Posts Tagged With: 10 most puzzling ancient artifacts

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Giant Stone Balls of Costa Rica

Here perhaps is the only true puzzler on the list. Probably not for the reasons you think, but it does give me a moment to explain why Context is so important in archaeology.

Lets start with what we do know about the Balls. The earliest reports of the Balls began in the late 1800’s, but no one got around to scientifically investigating them till the 1930’s [Kansas 2010]. This makes them a fairly recent discoveries in the great archaeological timeline. The United Fruit Company is credited with discovering the Balls when they began to clearing land in Costa Rica for banana plantations [Hoopes 2001]. Archaeological investigation began shortly after their discovery and the first professional publication came out in 1943 [Hoopes 2001]. Excavations done at sites where the Balls are still in-situ have shown them associated with pottery and other physical materials typical pre-columbus cultures in the area [Hoopes 2001].

The Balls themselves range widely in size with the largest recorded one weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter [Hoopes 2001]. Most of the balls are made of granodiorite, a hard, igneous stone that outcrops in the foothills of the nearby Talamanca range with a few made from coquina, a hard material similar to limestone [Wiki].  The Balls have been the target of vandalism and theft ever since they were discovered [Hoopes 2001]. Some were blown up by treasure hunters, some damaged by agricultural activities [Hoopes 2001, Kansas 2010]. In the 1950’s only 50 were known to still be in-situ, today fewer then a handful remain [Hoopes 2001].

A larger ball in-situ with some other interesting features. Because they have been  found in-situ, they will be able to provide us with information that would be lost otherwise.

In 2010, John Hoopes with the University of Kansas re-investigated the Balls in an attempt to get them declared a national heritage. He describes the formation process as being one where the larger stones were shaped by way of pecking and grinding with Hammerstones  [Hoopes 2001, Kansas 2010].

A Hammerstone in action

Some of the Balls still bear the pock marks left behind from the process [Kansas 2010]. This process is far from extraordinary. Most pre-historic cultures used ground-stone tools in some capacity. Be it a hand ax, a hoe, or a mortar and pessel.

This is a small array of ground stone tools.

Hoopes also has an excellent, though hard to read, website with lots of information on the Balls. I encourage you to look it over.

Ok, So now you know pretty much everything we know about the Stone Balls. You know what they are made of, how they are made, and where they are found. You also know that they are endangered because of people vandalizing them and taking them to use as ornaments. So what were they for?

We don’t know. We don’t know because we can’t find enough of them in-situ to learn anything. We don’t know because people take them and move them before they can be properly studied.

I cannot express strongly enough how important it is for things to remain where they were found until they can be properly recorded and studied. A single artifact provides little information unless it is still in Context. That means it needs to remain how it is in relation to its surroundings and neighboring features. Things that give us information are stratification, relationship to other artifacts, positing within a feature, relationship to other features, and in general the overall location of the artifact. What I am saying in a nutshell is, unless you are a professional who is on an actual dig, don’t pick things up. Take a picture, make a drawing, or shoot some video, but don’t pick things up. The moment you do anything that artifact could have told us is lost.

This has actually been a running theme thoughout the 10 Most list. Mysterious artifacts that have no documentation or context. Even if one of these artifacts were real, it would be immediately disregarded because it is out of context and nothing can be learned from it. Nothing is more heart-breaking then to spend all summer digging on a site only to have the locals come and show you their “collections”. Especially when they’ve “tagged” those artifacts with random numbers written on the artifacts with permanent marker. It’s hard to be nice to these individuals.

The reality is that it’s not really their fault. I feel the majority of the blame comes down on the academic community. Until recently the need for public outreach was overlooked, especially in America, and now we are trying to play catch-up. Its why in England, Time-Team is one of their top shows, and in Ameirca we get Diggers.

So what’s the way to fix this issue? How do we reach the Public better?

