Cover photo credit:

Larry Mulligan, 2002.


AT THE TIME OF SUNRISE,” and other quotation:

McCormack, 1993.


Luther Elkins petroglyph photograph and diagrams:

Everything here is from Fell, 1983, passim. Here is the series of diagrams explaining what Fell sees in the glyph:

Incarnation initial page:

The photograph of the glyph is a detail from the picture on page 6. The line-drawing of it is Fell’s interpretation. It and the Chi drawing on the upper right are from Fell, 1983, p. 14. The images from the illuminated manuscripts have been picked up randomly from the web.

Fell calls the Luther Elkins figure an “Incarnation initial” because in it he sees the Irish word for Incarnation, gaine, spelled in (an apparently semi-Consaine) Ogham G-IA-N. He thinks of the basic figure as a Chi, but then with Ogham strokes inscribed into it (see image above). He suggests there may be an artistic pun here between gaine and the Irish word ionga, supposedly written here in Ogham IA-N-G, meaning “notch.” According to Fell, another Irish word for notch, cab (see page 58), appears towards the beginning of the message in reference to a solar alignment.

Horse Creek petroglyph and criticism of Fell:

Barry Fell’s interpretation of these very dense carvings is fairly outlandish and, I would have to say, improbable. The decipherment diagram of the main panel is laid out in Fell, 1983, p. 18; description of its sequence is on the succeeding page. The message he describes as “a short biblical abstract of the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke” (ibid., p. 19).

Besides sorting through the mess of tally marks and pondering the transliteration, one should not neglect to read the petroglyph lexicon that Fell provides at the end of the article. There one finds the following, particularly baffling item: on the Horse Creek petroglyph, in regard to the Virgin Mary, Fell reads the word, “moitac (adj) pregnant, (n) pregnant woman; apparently an American usage, in Ireland not used for human beings” (ibid.) — that is, the word he is interpreting is unique to ... the word he is interpreting.

On a similar note Fell seems to undermine the probability of all his work when he concludes his article saying that the petroglyphs “exhibit the grammar and vocabulary of Old Irish in a manner previously unknown in such early rock-cut inscriptions in any Celtic language” (ibid.). This notion is buttressed in a negative way by critics Monroe Oppenheimer and Willard Wirtz when they write, citing personal communication with scholars, “Dr. John Carey of the Department of Celtic Languages and Literature at Harvard University, analyzes a series of questions of grammar and spelling that arise in connection with Fell's purported translation of the West Virginia petroglyphs. He points out that Fell ‘finds’ in them sentence structures and spelling that in fact developed in the Irish language many centuries later than the time — the 6th to 8th centuries AD — to which Fell attributes these wall carvings. The same incriminating anachronism is identified by Professor Proiseas Ni Chathain, of the Department of Early Irish at University College, Dublin. ‘At its simplest it is impossible to equate proto-Irish forms and primitive Irish with late medieval and modern Gaelic as (Fell) does. In some cases there would be a gap of sixteen hundred years and changes in the language are traceable and have been well documented throughout this period. Dr. Fell is apparently quite unaware of this and no trace of it appears in his published work’” (op. cit.). On the other hand, there have been Celtic linguist scholars who have agreed with Fell’s basic identification of the ancient Irish language written in Ogham script (see the strongly affirmative testimony of the late Dr. Robert T. Meyer, professor of Celtic Studies at the Catholic University of America, in Pyle, 1998, p. 70 [1991, p. 63]).

If one is still interested, one can check out the various side panel inscriptions at Horse Creek, with Fell’s interpretation of them. One such untranslated inscription, which Fell does not divulge, features two lines of text in the upper line of which occurs the figures seen adjacent. Fell calls this “the well-known symbol, I H C +, used by the Western Church as a monogram of the name of Jesus. The letters are the first three Greek letters, IES, in the name ‘Iesos’ (Jesus)” (Fell, 1983, p. 14). Unfortunately the carving is not pictured to check the context and accuracy of the drawing.

The other side inscriptions Fell does provide. First there are the two images on the left edge of the main panel separated by gaps (shown adjacent). The top one — if Ogham, truly a jumble of letters — Fell somehow separates, creatively inferring the stem lines, to read, “The right hand of God is a shield — a prayer” (p. 15; includes decipherment diagram). The bottom one Fell claims not to be in Irish but in Libyan, meaning as well, “The right hand of God.” Conveniently, “This is a fine example of what epigraphers best like to find, bilingual texts that say the same thing in two languages, the one confirming the other” (ibid.).

How Libyan? In Fell’s “America” books (see bibliography) he expounds his theory, mostly through decoding ancient inscriptions, that prehistoric transatlantic contacts took place between America and various peoples from the Old World, including Ireland and North Africa. In Saga America, moreover, p. 347 (so he writes in his 1983 article), he avers that the Christian Dextera Dei, or Right Hand of God, symbol is found inscribed at various American sites. He gives an Old World example of such a symbol, taken from a 10th-century carving on the cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice, Ireland (shown adjacent).

He compares this symbol both to the top carving (drawn, above) as well as to the glyph right next to it, adjacent to the main Horse Creek panel, shown here also (photographed, below). This second alleged hand rebus (which if so, looks more like a left hand than a right hand) Fell unfathomably decodes as eighteen overlapping, superimposed Ogham letters that spell out, when organized properly, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit, One God” (ibid., p. 16).

Since 1983, whenever proponents of early Celtic Christian presence in America have made their case, they normally avoid mention of Fell’s interpretation of the Horse Creek petroglyph.

Edo Nyland’s translation of the Horse Creek petroglyph:

Nyland, 1996. He writes, “It was not until a full year after having translated the inscription [as a story about a bison hunt] that I noticed the entire petroglyph was also arranged in the shape of a bison, complete with the characteristic hump formed by the top line, with the eyes and mouth outlined by smaller characters, all artistically arranged.”

