Ancient Egyptians in the Grand Canyon

Is a Century-Old Newspaper Story to Be Believed?

Did an Egyptian navy cross the Pacific or Atlantic and come to Arizona? Could they have left an Egyptian tomb in the Grand Canyon, something similar to those found in the Valley of Kings near Luxor, Egypt? Strangely, an article pub­lished on the front page of the Phoenix Gazette on April 5, 1909, claimed that just such an Egyptian rock-cut cave was found.

While many mummies have been discovered in Egypt, very few were in pyramids—and those that were have been dated from the later historical periods. The older pyramids dating from the early dynasties (or before!) show no signs of funerary use. Mummies in Egypt are most often found in rock-cut tombs in desert canyons, often featuring tunnels going deep underground with various rooms and passageways along the way. Multiple mummies are often found in one tomb, and the crypts of the wealthy and royalty were filled with precious items and everyday necessities to ease the dead person’s continued existence in the afterlife.

According to the Phoenix Gazette story, a necropolis of mummies and artifacts similar to an Egyptian tomb was found in the Grand Canyon. An explorer named G. E. Kinkaid, it was reported, uncovered a series of catacombs com­plete with statues, swords, vessels, and mummies in 1908 (the exact date of the discovery is not given). As we shall see, Kinkaid may not have been the first explorer to have seen this “cave.” The account of Kinkaid’s adventure was re­produced as a chapter entitled “Citadel of the Grand Canyon” in Joseph Miller’s 1962 book Arizona Cavalcade.

The Phoenix Gazette article starts with four headlines and then continues through a most amazing account. (See the quotes provided on the opposite page).

So what became of the artifacts described in the article? What became of Jordan? Did he return to the Smithsoni­an in Washington D.C. and disappear with all the records of his discovery? Has there been some archaeological cover-up reminiscent of the last scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark of the Covenant is placed inside a crate in a giant warehouse never to be seen again?

It has also been suggested that while the discovery perhaps was real, the archaeologists working for the Smithso­nian were not. These men may not have been working for the Smithsonian Institution out of Washington D.C. at all, but merely claiming to do so. Could this have been a cover-up for an illegal archaeological dig that was raiding the ancient site and claiming legitimacy from a very distant institution. It would have been very difficult indeed, in 1909, to check on the credentials of the archaeologists.

The Secret Catacombs of Mummies on the Little Colorado

In the small town museum of Springerville, Colorado, I came across several intriguing newspaper clippings, in­cluding one of particular interest from the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post news service. It describes how the ar­chaeologist John Hohmann, now closely associated with the Casa Malpais site, had rappelled down a rope into a fis­sure of basalt in July of 1990 and had discovered an intricate series of passages and rooms that had been modified by the mysterious “Mogollon culture” into underground tombs for the internment of the dead. The remains of these people were apparently mummified, possibly naturally by the dry climate.

This curious discovery made national news in the early 1990s, but otherwise has been largely forgotten. The cata­combs inside the Casa Malpais are described as a burial ground for hundreds of skeletons. However, nowhere in the article does it say that the dead are “mummies.” But were they? Normal mummification includes the removal of in­ternal organs and the preservation of the skin and hair. Though we are given few details about these human remains, it would seem that they are mummies, rather than bare-bones skeletons.

It would not be unusual if the Casa Malpais remains were mummies. Rather, it would be unusual if they weren’t. Mummified remains have been found at Mesa Verde in Colorado, at Hovenweep in Utah, and at locations in Arizona, including, apparently, Springerville.

Seth Tanner and the Secret Hopi Cave

In the 1966 film Mackenna’s Gold, Omar Sharif plays the villain, a bandit named, in fact, Colorado. Early in the movie, Colorado has captured Sheriff Mackenna (Gregory Peck), who has seen a map of the route to the secret can­yon. With his hands tied, Mackenna and the bandit gang cross a precarious rope-bridge over a narrow, but very deep, canyon. The group makes its way across the rickety bridge and ends up on the north side of what I believe to be the Little Colorado River Gorge. Today this area is a largely off-limits and roadless part of the Kaibab National Forest, and part of it lies in the Navaho Reservation.

