In 1963 it was reported in a letter to People magazine that an Egyptian scarab had been discovered by some children while playing beside the road near the Daly River, in the Northern Territory of Australia. This discovery soon featured in articles about secret visitors written by Michael Terry in the mid-late 1960s, was picked up and promoted by Rex Gilroy in the 1980s and 90s, and then perpetuated and spread by the internet in the 2000s. Is it actual proof of Egyptian contact? Is it an actual scarab? Is it actual anything? Read on for the story.
Michael Terry wrote extensively about his explorations. His later travel journalism is less well-known, but probably was much more widely read, in popular mass-market publications like Walkabout and People. It is this material which includes his secret visitor speculations. I have found the following references thus far, but doubtless there are more. This list will be updated when necessary, and any additional references are most welcome.
Terry’s life is documented in his manuscript autobiography, which was completed by his sister Charlotte after his death [Barnard 1987]. A later historian of Northern Territory exploration discusses some of the problems in filling the gaps in Terry’s life, when he had carefully edited the surviving documentary record [Dewar 2009].
Terry’s personal papers largely relate to correspondence from the 1960s-70s and of letters received. He does annotate the date of his reply on many of them, but almost none of his own responses are preserved [NLA 611-1]. In individual posts relating to particular claims I have tried to verify the presumed sequence of correspondence, including letters that are lost.
In a 1967 article on the Egyptian presence in Australia Michael Terry wrote
[i]n February 1964 the tomb of a woman, probably dating back to 1,000 B.C., was found on the site of an ancient city in the Jordan Valley. Examination of the body suggested that eucalyptus oil had been used to embalm it. The only sources then of such oil were the gum-trees of Australia and New Guinea. Now, of course, they are relatively common overseas but only since Baron von Mueller instituted a seed exchange between Australia and other parts of the world … [Terry 1967: p. 21].
As with many of the elusive snippets of information Terry used, no source was provided for this find. The aim of this blog is to track down the source of Australian secret visitor claims such as this, and to work out what the actual evidence is, rather than the snippets that are sometimes misinterpreted and misapplied.
For example, in an earlier post I tried to track down claims that kangaroos had been found in Egypt. As it turned out there had been a misreading of a well-publicised palaeontological finding. Fossils of ancient marsupials, millions of years old, had been found in Egypt but journalists had misunderstood the meaning of this and had focussed entirely upon the marsupial aspect, assuming it inevitably meant kangaroos. In fact, these were the ancestors of the South American opossums, and were only very distantly related to Australasian marsupials. The mistake was readily understandable once I was able to get back to the original source and to do that I had to narrow down the time range by looking at the earliest mention of the mistaken reading, and working backwards from there.
Terry’s gave no source for the information. Having only occurred three years before it was written I had hoped that it would have been based on a news item and readily findable. Could I find it? Would the eucalyptus resin be a mistake, a journalistic flourish, a reliable result?
Michael Terry is little known now but was one of a small group of adventure-writers who helped to shape Australia’s self image during the 20th century. A genuine explorer, who took advantage of motor vehicles to traverse some of the last desert areas crossed by Europeans in Australia, he helped to open up and map large areas of desert country. In 1961 he discovered unusual rock art at Cleland Hills, west of Alice Springs, depicting stylised faces, which he thought may have indicated ancient foreign contact. From that time on secret visitors became an obsession and he can be credited with collecting many of the stories that were later picked up by Rex Gilroy and others and have become part of secret visitor lore.
Michael Terry wrote in his autobiography of being contacted by Peter Muir, ‘a pen friend for years’, who travelled in Western Australia about potential evidence for secret visitors on Pingandy Station. The station is located about 443 km east of Carnarvon, and due south of Tom Price in the Upper Gascoyne Shire, which puts it hundreds of kilometres from the coast through pretty dry country. Muir had seen an exposed cliff face formed from mudstone along a creek near the homestead that showed markings like lettering. His interest piqued, Terry arranged to visit the site in January 1971 with Muir, took some photos and, as had become usual with him, ‘plagued the erudite for an on-site examination’ [Barnard 1987: 96].
At this stage Terry was talking to Steve Boydell, who was working with the [then] Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies as a site recorder and also Jack Golson, an archaeologist at the Australian National University [611-1-22 Golson to MT 4.8.70]. Terry was referring to the inscriptions at this time as ‘Sanscrit’ [eg NLA 611-1-32 MT to Rouhani 23.12.70]. It may have been either Golson or Boydell who first disagreed with the human origin of the markings. Gilroy would sympathise with Terry about the lettering being cynically dismissed as ‘freak geology’ [NLA 611-1-38 Gilroy to MT 25.1.71].