We continue to build on Citizen Scientist projects, we continue our outreach. We have Archaeology Month, do demos, and do more outreach. We also Blog, Twitter, utilize YouTube, Hangouts, and make our field more informative to the average person. I really feel like the days of the impenetrable Ivory Tower is over. More and more departments are making their research open access, which does create a new set of problems, but it also creates interest in the public.

And that’s what we want, we want a public that is interested, engauged, and excited.

Resources:

Hoopes, John

2001 The Stone Balls of Costa Rica. http://www.world-mysteries.com/sar_12.htm Retrieved 9/12/2012. [wm]

University of Kansas

2010 Mysterious stone spheres in Costa Rica investigated. ScienceDaily. March 23 2010. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322143217.htm Retrieved 9/12/2012. [sd]

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Rants, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gen Con 2012 Wrap-Up

This year at Gen Con was a blast, probably because I am gainfully employed, and could actually spend money this year…but I digress.

Be that as it may, it was also the best year for my presentations. I sold out ticket wise, had some really great questions form the audience, and I even learned a little about planning and will be adjusting accordingly.

First, the presentations!

This year I presented my usual introduction to Archaeology vs Pseudo-Archaeology, I changed things up a bit by takeing out the Ark and adding Piltdown Man. I also kept the 2012 break down in there just because this is the last year I can do it. I also added a bit more on the “why we belive” part since explanations about how we believe and why we belive has expanded and frankly it’s damn interesting.

The other bit I did was the “10 most not so puzzling ancient artifacts”. Granted, I still have two posts to do here on the blog, but I was able to get a wrap up done for Gen Con. Everyone seemed to like it, and I got some great Q&A afterwards, but I don’t think I got my point about skepticism across. I will have to work on that for next year.

Things I learned:

  1. It pays to know people who own a projector. Also, I probably want to get one of my own for next year.
  2. I really need to get hand-outs so I can cite my sources better and give people my contact information.
  3. I must register my events early next year so I don’t have a lecture that interferes with my gaming. I mean, I love talking about archaeology, but I also want to roll dice…just saying.

Also, the group who was Skeptical Gamers seems to have dried up and blow away. That really makes me sad. I had all these visions of us eventually getting a skeptical tracks like Dragon Con and bringing in skeptical gamers from all over to talk and then geek out over Flux or Catan, or even a pick up table top game.

Who knows, maybe I just need to put a call out for more skeptics next year, get more people involved and try to revive this on my own, or maybe I should keep it as a one woman show for now? IDK.

And yes, I did get to game, I played four great indy games, one of which I got recognized at by the GM. He apparently did some research on me and found out I was an archaeologist, and then ask me to use my powers for good. I got to say, I really enjoyed his game, he gave me the archaeologist character and then gave another guy a character inspired by Von Daniken. Hilarity ensued, plus it was an ego boost.

So next year I’ll be doing either two or three presentations, my usual Intro, possibly a revamp of the 10 Most, and then my new series “Who Really Discovered America?” People are probably not going to like the conclusion, so yay. I’ll also be scheduling them either early in the day or later in the evening, after the Dealer Hall closes. Maybe one of each to get a feel for things?

Anyway, I had a blast this year, and I’m already planning for next. Thanks everyone who came to see me talk, I do hope to see all of you next year too!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Ancient Model Artifact, Plus a Rant!

This appears to be more of a category than an individual artifact, it seems to cover a couple of different artifacts that share the common thread of vaguely looking like flying objects. Or at lest that’s what you’re supposed to think. Two major items stand out in this category, The Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts, though it can also be said that flying carpets, winged chariots, and dragons also belong here (more on this later).

Let’s start with the Saqqara Bird.

The Bird in Question

The Saqqara Bird is an actual artifact kept in an actual museum, it was uncovered by actual archaeologists and studied by same. The Bird’s existence is not in question and not disputed. It’s the Bird’s function that people want to debate, and by people I mean the Fringe.