Nyland’s alternate explanations for the supposedly Greek letters:

“The symbol which Dr. Fell interprets as the Greek letter ‘omega’ is probably a sketch of the ground plan of the wooden fence, while his ‘alpha’ character may illustrate the A-frame type of construction used to build the bison fence” (ibid.).

“A Gnostic Christian monk…”:

Ibid. To my ears, Nyland’s description of a seventh-century “Gnostic Christian monk” and what he would write about just doesn’t ring true, though the buffalo rebus does seem plausible.

Dating of the Luther Elkins site:

Pyle, 1983, p. 4.

The Ogham alphabet:

Fell, 1983, p. 12. Robert Pyle provides a very different Ogham alphabet in his book All That Remains (p. 70). There the alphabet is given as part of an extract on the script provided courtesy of National Parks and Monuments Branch, Ely Place Upper, Dublin, Ireland.

Virtually no vowels:

Thrice on the Luther Elkins petroglyph Fell sees the Ogham letter IA, or EA, which is an X across the stem line. This letter, the letter A (a small notch on the stem line), and the Ogham letter OI, or UI, a U-shaped figure on the stem line, are found by Fell in the Horse Creek petroglyph.

Rebuttal of the existence of a Consaine Ogham:

Skeptics Oppenheimer and Wirtz accuse Fell of contriving the existence of a Consaine Ogham for the sake of convenience in finding a predetermined message (Oppenheimer and Wirtz, 1989). Their colleague W. Hunter Lesser merely fires back at Fell, “Dr. Fell interprets his ‘Ogam’ without vowels.... Yet Ogam did have vowels” (Lesser, 1989).

Rebuttal that the Old Irish language can be written in a script without vowels:

Again Oppenheimer and Wirtz claim, “The Irish language has been authoritatively identified as not of a nature consistent with the use of a consaine alphabet” (Oppenheimer and Wirtz, 1989). They cite personal communication with, again, Dr. John Carey of Harvard, as well as the 1978 statement made by the Smithsonian Institution’s William H. Fitzhugh and Ives Goddard in regard to Fell’s heavily criticized book America B.C.

The Book of Ballymote and the Ogham script:

The Irish Book of Ballymote, referred to by Fell as the Ogam Tract, was anonymously compiled circa 1391. It documents, according to Fell, “some 94 varieties of Ogam and other alphabets known to the scribe, but the writer indicates that he knew of some 150 varieties of ancient Irish alphabets” (Fell, 1983, p. 12).

Fell continues: “The [Ballymote] scribe relates the mythical account of the origin of Ogam. He tells us that the first Ogam message ever written was the work of a magician named Ogmios, and that it was a warning sent to Lug informing him of a plot to abduct his wife. On line 11 of folio page 309 of the Ogam Tract, the scribe reproduces the supposed warning message sent to Lug (detail shown below, left). It consists of the Ogam letters ‘S–N’ (close-up shown below, right) ... the consonants of the Old Irish word ‘siona’ meaning ‘warning’” (ibid., p. 13). Fell interprets this to be a reference to an older form of Consaine Ogham.

Ancient tomb inscription found in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland:

According to Fell, the idea that a consonantal form of Ogham existed among ancient Celts was first put forward by an 18th-century Irish poet Eoghan Ruadh Ua Suilleabhain (1748–1784). Fell says, “He did so in drawing attention to old, undeciphered, rock-cut inscriptions in Ireland, whose meaning remained a mystery (Figure D [provided, below]); for scholars of the day, unable to deal with a written script from which the vowels were omitted, could make no sense of the markings. The ancient Ogam Consaine inscriptions of Ireland are found mainly in that country’s northern section, and there are others of similar type in parts of Scotland. An example is the line of Ogam slashes visible on the capstone of the Bronze Age cromlech (grave monument) at Castlederg, in County Tyrone. In southern Ireland, especially Counties Cork and Kerry, the Ogam inscriptions are fully provided with the vowel points, and these have therefore been deciphered long since. The West Virginian Ogam inscriptions seem to have an affinity with those of northern Ireland” (ibid., p. 14).

In the video Brendan the Navigator: Footsteps in America, moreover, the linguist Dr. William Grant of Edinburgh University (who studied under Robert T. Meyer at CUA) shows an example of Consaine Ogham written in stone at the burial mound in Dowth, Ireland. The same site also features a sunburst symbol petroglyph much resembling the one at the Luther Elkins site.

Something should be said about this video. Created by Mike Baker, Jr., producer, director, and writer, it was produced by PBS and aired on some NBC affiliates in the States. Robert Pyle is listed among the associate producers. A lot of valuable research went into the video, comparing archaeological evidence in Ireland and America, but overall it is of limited value because of some misinformation, some wild speculations, some irresponsible claims to certainty (where none exists), and some deceptive use of fictional elements.

Alternate Ogham letter chart:

Fell, 1983, p. 12.

Book of Ballymote images:

The top chart is from ibid., p. 13. The boxed lines are from Ida Jane Gallagher, 2004, p. 120, where she provides the same chart as Fell’s along with another chart of tracings. Actually, this second chart appears to have tracings on it from another manuscript as well, but the two lines that I’ve provided here from Gallagher seem from the context also to be from the Book of Ballymote.

Apparently, where the Book of Ballymote is kept at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, the charge for viewing a single page is some $100 (Pyle, 2002). Perhaps this accounts for why these sheets of tracings are used (and reused) as examples from the ancient codex.

Stacking super- and sub-stem-line Ogham letters:

The words “Savior” and “Lord” (before the Chi-Rho symbol for Christ) Fell extracts from the Ogham letters S, L, and D, which he takes to be not Old Irish but an abbreviation for the Latin Salvatoris Domini. As can be seen above in Fell’s explanation of his translation (see page 59), the sub-stem-line letters S and L are found underneath the last three letters (comprised of super-stem-line strokes) of the previous word.

“When the Ogham strokes…”:

Fell, 1983, p. 15.

On Fell’s decipherment of the sunburst symbol:

Similar analysis, with perhaps more ridicule, is found in Oppenheimer and Wirtz, 1989.

