The Lost Treasure of King Juba
In 1982, an amateur treasure hunter, Russell E. Burrows, found a remote cave near his hometown of Olney in southern Illinois. After advancing through a 500-foot-long tunnel lined with oil lamps, he discovered several chambers filled with ancient weapons, gold sarcophagi, jewels, and stone tablets depicting Roman soldiers, Jews, early Christians, and West African Soldiers. He removed more than 7,000 artifacts from the cave and then sealed the entrance using dynamite, following the controversy over his discovery.
The case for the treasure's origin is argued in Frank Joseph's controversial book, The Lost Treasure of King Juba: The Evidence of Africans in America before Columbus.
Juba's father was king of Numidia (modern day northeast Libya) on the North African coast. He fought with Pomsey against Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire in 46 B.C. After they were defeated, Juba's father committed suicide rather than allow himself to be taken alive, and Caesar as a trophy took his baby son, Juba II, back to Rome.
Juba was brought up as a Roman by Caesar's nephew Octavian. He was well educated and became one of the learned men of his day. When Octavian became emperor, he installed Juba as ruler of Mauritania on the West Coast of Africa. He later married Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, and together they ruled from 25 B.C. to around 19 A.D.
They turned their kingdom into a cultural and prosperous land and introduced Greek architecture and art to North Africa. Juba continued with his academic and field studies, writing histories of Africa and Arabia and even corresponding with Pliny the Elder about Botany and Zoology. He is credited with discovering a succulent plant, which he named Euphorbia in honor of his family physician, Euphorbus.
According to Frank Joseph, Juba was persecuted by the Emperor Caligula and his son Ptolemy was executed, causing a Mauritian rebellion against the Romans. They moved southeast into present day Ghana, built a fleet of ships, and set sail to establish their kingdom on another continent. They made off with Cleopatra's treasure and King Juba's library.
Russell E. Burrows is the only person who knows where the treasure was found and yet Frank Joseph claims that the hoard is proof that Africans reached America long before Columbus.
It tells of the cave's discovery, subsequent twenty years of imposed secrecy, the looting of fabulous treasures, often bitter controversy, and final disclosure. The second story is much older. It describes what was once a splendid kingdom in the ancient Old World, a vital part of the Roman Empire, once culturally rich and economically powerful, but reduced to obscurity by war. Faced with almost certain death at home or escaping over the uncertain open sea, some of its survivors became First Century "boat-people". Most successfully completed the crossing to America only a few years after the death of Jesus.
While the majority of professional archaeologists dismiss such transatlantic voyages as imaginative fantasy, they are contradicted by a vast collection of inscribed and illustrated stone tablets uncovered from a subterranean site in the American Middle West. Often wonderful masterpieces of art, they comprise literally thousands of portraits of men and women from a distant land in ancient times. There are grim-faced soldiers and sagacious priests, sailors, worshippers, kings and queens. They are accompanied by tablets inscribed in several different written languages, some of which have already been partially translated. And there is gold, a treasure trove King Solomon in all his splendor would have envied.
Both stories seem too fantastic for belief. Yet, an abundance of hard and historical evidence supports their credibility. The fabulously rich legacy buried nearly 2,000 years ago was known only to the elders of a particular Indian tribe, whose last chief broke the secret before he passed away. Even then, the whereabouts of the cave were unknown until it was found by accident twenty four years later. The sometimes acrimonious struggle to open the site and unravel its significance has lasted almost as long.
That struggle still goes on. But the time has come for its story to be told. It begins in the remote countryside of southern Illinois, a cultural backwater practically forgotten somewhere between St. Louis, at the western border with Missouri, and the state university, in Carbondale, forty five miles north of Kentucky. The inhabitants would have it no other way. Their numbers are low and disparate. Although general income and educational levels are below national or even state averages, people are hard-working, bible-conscious, gun-owning patriots residing mostly on old, isolated farms or in charming, unprosperous little towns. Folks are friendly to but wary of strangers. They prefer their largely anonymous, unvisited status. Attitudes can be provincial, territorial and rural. Speech patterns echo from below the Mason/Dixon Line. Among land-owners there is a highly developed sense of protective sovereignty regarding the properties they own and on which they grow crops, mostly beans and corn.
Southern Illinois has always been a refuge for rugged individuals. Local history tells of frontier-like lawlessness dating back to gang wars with criminal interlopers, like Tony Accardo or Al Capone, from Chicago, during the 1960s and "Roaring Twenties", respectively, and much earlier, to the Harpe brothers. They murdered some fifty victims at Cave-in-the-Rock, on the Ohio River, before Micajah and Wiley were beheaded in 1799.