It is somewhere beyond this crossing that Mackenna and Colorado find a secret canyon with a rich vein of gold along one of its walls and ruins high up on a cliff which must have been part of an ancient mining operation. It is an exciting and imaginative western that claims to be based on fact—but is it? Perhaps the facts in this case are even more bizarre than the fictional movie itself.

One of the most important books (in fact, one of the only books) on the Grand Canyon and secret mines and tun­nels is Quest for the Pillar of Gold. This compilation of scholarly papers on ancient mines, mineral wealth, and modern-historical mining ventures in the Grand Canyon gives us the tantalizing reality behind all the fantastic stories. One would think that a geological wonderland such as the Grand Canyon would offer a wealth of minerals, including gold. There is definitely an ancient salt mine and other sites that are sacred to the Hopi. And tales of gold, such as in the John Lee gold mine, circulated around the Grand Canyon. Was one of the ancient mines in the Grand Canyon an Egyptian gold mine?

One celebrated gold prospector who apparently discovered a secret cave in the Grand Canyon or Little Colorado Canyon was Seth Tanner who was then captured by Hopi warriors. Tanner (1828-1918) was a Mormon miner and trader who had gone west with Brigham Young in 1847 when the Mormons settled Salt Lake City. From Salt Lake City he was sent out to set up a small Mormon colony in San Bernardino, California, and it was rumored that he and his brother Myron had some luck in the California gold fields. Tanner also spent some time in San Diego, investing in a coal business that reportedly did not do too well. He returned to Utah and was married; later, he was sent on a scouting expedition to northern Arizona. In 1876, he moved his family to an isolated cabin on the Little Colorado Riv­er near Tuba City. The cabin was strategically located on old trade routes; and Tanner, who got along well with both the Hopi and Navajo and spoke their languages, set up a trading post. Because of his burly countenance and extraor­dinary strength, the Navajos called him “Hosteen Shush” (Mr. Bear).

Tanner’s final fate is told in Grand Canyon Stories: Then and Now, a book published by the famous magazine Ari­zona Highways. The brief story includes a photo that tantalizes us: Seth Tanner—a grizzly old man who is blind! Ac­cording to the book, the Hopi blinded Tanner by throwing a potion in his eyes because he was “the discoverer of a cave containing sacred religious treasures of the Hopi tribe, which no white man was allowed to see.” The book main­tains that it would normally have meant death to see the secret cave, but Tanner was spared because his mother was Hopi. This is highly unlikely, since he was born in New York; it is much more likely he had taken a Hopi wife or had some other significant relationship to cause the tribe to debate his fate. He remained a prisoner of the Hopi, however, and was put in a cave and supplied with daily provisions for years. Supposedly, Tanner became accustomed to his blindness and began to venture out. But because of his alarming appearance, he frightened villagers around Cameron and Tuba City. To scare him off, they would throw water on him. Thinking it was more of the dreaded Hopi potion that had blinded him, he would run back to his cave.

At some point, he must have been released. The photo of him as a blind man is known to have been taken some time shortly after the year 1900. He died near Tuba City in 1918. He is still a famous character in the area, and visi­tors to the Grand Canyon can see Tanner Springs, Tanner Wash and Tanner Crossing in addition to Tanner Trail. His children and grandchildren became wealthy trading post owners in the Tuba City and Gallup areas. But part of Seth Tanner remains a mystery, and he never divulged the terrible secret or incredible treasure he had seen.

What did he see in the Grand Canyon or Little Colorado Canyon that meant death? Did Tanner discover in the ear­ly 1890s the caves full of statues and mummies that were to be reported years later in 1909 by the Phoenix Gazette— ancient caves filled with forgotten Egyptian artifacts, now sacred to the Hopi?

The similarities between the real-life Seth Tanner and the fictional Ed Adams in the film Mackenna’s Gold are striking. As we have seen, Ed Adams was a real historical figure, but the fact that he was not blind and the description and location of the Adams Diggings make it seem unlikely that he was the real person upon whom the film character was based. That character, it appears, is actually Seth Tanner—a blind man who had seen the “Canyon of Gold.”

