Kelley, who is a contributing editor to The Review of Archaeology, complained in a 1990 essay that "Fell's work [contains] major academic sins, the three worst being distortion of data, inadequate acknowledgment of predecessors, and lack of presentation of alternative views." Among the embarrassments that Kelley and other critics often use against Fell are a series of Celtic ogham inscriptions that were sent to Fell from McKee, Kentucky, in 1988. He dutifully translated the scripts, which later proved to be forgeries. Although Fell was the one to spot that they were fake, the damage was done.
Nevertheless, Kelley and others do credit Fell with raising the possibility of Celtic, Iberian, and North African connections to certain unexplained American inscriptions. The Grave Creek Stone, from West Virginia, is a typical example. Mainstream archaeologists, puzzled by the carvings on it, have long dismissed it as a forgery; but Fell suggested that its symbols derive from an ancient Punic, or Phoenician, alphabet used on the Iberian Peninsula during the first millennium B.C. -- a script unknown, and thus presumably unforgeable, at the time of the stone's discovery, in 1838. Kelley disagrees with Fell's theory that the Grave Creek symbols represent some sort of astronomical text. But the similarity of those symbols to obscure but undisputed Phoenician letters, he believes, is much more than coincidence -- and, at the least, Fell deserves credit for emphasizing the comparison.
It is unusual to detect even this much tolerance for Barry Fell in a member of the academic mainstream. But Kelley can be more enthusiastic yet. With regard to a celebrated (or notorious) hypothesis of Fell's that the stick-figure letters carved into stones at sites ranging from Vermont to Oklahoma are Celtic in origin, Kelley wrote in his Review of Archaeology essay, "I have no personal doubts that some of the inscriptions which have been reported are genuine Celtic ogham." These are the very markings that most orthodox scholars dismiss as plough marks or forgeries or the figments of febrile New Age imaginations. In addition, Kelley resists joining the many of his peers who take potshots at Fell's Druids of New England. He continued,
Despite my occasional harsh criticism of Fell's treatment of individual inscriptions, it should be recognized that without Fell's work there would be no [North American] ogham problem to perplex us. We need to ask not only what Fell has done wrong in his epigraphy, but also where we have gone wrong as archaeologists in not recognizing such an extensive European presence in the New World.
The way Kelley is described by his friend Michael Coe in Breaking the Maya Code (1992) suggests that he might secretly revel in his controversial, if guarded, support for Fell. Coe wrote,
[Dave is] a lively mixture of Irish puckishness and New England Yankee sobriety [whose] large frame, bald head, and leprechaun smile are familiar features at [academic] meetings, where he can always be expected to present a paper that may be unusual and even outrageous, according to one's lights, but is usually grounded in the most impeccable scholarship.
In one such paper, titled "Writing in the Americas," published in October of 1998 in a special edition of the Journal of the West, Kelley focused on a "decipherment" that detractors consider to be one of Fell's most outrageous: the Peterborough Stone, in Ontario. This is a flat table rock measuring hundreds of square feet, upon which a riot of curious incised graffiti are interlaced, seemingly at random. To Fell, who made the stone the focus of his Bronze Age America, the layout consisted of meaningful groups of symbols and letters, carved primarily to document the visit and the commercial enterprise of a Bronze Age Nordic king whom Fell identified as Woden-lithi. "Woden-lithi, of Ringerike the great king, instructed that runes be engraved," reads one section of Fell's ambitious translation of this curious saga in stone. "A ship he took. In-honor-of-Gungnir was its name .... For ingot-copper of excellent quality came the king by way of trial."