Directly across the state from St. Louis, Richland is the next nearest county to the Indiana border, in the east. Beyond its sparsely uninhabited hills and ravines, squares of brown-green farmland spread like pieces in an agricultural puzzle toward the horizon. In the extreme northeast corner of Richland County bends an elbow of the River Embarras, branching into Illinois from its bigger sister, the Wabash. Locals have for generations enjoyed exploring or picnicking in the numerous caves that honeycomb the area. An infrequently visited site, certainly unknown outside its immediate vicinity, was hardly more than a hole in the ground. But the opening, about ten feet wide and eight feet from ceiling to roof, was large enough for visitors to stoop through a kind of natural corridor running about 15 feet into the side of a hill perhaps three-quarters of a mile from the south bank of the Embarras.
At the far end of this seemingly insignificant cave was a small chamber, natural or man-made, it was difficult to determine. Its walls were decorated with what visitors assumed were "Indian signs"---apparently old carvings of bizarre animals, inscrutable glyphs, and strangely costumed men, all rendered in faded, primitive stick-form.
Obviously, the cave had been used by Kickapoo or Shawnee tribes, who inhabited the Richland County region into the early 1800s. No one gave the place a second thought until 1982. Certainly, professional archaeologists, if they even knew it existed, never declared the site off-limits to public entry, nor forbade anyone from doing what they pleased there.
On April 2, a 47-year-old "caver" entered its dark recesses out-fitted with flashlight, pick-hammer and knapsack. He had come from his home in Olney, a small town about 15 miles away. Born in West Virginia, Russell E. Burrows moved after a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War to southern Illinois, where he developed an interest in local history, and began amassing everyday objects from the past.
Over time, he found ox shoes, square nails, iron pots, lanterns, and other19th or early 20th Century artifacts for his growing collection. A wood-worker by vocation, he could appreciate these hand-made items of yesteryear. Perhaps something of the kind might be found in the curious little cave he heard tell of. Finding it deserted, as it usually was, he paused momentarily to scan an uncertain sky, as muted thunder boomed ominously in the distance. He found the interior as described, a small, unimpressive natural enclosure like others he knew. Proceeding to its apparent termination, Burrows stepped into the close confines of the chamber. Perhaps it was artificial, but why anyone would go to the bother of carving it out made no sense. Then again, the Indians did things no modern white man could figure out. The glare of his flashlight passed over a series of their crude drawings adorning the walls here and there. They might make colorful additions to his rather lackluster collection of common pioneer nick-nacks.
Clearly, there were no 19th Century hob-nails laying about. With the first taps of his hammer, however, he noticed something strange. The impacts did not make quite the solid sound he expected. They produced a lighter reverberation, as though a hollow space lay on the other side. Curious to learn if a cavity did indeed lie just beyond, he swung his pick against the face of the wall. As he labored with a will, he was encouraged by what seemed like the echoes of his hammer blows coming from some place deeper in the hill.
The work was difficult, but Burrows was a strong man, and after perhaps fifteen minutes of sweated effort, the stones in the wall began to give. Suddenly, they tumbled heavily away, thudding to the ground, and disclosed another small chamber, this one unquestionably artificial. It was the opening to a flight of stone steps leading down into the earth. He played his flashlight over them, then carefully followed its illumination into the otherwise impenetrable darkness. The flight of stairs was steep, and he descended cautiously, side-ways, eventually reaching bottom. He estimated it was about thirty feet from the entrance above. A long, dead-straight corridor disappeared into the darkness before him. His bright flashlight lit up its still, dank interior, as Burrows carefully entered.
The tunnel was perfectly hewn, and hung with very old-fashioned oil lamps at regular intervals. They looked like something out of a movie he may have seen once about ancient Rome. He proceeded cautiously. The atmosphere was heavy with mystery, and snakes, especially deadly copper-heads, were known to favor such subterranean environments. But he encountered no serpents. The muted sound of his footfalls in the almost stifling confines was all he heard. The tunnel went on and on, as he passed dozens of dead oil lamps on either wall.
Turning the beam of his flashlight at the low ceiling, he saw that its entire length was covered with black smudges, the residue, apparently, of innumerable torches that once passed this way, how long ago, he could not guess. After Burrows had walked about 500 feet, the corridor seemed to come to an abrupt end. Instead, it made a sharp right turn, as his flashlight pointed the way. It illuminated another great length, running straight ahead beyond the white reach of its flickering bulb.