If the Egyptians had sought out the Grand Canyon as some sacred spot where the River Styx disappeared into the underworld of Set, they may have built small outposts and forts for journeys to the Grand Canyon. Exactly such plac­es exist, such as Wupatki and Tusayan, both ancient cities near the Grand Canyon. Wupatki and other nearby ruins are close to the Little Colorado River and are thought to have been built by the ancestors of the Hopi, though some archaeologists dispute this. Signs at the Wupatki Ruins Museum, run by the National Park Service, are ambiguous as to who the builders of this remarkable little town—complete with a ball court—really were.

But, if there was an Egyptian presence down deep inside the Grand Canyon, one would expect to find some sort of town or outpost on the canyon floor; and in fact, there is such a place. Excavations started in 1967 at an archaeologi­cal site known as Unkar, where the Unkar stream meets the Colorado River creating the Unkar Delta. Unkar Delta is just downstream (west) of where the Little Colorado meets the main Colorado River, deep inside the canyon.

After years of research and digging, the discoveries were published in a scholarly book called Unkar Delta: Archae­ology of the Grand Canyon by Douglas Schwartz of the School of American Research out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His team cataloged building foundations, cut stone blocks, and broken pieces of pottery. Because of occasional super floods in the Grand Canyon, much of the Unkar Delta would have been periodically washed away. Schwartz concludes in his book that the Unkar Delta was inhabited circa AD 900.

One would think that if Unkar had originally been built by Egyptians, it would have been built around 500 BC, if not before. Perhaps earlier dates will eventually come from Unkar; or perhaps this earlier city, if it ever existed, was washed away thousands of years ago, and the current Unkar—rebuilt, but now ruins—is from 900 AD.

And what of the curious name Unkar? It could be an Egyptian word, perhaps a corruption of Ankh-Ka or Ankh-Ra. Is this a reference to the sun god Ra? One of the ancient Southwest legends held that the sun rose and set inside the Grand Canyon, and indeed, one could see the sun set into the canyon if one stood on the eastern rim looking west. Modern maps of the Grand Canyon indicate an Egyptian influence from somewhere—just look at all of the many Egyptian names (and some Hindu) given to the distinctive geological features of the Grand Canyon: Osiris Temple, Tower of Ra, Tower of Set, etc. Is it just a coincidence that the Grand Canyon has been given so many Egyptian names?

Ancient Voyages

Could the Egyptians have actually made voyages to Mexico and the American Southwest, such as a trans-Pacific voyage? According to an Associated Press story released on January 28, 2006, an Italian-American archaeological team announced that it had found the remains of well-preserved Egyptian ships in five caves along the Red Sea. The ships were dated to be about 4,000 years old.

An inscription on some wooden boxes indicated that the artifacts were from the land of Punt. The press release said that artifacts recovered included 80 coils of rope, and that Supreme Antiquity director Zahi Hawass said the re­mains showed the ancient Egyptians were “excellent ship builders” and that they had a fleet capable of sailing to re­mote lands.

It has been suggested that the Egyptians, and other seafarers, voyaged across the Indian Ocean to Australia and In­donesia and then out into the Pacific: to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, and the Americas. Perhaps Punt was Australia or even Mexico or Peru. The mysterious Olmecs would have been part of this oceanic trade and fit into the time frame of 1000 to 2000 BC.

Amazingly, the 1909 story said that tunnel-vault system went for “nearly a mile underground… Several hundred rooms have been discovered… The recent finds include articles which have never been known as native to this coun­try… War weapons, copper instruments, sharp-edged and hard as steel, indicate the high state of civilization reached by these strange people.”

And what of Jordan and Kinkaid mentioned in the article? In a letter that I received in 2005, signed by a “Colin,” I was told that there is a mention of an E.K. Kinkaid in correspondence archives for the Smithsonian Institution, Record Unit 189, Box 68 of 151, Folder 8. Said Colin, “These are records dating from 1860-1908, which is in the cor­rect time frame for the Kinkaid mentioned in the Phoenix Gazette. It is a possibility that different first initials were used and that this is the folder that may contain the valuable information needed to locate the site.” Perhaps Kinkaid had gone to Washington DC. Was Jordan someone else, not actually from the Smithsonian, as he had claimed?

By David H. Childress

1 Comment

  • Avatar Byron Bayhylle, Jnr says:

    I have seen the photos of the University looking at the red haired mummies. I only got to see them once online, they were taken off – actually I wasn’t allowed to go to the site, then they were taken off.

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