The Bird was discovered in 1898 by Dr. Khalil Messiha during an  excavation of the Pa-di-Imen tomb in Saqqara, Egypt (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010). It is made out of sycamore wood and appears to have a falcon shaped head, complete with Horace like eyes. It’s exact function is unknown but it is mostly accepted that the Bird was part of a mast-head used on sacred boats like those used during the Opt Festival, of which we have documentation (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010, Orcutt 2001].

Please note bird images on the masts of the ships.

Now, some will have you think that the Bird is a scaled down replica of a glider. There are several issues with this, mainly that, if you faithfully replicate the Bird to a larger scale, it will not fly. I know most of us have seen the Ancient Aliens episode where they make a model, and then fly it, but they also make several modifications to it, none of which have any evidence of existing. To be a final nail in the glider coffin, others have tried to replicate the models and have found them to be lacking. Larry Orcutt points out in his article “Model Airplane?” talking about the Bird:

“The requirements for a Free Flight model glider to be automatically stable in flight are that it should:

  1.  Balance somewhere between 25% and 60% of the wing chord back from the leading edge. The wing chord is the average width of the wing, measured from front to back. A glance at the bird shows that the body is made from a single piece of wood whose proportions are such that the balance point is at or behind the trailing edge of the wing. The bird’s head region has clearly never had a weight attached to it or buried within it. Such a weight would be needed to bring the balance point forward into the range given above.
  2. Have a horizontal tail surface of around 20 – 25% of the wing area. Despite some claims to the contrary, no such tail surface currently exists and there are no traces of a tail plane’s attachment point on the bird’s fin or rear body. The fin is the vertical tail surface that forms the rear of the bird’s body.
  3.  Be shaped to provide spiral stability. The presence of a large fin at the rear of the body must be balanced by a dihedralled wing if the bird is to glide without tipping over sideways into an terminal spiral dive. A dihedralled wing is one with the tips raised above the center of the wing like virtually all passenger planes and model aircraft. The bird has the opposite wing arrangement. Its wing tips are drooped to give anhedral, which would only serve to increase the bird’s spiral instability.

 As can be easily seen, the bird meets none of these requirements for flight, so it is quite unlikely that it ever flew or that accurate replicas could fly. [Orcutt 2001]“

He also shows several examples of the mast mounted birds that look very much like the Bird, and has a link though to a report on the replication and attempted flight of the Bird.

Next, let’s look at the Tolima Artifacts.

One of several small animal totems.

Again, these are another set of real artifacts recovered in real digs and displayed in real museums. It’s the interpretation of said artifacts that is disputed. Not by anyone who knows anything about them, or the Tolima people, but by Ancient Alien theorists and such. These little gold charms are so low-key you’ll be hard pressed to find anything academic on them. However, you can go see them in several museums around America, including the Smithsonian in DC and The Field Museum in Chicago. To the Ancient Alien people though, these small gold artifacts are hard evidence of ancient Jet fighters.

I really can’t even begin to tear this one apart because it’s just so ridiculous to me. Where the Fringe sees an airplane, I see fish and moths. Maybe it’s because I understand that ancient peoples took liberties and stylized their interpretations of their world, especially when it came to ritual items. Maybe it’s because these things don’t look a damn thing like airplanes or jets. IDK.

Da Plane Boss, Da Plane!

But honestly, let’s look at the larger issue with this whole ancient airplane thing, Where are the remains of these plains? Where are the parts, the broken bits, the actual plane themselves? Where is all the stuff associated with flying planes? Where are the airports, the air towers, the luggage claim racks…

If man was making them, where are the production sites? If Aliens flew them down, why is there no physical evidence? What did these things run on? Jet fuel is an expensive, complicated, explosive mix. How did our ancestors make it and not kill themselves?

This brings us to the more imaginative part of this entry, the whole idea that flying carpets, dragons and winged chariots were really ancient man’s way of interpreting ancient flying machines. In order for these ideas to work we have to make several assumptions that no one should be comfortable making.

First, we have to assumes that the mythologies of ALL ancient peoples are accurate and true.

Second, we have to assume that whenever the ancients said “God or Gods” they were really  talking about aliens, they just didn’t know it.

