TREASURES  of  Lost  Races  continued

An American Enigma

The month was April. The year was 1981. And the flight was Delta #10, bound for London, England. This should have been a happy occasion for me, for I had grown weary of the spring rain that had fallen for days on end; and according to the weather reports London was surprisingly balmy. Yet somehow I had an uneasy feeling that this trip wouldn't turn out as expected. Call it a hunch. At that moment, however, I was too tired and sodden to care.

Only after I had positioned myself in my window seat did I open my black Samsonite attache case—I needed one last look just to assure myself that the woolly red pouch with the metal pot was still inside. Then—before anyone else could cast a curious glance at its contents—I hurriedly closed the case, turned the dial of the combination lock, and pushed it under the seat in front of me.

It was a strange set of circumstances that had put me on that plane, and the mysterious pot was responsible. It had all begun—as so many stories do—with a simple telephone call. I had just reached my office from a research job at the library when the phone rang. A reader of one of my most recent books, Secrets of the Lost Races, had become fascinated with the subject of out-of-place artifacts as discussed in the book, and the references I had made to the possibility of this country's having been visited by representatives of other races thousands of years ago. "You talked about those 'ooparts'—those out-of-place artifacts," the caller pointed out, "and I think I know just what you were talking about. I have something which clearly does not belong in the area where it was found. Would you like to see it?"

The question was innocent enough, but it started a series of long telephone conversations that finally resulted in the caller, John Van Asselberg, a semi-retired farmer, offering to bring his oopart to my office within the next few weeks.

When John finally arrived after his six-hundred-mile ride on a Greyhound bus and we had checked him into a motel in Chattanooga, he proudly pulled a carefully wrapped package out of the shopping bag he had been carrying. Opening a soft woolly pouch that obviously had been made especially for the pot, he carefully reached inside and almost reverently took out his oopart. "This is what I called you about," he said softly with a tremble of excitement in his voice. "What do you think of it?"

Before me on the faded blue bedspread stood a yellowish metal vase about four and a half inches high and about seven inches in diameter. I had traveled widely and had visited dozens of museums the world over to examine archaeological artifacts, but this vessel was unlike anything I had ever seen. It had the deep yellow hue of gold, yet when I touched and tapped it, it had the hardness of copper. I picked it up and walked over to the window to examine it more closely by daylight. Turning it slowly so as to get a better overall view of the elaborate artwork, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that it seemed to tell a story of some sort—a detailed version of a happening in the far-distant past.

John came closer and began to describe it as if it were a member of his immediate family. By now he had lived with the pot for so long and had attempted to interpret the meaning of the hammered figures so many times that he could talk about the particulars of each one without even looking at them. It was under his guidance that for the first time I began to notice the little special details about each one of the figures.

The pot is an object that cannot stand in a room without becoming the center of attention. It has a mystical quality that begs for attention, as though it carries a special message awaiting revelation.

The people whose forms are etched into the pot are of three distinctly different types; the most oustanding figure is a tall white-bearded man who is without a doubt the central character in the pot's story. Aside from him there are nine smaller human beings depicted in headdress, and another thirteen with a totally different hairdo. Positioned to the left of the bearded man is a large image of the sun-god. Both the sun-god and the old man display what appear to be tufts of hair on their foreheads. This fixture is also visible on the heads of some of the smaller people.

The facial features of the humans are all very similar, displaying almost almond shaped eyes and Semitic noses. Located exactly opposite the sun-god on the other side are two large sphinxes and a much smaller one; none of the three is typically Egyptian in appearance. The section of the vase opposite the old man is taken over by two realistically crafted large fish, scales and all; so large that they, together with the old man, the sphinxes and the sun-god, form the main themes of the story of the pot. But between these central figures every bit of metal is covered with designs such as groupings of three pyramids; a tree or tree branch; elephants, birds, and other animals. And where no distinctly recognizable figures have been hammered

[The mysterious-looking gold-colored pot that was discovered in an old cave or root cellar 45 miles east of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1959. An analysis of slivers of metal taken from the pot indicates that it consists of copper, zinc, lead, iron, and a trace of tin. This puts it in a class of ancient brass that has not been used for more than a thousand years. The figure of the bearded man in the right foreground. This side of the copper pot shows one of the two fish that form a major design element.

Another view is a representation of the sun-god, surrounded by a court of attendants. The small human figures appear to pay homage to the two central (God) figures on the pot. On this side of the pot, attendants in various poses surround two sphinxes who seem to be eyeing each other. The style of the sphinxes lead us into the direction of the Middle East—not Latin America.]

into the metal, the formerly smooth spaces have been filled up with triangular marks resembling cuneiform writing.