Gallagher’s communication with Fell:

Gallagher, 1983, pp. 7–8; and Fell, 1983, p. 16. That Gallagher told Fell of the petroglyph’s orientation toward the winter solstice sunrise is not explicit in the literature and can only be inferred. She describes realizing the orientation and its possible importance in one paragraph, and then contacting Fell in the next. Surely she would have supplied her linguist in San Diego with whatever information from the West Virginian site that might have been useful in decipherment. It is not unthinkable that whoever carved the message would expect its interpreter to use this information. Critics Oppenheimer and Wirtz, however, working backward from what they call “the most tortured of all [Fell’s] manipulations of the [petroglyph]” (op. cit.) — that is, finding the words “am eriggren” (“time of sunrise”) in the so-called sun symbol — suggest this communication corrupted the objectivity of the translator.

The value of Fell’s work, and the diffusionist controversy:

For the past 40 years or so, there have been some students of history, both professional and amateur, working in all manner of disciplines, who have challenged the notion that all pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas reached the continent from a single place, the Bering Strait, during a relatively narrow window of history. Much evidence for post–Ice Age, transpacific and transatlantic voyages has been raised and argued. Those who bring forward such theories are called diffusionists, after their view of the ancient world’s population, while those who oppose these theories are variously called isolationists or inventionists, after their view of the ancient American population and their capacity for independent invention. Main fronts of battle include epigraphy, anthropology, archaeology (involving such fields as astronomy and chemistry), comparative linguistics, botany, and biology.

The diffusionist challenge has incited a remarkable, often bloody intellectual war that taps into the pattern of changing times and philosophies between the modernist era and the post-modern. Isolationists, inheriting the incumbent modern view, are typified by professed adherence to the scientific method; insistence on radical skepticism, repeatable experiments, and quantifiable evidence, all of which can yield absolute certainty of knowledge; and allegiance to an established academic elite that can insure the quality of knowledge. Diffusionism, on the other hand, attracts the post-modernist mindset. Diffusionists typically are more willing to consider the probable but not quantitatively certifiable; to use the imagination to figure what is possible; to have a more subjective view of knowledge; to relax a stringently defined quality of knowledge for the sake of comprehensiveness of knowledge or, better, of quantity of opportunities for knowledge; and to be more inclusive and populist in participation. This is a polarized treatment of philosophical bents elements of which can often enough be found on opposing sides and that are quite independent of the historical facts or the evidence for them. Parallel battles can be seen in the field of medicine between allopathy and homeopathy, or in science between evolutionism and creationism.

Barry Fell (d. 1994), an innovator in the diffusionist field, belongs to a more radical camp, which only means that his work is generally accepted to be flawed. Mainstream diffusionists have been quick to point out his shortcomings, if willing to consider his arguments. One such scholar is George F. Carter, professor emeritus of geography at Texas A&M, who says of the field of epigraphy, “The writing about inscriptions had lain unstudied for at least a century, though recorded, usually unwittingly. Barry Fell’s work in this last quarter of a century has totally upset the picture. The reaction to such findings as alphabetical writing all over the Americas has been greeted with more heat than light. Fell’s style of work often was not along the lines of the classic epigraphers and linguists, and this has become the focus of the attack. Within the epigraphic group, balanced, critical work has appeared, and the epigraphic base is steadily being firmed up. Fell was seldom wrong on his identification of alphabets, and he usually found the appropriate language. The next step, getting the meaning, is more difficult. At times, it is obvious that Fell strained at meaning and pressed his material too far” (“Introduction: The Diffusion Controversy,” Across Before Columbus?, pp. 2–3).

As mentioned, others in the field of epigraphy have followed Fell with attempts to correct his approach. One prominent member of the diffusionist pack, Stephen C. Jett, endorses the epigraphic work of certain linguists who “have continued to advance studies pioneered by Cyrus Gordon and, if in a flawed manner, by Barry Fell” (Jett, 2002, p. 4). One such endorsed linguist, also a leader in the field, David H. Kelley, believes, “There were some very important defects in Fell’s knowledge and understanding of comparative linguistics and in his ‘any clue will do’ approach to translation. Such an attitude, which slides over inconsistencies and difficulties, is valuable in preliminary decipherment, but becomes increasingly a handicap in later stages of work. Until the importance of the work is recognized, however, these defects will not be corrected” (“The Identification of the Proto-Tifinagh Script at Peterborough, Ontario,” Across Before Columbus?, p. 172).

Kelley, like Carter above but with a specialist’s opinion, has confidence in Fell’s ability to identify scripts and languages, but says, “In preliminary decipherments, I think that one is doing well to be correct one time in ten” (ibid., p. 171). By that logic, even if one assents to Fell’s identification of Ogham script in West Virginia, and moreover of the Old Irish language used with that script, one could only hope for ten-percent accuracy at best in his translation.

In the past ten busy years of diffusionist activity, little attention has been given to the petroglyph sites in West Virginia. Pyle and Gallagher continue to beat their drums, but are not of much stature in the community. A few linguists have attempted translations (see Pyle, 1998, pp. 84–85; and Nyland, op. cit.), but without any conclusions. In the fairly thorough landmark diffusionist anthology Across Before Columbus? (1998), documenting the landmark diffusionist America Before Columbus (ABC) Conference sponsored in 1992 by the New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA, of which Ida Jane Gallagher is a member), there is quite tellingly no mention at all of the West Virginia petroglyphs.

The decision to publish:

Robert Pyle, only seven years after the infamous 1983 magazine issue in which he himself played a prominent role, would look back at it and write: “If the argument that followed had been foreseen by the conservative state magazine publishers, and if more research had been done on the linguist, who was commonly involved in controversy, it is almost certain that the petroglyph issue would not have been published” (Pyle, 1991, p. 59; 1998, p. 66). Nonetheless, Pyle would argue, good fortune has come from the publication of the articles, if only that it has called attention to the petroglyphs. He contends, “People who understood how truly controversial the subject was appreciated the magazine for daring to publish such hot material. In the mountain of mail that the editor received, there were only a couple of objections — raised by scientists who said it was irresponsible to publish such information because it was misleading. The overwhelming majority of respondents, however, were excited to see something so thought-provoking published — and they realized the tentative nature of it” (ibid.). Nevertheless, one must admit, the vitriolic abhorrence — Lesser opens his 1989 article with an epigraph from 17th-century English satirist Thomas Brown, “But this alone I know full well, I do not love thee, Dr. Fell” — engendered by the more careless aspects of the publication have severely damaged the efforts to learn the truth about the petroglyphs.


