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.
In the 27 March 1963 issue of People [footnote 1] a letter by Mr Duke Alley of Darwin described how, in 1961, two children playing beside the road at a campsite along the Daly River, about 150 kilomestres south of Darwin, were picking up stones when they noticed that one was somehow unusual. They kept it and showed it to their parents who eventually identified it as an Egyptian scarab [Alley 1963]. The letter did not give much more detail except that the after the chilkdren showed the scarab to their parents it became known to a member of Rosicrucians also living in Darwin, and it was that person who initiated the contact with various authorities regarding its authenticity.
The scarab bears the usual stylised insect form, with a flat inscribed base, a rounded body and stylised legs on each margin. The back has an unusual frontal human head placed over the head of the scarab. Its measurements were recorded as being ‘3 1/2 inches long … 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 1/4 inches high at its tallest point. The scarab is made of baked clay or stone of some kind.’ A suggested reading of the cartouches is ‘Ra-meses Hotep-Ra’ or ‘Rameses-Ari-Hotep-Ra’. Neither of these is a known pharoah name [Pye 2011: 188].
The find prompted Michael Terry, then trying to make sense of a Ptolemy IV coin found in rural Queensland, to contact Alley and tell him about his developing interest in the possibility that Australia was visited by the Greeks and possibly the Egyptians. Alley replied that various experts had seen a detailed drawing of the scarab or the actual item. The responses ranged from acceptance to refusal. Nonetheless, though he expressed some caution about its authenticity, Terry published the discovery in a number of articles [Terry 1965, 1967], and this led to the Daly River scarab becoming part of the often repeated, but seldom critically considered ‘proofs’ for secret visitors to Australia. It appears, among other places, in Gilroy’s Mysterious Australia [2003: page 241] and various internet sites that are frequently themselves copied in total by other sites.
Marilyn Pye uses it as a central artefact in support of her elaborate theory of a brief Egyptian presence in Australia. Her recently published book, Wholly Moses  will be reviewed in a future post.
That’s the story, but what are the facts?
Bring on the experts
The name of the family that found the scarab is not known, and neither is the whereabouts of the scarab. The letter to People was written by Duke Alley of Darwin, reporting on the work of an unnamed Rosicrucian member also living there. The letter was sent in after a Terry article publicising his discovery of the ancient engravings in the Cleland Hills [Terry 1963]. All that I can find out about Alley is that in 1959 he was the Northern Territory section contact of the Australian Flying Saucer Research Society, and in the early 1960s was associated with the Northern Territory Theatre. In his two letters to Terry, dated 14 April 1963 and 29 March 1964, he uses careful grammatically correct English, always referring to himself as ‘the undersigned’, and is clearly an educated, thoughtful man who was careful at making sure his words meant precisely what he intended them to say. From the content it appears that either he had met Terry in the past or they shared mutual Territorian friends.
The unnamed Rosicrucian had arranged the referrals to the various authorities. A detailed copy of the scarab was drawn by someone who clearly knew what they were doing and was included in the People letter. The drawing [my tracing of it is shown in Figure 1], has a nice use of line width to emphasise the object’s roundness, and the detailing of side and back views correlates well, but some evident mis-strokes were not corrected. Alley sent a ‘lifesize’ copy of the drawing to Terry, preserved in Terry’s papers. This has been assumed to be correct for the scaling shown in Figure 1.
Four authorities were contacted to authenticate the scarab – the British Museum, the Australian Museum, a retired British professor and the Roscirucian Order in the US. The first to respond seems to have been the British Museum, who had been contacted via an acquaintance of Alley’s. Alley reported to Terry that I.E. S. Edwards, then the British Museum’s Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities, had written:
… I write to inform you that the scarab of which you have send me a drawing, belongs to a very common class of object which, in my experience, has always proved to be a forgery.
The hieroglyphs in the two ovals on the base give rather incorrectly the name of Ramesses II, who ruled over Egypt in about 1300 B.C. Above the names is what is intended to be the sun’s disc with wings and below the hieroglyph for gold is repeated twice.
This kind of object made as a rule of baked clay, generally, dates from the last decade of the nineteenth century. [NLA 611-1-5 Alley to Terry 14.4.1963]
Edwards did not categorically state that it was a modern forgery, although in his experience all such finds had proven to be. I have written an earlier post about Egyptian forgeries produced in the late 19th century for the tourist market being common items brought in to Australia following the opening of the Suez Canal.