He proceeded a few paces, when a low, open portal, minus a door, appeared unexpectedly on his left. Ducking down under its low lintel, he entered a small chamber, then almost at once staggered backward in surprise. Gleaming in the harsh beam of his flashlight stood the five-foot-tall statue of a man wrought in solid gold. Nor was this just the representation of any man. Its beneficent pose and holes in the wrists of the outstretched arms clearly identified the figure. A few feet behind the statue, to its left, was a raised platform perhaps three feet high. On it had been laid a full-size sarcophagus, likewise executed in gold.
Recovering from the shock of his discovery, Burrows breathlessly admired the spectacular craftsmanship of both objects, but refrained from touching them. He could hardly believe what he saw. Leaving the chamber, he found several more in quick succession.
Across the floor of one were stacked edged weapons---a metal sword with shield and battle-ax, together with a set of bronze spears individually ranging from three to six feet in length. There was copper or bronze armor---breast-plates and greaves, even helmets. Nearby, stood stone statuettes of noble-looking men and women dressed in strange garb suggestive of the ancient Nile Valley or Carthage. Stone and clay-fired jars or urns, some of them half as tall as a man, were positioned in two corners at the far end of the room. A number had long ago fallen over and broken open to reveal their contents---leather or hide scrolls covered with an inscrutable written language. Scattered among these jars were smaller oil lamps, like those attached to the walls of the corridor, and paint pots.
A recessed shelf, cut into the stone cave wall, and supporting the sculpted images of Egyptian-like deities, ran around the whole interior of the enclosure. Against one wall were piles of perhaps 100 flat, black stones, each one engraved with a human profile and unreadable inscription.
The faces portrayed a bewildering variety of men and women (mostly men depicted as soldiers in Roman-style helmets, or priests in robes) with European or Semitic facial features, but wearing the togas and uniforms of civilizations long since past into history. Stepping into an adjacent chamber of similar dimensions, Burrows noticed a vault cut into the rock face of the cave. It flared in the glare of his flashlight with numerous piles of gold coins---what was later to prove more than a ton's worth. This same vault contained a quart-sized stone bowl filled with uncut diamonds.
Nearly faint with these discoveries, he played the flashlight in his trembling hand over the far wall of the chamber, and saw at once that it opened to another. It was much larger, about twenty by twenty five feet, at the center of which lay a large stone sarcophagus. Inside was a gold coffin of superb workmanship. Like the smaller compartments, enormous piles of black stones emblazoned with lengthy, peculiar inscriptions, strange symbols, and the images of both human beings and animals filled the crypt. The persons portrayed were an impossible mix of apparent Romans, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Christians, American Indians, even black Africans. Some of the animals depicted on the stones, such as lions, elephants and camels, were not native to America, at least before the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. Yet, here they were, depicted in all their incongruity.
The unreality of this subterranean site was making him dizzy. He needed fresh air, to get back into the upper world. The atmosphere was stiflingly close with some nameless presence. Returning to the third chamber, he availed himself of as much bounty as he could carry, then hurried at all speed, his bulging knap-sack and sagging pockets clanking with gold coins and several dozen diamonds.
In moments, he was scrambling through the broken down wall, back into the little chamber at the back of the cave. Burrows was elated by his incredible good fortune. It was the find of a lifetime. Clearly, whatever this place was, he thought, its importance and wealth were too great to leave unguarded. He tried to reassemble the old wall hammered down to gain entrance, but anyone who happened to see the re-positioned stones would know they were recently dislodged. The cave, while rarely visited, was now especially vulnerable to inquisitive persons like himself.
Others might find the break-in and loot the rest of the treasures. Re-emerging into the open air, he was relieved to find himself still alone. Since he could not hope to restore the collapsed wall to the aged condition in which he found it, Burrows concealed the cave opening itself. His Korean War experience in the Army had not been forgotten. He dragged shrubs and tree limbs over the gaping hole to camouflage its appearance, then re-aligned large stones to alter the face in the immediate surroundings. Within an hour, the cave was so thoroughly disguised, anyone not intimately familiar with its vicinity would never relocate the opening. Satisfied that his find was safely hidden under the subtly tampered environment, he returned to his pick-up truck perhaps 200 feet away. Afternoon declined toward evening. Deep shadows were already filling in gullies and ravines. They obscured the location even more effectively than his natural concealment of foliage and rocks.