The icon:

This icon of St. Brendan the Voyager, though a fine icon, features the Navigator with a Roman-style tonsure (ritual haircut), which is a distracting historical error. The early Celtic tonsure that St. Brendan would have had includes shaving the bangs in the front along with the spot on top. Those in the British Isles abreast with the churches of Canterbury and Rome maligned this Celtic type of tonsure for its association, albeit unintentional, with the wicked Simon Magus from the Book of Acts. Yet many Celtic monks stubbornly stuck to it because it was the tradition of their saints. In later centuries it was dropped and the Roman tonsure, associated with the Apostle Peter, adopted.

St. Cormac of the Sea:

Adomnan, op. cit., pp. 118, 196–98, 219; see also the notes on pp. 266, 280–81, 341–42.

“Beyond the range of human exploration”:

Ibid., p. 197: “His ship had been driven for fourteen summer days and nights, so that a straight course brought them to an area under the most northerly skies. They reckoned that they had passed beyond the range of human exploration, and had reached a place from which they might not be able to return.”

“A column in the sea…”:

Marsden’s paraphrase, op. cit., p. 179; cf. “Voyage of Brendan,” p. 180.

“The medieval equipment…”:

Severin, op. cit., p. 234.

Icons of St. Brendan:

These icons, acquired from the web, feature no tonsure inaccuracies. The bottom icon is Dutch; a nice, full-color reproduction of it (with the Dutch digitally replaced with English) was printed on the back cover of the Saint Herman Calendar 2003 (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood), dedicated to the saints of Ireland.

On St. Ailbe:

Marsden, op. cit., pp. 181–82. For the twelfth-century Life of St. Ailbe, see Saint Patrick’s World, pp. 227–43.

Litany of Pilgrim Saints:

Marsden, op. cit., pp. 182–83.

A consensus of medieval literature on Celts in Iceland before the Norse:

Just one example: “Writing of the Norse settlement of Iceland in the ninth century, the medieval Icelandic writer Ari says: ‘There lived there Christians whom the Norsemen called papa, but then they departed because they wished not to live with heathens, and they left behind Irish books and bells and crosiers, from which one could know that they were Irishmen’” (note by Richard Sharpe; Adomnan, op. cit., p. 281).

Council of Whitby, lead-up and fallout:

See Bede, Ecclesiastical History.


All quotations: Marsden, op. cit., pp. 185–87.


Two people already at the site:

The older man was Earl Hill, a Virginia resident and major benefactor of Robert Pyle’s work with the petroglyph sites. He was with his niece from North Carolina, Tracy Hill — who later that winter would very generously mail me a photocopy of the hard-to-come-by 1983 Wonderful West Virginia articles.

Location of the Luther Elkins petroglyph:

Here is a shot of the view from the petroglyph to the southeast. In the foreground lies the railroad tracks; in the middle ground a water treatment center; and in the background the mountain on the right side of the peak of which the sun rises on the shortest days of the year.

Picture of the morning sun:

It was well after sunrise before I thought to document with a photograph the singular puff of smoke blocking the sun. By that time, the puff had grown into something more resembling a cloud, as seen here. But at the time of sunrise this cloud was of much slighter constitution. Thankfully for posterity’s sake, it stuck to the sun long enough for me to realize I should shoot it.


His neighbor’s trailer:

The view from the Cook site petroglyph:

Two translations of the Cook site petroglyph:

Both are presented, with visual explanations, in the second edition of Robert Pyle’s All That Remains, pp. 84–85. Featured with them is a picture of the two translators, John Grant and Dr. Arnold Murray, with Pyle at the site. While attending the Catholic University of America, John Grant studied under Dr. Robert T. Meyer, professor of Celtic studies, teacher of Old Irish, and one of the more credentialed scholars to endorse the identification of Ogham in West Virginia (see ibid., p. 70).

Photo of Lowell Cook and petroglyph:

Ibid., p. 83.

More photos of the Cook site petroglyph:

From Larry Mulligan, 2002. The first image below is a close-up of the alleged boat rebus with faded chalk. Next to is an artistic but illegible shot of the whole petroglyph.

Mulligan also features photographs of the important Dingess petroglyph, in Mingo County, West Virginia, done in the same style as the rest but on a three-dimensional surface. For this petroglyph and its excavation, see Pyle, 1998, pp. 77–80 (1991, pp. 70–72, with different pictures).

Place of burial at Cook site:

And here is a shot of the rock ledge from across the road. The place of burial is in the center of the picture, away from which my muddy footprints lead (compare with the cover photo). The site of the petroglyph is visible on the left side, about ten yards away from the burial.

Human remains at the Luther Elkins site:

Robert Pyle writes, “Reputedly, there was digging at the site in the past, and a skeleton was removed. It is too late to study the bones for clues such as national origin, because they have apparently disappeared. Besides, the person could have been buried at any time and it wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to the carving” (Pyle, 1998, p. 68).

“A tomb at Fourknocks…”:

Pyle, 1998, p. 86. The boat rebus petroglyph at Fourknocks, Ireland — it is not actually a rebus, but a simple line drawing — is shown in the video Brendan the Navigator: Footsteps in America by Mike Baker (with Pyle listed as an associate producer). It only possibly, and by no means certainly, resembles the alleged boat rebuses of West Virginia. The latter are shown in ibid., pp. 82–83.