Third, we have to assume that our ancestors were too ignorant of the natural world to understand a non-natural object, and instead of faithfully representing the actual object in story and art, they took artistic liberties to create winged chariots, flying carpets, and yes, Dragons.

Fourth, we have to ignore that our first assumption and our fourth assumption are in opposition.

Fifth, we have to never ask what happened to all the physical evidence advanced machinery would have left behind, or where these “Alien Gods” went to, or why they came or left in the first place.

In order for the Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts to be real, all these questions and assumptions need to be addressed. Evidence needs to be produced, and reality itself has to shift. I’ve yet to hear anything resembling a reasonable answer to the logical objections to the idea of ancient airplanes. If one could be provided, it would be the first.

Reinterpreting the Known World.

Another thing sticks out here that is of  some interest, and that is the reinterpreting of actual artifacts. It’s something I’ve noticed the Ancient Alien theorists do often. They take known discoveries and try to make them fit the Alien narrative. They reject documented and researched interpretations by experts and substitute their own, that are often based on nothing more than observing a photograph. I’m often left wondering why? What makes a non-professional individual reject the accepted opinion of a professional and supplement a much less informed opinion instead? Why do they think these two opinions are equal in validity?

This has nothing to do with intelligence, I want that to be clear. It has everything to do with experience and education. All three of those things are separate and are not actually dependent on each other, so none of this “they’re stupid” talk. Irrational? Perhaps. Uniformed? definitely. But not stupid.

Whatever the answer to those questions might be, we in the “Mainstream” will continue to be plagued by weird reinterpreting by the “Fringe”. Which leads to the other problem I have with this kind of thing, misinformation.

Regardless if the misinformation is being distributed knowingly or unknowingly, the biggest problem is that they can put that bad information out there faster than most people can fact-check. Which creates confusion in a normal, rational, individual. What can be done about that?

Critical articles like these, critical arguments, critical thinking, and access to open, honest facts, are the only way to combat this barrage of misinformation. People need access to factual information so that it can be used to counter the bad information. People also need to be taught how to think both skeptically and critically, something a lot of people think they are doing, but in reality are not. I feel that these goals are being met to some degree. Open Access is a huge thing among scientists today, and I think it will only continue to become the norm. That thought gives me hope.

Resources:

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith

2010 “Egyptian ‘aeroplane’ models?.” Bad Archaeology. http://www.badarchaeology.com/?s=Saqqara+Bird&search=Search Accessed July 9th 2012.

Orcutt, Larry

2001 “Modle Airplane?” Catchpenny’s Mystries of Nacent Egypt Explained. http://www.catchpenny.org/model.html. Accessed July 9th 2012.

“The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.”http://www.ancientx.com/nm/anmviewer.asp?a=75. Accessed April 2 2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Ancient Astronauts, History Channel, Rants, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Out-Of-Place Metal Objects

As we move though The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list, we come to a couple “catch-all” categories. The first is Out-Of-Place Metal Objects, which is a subcategory of what are called OOPArts, or Out-Of-Place Artifacts.

This really is a huge catch-all and includes many objects that are both real (in that they exist, but are not necessarily what they are claimed to be) and those that are fake. There are really too many for me to address in one post, and I will be getting back to them individually at a later point. I get lots of questions about these little tid-bits of metal, and every time I investigate them, they turn out to be little more than urban legends, if they exist at all.

I do want to point out here, that the term OOPArt is not professional jargon. I would wager if you walked up to the average archaeologist and asked them about OOPArts, they’d have no clue what you were talking about, and after you explained it, they would try not to laugh. It is however a big part of pseudoscience and should be a clue that whoever you are speaking with is not an expert in the field.

Now, we’ve covered a few of the OOPArts already, The Antikythera Mechanism, the Klerksdorp  Spheres, and recently the Coso Artifact. Of just these three, only the Mechanism is a real artifact, and it’s not a puzzle as to what it is. The Spheres aren’t even metal, and the Coso Artifact is a corroded spark-plug. This appears to be the reality for most of the OOPArts, that they are either items that are thought to be metal but aren’t, are metal but are being claimed to be older than they are, or simply made up.

