Grand Canyon Lost Civilization

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What is the Grand Canyon Lost Civilization?

The Grand Canyon Lost Civilization is a pseudoarchaeological idea of an Egyptian civilization living within caves in the Grand Canyon. The original article, written in the Arizona Gazette, covering this "civilization" says that "Nearly a mile underground, about 1480 feet below the surface, the long main passage has been delved into, to find another mammoth chamber from which radiates scores of passageways, like the spokes of a wheel." The original article of the caves in which the Egyptian civilization supposedly lived goes on to describe the size and shape of the rooms, as well as all of the artifacts that were reportedly found within the caves. The caves haven't been seen since the initial discovery, so it's unclear whether the caves themselves ever existed.[1] The caves were also never documented through pictures, despite claims of G.E. Kincaid (sometimes spelled Kinkaid), the "discoverer", being noted as an avid photographer in the Arizona Gazette's March 12th article earlier that year(the only other known reference to this man's existence). There are also claims in the article from Kincaid, even though he doesn't seem to have actually existed, that "One of [the mummies] I stood up and photographed by flashlight", but that photo is either lost or never existed.[2] There appear to be no genuine artifacts from the caves in public record despite some claims that Kincaid and Jordan, the claimed head of the investigation of the caves (who also doesn't seem to exist), sent artifacts from the caves to the Smithsonian.

The Context of the Discovery

Canyon Explorers

Around 1909 it was common for explorers, like G.E. Kincaid, to travel through the Grand Canyon "looking for mineral", a euphemism for looking for gold.[3] Canyon Explorers who were looking for gold were common, even though mining gold from the Grand Canyon was illegal as of 1908 when Theodore Roosevelt deemed it a national forest. Canyon exploration wasn't as safe back in the early 1900s as it is now because they had fewer technological advancements, but that wasn't a deterrent for those explorers. Their boats weren't as sturdy or navigable, like in Kincaid's case where his was a wooden boat, so it would have been harder for any explorers to navigate through the canyon to reach and verify Kincaid's cave. That's likely why despite there being many other visitors to the canyon, no one else had found the cave which has been reported to be around "1500 feet down a sheer cliff".[2]

Yellow Journalism

Yellow Journalism was a type of newspaper reporting which used the extreme sensationalism of news. Yellow Journalism was used to take already important or polarizing news, such as an explosion on a US ship, and turn it into an even bigger or more important deal, for example by declaring that the Spanish were attempting to sink said US ship. Yellow Journalism reached it's peak in the late 1800s and by 1909, it was mostly out of use. So although it's possible, it's unlikely that Yellow Journalism was behind the discovery of the Grand Canyon Civilization.[4]

Mormons/Latter Day Saints

Since their founding, Latter Day Saints have been trying to find archaeological evidence to support their religion, although it's unlikely that they were behind the Grand Canyon Civilization. Mormonism was founded in 1830 with the Book of Mormon. The book of Mormon was originally written in unknown characters which were known as reformed Egyptian. The existence of an Egyptian civilization in the Grand Canyon would help the Latter Day Saints grow closer to proving the validity of the Book of Mormon because the existence of Egyptians in America would support the Book of Mormon's source materials originally being written in reformed Egyptian. You can't have reformed Egyptian without Egyptian, so the existence of Egyptians and Egyptian writing in North America thousands of years ago would be important for them.[5]


Egyptomania is the obsession with anything related to Ancient Egypt, including their architecture, history, culture, etc.. Europeans, some of whom migrated to North America, have been obsessed with Ancient Egypt since 31 BC when Rome conquered Egypt. Although the obsession has ebbed and flowed through the centuries, it has never completely faded. Hundreds of years of travels and pilgrimages to Egypt have resulted in the continuation of the obsession as those who visited Egypt brought back artifacts and knowledge about the culture, history, agriculture, language, etc.[6] It's not unlikely that one of the reasons for G.E. Kincaid claiming that he discovered an Egyptian civilization in the Grand Canyon was some form of Egyptomania. Egyptomania has led to much of the American public having Egyptian knowledge to some extent.