Russian Orthodox monks spotted in West Virginia:

The locals in Cyclone did not know what Russian Orthodox monks were, but in October 2001, they sure knew they looked like Muslim terrorists. The authorities were duly notified, and Lowell Cook told us amusing stories of the police investigations (plural) that transpired later that day, after the monks had already left. Thankfully, no one was arrested.


St. Peter the Aleut:

For the important two-page historical document of the report on St. Peter’s martyrdom made by Simeon Yanovsky and sent to St. Petersburg, see Abbot Herman, “Schemamonk Sergius Yanovsky,” pp. 45–46, 48. Abbot Herman finds this report in To Siberia and Russian America, Volume III: The Russian-American Colonies: A Documentary Record 1798–1867, trans. by Basil Dmytryshyn, E. A. P. Crowhart-Vaughan, and Thomas Vaughan (Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1989), pp. 332–34.

Simeon Yanovsky (1789–1876) was a freethinking upper-class Russian in Alaska whom St. Herman gradually converted to Christ through human acquaintance and humble conversation. Late in life Simeon Yanovsky became Schemamonk Sergius at St. Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery in Russia, where Abbot Damascene of Valaam appealed to him as a main source for the written Life of St. Herman. Yanovsky himself was the one who informed St. Herman of the Aleut’s martyrdom and who witnessed the saint’s response. That story is recorded in the 1868 Valaam Life of Herman, for which see Little Russian Philokalia, pp. 33–34. It is also incorporated into Abbot Herman, op. cit., pp. 44–45.

Ironically the name of the Catholic mission at which St. Peter was slain was San Pedro.

On Protestants in Alaska:

See Oleksa, Orthodox Alaska, pp. 171–86.

Protestant arrogance toward “total depravity” of Alaskans:

Methodists, though not subscribing to Calvinism, behaved no better than the others on the Alaskan scene. See ibid., pp. 173–77, which includes an account of a most illumining correspondence between an Orthodox priest and the matron of a Methodist mission in Unalaska.


Alaskan saints/Unrecognized white martyrs in the West:

The world sees Asia as the East and Europe as the West, but from the perspective of America (truly, the reverse side of the planet), Asia is to the West and Europe is to the East. So the Russian saints came to America eastward from the East, whereas Celtic saints potentially came to America westward from the West. This paradox of the arrival of Christianity in America seems to my mind somehow to be an appropriate reflection of the paradox of the very Incarnation itself, God becoming man on the obverse side of the planet.


The Voyager:

I’ve often wondered if I wrapped the bottom of my car with oak-tanned ox-hides soaked in wool grease whether it would float.


Opposition to the 1983 articles:

See the rebuttal section of the bibliography. These articles are essential reading for anyone studying the issue.

Roger Wise:

Wise is the vice-president of the Council for West Virginia Archeology.

“What would make…”:

Wise, “Observations of 2002 Winter Solstice.”


Fell: 1983, passim.

Gallagher: 1983, p. 9.

McCormack: Op. cit.

Pyle: All That Remains, 1st ed., p. 61; 2nd ed., p. 68.

Robert Pyle, like Gallagher and Wise, offers eyewitness testimony, having himself witnessed the Luther Elkins petroglyph at sunrise on the winter solstice. In September 2002, at Holy Cross Hermitage, Pyle reasserted that this petroglyph is aligned to the winter solstice, declaring that on that morning a shadow forms on the left side of the panel, next to the “area” of the sunburst symbol, “in alignment with all of the marks,” and that it “moves very rapidly across the entire face of this petroglyph” (Lecture).

Mulligan: Op. cit.

Wise: “Observations of 2002 Winter Solstice.”

The skeptics presume certain knowledge:

On the website of the Council for West Virginia Archeology, the link to Wise’s article is labeled: “Images of the 2002 winter solstice sunrise clearly show there is no solar alignment at the Luther Elkins petroglyph” (<>).

“Is Dr. Fell's translation validated…”:

W. Hunter Lesser, 1983.

Sigfus Olafson:

My Uncle Billy from West Virginia (my mother’s brother-in-law) first led me to the articles on the Council for West Virginia Archeology website. When he did he wrote me an email in which he also told me, “Sigfus Olafson was a friend of mine. I came to know him back in the 1980s when I was working on my family history. His family moved from Iceland to Minnesota when he was young or maybe right before he was born. Sigfus moved to Boone County, WV in the 1930s or ’40s. He worked as a law clerk and searched thousands of deeds as part of his work. In the process he developed a consuming interest in the local history of Boone County and the surrounding region. Experts at the WV state archives sent me to Sigfus when I showed up there looking for information on my Boone County roots. I quickly learned that his interests were both broad and deep but did not know until I read Hunter Lesser’s article (1983) that he was the first to publish on the Horse Creek (1950) and other WV petroglyphs. Sigfus was still very sharp and obviously still deeply interested in Horse Creek petroglyph developments right up until his time of death in the mid-1980s.”

For Olafson’s articles on the petroglyphs, see the bibliography.


DNA and radiocarbon-dating results:

Posted on Pyle’s website, “Precolumbian European (710 AD) Confirmed at W. Va. Ogam Site.”


Repentance, watchfulness, and prayer:

Three of the foremost and loftiest Gospel commandments of which it is the special role of the monk to fulfill — the one thing needful, to put aside earthly cares and sit at the feet of Christ.

“God’s service…”:

Severin, The Brendan Voyage, p. 234.


In the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail:

Steelhammer, op. cit.


Pyle, “Precolumbian European.”

Pyle’s credentials:

See his online resume listed in the bibliography. He has an honorary degree from Alderson-Broaddus College.

“To be examined…”:

Maslowski, quoted in Steelhammer.

“That’s science”:

Pyle, quoted in ibid.


“Had demonstrated that the voyage…”:

Severin, The Brendan Voyage, pp. 227–28.

A rock scratched with an early Irish inscription:

Writing in 1978, Severin is probably making reference to Barry Fell’s controversial 1976 work America B.C., in which is claimed the existence of pre-Christian Celtic presence in America. Severin could not be referring to the West Virginia petroglyphs, which indeed would be more to the time frame of his interests, but which only first received attention in 1983.

