Jul 10, 2024 I Jazz Shaw

Those Out of Place Artifacts (Ooparts) Keep Showing Up

In April of 1886, a group of coal miners working a mine in the Broad Top Hills of central Pennsylvania came upon something both puzzling and remarkable. While extracting coal, they uncovered a stretch of slate that appeared to have a series of crudely carved human faces chiseled into it. They found the discovery remarkable enough that they removed it and showed it to their employers and the press. It caused quite a stir, being reported in the Lewistown Gazette on April 25, 1886. The figures were described as looking as if they were "cut with a graver's chisel" and bearing the images of human faces with the "chin, mouth, cheeks, forehead, and eyes clearly delineated." Given the depth of the coal seam and the era when it would have been laid down, the carvings would have had to have been made millions of years before any of humanity's ancient ancestors were traipsing around and engaging in stonework, to say nothing of having the technology to produce tools capable of performing such work. So how was this to be explained?

An editor at the newspaper, not wanting to appear as if he would fall for a fool's errand, quickly hazarded a guess that the figures in the slate were "a fossiliferous formation of the buds or germs of a plant which flourished ages since." But the miners stuck to their story and the descriptions of witnesses called such an explanation into doubt. The witnesses insisted that these were carvings of human faces, even if they were not up to the quality of modern sculptors. Photos were taken of the carvings, but sadly, it appears that none of them survived to the current era. Still, the Broad Top coal mine carvings eventually took their place as one of the less reported but numerous reports of what are broadly known as Out of Place Artifacts, or Ooparts. Many examples can be found, but most mainstream scientists work diligently to find conventional explanations for them that don't fly in the face of the accepted timeline of humanity, much as the editor of the Lewistown Gassette sought to do in 1886. But how many of these curious reports are simply misunderstandings of prosaic phenomena and how many might truly suggest that there is far more to our history than our alleged experts are willing to admit?

These types of Oopart reports keep seeming to crop up. Sometimes the "conventional explanations" are compelling, but others seem far more dubious. To be sure, not all reports come with the type of apparent bona fides that the Broad Top miners' report conveyed. Only two years ago I investigated a report from local social media filed by a young man who had been prying up shale by a local riverbank near Watertown, New York, hunting for fossils such as trilobites or other creatures. (They are common in the area.) He claimed to have pulled up one slab of shale and found an early 20th-century pocket watch embedded in the stone. That would be truly remarkable if true, and perhaps he did find something. But all he was able to produce were a couple of pictures of shale with a vaguely round indentation in it and a couple of rusty springs. The young man obviously had a cell phone and should have been able to photograph the watch. If nothing else, a nearly century-old pocket watch would have been worth some cash to a collector. How would he have lost it? It was interesting, but it simply didn't meet the bar of documenting the claim here as far as I was concerned.

To be sure, there are plenty of Oopart claims that have been met with plausible rebuttals, suggesting that nothing extremely anomalous is being observed. One of the most common is that of the Baghdad Battery. Dating from Iraq as early as 250 BC, it is comprised of a clay jar with a stopper made of asphalt. Sticking through the asphalt is an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder. Tests have been done in the modern era showing that if you fill the jar with vinegar, it can produce a small amount of electricity. The artifact actually exists and it can produce electrical juice in small amounts. But was that what the inventor used it for? It's been pointed out that all of those materials were already in common use at the time and there could have been another purpose. Alternatively, perhaps some clever inventor of the time realized that he could create a buzzing electrical sensation with it. But there are no corresponding examples and no proof of anyone in Iraq in that era using electricity at scale. (I will leave it to all the aspiring Ancient Astronaut investigators to decide if the Egyptian pyramids were massive power generators.) The jury remains firmly out on this question.

Another is the Antikythera Mechanism, which has been featured in so many paranormal documentaries that I'm positive you've all heard of it. Dated to a time before Christ, it appears to be an incredibly complex system of gears and levers capable of performing all manner of navigation calculations based on early celestial observations. Numerous modern reproductions of the device have been created and it appears to be completely functional. But does that mean that it somehow dropped in out of time? Or were the creators simply well ahead of their time in terms of crafting gears and wheels while observing the skies? As with other examples, perhaps they were exceptionally clever people who were ahead of their time and their knowledge was lost until the rest of civilization caught up. 

But not all of these accounts can be so easily disputed, and the explanations from the "conventional wisdom" leave much to be desired. What of the "Great Wall of Texas" that was discovered in 1852 and still stands to this day? It looks as if it was a huge stone construction built when indigenous natives were the only people living in the area. The stones are massive and nearly symmetrical, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. But the people living in the region at that time didn't even have equestrian mounts, to say nothing of the ability to move huge monoliths. Supposed experts claim that it could be a natural formation based on a single test of the stones' magnetic properties. But they also say the same thing about the infamous Bimini Road in the Bahamas. Massive stones appear to form intelligently designed architecture in a place that hasn't been above the surface of the ocean for uncounted thousands of years. Is it all just a coincidence?