Preserved correspondence about the site is patchy but Terry got in touch with Dr Barry Fell, of the National Decipherment Center at Arlington, Virginia. According to the biography Fell suggested that this may be a natural formation that took on the appearance of writing – ‘…I am bound to believe that all of them are natural. Some fossils such as Alcamenia hieroglyphica simulate writing to a remarkable degree …’. . While Fell thought no further investigation was required he was sure Australia would display many other contacts from ‘early Egyptian, Libyan, Hindu and Chinese sailors’ [Barnard 1987: 97].
So who was Fell? Dr Bruce Fell of the National Decipherment Center at Arlington sounded impressive. Arlington had military connotations as the site of the National Cemetery, where US war dead may be buried. This sounded very governmental and hush-hush. Almost certainly it conjours up images of large banks of computers, serviced by people in lab coats with clipboards cracking Soviet codes. However, it was nothing so glamorous, and Terry had the bloke’s name wrong. Professor Barry Fell, a New Zealander who was a respected marine biologist at Harvard University, had an epiphany of some sort in the late 1960s which saw him move out of his field and embrace linguistic interpretations of inscriptions and even what were probably random natural markings as indicative of hyper-diffusionist migrations. At this stage there were only inklings of Fell’s later beliefs in large scale migrations, seemingly restricted to meditations on whether Polynesians had reached America in their travels. Fell became notorious during the 1970s and 80s for ‘reading’ a succession of ancient scripts that to him showed a range of African, European and Asian cultures of all periods had made their way to the Americas [Flavin 2011]. His publications America B.C. , three later books and numerous articles published through the Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers [RSNZ 2011] uncritically propagated an extreme view of hyper-diffusionism that was more detached from the evidence than even Rex Gilroy’s most active speculations. Fell remains a posthumous poster-boy for the hyper-diffusionist movement, who usually emphasise his Harvard professorial status to legitimise his views [e.g. Equinox Project 2012].
Previously I had posted three long blog entries [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3] about the Ptolemy IV coin allegedly found in Queensland by Andy Henderson in 1910. My conclusion based on the published photos was that the coin published by Michael Terry was a modern forgery, and that Rex Gilroy’s published picture was of a completely different coin. As there still remained many unanswered questions, I recently examined Michael Terry’s papers in the National Library of Australia, hoping to get more detail on the story. Here is what I found.
The Ibis seal is an adventure romance set in Cape York, near Torres Strait. It features a cast of flawed men and women who all recognise the potential of a lost treasure to get themselves out of their humdrum existence. What interests me about this book is that O’Grady takes ‘[t]he theories of the Australian explorer Michael Terry’ for her plot, and that the treasures that they compete for come from a lost Egyptian settlement. Read the rest of this entry »
This posting is about the discovery of a Ptolemaic Egyptian coin that was reputed to have been made in 1910 by a farmer in coastal Queensland. The story of its discovery and subsequent identification as evidence of secret visitors is set out in Part 1. In Part 2 the coin evidence is described and analysed. This analysis identified that there are, in fact, two different coins, and that there is a high likelihood that one is a modern forgery. The implications of this are now considered as part of an overall assessment of the validity of the find. Read the rest of this entry »
The first part of this post discussed the discovery of a Ptolemy IV bronze coin, dating from 221-204 BC, by a farmer in north Queensland in 1910. In this part we discuss the coin itself and identify some problems with the evidence that need to be resolved before it is used to support any claims for Egyptian contact with Australia.
The first significant problem is that Henderson found only one coin, but Terry and later Gilroy illustrated two different specimens that are each supposed to be the actual coin. The photo included in Terry’s 1966 and later articles is clearly different to the one shown by Gilroy [1995: 256].
Both coins shown in Figure 1 [Terry] and Figure 2 [Gilroy] – are bronze coins of Ptolemy IV, known as ‘Philopater’ to distinguish him from the other 15 Ptolemies who eventually ruled Hellenistic Egypt prior to its incorporation into the Roman Empire. Ptolemy IV reigned from 221 to 204 BC. The coin depicts him on the obverse in the guise of Zeus Ammon, signified by ram horns, and the obverse has an eagle with spread wings grasping thunderbolts. Along the obverse can be read the inscription ΠΤΟΛΕΜΑΙΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ['Ptolemy King' in Greek]. Between the eagle’s legs there is a small star. This is a control mark that indicated it was minted following an undated monetary reform during Ptolemy IV’s reign. Read the rest of this entry »
One commonly cited piece of evidence in support of secret visitors is the discovery of a coin of Ptolemy IV of Egypt by a farmer in northern Queensland in 1910. Unlike many comparable claims we know the date, the discoverer, the location and circumstances and clear images of the coin have been published. These add considerable circumstantial context and a strong sense of authenticity to the claim. Importantly the discovery predates the Great War, when a large number of Australians served in the Middle East and may have brought souvenirs such as Egyptian coins and scarabs back to Australia, adding to its legitimacy. The claim was first published in 1965 and since then has been repeated frequently in print and through replication on the internet. In this post I will look at the claim and how reliable it is as evidence for secret visitors. Read the rest of this entry »