An Irish beehive hut in America:

There are two good candidates in New England. First there is an underground stone chamber in Upton, Massachusetts, studied most prominently by archaeoastronomers and diffusionist scholars James W. Mavor, Jr., and Byron E. Dix. See “Earth, Stones, and Sky,” pp. 59–62.

The chamber, they say, reporting on their own studies, “appears to have both Native American and European origins.... It is built into a hillside and is circular, with a corbelled dome and a long tortuous passage which is aligned to the summer solstice sunset. This passage was the impetus for a series of measurements which went on for years. The array of stone mounds and stone rows on Pratt Hill, one and half km. to the northwest, led us to develop an elaborate astronomical scenario for the chamber as an observation place or shrine. It also led to a date of AD 720 ± 25 based on the change of setting position of several stars, due to procession” (“Earth, Stones, and Sky,” p. 59).

Mavor and Dix continue, “The Upton chamber structure is of particular interest because of the way in which the weight of the dome is transferred to the passageway. Usually this is done with a massive lintel stone, thick enough to take the bending load. Here, there is a gradual transition from the corbelled arch of the passage roof into the corbelled dome of the chamber, which does not require a lintel stone. There is a chamber with corbelled dome in East Thompson, Connecticut, but to our knowledge, the Upton corbelled passage is unique in New England. The sophistication of the design and unquestionable, specific similarity to European chamber tombs incline us to the belief that it was the product of experienced and ancient builders (Mavor and Dix 1989). Not only is New Grange in Ireland built in this way but so are some early Christian monastic buildings in County Kerry. Chamber tombs on the Iberic peninsula are found with this same design as well.... On the other hand, aspects of the chamber and structures nearby have similarities to many Native American structures” (“Earth, Stones, and Sky,” pp. 59–60).

“Because of the unique structure and the astronomical date,” the scholars posit, “we are open to the suggestion that the Upton chamber could have been built under the influence of Irish monks in the 8th century. If that were true, the monks or other Europeans who would have been here at that date and left remains of this prominence certainly would have had genial relations with the Native Americans and exchanged traits both ways (Mavor and Dix 1989; Dix and Mavor 1980). The astronomical orientations would have been consistent with Irish participation. At least eight oratories of early Christian Ireland are aligned to solar or stellar events (Mavor 1985). Also, navigation and astronomical knowledge always go hand in hand. St. Brendan set out ‘towards the summer solstice,’ on his voyage to the island of the paradise of saints in the 6th century AD” (“Earth, Stones, and Sky,” p. 60).

The second good candidate for an ancient Irish stone hut in New England is the so-called Chamber One at the Gungywamp Complex in Groton, Connecticut. The Gungywamp is a preserved archaeological site 55 acres in size that in the past has seen different residents from prehistoric to colonial times (thus making difficult the dating of anything found there).

Chamber One (there are at least four stone chambers on site) is a semi-subterranean rectangular stone hut. It features at the top of the back wall an angled window shaft that on the equinox sunset allows a beam of light to shine through and indicate a small underground beehive mini-chamber the opening of which rests on the bottom of the wall to the right of the main entrance. From the front of Chamber One, moreover, the winter solstice sunrise comes through the entrance and likewise indicates the location on the side wall of this small secret chamber. This bizarre mini-chamber is of unknown use or purpose; it is big enough perhaps for someone to crawl into. Apparently, there are a few examples similar to it in stone dwellings in Ireland; one is shown in the video Brendan the Navigator: Footsteps in America, a small chamber no bigger than a crawlspace, of unknown purpose, built at the bottom of an interior wall.

Other sunrise alignments are associated with the entrance to Chamber One. The equinox sunrise, in fall and spring, comes through the doorway and marks the back left-hand corner. Reciprocally, the back right-hand corner is marked by the sunrises on the midpoints between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice on one hand, and the winter solstice and the vernal equinox on the other (those November and February midpoints being the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc, respectively).

One can read about Chamber One and the Gungywamp complex in the works of David P. Barron in the bibliography, or on the Gungywamp Society webpage, <>.

There are petroglyphs at Gungywamp that have been alleged to be Chi-Rhos. There is nothing like Ogham anywhere, just these isolated symbols that might be interpreted as Chi-Rhos, but not for certain. They just as well could have been symbols used by a colonial settler to brand his property. It has been a popular controversy among the Society there. One can research the issue in the sources just mentioned and should be sure to review the critical literature on the website.

“We can’t say…”:

Pyle, All That Remains, 1st ed., p. 62; 2nd ed., p. 69.

One possibly indicative artifact found at the Cook site:

At the Cook site petroglyph, the above bone object — carved, polished, and etched upon (the image: Pyle, 1998, p. 82; shown here very close to scale) — was discovered one meter below the surface in 1997. From Pyle’s website it is shown that this object was studied by Thomas Stafford at Stafford Research Laboratories. The bone itself was determined to be very old, from circa 2300 BC. The etchings on the bone, however, depicted above as determined with microscopic scrutiny, date to around the fifth or sixth century AD. Pyle diagnoses the etchings as Ogham script. He postulates the object could have been used as a pendant or a needle, though he admits, “Most bone needles are round, straight, and a minimum of six inches long, with a groove around the thick end instead of a drilled eye, although some needles have been found having an eye” (1998, p. 82). In the 1998 source Pyle says the eye is drilled, but in his 2002 lecture he says specifically that the eye was not drilled, but carved. He considers the artifact “to be among the most important in North America because of its symbols in relation to the West Virginia petroglyphs” (1998, p. 82).

Other Items of Interest

Pyle’s 2000 research trip to Ireland:

The video Brendan the Navigator was made during Pyle’s first visit to Ireland in 1997. He has since made one more trip. His website reads: “In 2000 Dr. William Grant [of Edinburgh University, Scotland] invited Pyle to participate in a research team that examined the first known Irish Ogam petroglyph panel [that is, the first such panel known to exist in Ireland], located in the remote and rugged mountains of southern Ireland [County Kerry]. Ogam has commonly been found on corner edges of tombstones, not on rock formations. The unique Irish petroglyph panel turned out to be larger and more complex, yet the markings were virtually identical [a subjective statement] to the West Virginia and Kentucky petroglyphs.

