Grand Canyon mystery runs deep
One never knows what might fall out of a dusty, wooden library-research drawer in the Old Western town of Flagstaff. When a 90-year-old yellowed clipping appeared one day at my feet, an implausible new mystery entered my life. To this day, as if it wished someone would find it, that yellowed news story raises questions that still beg for answers.
What a reminder it was, in this age of informational overkill, about how little we really know about where we came from and who we truly are. Well, at least we know all we ought to know about the Grand Canyon, the natural marvel people have been studying since Teddy Roosevelt's fabled days there early in the 20th century.
Although nary an expert has proved beyond a reasonable doubt just how the Canyon was formed, many do suspect that people have lived in it for thousands of years and concede that little is known of those years.
Who were those dwellers? Why did they vanish? Was it drought, religious battles, shattered trade arrangements?
One clue has emerged from some recent research involving split-twig figurines recovered in 1963 from a limestone cavern in the Canyon. Revealed was a radiocarbon date of 2145 B.C., plus or minus 100 years, or at least 3,600 years before Columbus reportedly discovered America.
Those numbers truly stunned this pilgrim, who was taught in good New England schools to believe that civilized life began in North America when the Europeans landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts around 1620.
Speaking of unanswered questions and puzzles, why are so many of the Grand Canyon's buttes and promontories, in the words of author John C. Van Dyke, named for "blinking little divinities of India and Egypt"?
Anyone poring over a topographical map of the Canyon will notice that many of the bizarre rock formations have Egyptian and East Indian names. Specifically, there are various rock formations with names such as Tower of Ra, Horus Temple, Osiris Temple and Isis Temple. In the Haunted Canyon area, one finds the Cheops Pyramid, Manu Temple and Shiva Temple.
When I launched some queries about the reasons for these ancient Egyptian and East Indian names, National Park Service representatives replied that one of the early explorers, Clarence Edward Dutton, simply loved Egyptian and Hindu names.
Why, then, is one entire area near these names designated by the National Park Service as a forbidden zone? No hikes are allowed without a permit in the many caves found there, and no permits are granted.
"Technically, all the caves in the Canyon are dangerous and are thus restricted, off-limits," I was told by Janet Balsam, chief of cultural resources at the park.
How many caves exist?
Mysteriously, no inventory has ever been created -- at least not one for the general public.
A Hopi Indian legend provides another clue. According to the Hopis' oral history, passed on to me by some elders, a young man, eons ago, half-Hopi and half-Anglo, wandered down a secret trail into the Grand Canyon.
Entering a colossal cave, he told of seeing urns made of copper and gold and a stone idol sitting cross-legged and cradling a lily in each hand. The walls were carved and etched with the faces and bodies of short people, some wearing helmets; some were nude, some partly dressed.
Is that cave and its contents merely a fanciful tall tale? Or could it be that, many thousands of years ago, the Grand Canyon did have visitors from Egypt and Asia?
Is it possible that the standard textbook story, that humans first settled the Southwest by pouring down from Alaska about 12,000 years ago, is the truly fanciful tall tale?
Rumors flew in the 1990s that a major discovery at the Grand Canyon had been covered up. Much to the dismay of park officials, nosy reporters, television crews and foreign tourists kept asking about an immense hand-hewn cave filled with artifacts and riches from Egypt and Asia.
They'd heard that many of the walls were engraved with hieroglyphics of the prehistoric people of North America, revealing who they were and from whence they had come.
Try though they have, park officials have had little luck burying the story of a certain Smithsonian expedition in 1909 allegedly led by G.E. Kinkaid and Professor S.A. Jordan. What those explorers claimed to have discovered was a great underground citadel featuring many passageways like the spokes of a wheel, some as long as football fields.
Walking through the pas-sageways, they came upon ancient weapons of war, sharp-edge copper instruments and hundreds of mummies stacked a dozen high.
If their discovery struck the editors of the Arizona Gazette as the wildest fancy of a fictionist, it didn't prevent them from running a detailed account on April 5, 1909. A subsequent account, with all the same details, was included in Joseph Miller's book, "Arizona Cavalcade," in 1962.
In that newspaper interview back in 1909, Kinkaid and Jordan told of finding tiers of mummies in the cavern, each occupying a separate rock-hewn shelf. At the head of each, they found copper cups and pieces of broken swords.
After examining some of the mummies, they determined them all to be male, leading them to conclude that the room they were in may have been a warriors' burial site. In another room, perhaps the main dining hall, they found urns and water vessels marked with fine designs, signifying to them "a latter stage of civilization."
In the 1909 Gazette interview, Kinkaid told the editors that, when they arrived in Yuma after the discovery, he'd shipped a number of relics to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for evaluation. Kinkaid reported that two theories existed about the origin of the Grand Canyon mummies.
One is that they came from Asia, another that the racial cradle was in the Upper Nile region. A third postulated that Egyptians originated in India.
Were these relics ever sent? If they were, Smithsonian officials have said that they never received them.
If they did receive the details of the discovery, why would such a distinguished institution hide behind a cloud of denials?
Arizona-based anthropologist Warren Cremer has a theory: "The Smithsonian is, no doubt, educated in the prevailing isolationist dogma that no Europeans came to America before Columbus in 1492, so officials there probably genuinely believe that the finding of prehistoric Egyptian artifacts just couldn't be true. It's time for the stonewalling to end."
"Poppycock," Balsam, the Grand Canyon Park official, told me. "A couple of people with a wild imagination can get away with a lot. There is no limit to their imaginations. We regard the tale of Egyptians in Grand Canyon as an April Fool's joke."
To David Childress, author of "Lost Cities of North and Central America," the finding of the mummies all those years ago confirms oceanic contact from what is now the Mideast and substantiates stories that today's tribal people didn't all cross to the Southwest by the Bering Straits.
Some came by boat from the Caribbean - and into the Grand Canyon.
Let the mystery be!
James Bishop Jr. is a Sedona- based writer known for his books, stories and newspaper articles. He is the author of "The Pink Nectar Cafe: Myths and Mysteries," from which this article was adapted.
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