It's also likely that the common obsession with Egypt specifically had something to do with why Egyptians were chosen as the identity of the mysterious civilization rather than any other closer culture, like the Aztecs, Incans, or Olmecs. The claim that the civilization was Egyptian would be much more exciting to the general public than the reality of any civilization in the Grand Canyon being Native American because it's the unexpected option. A revelation of the "true" or "hidden" history is more likely to catch the public's attention than an acknowledgement of indigenous people living in their homelands. Although it's not G.E. Kincaid, in 1903, a W.M. Kincaid was being published in newspapers describing the "wonders of Egypt" to the masses.[3] The publishing of "wonders of Egypt" and other sensationalized depictions of Egyptian culture helped lead to the continuation of Egyptomania throughout the early 20th century.

The Pseudoarchaeological Narrative

Despite the pseudoarchaeological idea being the "Grand Canyon Civilization", the narrative around this "civilization" focuses more on the who, what, where, and when of the discovery. Aside from saying that the inhabitants of the caves were mummified and had been Egyptian, there's very little discussion into them as a culture. There's also no consideration given to where they went afterwards, because none of the native tribes from that region have Egyptian culture in them. Or if they stayed in the Grand Canyon until they had all died, how the last few living members of the civilization survived and how they would have mummified themselves. Kincaid did not make any reports of there being any non-mummified corpses in the caves, so unless the last few members died outside where animals or the river could reach them, there are logistic problems that none of the pseudoarchaeologists have considered.

The pseudoarchaeological narrative starts with G.E. Kincaid's "discovery" of large caves in 1909 that were "full of artifacts, including statues, copper weapons, even granaries full of seeds". Some pseudoarchaeologists claim that "50,000 people could live inside comfortably".[7] Kincaid said that he "was journeying down the Colorado river in a boat, alone, looking for mineral (a euphemism for gold)."[8] when he found the caves. The caves were also reportedly inaccessible due to the "sheer walls and a series of rough rapids"[8], so there wasn't much of an investigation into the contents and existence of the caves in 1909. Kincaid states in the newspaper that "Over a hundred feet from the entrance is the cross-hall, several hundred feet long, in which are found the idol, or image, of the people’s god, sitting cross-legged, with a lotus flower or lily in each hand." This is what initially led him to believe the cave's inhabitants might have been Tibetan, his original assumption of their origin.[1] Later he also added the possibility of the caves being home to an Egyptian civilization.[7] One source even claims that there is an unfinished Egyptian Pyramid in the Grand Canyon.[9]

G.E Kincaid and S.A Jordan

The original article from Arizona Gazette claims that the caves were found by "Smithsonian Institution explorer G.E. Kincaid" and investigated by "Smithsonian anthropologist S.A. Jordan"[7], but according to "Smithsonian Magazine", "No records can confirm the existence of either Kincaid or Jordan."[10] Although G.E. Kincaid shows up in the Arizona Gazette on March 12th as well, there are no other mentions outside of those two articles of his existence. S.A. Jordan also has a suspicious lack of existence outside of mentions by the Arizona Gazette in the initial "investigation" of the caves and discussions surrounding the "civilization" and its "discovery". Both of these men seem to have no family, friends, or even estranged acquaintances to verify their existence.

One potential identity for Kincaid and Jordan as a pair was "a newspaper report from September 22, 1908 in the Lewiston Evening Teller out of Idaho that relates a small report about something called “The Stites Excursion Project” that had among it a “J.E. Kincaid” and “W.J. Jordan”" [3]. Although this is a strangely similar set of names, the first initials do not match, and if there ia a relation between these men it's probably just this article being the inspiration for the names Kincaid and Jordan to whomever spun them into existence for the Arizona Gazette's article. Another source says that "Some have claimed that there was a European archaeologist named S.A. Jordon active at the time, but that connection is obscure"[3]. This name lines up better than the first possibility, but it's in the wrong continent. Before planes (the first commercial flight wasn't until 1914, 5 years later) and mainstream air travel, it would have been more difficult for anyone to travel across the Atlantic, so it's unlikely that the European S.A. Jordan, if the European version exists at all either, is the same person as the American one if he was active in Europe at the same time.