“The expedition was mounted by Dr. William Grant and led by Stephen O’Shea. Michael Baker, a film producer, and crew documented the entire expedition. Five hours of strenuous climbing led to the petroglyph location in a ‘wedge tomb’ where Pyle immediately recognized the similarities between Irish and American petroglyphs. The panel is 8 feet high and 20 feet long, and the markings are textbook examples of the alphabet known as Ogam. Significant features include: (1) the Irish Ogam is identical in form to that found in West Virginia and Manchester, Kentucky; (2) it is identical in form to that found in the Book of Balleymote, which is located in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin; (3) the same types of symbol are identified on artifacts and cliff carvings” (Robert Pyle, “Ogam Petroglyphs in Ireland and West Virginia”).

Detail images from the Ogham petroglyph panel identified in County Kerry (from ibid.):

St. Brendan in the Promised Land:

“As they left the boat, they saw open land stretching out before them covered with trees laden with autumnal fruit. They walked all around the island, but night did not fall. They ate as much fruit as they wished and drank from the springs, and so for forty days they wandered across the whole land, without ever coming to the farther shore. One day they came upon an immense river which flowed through the middle of the island. Then St. Brendan said to his brothers: ‘We cannot cross this river, and we do not know the size of this land.’ But while he was reflecting upon this, a young man came toward them and greeted them joyfully with a kiss. He called each one by name and said: ‘Blessed are they that dwell in your house, O Lord. They shall praise you forever and ever’ (Ps. 83:5).

“Then he said to St. Brendan: ‘This is the land which you have sought for so long. You were not able to find it immediately because God wished to show you his many wonders in the great ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, taking with you fruit from this land and as many gems as your boat can carry. The day of your final journey is approaching, when you shall sleep with your fathers. After the passage of many years, this land will be revealed to your successors when Christians will be suffering persecution. This river which you see divides the island into two halves, and you can see nothing but ripened fruit, which is how it remains all the year round, with no shadow of night, for Christ himself is our light’” (“The Voyage of Brendan” or Navigatio Sancti Brendani, pp. 189–90).


Seminal articles from Wonderful West Virginia, 47 (1), March 1983:

Hyde, Arnout, Jr. “Wyoming and Boone County Petroglyphs Translated by Ancient Language Expert.” Brief introduction.

Pyle, Robert L. “Part 1: A Message from the Past.” Online at <>.

Gallagher, Ida Jane. “Part 2: Light Dawns on West Virginia History.” Online at <>.

Fell, Barry. “Part 3: Christian Messages in Old Irish Script Deciphered from Rock Carvings in W. Va.” Online at <>.

Other items by these authors:

Pyle, Robert L. All That Remains: A West Virginia Archaeologist’s Discoveries. Second edition (containing important additions). Ed. by Betty Lemley Wiley. Morgantown, W. Va.: Archaeological Archives, Inc., 1998. (First edition: 1991).

—————. Lecture on archaeological evidence of early Irish presence in West Virginia. At Holy Cross Hermitage in Wayne, West Virginia. September 28, 2002. Personally recorded by the bibliographer.

—————. “Ogam Petroglyphs in Ireland and West Virginia.” 2002. Online at <>.

—————. “Precolumbian European (710 AD) Confirmed at W. Va. Ogam Site.” 2002. Online at <>.

—————. Resume. Online at <>.

Gallagher, Ida Jane and Warren W. Dexter. Contact with Ancient America. Mount Pleasant, S. C.: Sovereign Terrace Books, 2004.

Fell, Barry. America B.C. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1976.

—————. Saga America. New York: Times Books, 1980.

—————. Bronze Age America. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1982.

—————. The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications. Various articles.

Rebuttal articles on the website of the Council for West Virginia Archeology:

Index of articles, with introduction: <>.

Brashler, Janet G. “An Application of the Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses to Two West Virginia Petroglyph Sites.” The West Virginia Archeologist. Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 1989. Merely listed, not included on the website.

Lesser, W. Hunter. “Cult Archaeology Strikes Again: A Case for Pre-Columbian Irishmen in the Mountain State?” The West Virginia Archeologist. Volume 35, Number 2, 1983. Online at <>.

—————. “How Science Works — And How It Doesn’t.” The West Virginia Archeologist. Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 1989. Online at <>.

Nyland, Edo. “The Horse Creek Petroglyph of West Virginia.” 1996. Online at <>. Link featured on

Oppenheimer, Monroe and Willard Wirtz. “A Linguistic Analysis of Some West Virginia Petroglyphs.” The West Virginia Archeologist. Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 1989. Online at <>.

Wise, Roger B. “A Disagreement Translating the Horse Creek Petroglyph.” Council for West Virginia Archeology, 2003. Online at <>.

—————. “Observations of 2002 Winter Solstice at Luther Elkins Petroglyph (46 Wm 3).” Outline of a paper in preparation for The West Virginia Archeologist. Council for West Virginia Archeology, 2003. Online at <>.

Articles of Sigfus Olafson:

“Rock Carvings in Boone County.” The West Virginia Archeologist. 2:7–11, 1950.

“Petroglyphs in Cabell County, West Virginia.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Archeological Society, October 13, 1951, Moundsville, W. Va.

“Petroglyphs on the Guyandot River.” The West Virginia Archeologist. 5:1–10, 1952, Moundsville, W. Va.

“Petroglyphs on the Guyandot River in West Virginia (abstract).” Eastern States Archeological Federation Bulletin. 12:6, 1953.

“Rock Carving Sites Described.” Letter to the Editor. Charleston Gazette. Charleston, West Virginia. March 3, 1983.

