in the cave or if he tried to sell any of its contents. The sceptics seldom address this part of the story, as they claim that there never was a cave at all, and hence no sarcophagus, and hence no human skeleton inside.