Ancient European Skeleton Recovered In West Virginia Cave
Cave Skeleton is European, 1,300 Years Old, Man Says
Sept. 29, 2002
MORGANTOWN - The man who first advanced the theory that markings carved on in a Wyoming County cave are actually characters from an ancient Irish alphabet has found human remains at the site, which tests indicate are European in origin and date back to A.D. 710, he maintains.
Robert Pyle of Morgantown says that a DNA analysis of material from the skeleton's teeth roots was conducted by Brigham Young University. That analysis, he says, shows that the skeleton's DNA, when compared to samples from Native American groups and an array of European sources, most closely matches samples from the British Isles.
Pyle says the DNA test, plus a radiocarbon test that dates the skeleton to 710, suggest the presence of a European visitor to the North American continent nearly 800 years before the arrival of Columbus, and nearly 300 years before Viking Leif Erickson.
Found near the skeleton was a bone needle etched with markings similar to those on the cave walls.
Pyle says his findings and the test results help validate his hypothesis that the markings at the Wyoming County site "were done by seafaring people, probably monks, probably from the British Isles."
"Based on the available data, that's doubtful," counters Robert Maslowski, president of the Council for West Virginia Archaeology, a state association of professional archaeologists with research interests in West Virginia.
Pyle's findings, Maslowski says, while "interesting," still need "to be examined by the professional community. We would welcome the opportunity to go over the evidence - to look at the skeletal material, the archaeological material, the radiocarbon data and the DNA data, then draw our own conclusions," he says.
Pyle, who performed archaeological surveys for the state Division of Highways in late 1970s and early 1980s, does not have a degree in archaeology. He says he is a federally certified archaeologist who has studied the subject at Northwestern University, and has taken geology courses at WVU.
He says he would be interested in having another group examine his work, including additional DNA and Carbon-14 testing, which he paid for using privately raised funds totaling about $7,000.
He also wants to raise money to preserve the site and continue his research.
Pyle first visited the cave, known as the Cook petroglyph site, in 1981, while in the area to conduct archeological surveys for the DOH.
"I was visiting my sister when someone mentioned some Indian scratchings on the top of a nearby ridge," he said.
When he arrived at the site, "I saw an elongated group of markings along the right side," he recalls. "I'd just read a book on Norse runes, and my first thought was that these were archaic runes."
He later read about carvings found in Ireland and Wales, usually on the edges of grave markers, that made use of an ancient Celtic alphabet of connected lines and slashes known as Ogam.
Joined by Dr. William Grant of Edinburgh University in Scotland and Dr. John Grant of Oakland, Md., both Celtic linguists who had studied at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Pyle continued to study the Wyoming County carvings, plus similar markings near Dingess in Mingo County and in Manchester, Ky., eventually hypothesizing that they were Ogam.
In the 1980s, Wonderful West Virginia magazine ran a series of stories about the Wyoming County site and the carvings, and their links to Ogam.
In 1989, West Virginia Archaeologist Magazine published an issue devoted to debunking that theory. Editor Janet Brashler, then an archaeologist for the Monongahela National Forest, concluded that the "turkey foot" patterns carved in the rock are design elements "in common with other acknowledged prehistoric Native American petroglyphs."
Pyle maintains the carvings contain crosses, rebuses and other markings unique to Ogam.
He traveled to Ireland to study the markings in 1998, and in 2000, was invited to take part in the examination of a newly found 8-feet-high, 20-feet-long Irish Ogam petroglyph panel, which closely resembles the Wyoming County markings. The latter visit to Ireland was filmed for a public television special.
Pyle says his findings and the recent test results will make it possible to validate a hypothesis "I didn't think it would be possible to validate in a lifetime."
He says he expected his findings to generate controversy.
"That's science," he says. "No one totally, 100 percent endorses a new idea. ... I'll let science decide where to go from here. But I would like to have credit for this discovery."
"We know the Vikings were here before him, but I wouldn't stop celebrating Columbus Day, yet," Maslowski says. "Hopefully, we'll be able to go over the findings and have this resolved by the end of October - West Virginia Archaeology Month."
Pyle plans to post his findings on the Internet at www.prehistoricplanet.com/wv/. The site already contains material on Ogam and the West Virginia petroglyphs.