John Gabriel is not your everyday archaeologist.
The real estate broker from Morgantown, WV has been a Richmond resident for some fifty years, and in 1965, he had an epiphany while swimming at Pony Pasture: the cubical rock looming above had been carved by someone, sometime, for some reason. Friends thought he was kidding at first, but Gabriel was serious.
In the time since, he claims that his many discoveries support an unusual theory: 60,000 years ago, ancient homo sapiens living in the modern-day Richmond area made gigantic carvings of Arctic animals, some of which are still visible today.
From handheld frogs to 2-ton tadpoles, Gabriel has quite the collection of evidence, which he’s happy to share with the general public. These days, he spends a lot of his free time around Belle Isle and Pony Pasture, offering tours of the sculptures to river-goers and searching for more ancient artifacts.
DHR: Can you give me a synopsis of the discoveries you’ve made?
JG: Well, first things first: there are a lot of things in the James that the river did not—could not— carve.
I’ve found several multi-ton sculptures at Pony Pasture, Texas Beach, and Belle Isle. I’ve found an orca [pictured above], a walrus, multiple hawks, a tadpole, a frog, a sea turtle, a Pegasus, and a Neanderthal. I’ve also found several smaller sculptures and one square rock that the river could not have carved.
These sculptures were made by a lost civilization of ancient Ice Age Europeans.
My favorite sculpture is the female Pegasus [pictured above] with a baby horse in her marsupial pouch. You can see all her feathers, you can see her snorting the air. But if you look closely, you can also see a Neanderthal. Look at his wrist: he’s pulling another Pegasus out of the pouch, and he’s holding a twin. Does it get crazy or does it get crazy?
The detail is absolutely phenomenal.
This one [above] is at Pony Pasture; originally, I thought this was a cardinal. But I showed this to my friend who studies birds, and he told me that it’s a hawk, and I realized that the hawk puts her wings up behind her when she roosts. You can see her shoulder blades, too, and the ring on the back of her neck.
DHR: How did you make this discovery?
JG: I was at Pony Pasture one day in 1965, and I saw this square rock:
I was looking at it when suddenly, I said, “That rock didn’t get square by itself.”
After I saw the square rock, I started looking to see if there were any other interesting things around. That’s when I found a lot of small sculptures— small enough to fit in your hand. All the rocks in my collection are artifacts carved by ancient man. You can see on all of them where they carved notches on the back in order to hold them. Any time you find something in the river that’s perfectly symmetrical, you have to wonder how it got that way.
These pieces of art were carved by ancient man around 60,000 years ago. Do you have any idea how many rocks I had to turn over to find this stuff?
So, I’ve been on this since 1965. But after I studied Dr. Dennis Stanford’s work, I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
DHR: Did you find the smaller sculptures or the bigger sculptures first?
JG: I was finding smaller sculptures for almost forty years before I found the big sculptures. Actually, when I first started trying to tell people about the lost civilization, the Smithsonian accused me of carving the small sculptures myself. That was in 1985. But when I found my first big sculpture in 2011, I finally had my proof. Nobody could say that I carved this big walrus myself:
I was so happy, I stood there and hugged it for twenty minutes and cried. All these people were standing on the edge of the bank, saying, “Look at that crazy guy hugging that rock!” But of course, they had no idea.
DHR: You mentioned Dr. Dennis Stanford. Who’s that?
JG: Dr. Stanford was the first archaeologist to publish anything about early homo sapiens making their way to this part of the world before the American tribes. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, the first thing to do is watch the First Peoples documentary, and then do some research on Dr. Stanford.
Stanford’s hypothesis is that ancient man came across the ice shelf from Africa and Europe to Delmarva peninsula. That’s based on a technology that’s shared between sites from France to Spain to Maryland.
DHR: Do you consider yourself an archaeologist?
JG: I don’t.
Actually, archaeologists make a lot of assumptions that are faulty. One of the things they told us for years is that homo sapiens killed off the Neanderthal. That’s not true. We interbred with the Neanderthal. Today, most people have 1-3% Neanderthal DNA. Well, some of us might have four or five percent. (Laughs).
Think about this: why would a homo sapiens kill off a Neanderthal? The Neanderthal was stronger than the homo sapiens, and who knows— he might even have been wiser. Imagine if a Neanderthal wandered into your camp and knew about some kind of herbal cure for your daughter, and then fought off a saber-tooth tiger. All the sudden, he’s the most popular guy there, and homo sapiens are going to keep him around. It wasn’t about having a family with three babies back then. It was about survival.
DHR: Could these sculptures have been carved by Neanderthals?
JG: We don’t know. What we do know is that the American [Indian] tribes didn’t have time to carve sculptures in stone. The tribes in this part of country were nomadic. These sculptures would predate any documented American civilization.
DHR: How do you know when you might be looking at an ancient sculpture?
JG: Any time there is symmetry to a piece, or a place to put your fingers, you know you might have something. And keep an eye on any animals you see in the movie March of the Penguins— that movie is money. Those are the kind of animals that were living down here during that time: walruses, seals, orcas, frogs. This was an ice world 60,000 years ago, and the animal shapes that you see are mostly Arctic creatures.
DHR: For what purpose do you think the ancient people made these carvings?
JG: I have no idea. They could be decorative. They could be religious. They could be tombstones. You just don’t have all the answers, and that’s what makes it fun.
DHR: Are there some rocks in the river that aren’t carvings?
JG: I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. I would guess that there are some that are just rocks. You really have to know what you are looking for.
DHR: You give tours of your lost civilization. How often do you do them?
JG: I do them as often as I can. You can arrange one with me by e-mail: email@example.com. As of right now, they’re free.
DHR: Have you ever looked into selling pieces of your ancient art collection?
JG: Well, I think I’ve got about a billion dollars worth of art in my small sculpture collection. The oldest sculpture in the world is worth around $50-100 million. My sculptures are 50,000 years older, and I’ve got a bathtub full of them.
I haven’t really looked into it, though. To sell art you have to go to New York or Europe or Mumbai, India, and I don’t really want to deal with it. I like my life. I like the river. I like my friends. I go dancing on Tuesdays. What am I going to do with all that money? How many Lamborghinis do you really need?
DHR: Last question. Do you ever get people that say you’re just crazy?
JG: The archaeologists and anthropologists will not even stop to talk. And I say, “Damn, if you’re an archaeologist, why don’t you come teach me something?”
I was talking to this lady on Saturday that worked for the Smithsonian, and she didn’t even know Dr. Stanford. She was saying, “How do you know this, this, this—?” and she was really negative right from the get-go. When that happens, I just go through the steps and explain my discoveries very slowly. I don’t talk about anything that I haven’t studied.
Sometimes you’ll be giving a presentation and you’ll get some weirdo that comes by and completely talks over you and says, “Horses got here in the 1500s, so that proves that this couldn’t be 60,000 years old,” and then he takes off running.
Uh, it’s not a horse, it’s a Pegasus. The Neanderthal could have come over on a boat, but if you look at that carving, the Neanderthal might have been able to fly anywhere he wanted to. The thing is, at the end of the day, nobody really has the answers.