The Real Archaeology

The Hopi Tribe

Map of the Hopi Nation and the three Mesas
Map of the Hopi Nation and the three Mesas

Map of the Hopi Reserve to the right[11]

If the discovered cave does in fact exist, then it was likely designed and used by the Hopi people, an indigenous tribe that traveled down the Grand Canyon on annual pilgrimages.[12] The Hopi people have lived in Arizona for over 2000 years, but they can trace their history back even farther in South America, Central America, and Mexico.[13] While not much is known about the Hopi people and their culture, it is known that they "made annual pilgrimages to the sipapuni for yellow clay, then on to a Grand Canyon cave along the Colorado River to gather salt." [12] The Hopi people live near the Grand Canyon, on top and at the base of three mesas just south of Black Mesa.[13]

Caves or No Caves?

It is unclear whether the the caves actually exist. There have been very few reports of archeological investigations including the initial investigation done by a "Smithsonian" archeologist, and there aren't any verified pictures of or artifacts from the supposed caves. The original investigation is even unlikely to have genuinely happened because there are no records of an archaeologist named "S.A. Jordan", the supposed lead archaeologist for the cave's investigation, having actually existed.[7]

One source has a proposed location for Kincaid's cave, but the location doesn't seem to have been verified as there is no follow-up to the proposition and it's 20 years old.[14]

Implications of the "Discovery"

The pseudoarchaeological narrative is detrimental to the general public's trust in genuine archaeology. Sources that make claims that the existence of the caves (and the Egyptian artifacts that are supposedly within them) is being "covered up" to hide the truth, lead to a loss of trust between the general public, especially those who believe in conspiracy theories, and the scholarly archaeological community. When countless sources give the same detrimental message, along the lines of 'the scholarly archaeological community (or specifically in this case, the Smithsonian) is covering up history about Egyptians living in North America', they're undermining the validity of the genuine archaeology being performed in other areas. Archaeologists aren't trying to hide anything, if there was any genuine evidence that Egyptians had lived in North America, they would try their best to prove whether or not they had. The "discovery" of the Grand Canyon Civilization didn't bring any proof to the table. Instead of supporting the archaeological community's efforts, and their use of the scientific method, to discover more about history and culture, they're attempting to rewrite the history of the US based off of claims made by people who didn't exist. Archaeologists know that there were no Egyptians living in caves in the Grand Canyon because if that was the case then there would be evidence of their arrival to and following travels from any of the coasts to the Grand Canyon.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colavito, J. (n.d.). The 1909 Grand Canyon Hoax. JASON COLAVITO.
  2. 2.0 2.1 CyberScribe. (2012, March). FitzMuseum.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Smith, J. (2020, September 25). The Enduring Mystery of Ancient Egyptians and the Grand Canyon. Medium.
  4. Milestones: 1866-1898 - Office of the Historian. (n.d.). Office of the Historian.
  5. Lovell, T. (n.d.). Is the writing in the Book of Mormon characteristic of the Hebrew language? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  6. Schutz, M. (2017, April 11). What is Egyptomania? National Trust.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Brown, D. (2021, April 20). Lost Civilization in Grand Canyon Was, Wait, Egyptian? HowStuffWorks.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Andrews, J. (n.d.). The Importance of the find in 1909. Copyright (c) 2003 by Biblioteca Pleyades.
  9. C., & C. (n.d.). Smithsonian Institution –. CNY Artifact Recovery.
  10. Learn the Truths Behind These Smithsonian Urban Legends. (2009, September 1). Smithsonian Magazine.
  11. About Hopi. (n.d.). Hopi Education Endowment Fund.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hopi – Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon. (n.d.). Arizona State University-Grand Canyon Conservancy.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hopi Tribe | Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. (n.d.). Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.
  14. The Location of Kincaid’s “Cave” Revealed. (2001). Bibliotecapleyades.