Some of the notable Oopart reports are far harder to dismiss and the prosaic explanations offered by skeptics seem to be a great stretch of the imagination at best. Let's stop and consider the Salzburg Cube (also known as the Wolfsegg Iron). While not actually "cube" shaped, it's a chunk of high-purity iron with a strange groove down the center of it. It was discovered in Wolfsegg am Hausruck in Austria in 1885. It has been on display in multiple museums. What makes it remarkable is that it was discovered inside a block of coal that miners were processing. The coal seam where it was found was estimated to be approximately 60 million years old. The only prosaic explanation that has been offered suggests that it "somehow" became embedded in the coal during processing. But coal is very brittle. Inserting such a refined iron object into a block of coal without shattering it should have been impossible. The cube looks otherworldly and you can see a photo of it at the link above. How did it get there?

Then there is the case of the Fuente Magna Bowl. Excavated early in the 20th century, it is a beautifully engraved piece of pottery with odd animal figures and writing around the inside in at least two different languages. One of them was translated to be ancient Sumerian. What makes this discovery truly unique is the fact that it was excavated roughly 75 kilometers from the city of La Paz, Bolivia and other artifacts from that dig have been dated to long before the first explorers from Europe or Africa ever reached South America. How could anyone in present-day Bolivia have been familiar with the Sumerian language centuries ago? Some critics have argued that the Sumerian text inside the bowl contains errors in how the characters are formed, but others point out that verified Sumerian writings evolved over time. Other skeptics have simply thrown up their hands and declared that the bowl must be a hoax, but it remains a mystery to this day.

Another oopart that stubbornly defies most conventional explanations is the London Hammer. In 1934, Max Hahn discovered it outside of London, Texas. He found a curious-looking stone with a piece of wood resembling a tool handle firmly embedded in it. Not thinking much of it, the family placed it on a shelf for years until one of their children grew curious and managed to crack the stone open to investigate it. Inside the rock, they found the head of a clearly man-made hammer, likely from the late 19th century. The remains of the wooden handle were old enough that portions of it had turned to charcoal. The hammer is still on display today at the Creation Evidence Museum. So how was it embedded in solid stone? Skeptics claim that the hammer was lost by someone and the surrounding stone formed via the process of rapid mineral concretion. To be sure, concretion is a real phenomenon whereby objects can become encased in hard, compact mineral matter in a surprisingly short period of time, sometimes in only a decade or two. Common examples can be seen in caves where dripping water calcite deposits form stalactites and stalagmites. Beach rocks can grow relatively rapidly through the accumulation of calcium carbonate, sometimes encasing misplaced objects. Shipwrecks and other objects abandoned in marine environments can similarly become covered in calcium carbonate. But the London Hammer does not appear to be encased in calcite or calcium carbonate. It is embedded in very solid stone. How did that happen?

So what are we to make of all of this? The subject of out-of-place artifacts has fascinated me for years and for what it may be worth, I've boiled down the possible explanations into three categories. First, as previously noted, a fair number of these reports are almost certainly the result of hoaxes, misinterpretations, or a misunderstanding of the technological capabilities of ancient societies.I believe that the Antikythera Mechanism is an excellent example of the latter. The Baghdad Battery may be as well. Hoaxes are sadly all too common, perpetrated by people who are simply seeking attention or looking to make a profit through social media or otherwise.

When it comes to the other, more inexplicable cases, however, we should be open to more exotic explanations, even if the conventional wisdom leads skeptics to scoff at such ideas. One possibility that I keep returning to is that we could be seeing the result of what are known as apportations or Disappearing Object Phenomena (DOPs). Many people experience this. I've personally had common items seemingly vanish, only to show up later in a place where I would never typically set them. Granted, I'm getting on in years, but I thankfully haven't reached the stage where I'm finding my house keys in the refrigerator yet. If objects really can pop in and out of our reality, would it be so strange to posit that they might also travel through time in addition to space? Alternately, many people studying the UFO phenomenon have speculated that exotic visitors to our world may not be extraterrestrials at all, but rather our future selves coming back to check things out after time travel is invented. There's no reason that they might not have picked up a mining hammer in the 1800s and then discarded it back during the Cretaceous period, only to later become embedded in stone. 

If none of those explanations adequately fill the bill, I'm honestly not sure what we're left with. Ghosts or trickster spirits? Real extraterrestrials with a naughty sense of humor who are just messing with our minds? Perhaps we really are living in a simulation and these ooparts are simply all glitches in the matrix. We may never know for sure, but what I do know is that I have little patience with the skeptics who assume that we figured everything out in the Age of Enlightenment and that there must be a conventional, material answer for every mystery. If there isn't, they will simply make something up. I am increasingly confident that the universe is vastly more complex than we have ever dared to imagine and we still really don't understand the fundamental nature of life, time, or reality. The ooparts may simply be one more piece of that intriguing puzzle.

Jazz Shaw

Jazz Shaw is a U.S. military veteran and journalist who has written for and appeared on multiple outlets including Salem Media, National Review, and MSNBC, along with many American radio outlets. His quest for the truth revolves around both the paranormal and the perfect martini.

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