A response was next received from retired Professor Noel Jaquin, of Crowborough, England. Alley said ‘Professor Jaquin believes that the scarab is a lot older than most people think. He is not sure whether or not it originates from Egypt, but feels, nevertheless, that it is quite a genuine article, even if it does not come from Egypt.’ [NLA 611-1-5 Alley to Terry 29.3.1964].
So who is retired Professor Noel Jaquin? According to Alley:
‘He is a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, a Fellow of the Field Eugene Society of America … He is the author of many books, mainly dealing with Chiro-Psychology, his latest being “The theory of metaphysical influence’. [NLA 611-1-1 Alley to MT 29.3.1964]
Perhaps we should dissect this a little bit. A Royal Microscopical Society Fellow – clearly not a ratbag, but not necessarily equipping him to speak on ancient Egyptian artefacts, although his particular expertise may have been used by Egyptologists. There is no evidence either way. Next, the ‘Field Eugene Society’? At first I thought this may have had something creepy to do with eugenics, but a Wikipedia search set me right. Eugene Field was a highly regarded American author and poet – again a good thing, but not necessarily a relevant one, and being a fellow of that society may speak of good taste, but not of Egyptological knowledge. Chiro-psychology definitely required some research – it turns out to be the scientific study of hand and palm prints, although it took care to distinguish itself from palmistry by its scientific objectives. Some genetic conditions present characteristic patterns on the palms and finger-prints of sufferers and these were documented by people like Jaquin throughout the late 19th century and after. Jaquin however seems to have pushed beyond the limits of the diagnostic physical evidence into reading something of peoples’ character and emotional state from their palms. A favourable write-up is offered here of Jaquin’s work as a pioneer of this field. Lastly, his ‘many books’ include none that could be taken as relevant to ancient Egypt.
Alley said that the the scarab was seen by Australian Museum staff, and they were dismissive of its authenticity, but he had not seen the actual letter. This almost certainly meant examination by Fred McCarthy who was not an expert on ancient Egypt, although this and many other obscure areas of knowledge fell within the Museum Anthropology Curator’s role. McCarthy had some ability to call upon colleagues in other museums and universities around Australia where assistance was required, but it is unknown whether he did in this case. That may be a lead that can be followed in the Australian Museum Archives when time permits. By March 1964 no reply had been received from the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC. Despite their silence Alley considered them the best likely source of information about the scarab’s authenticity, because of their esoteric lineage which he clearly felt preserved ancient knowledge in a different way to the museum experts. The Rosicrucians were, and remain, devoted to the study of supposed secret knowledge passed down from the ancient Egyptians. The Roscrucian Order AMORC is one particular body of a large number of separate groups that claim access to that inner wisdom.
The People letter also mentioned that a distant landmark rock beside the Stuart Highway, some four miles south of Barrow Creek was known as ‘The Sphinx’. As well as information on the scarab Terry asked Alley to chase up references to this but, apart from confirming it was a local landmark, he could add nothing more. Terry was also interested in making contact with others who may have responded to Alley’s letter with information. One person who wrote to Alley was Norman Clarkson of Bendigo, who was another enthusiast for possible evidence of secret visitors. He and Terry would later share information from their researches [Barnard 1987].
During the period of correspondence Terry was beginning to pull together the evidence he would present in his articles on Spanish, Greek and Egyptian presence in Australia. He was speculating on possible Middle Eastern or Asian origins for the Cleland Hills art, before their age was demonstrated to place them well before possible candidate cultures. In late 1963 he visited the site where the Ptolemy IV coin had been found buried deep in soil near Barron Falls, Queensland. He needed to visit the site, talk to people and satisfy himself that the proof was solid before he was willing to stick his neck out. He talked to the few academic archaeologists in Australia where he could, and otherwise sought out his own confirmation from museums.