The fabulous find was his by right of discovery, regardless who happened to presently own the property on which it was found. And it would remain his so long as he preserved the secrecy of its whereabouts. No matter who may someday try to claim it, he mused to himself as he trudged through the lengthening twilight toward his home, the site would hereafter and forever be known as "Burrows Cave".
Nineteen years later, Russell Burrows publicly presented a detailed description of the events of April 2 before an international archaeology conference in the Vienna Art Center, Austria. "The cave itself is 535 feet deep to its terminal breakdown," he said. "The down-angle is six degrees. The artifacts which I recovered were located in the silt on the most part. However, some were recovered from niches and shelves along the walls. Also to be seen are lamps cut out of knobs of rock on the walls. There are several of these lamps, since they seem to be positioned every fifteen or twenty feet." Remarkably, these dimensions and features are similar to the Kubr-er-Roumia, King Juba II's mausoleum from which his mummified body and treasure trove were removed ahead of the Roman invasion of 44 A.D. The first professional investigators of his tomb "found themselves in a long gallery about eight feet high and 6.5 feet broad.
There were niches along the walls which seemed as if they had been made to hold lamps", according to historian, A. MacCallum Scott (p.173). Like its southern Illinois counterpart, the royal Mauretanian sepulchral corridor "was about 500 feet long". "The area above these lamps is blackened by smoke from the lamps, which most likely burned animal fat or oil of some kind. I once lit ten candles at some of the lamp positions, and then turned off my lights, and was surprised that the area was well illuminated. In the largest area of the cave are five statues made of the same black material as are the artifacts displayed here. These statues are arranged in a semi-circle, and they are in appearance on the order of Egyptian figures: the left foot forward and the left arm forward. Held in left hand is a staff. Since these statues are some eight or more feet tall, and are made of the black material, I will estimate their weight to be four to six tons, this, since the black material is very dense and heavy.
"I also discovered that there are thirteen doorways cut into the walls of the cave. These doorways are closed by cut and well-fitted blocks of stone, the seams of which are sealed with a pitch or bees' wax. I removed one of the blocks, and was amazed to discover that the sealed doorways were the entrance into a burial crypt, which was about twelve feet square, with a stone bier in the center. In this crypt, I found the skeleton of a male; this was determined by the pelvic bone. On his skeleton was copper, gold and jewels, and lying on the bier with him was his sword, ax and shield. There was, and still is, large jars, one of which has fallen and broken. Inside the broken jar was to be seen twenty or so rolled-up scrolls. I did not touch them, knowing full well that by doing such, I could destroy them. They are still as I left them.
"The next crypt which I opened and examined was much the same as the first in size and structure. However, the skeletal remains was that of a female and two children. In the area of the heart of the woman's was embedded through the rib a golden blade large enough to have penetrated the heart. It appeared to me that since the blade, which was shaped like a large spear-point or blade, had become 'locked' in place by bone, so that, when the effort to remove it was made, it was pulled loose from its shaft, and was left in place. The children each had a large hole in their foreheads. Lying on the bier with the remains was two ax-heads made of pure white marble. One of these axes fit the holes in the children's' heads perfectly.
Also to be seen in this crypt is more of the large jars, but none are broken, so I cannot report what is included in them. There is also much burial finery on all of these skeletons.
"Further back and in a lower level of the cave is another burial crypt, which is much larger and different, in that there is a sarcophagus in the center which has a stone lid closing it. Inside is to be found a fine golden coffin much like those seen in Egyptian burials. Inside the coffin is another, what appears to be, mummy. I cannot state for certain that that is the case, because I did not disturb the decaying cloth around the body. In this crypt, which was closed by a round, rock, wheel-like device, which when the final cut was made, dropped into a trough and rolled downward, closing the crypt, is a shelf cut out of the stone walls. "There are many statues of what appears to be Amen-Ra, the Egyptian god. There is also to be seen in this crypt many other artifacts, such as what appears to be bronze spears of all sizes. Bronze swords and shields, as well as other personal items. None of this material was disturbed by me, and the coffin was closed, as well as the sarcophagus, and the crypt itself."
Listening to his matter-of-fact presentation delivered in a steady, West Virginian drawl, the continental scientists assembled in Vienna's meeting hall were stunned. Such a tale was utterly beyond belief. But there was more than narrative to Burrows' fantastic story. Much more.
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