"What do you make of it?" John asked hesitantly. "Can it be an oopart?" I handed the vase back to him and sat down on a corner of the bed. "Tell me the whole story, John. Tell me where you got it, where it came from, who had it before you .... Let's go over the whole story so I can try to make some sense out of it, for if it is indeed an oopart and it was found in the United States . . . " I stopped. I didn't want to run ahead on any possible conclusion, for whatever John Van Asselberg had to tell about it would certainly have to be checked out before any conclusion could be reached.

Later on that same evening we sat down in my office, where John recalled his developing involvement with the pot.

"For me it began sometime between August 16 and 30 back in 1975," he slowly began. "We had gone to Missouri and bought a truckload of used furniture and collectable junk from Frank Lee, a friend of mine in Warrensburg. I bought the load for resale, but while going through Frank's stuff I noticed that little pot he had on a shelf, and seeing that we were interested in it, he gave it to me. He didn't see any value in it. So we took it home. But it was not until we cleaned it in February of '76, along with a bunch of other metal articles we had picked up, that my wife suddenly noticed the beautiful designs under the muck. Up to that point it had been covered with about a quarter of an inch of a thick, heavy tarlike substance, but when the solvent began to cut through it, Betty became all excited. Sensing that we had found something unusual, we began to show it to antique dealers and auctioneers, hoping to find out something about its origin and how much it could be worth; but everyone we asked about it referred us to someone else. We decided to go a step higher and began to ask people in colleges and universities, until we ended up at the office of Dr. Paul R. Cheesman of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where we got our first positive results. Metal analysis conducted by a colleague of Dr. Cheesman revealed that its composition of copper, zinc, lead, iron and a trace of tin classified it as an ancient brass that had not been produced for more than a thousand years."

According to the Van Asselberg account, the metal analysis sent Dr. Cheesman's curiosity into high gear; and their second meeting, scheduled for two days later, was postponed for six days to enable Dr. Cheesman to fly to Harvard University to consult with Dr. Barry Fell, president of the Epigraphic Society and a master in the deciphering of ancient inscriptions.

"We waited in our Provo motel for a whole week," said John Van Asselberg somewhat disgustedly, "and when he finally came back, he was reluctant to give the pot back to us. We pressed him to tell us some of the results of his meeting with Dr. Fell, and he finally admitted that various factors—including the metal analysis—had led them to believe that it was from a thousand to fifteen hundred years old, possibly[even older, but that it was definitely Christian .... They believe the tall bearded man to be Christ and the sun-god to denote that the man is the Son of God. Since that time Dr. Fell has taken the pictures and slides of the pot to North Africa and consulted with other archaeologists, and they have determined that it is not from their area. Dr. Cheesman has checked with experts from South America, and it isn't from their part of the world either. Dr. Fell is supposed to have said that it could be from North America ..."

Perhaps it was time for me to have a talk with Frank Smith, the man who had sold the pot to John Van Asselberg in the first place, to see how far we could go in tracing it back into history.

Frank was home and willing to talk. "I didn't buy it or get it from anyone, and I really don't know who owned it before me. I moved out here in 1959, and about thirty or forty yards from where I built my house in '63 were the remains of an old foundation. I was told there used to be an old log cabin in that spot. We were clearing out the cellar when we came upon the pot in the rubble. It was mixed with sand and all sorts of junk, and we had to dig it out.

How deep was the foundation hole?

"Oh ... it was just about three or four feet deep in the red sandstone and about eight or nine feet around. We wanted to fill in the hole and decided to clear it out first. We hauled all the other stuff off and threw it away, but when we found this old pot we decided to save it. Looked like something we could use. We did some cleaning, put a little chain on it, and even had some flowers in it at one time. Later on it ended up in our basement.

"Guess we must have kept it there for about ten years or so. Had a lot of people come and look at it. It was a fascinating conversation piece. We sold things from the basement, and I'd always say, 'Hey, you've got to see this. We've got something interesting here!' and they'd come and look at the little 'grabber' and it would really puzzle them . . . especially the old man and the fish ..."

" 'Little grabber?' What do you mean, 'little grabber?' "

He laughed. "We called it our 'little grabber' because it would get their attention. They all looked at it and stared at it, but of course no one knew what the thing was all about. When I think back on it now, it probably tells a story of some kind ..."

"What did the pot look like when you dug it up?"