For the Daly River scarab the circumstances of discovery were far less secure in Terry’s opinion than the Ptolemy coin. Terry himself had spent time in the Northern Territory during World War II, writing a book about the building of the strategic Stuart Highway by NSW Department of Main Roads crews [Terry 1945]. He would have met troops attached to the Northern Territory Force who had come back from service in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly those of 19th Brigade AIF and 2/6 Cavalry Regiment. As well as these units there would have been unknown numbers of service-men and -women who would have rotated back to northern Australia from North Africa or Europe via Suez for retraining and rearmament prior to being sent to fight the Japanese in Southeast Asia. Terry was only being honest to himself when he qualified the discovery of the scarab with the observation that it was entirely possible for a soldier returning from the Middle East to have brought the scarab, especially if as Edwards said, it was most likely to have been a modern fake.
While Alley also accepted Terry’s suggestion as a possibility that could not be dismissed, he himself tried to construct the counter-argument. Perhaps the scarab was authentic but, following Jaquin’s suggestion, was not of Egyptian manufacture? If so, maybe there was an Egyptian colony, possibly even in Australia itself, and the misspellings were a dialectical difference, as Alley put it, no different to the different Englishes spoken around the globe.
Terru wrote about the find with greater ambivalence than the evidence really warranted, in effect giving equal weight to the believers [Alley, Jacquin and Terry’s own wish for it to be true] and the skeptics [Australian Museum, British Museum and Terry’s analytical assessment]. Yes, there were conflicting opinions, but the only two that were credible and based on expertise were, in this case, the British and Australian Museum, and these both came out against its authenticity. While Terry himself admitted the alternative ‘Occam’s Razor’ explanation of a World War II provenance, he did not push this or let it detract from the nice little mystery that could be composed around the accidental discovery by some children of a scarab in the middle of nowhere.
There current location of the scarab is unknown.
Is it real?
Based on the opinion of a very qualified and experienced authority on ancient Egypt, IES Edwards of the British Museum, it is likely to be no older than the late 19th century in age, which would make it a replica and probably sold as a fake. This opinion was supported by the Australian Museum. The only counter opinion offered was by Professor Jaquin, whose qualification was in finger-print and palm-print analysis. While he may have been a student of esoteric crafts Jaquin had no credentials or experience in ancient Egyptian artefacts that would provide a reason for disbelieving professional opinion. Therefore in comparing Jaquin’s and Edwards’ ability to speak knowledgeably on the subject of Egyptian scarabs I would feel comfortable giving all of the weight of opinion to Edwards ahead of Jaquin, who sounds like a top bloke but who had nothing of any substance to contribute regarding this subject.
If it is a fake as probability suggests, then the only explanation put forward, of its loss during World War II by a member of the Australian military who had served in the Middle East or North Africa and was relocated to the Northern Australian Force, is a reasonable one, and within the realms of possibility.
There is no strong case to consider for the Daly River Scarab to represent anything other than the World War II loss of a 19th or 20th century fake souvenir scarab.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
1. People, published by in the 1960s by Sungravure and later by Australian Consolidated Press, is not associated with the US magazine of the same name. In the National Library of Australia it is catalogued as ‘Australia – social life and customs’, most of which seemed to involve women in swimming costumes.
The drawing of the Daly River scarab was prepared by an unknown artist in c.1962-3 and was published in Terry . This tracing was prepared from the dyeline copy in the Michael Terry papers in the National Library of Australia. Scale bar is 50 mm.
National Library of Australia
MS 611 – Papers of Michael Terry, Series 1 – Correspondence
Alley, Duke 1963
‘A mystery scarab’ [letter to Editor], People March 27 1963, Vol. 14, no. 3.
Barnard, Charlotte [editor] 1987
The last explorer: the autobiography of Michael Terry, FRGS, FRGSA, ANU Press / Northern Territory Research Unit, Canberra.
Basterfield, Keith 2007
‘The South Australian UFO story’, UFO’s Australia [http://ufosa.wordpress.com/]. Accessed 5.1.2012. Available here.
Pye, Marilyn 2011
Wholly Moses. Was Moses buried in Australia?, Tigress Publishing, Seattle.
Terry, Michael 1945
Bulldozer: the war role of the Department of Main Roads, New South Wales, Frank Johnson, Sydney.
Terry, Michael 1963
‘Mystery carvings in the Centre’, People, 16 January 1963, vol. 13 no. 23, pp. 27-30.
Terry, Michael 1965
‘Did Ptolemy know of Australia?’, Walkabout, 31, 8 August 1965, pp. 30-31.
Terry, Michael 1967
‘Australia’s unwritten history’, Walkabout, August 1967, pp. 19-23.