The Leather Boat
Robert Burcher


        Introduction by Patricia Grant
        Foreword by Robert Burcher
        Chapter One. The Peterborough Petroglyphs
        Chapter Two. The Mystery Deepens
        Chapter Three. A Musical Interlude
        Chapter Four. Snakes, Horns and St. Patrick

        Chapter Five. The Copper Trade
        Chapter Six. Myth
        Chapter Seven. The La Tene Iceni

     Quality Trade Paperback with French Flaps, 150 pp.
ISBN 978-1-55246-998-9   $20.00

Note Bene: Robert Burcher has made some additional discoveries and is planning a revised and expanded edition with four additional chapters! Please send me an e-mail if you would like to be advised when this edition is available.


The Peterborough Petroglyphs and other examples of rock art found in North America are messages left by people who lived here thousands of years ago, people who had a compelling story to communicate to future generations. The immense amount of effort that went into a rock carving, or the difficulty in producing a painting on a high cliff face, indicates the compelling nature of what was being communicated. Our general ignorance of these ancient cultures and our inability to read these messages clearly is a sad reflection on the power of received opinion and cultural bias. For five hundred years we have misinterpreted what these ancient peoples have been trying to tell us. Myth and legend have been treated as simple fairy stories and dismissed by explorers and missionaries and academics alike. This was my starting point in this journey, and in my research I wanted to reverse that attitude and approach Native, and also Celtic myth, as truth.

In making this leap of faith I had to make huge assumptions about the capabilities of ancient people to cross the Atlantic in leather boats, and also to have the motivation to do so. I had to believe what North American native legends tell us -- that there were shape shifters; Thunderbirds that flashed lightning and created thunder, weird folk with rabbit like heads, strange craft that appeared to be made of stone, and little hairy faced men that lived in the rock faces. I had to honour the ancient Celtic storytellers who kept alive an oral history of epic journeys and lands behind the sunset and golden apples harvested from under the sea that only now, with the help of the most modern scientific tools, are we beginning to accept as credible and possible.

The notion that Celtic mariners penetrated the interior of the North American continent centuries before the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, has never been given serious consideration in academic circles and the suggestion that this might be the case arouses passionate rebuttals. But the mythology is indisputable. It is well known that the ancient Irish Celts sustained many myths about wonderful islands to the west wrapped in mist. It is also ingrained in North American east coast Native mythology that strange visitors appeared in boats, out of the sunrise to the east. I set out to connect these two mythologies and anchor them in feasibility with facts and concrete evidence.

I travelled to the locations where the sources of these stories were strongest; the ancient copper mines of Michigan; rock art sites from B.C. to Newfoundland; the canoe routes and portages of Northern Ontario; the ancient ring forts, dolmens and passage tombs of Ireland; and finally the battlegrounds of the last Celtic uprising in Norfolk England. I talked and listened intently to everyone along the way; professors of anthropology and archeology, museum curators, native historians, police investigators, Celtic storytellers and musicians. I explained my story, and laid out my hypothesis over and over again. I accepted the tough questions and tried to answer them. I dealt with dismissive rebuffs and outright hostility is some cases. However, in this process I became ever more certain that my initial gut answer to the original conundrum of a sailboat on a Native rock art site was correct. Now, in the spring of 2012, I have finally pulled all the loose threads together to weave a story that is amazing and compelling and stunning in its implications.

Now is the time to thank as many people as I can who helped propel this story along, I didn’t do this all by myself! The number one person to thank is an old high school friend Mike McTaggert who put me on to this story and when I scoffed at the possibility of Celts being here he challenged me to prove it right or wrong! Besides Mike there was another high school acquaintance Bob Stellings who was able to pick apart the flaws in the "official" Petroglyph story and had the courage to challenge the academic establishment of Trent University’s Anthropology Department. This opened up the possibility for me of a new understanding of the Peterborough Petroglyphs. Then too there were at least four police personnel who gave me invaluable advice about proceeding in the c.s.i. or m.c.m. styles of investigation—thank you Officer!

Important folk who never seem to get thanked are the librarians everywhere who guided me to the some of the original sources of knowledge. Ken Haight at the Thornbury Library who showed me the Groves Musical Encyclopedia that gave me the insight into the musical side of this whole story. The several librarians at the Saint Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, Nova Scotia — Canada’s best Celtic Library) who put up with a strange visitor who kept demanding more and more information on the La Tene Celts although they had never heard of the group and were surprised that no one else had ever brought it to their attention!

I have to thank Susan Martin a professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Michigan Technological University for explaining the complexity and rampant debate about the Copper Culture of Lake Superior. But she was also the person that by describing ancient native copper nuggets as "Thunderbird eggs" inadvertently linked up the Thunderbird Myth and the ancient Celts in my mind!

Another major player on my support team is Daniel Kolos an Egyptologist who saw the truth in the copper trade story and encouraged me to pursue that lead.

In this saga I had to immerse myself in native history and culture and for that I have to thank the Native folk who kept me humble in the process of discovering what they already knew! They prefer to remain anonymous so I will honour their request.

I also have to ask forgiveness to all my friends and family who have heard this story over and over again as each exciting clue was discovered. I hope that all of you really understand now what this story is all about!

Then as "standard form" I have to thank my editor which I will do as a formality, but also to really thank Patricia Grant for her work above and beyond the call of duty for dealing with me when my nasty side would allow vindictive screed to creep into my tortured writings. She acted more like a therapist at times, which I am sure, is not part of an editor’s job description.

And lastly my good wife Lorraine who did not give up on the story but gave up many vacations to bravely follow me into the bear infested northern wilderness to search for rock art; wander the KeeWeeNaw Peninsula looking for copper; host the plethora of strange people who would show up on our doorstep or spending time in yet another museum as I chased down one more vital clue. Yes it has been an interesting trip hasn’t it?

Then to all the other people who listened to my story and then gave me feedback and help usually beginning with the statement; "I’ve often heard or often thought.…"

Yes I listened to you all and here I am at the end of this first saga and already deep into the next one!

— Robert Burcher

April 2012