Frank was quiet for a moment, letting his thoughts drift back to 1959, now twenty-three years ago, and the cool breezy fall morning on his eighty acres forty-five miles east of Kansas City, Missouri.

"It was real dirty, and the black stuff stuck to it like glue,'' he remembered. "I guess it was the shape more than anything else that made us keep it, because it really didn't look like much when we happened on it. I have always wondered where it came from. What makes the pot especially interesting to me is the area where we found it. About seven hundred feet from the cave is the old Hussy Springs that has been there for centuries—as long as people have been here, I guess, and probably even longer. It used to be a watering hole for caravans and travelers and Indians and later on for the cavalry during the Civil War. It has such a good supply of water that the government put a gasoline pump on it during the early thirties so the whole neighborhood could get water from the o1' Hussy .... It has always been there for whoever passed by.

"Another point of interest in the area is a mysterious mound of dirt on my neighbor's property, northwest of Hussy Springs. It is a hill—four to six feet high and about ninety to one hundred feet in diameter—and no one really knows what it is."

He stopped and laughed. "Do you think that old pot really means something?"

His question brought us right back to square one: the mystery of the Van Asselberg pot. Thinking about the territory where it was found and the history of the o1' Hussy, I began to daydream about ancient scouting parties from faraway lands venturing inland into unknown territory, perhaps burying their chieftains in mounds of dirt which are still undisturbed.

The idea of the American continent's having been visited by ancient races thousands of years before Columbus is not new anymore. In fact, it is gaining more ground every day, but it may take a new and more imaginative brand of scientist to recognize the data that will prove the theory correct. Many inscriptions now being found throughout the United States are judged to be thousands of years old.

In another book I discussed the idea that the Chinese were among the first to visit the North American continent—basing it on the Shan Hai King, the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a treatise on geography and one of the oldest surviving Chinese literary works. The date for its composition has been approximated at 2250 B.C., and its authorship has been ascribed to the "Great Yu." His descriptions of the geographical features of certain sections of the United States are so precise that it becomes very evident from the accuracy of his details and personal observations that the Chinese indeed made an extensive survey of the North American continent some forty-five hundred years ago!

Proof of their presence in America has also been found in the form of rock script in various places. In British Columbia, petroglyph expert Philip Thornburg recognized among the stone pictures a carving of a sisuti—the Chinese dragon. Says Thornburg, "There does seem to be an oriental background to them. Since they are carved in sandstone, it is virtually impossible to say what age they are. I have found some that were buried under a foot of topsoil. Now this wasn't the kind of topsoil that would have washed over them. This was formed there, placing the age of the carving around five to seven thousand years—which is really ancient for this country." Another petroglyph he discovered had a hole worn through it by dripping water, proof that it had been there for some time.

Among those who believe that America was once visited by ancient races who left stone inscriptions as their "calling cards," Dr. Cheesman and Dr. Barry Fell stand out above all others because of their deep devotion to study in this area.

Dr. Fell strongly believes that America was never really isolated. It is his conviction that ancient people came here for the same reasons modern immigrants do—to get away from the pressing problems at home, whether they be taxation, tyranny or marital difficulties. "We know this from inscriptions occurring on buried temples, on tablets, on gravestones and on cliff faces," he points out. "From some of them, we infer that colonists intermarried with American Indians, so their descendants still are here today." The earliest arrivals, he believes, came here around 900 B.C., and he uses inscriptions on boundary markers bearing family names as proof for his position.

Gloria Farley of Heavener, Oklahoma, a determined amateur archaeologist, is responsible for discovering many of the inscriptions left in this country by some of the early travelers. Climbing rugged bluffs and crawling into slime-covered caves to discover her finds, she then submits them to Dr. Fell for translation. One of her most remarkable discoveries is an inscription containing letter and pictograph carvings of human figures found along a quarter of a mile of cliff in the Cimarron region between Colorado and Oklahoma. One set of letters reads: "Edict: Mara's settlement. Let it be known." A figure of a female with lettering beneath her knees was identified by Dr. Fell as the Phoenician goddess Tanit, wife of Baal. The lettering reads: "Tanit the Sublime," and he calls it "the first clearly labeled representation of a Mediterranean divinity in the Americas."