Announcement of DNA evidence:

Steelhammer, Rick. “Cave skeleton is European, 1,300 years old, man says.” Sunday Gazette-Mail. Charleston, West Virginia. September 29, 2002.


Morison, Samuel Eliot. The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, A.D. 500–1600. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Major anthologies of diffusionist studies:

Man across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts. Ed. by Carroll L. Riley, J. Charles Kelley, Campbell W. Pennington, and Robert L. Rands. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1971.

Across Before Columbus?: Evidence for Transoceanic Contact with the Americas prior to 1492. Ed. by Donald Y. Gilmore and Linda S. McElroy. Edgecomb, Maine: The New England Antiquities Research Association, NEARA Publications, 1998.

Other evidence for early Celtic presence in America:

Barron, David P. and Sharon Mason. The Greater Gungywamp. Fourth printing with revision. Noank, Conn.: The Gungywamp Society, Inc., 1998.

Barron, David P. “The Gungywamp Enigma: Serial Occupation of an Ancient New England Site.” Across Before Columbus?

Mavor, James W., Jr. and Byron E. Dix. “Earth, Stones, and Sky: Universality and Continuity in American Cosmology.” Across Before Columbus?

—————. Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, 1989.

—————. “Possible astronomical alignments, date and origin of the Pearson stone chamber.” Early Sites Research Society Bulletin. Volume 8, Number 1, 1980, pp. 3–16. [Pearson chamber = Upton chamber.]

Stonewatch. Newsletter of the Gungywamp Society. Various articles. Vol. 18–21 online at <>.

Other diffusionist studies:

Dexter, Warren W. Ogam Consaine and Tifinag Alphabets — Ancient Uses. Rutland, Vt.: Academy Books, 1984.

Early Sites Research Society Bulletin. Sutton, Mass.: Early Sites Research Society.

The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications. Ed. by Barry Fell. San Diego: The Epigraphic Society.

Jett, Stephen C. “Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts: The Present State of the Evidence.” Presented at the 2002 NEARA ABC Plus Ten conference in Waltham, Massachusetts. Found online through <>.

NEARA Journal. Worcester, Mass.: The New England Antiquities Research Association.

Pre-Columbiana, A Journal of Long Distance Contacts. Ed. by Stephen C. Jett. Independence, Missouri: Early Sites Research Society.

Sorenson, John L. and Martin H. Raish. Pre-Columbian Contacts with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography. Second edition. Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1996.

Brendan studies:

Chapman, Paul H. The Man Who Led Columbus to America. Atlanta: Judson Press, 1973.

—————. “The Brendan-Columbus Connection.” Across Before Columbus?

Severin, Tim. The Brendan Voyage. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.

“The Voyage of Brendan” (Navigatio Sancti Brendani). Celtic Spirituality. An anthology of ancient Irish and Welsh literature. Trans. by Oliver Davies with the collaboration of Thomas O’Loughlin. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

N. B. In Celtic Spirituality, Davies notes, “For a bibliography on the identification of Brendan’s Island with America, see [J. F. Kenney, The] Sources [for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical (Dublin, 1979)], p. 408, and J. J. O’Meara, The Voyage of St. Brendan: Journey to the Promised Land (Dublin, 1976), pp. xi–xv” (op. cit., p. 468).

Other Celtic studies:

Adomnan of Iona, St. Life of Columba. Trans. by Richard Sharpe. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

Bede the Venerable, St. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Trans. by Leo Sherley-Price, revised by R. E. Latham. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Celtic Spirituality. An anthology of ancient Irish and Welsh literature. Trans. by Oliver Davies with the collaboration of Thomas O’Loughlin. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

Marsden, John. Sea-Road of the Saints: Celtic Holy Men in the Hebrides. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1995.

Minahane, John. The Christian Druids: On the filid or philosopher-poets of Ireland. Dublin: Sanas Press, 1993.

Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Trans. and commentaries by Liam de Paor. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.

Orthodoxy in America:

Damascene, Hieromonk. Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003.

Garrett, Paul D. St. Innocent: Apostle to America. Crestwood, N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979.

Golder, F. A. Father Herman: Alaska’s Saint. Third Edition. Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2004.

Herman, Abbot. “Schemamonk Sergius Yanovsky: An Around-the-World Adventure into Sanctity.” The Orthodox Word. Vol. 26, Nos. 6–7 (150–151). January–April, 1990, pp. 4–109.

Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. III: St. Herman. Platina, Calif.: St. Herman’s Press, 1989.

Oleksa, Fr. Michael. Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission. Crestwood, N. Y.: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992.

Seraphim Rose, Fr. Letters from Father Seraphim: The twelve-year correspondence between Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) and Father Alexey Young. Ed. by Fr. Alexey Young. Richfield Springs, N. Y.: Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 2001.

Seraphim Rose, Fr., and Abbot Herman. Blessed John the Wonderworker: A Preliminary Account of the Life and Miracles of Archbishop John Maximovitch. Compiled and ed. by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998.

Orthodox response to petroglyphs:

“The Hermitage of the Holy Cross Celebrates Its Feastday: September 26th to September 29th, 2002.” Orthodox Life. September–October 2002. Volume 52, Number 5, pp. 13–15.

Young, Fr. Alexey. Lecture on ancient Celtic Christianity. At Holy Cross Hermitage in Wayne, West Virginia. September 28, 2002. Personally recorded by the bibliographer.

—————. “Were Orthodox Celtic Monks Here in America…?” Orthodox Life. January–February 2001. Volume 51, Number 1, pp. 33–36.


Brendan the Navigator: Footsteps in America. Video. Produced, directed, and written by Mike Baker, Jr. WNVT-TV, 1998.

McCormack, Mike. “America’s First Christmas Card.” From the Housetops. A Catholic Quarterly journal. Ed. by the Religious Brothers and Sisters of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Number 35, 1993, pp. 55–58. Article online at <>.

Mulligan, Larry. “Petroglyphs and a Human Burial in West Virginia: A Field Report.” The New England Antiquities Research Association, 2002. Online at <>.

© Michael Jones McCormick
Spring 2005