Gloria Farley has her own theory as to how the ancients reached the Southwest and other regions of the American continent. "The answer," according to Mrs. Farley, "is on any good map." She claims that since the rivers of the region of the Southwest—the Arkansas, the Cimarron— are all connected to the Mississippi, the visitors had only to navigate their graceful ships up this great waterway and move out from there. Interestingly, she has discovered a carving of an ancient ship on a panel of stone beside a Cimarron River tributary about three miles distance from where the carving of the goddess Tanit was found. Is it possible that the three pyramids and the three sphinxes on the Van Asselberg pot are pointing toward a Middle East origin?

The puzzle of the pot's origin has led scientists to several archaeological "hotbeds"—but all have been dead ends. The pyramids and the sphinxes lead us toward a Mediterranean point of view; the pyramids and the sun-god seem to indicate a South American connection. The possibility of its having originally come from Latin America appears to have been uppermost in the mind of Dr. Cheesman when he saw the artifacts for the first time. He admitted that he recognized a similarity between it and the Crespi collection—a collection of possibly pre-Flood origin housed in a small museum in the back patio of the Church of Maria Auxiliadora at Cuenca in Ecuador. Yet a closer examination of the pot also emphasizes some of the striking dissimilarities between it and the pre-Inca art.

Comments Jack Vivison of Leesville, Louisiana, "One does not have to be an expert art critic to catch the general mood of the 'common mortals' in the background [referring to the pot]. They are undoubtedly paying homage to these two gods in the most humble way they could possibly present themselves. Those between the two gods have their hands over their hearts, while others stand with arms folded. This is what is called 'picture writing,' and was of course used by ancient peoples before the introduction of hieroglyphics. It is quite possible that each individual represents other information that we are not aware of by expression of body and limb positions, attitude and position of head, facial expression, manner of dress, headbands, and perhaps even the length of their noses. It would certainly be fascinating if one could read each detail."

The pot has remained much of a mystery since its discovery nineteen years ago. Dr. Cheesman's opinion has brought us no closer to an acceptable answer, nor did those of the experts of the various antiquities departments of the British Museum who examined it with a great deal of curiosity when I arrived.

The latter experts finally came up with their definitive answer:

"It does not belong in our department," a spokesman for the department of Middle Eastern archaeology told me, handing the red pouch and pot back to me. "We have nothing in our department which we can use as a basis for comparison . . . ."

"Can you make any suggestions?" 

"Not really. Although I suppose you could talk to people in Greek and Roman archaeology . . . " So I did.

Walking through the marble exhibit halls of the British Museum with a yellow-gold object that had all the earmarks of belonging somewhere behind glass did occasion the uninvited attention of some of the guards, but it all ceased once I was safely within the confines of the research department of Greek and Roman antiquities. Their experts too looked at it—and shrugged their collective shoulders. "Wish we could help you," was the final verdict, "but we can't identify it. May we suggest you try the department of Middle East archaeology? You could also try Indian art or African art, or some other department or ... " The attendant was still mumbling as I walked down the marble steps on the way to my favorite Greek restaurant for some shish kebab and a piece of baklava before heading for Gatwick airport and the Delta Airlines ticket counter.

While in London I had checked all of the possible leads that I thought promising in identifying the artifact, and none of them had brought me any closer. But in the rush of it all, I had skipped one. It wasn't until a year and a half later that the Victoria and Albert Museum supplied a piece of the puzzle.

"In my opinion, the bowl is probably from the Daghestan area of the Caucasus," wrote an archaeologist of the department of metalwork in a letter dated October 29, 1981, "and is almost certainly from the nineteenth century." It was some help—at least as far as a possible location was concerned. As for the dating, all the museum had seen for identification purposes was a number of black and white photographs—not the results of the metal analysis, or the pot itself. Their identification was based on the shape of the vessel and some of the artwork which had become somewhat traditional in that specific area. So while it did not help in setting the time period, it was a help in finding its possible point of origin.

But we are still a long way from answering all the questions that have been raised by the discovery of the Van Asselberg pot. For instance:

How did a copper pot, fashioned less than two hundred miles from Mount Ararat, the "Mother of Nations," end up in a red sandstone cave forty-five miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri, in close proximity to an ancient watering hole?

Does its presence in Missouri have anything to do with the undisturbed mound nearby?

Are there other, similar, vessels in the United States that might help in further identifying the pot?

Is it possible that there are more objects, left by the same people, still buried somewhere in the Middle West?

Did the pot have any religious significance for its original owners? Was it brought here for a specific purpose?

Who is the old man on the pot? Who is represented by the disk of the sun? What do the three pyramids signify? How about the fish? And, above all, what is the story that has been so carefully hammered into the brass? What is it trying to tell us?






Keith Hunt