As I said before, I will be going over these individualy, but right now I want to make sure that we all understand that OOPArts are mostly made up, never what they claim, and rarely ancient.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Out-Of-Place Artifacts, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Coso Artifact

The next item on the 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list is the Coso Artifact…or as it should be more correctly named; The 1920’s era Spark Plug that got confused for a Geode. Which if you know anything about how metal corrodes, debunks this entirely. It also takes all the fun out of writing a big’ol blog post about this, so let’s start at the beginning shall we?

Radiograph of the Coso Artifact

In February of 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell, who were looking for minerals to sell in their shop in Olancha, California discovered a specimen that looked rather different than their normal fair. The outer layer of the specimen was encrusted with fossil shells and their fragments. In addition to shells, the discoverers noticed two nonmagnetic metallic objects in the crust, resembling a nail and a washer.

The next day, in his workshop at their store, Mike Mikesell claims to have ruined a nearly new diamond saw blade while cutting the specimen in half. Inside Mikesell discovered a perfectly circular section of very hard, white material that appeared to be porcelain. In the center of the porcelain cylinder was a 2-millimeter shaft of bright metal which responded to a magnet. There are the only hard facts we have on the origin of the Artifact. Beyond this, things start to get hazy, and red flags begin to pop up.

We don’t know what all was done to examine the Artifact early on. We know that Virginia Maxey claims that she took the “geode” to a geologist who dated the artifact to be about 500,000  years old. We don’t know who this geologist is, what he did to examine the Artifact, what his real conclusions were, or if he really existed.  Whoever he is, I question his expertise, because this is object is obviously not a geode.

You can see the concretions growth around the spark-plug.

Remember the Klerksdorp Spheres that I went over in an earlier post? This is the same kind of thing. Only instead of making a sand candle, this is more like growing salt crystals. Think back to when you were a kid and for a science project you made a supersaturated liquid, added a string, and watched crystals grow.

Ok, never did that one? Go to you kitchen, boil about a cup of water, take a spoon and quickly start adding either salt or sugar, stirring slowly so you don’t over cool the water, until the salt/sugar refuse to dissolve completely anymore. This might take a bit, and it will take a good deal of salt/sugar. Next take a thin fibrous string, soak it in the liquid and then hang it up so that one end is still in the liquid. Now wait, for a while, like a day or better. You’ll notice that crystals start forming on the string as the liquid evaporates, the more you were able to dissolve into the liquid, the bigger your crystals will grow.

Click through for better directions

Now, this isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is pretty much what happens when you leave ferric (iron) metals in damp ground for long periods of time. The water begins to oxidize the metal, the oxidation acts like glue sticking things too it (like the sand in the sand candle), and the larger the bit of metal, the bigger the concretion will grow. Just like in the example, you need something for the concretions to adhere to, like the string, only here it’s our ferric object which also causes the oxidation.

This is a common occurrence, especially in historic archaeology, where we find nails, hinges, door knobs, handles, files, etc by the bucket full. The first time you see one, you think it’s some kind of rusty potato, but it’s obviously metal of some kind. It’s hard to identify these objects, and you basically learn from experience to tell what they are, when you can. This concretion is also common in underwater archaeology, but underwater archaeologists have sophisticated ways of removing the buildup without damaging the artifact underneath. You can go watch the process in action at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum right now as they clean a cannon recovered from a sunken ship.

Quick recap.

So far we have an unidentified metal and porcelain artifact recovered by some rock-hounds. They don’t know what it is so they take it to a mysterious, unnamed geologist who somehow dates it to being 500,000 years old, despite the oxidation that the geologist should have noticed.

To add to this, the Coso Artifact possesses no characteristics that would classify it as a geode [Stromberg 2000]. Geodes consists of a thin outer shell, composed of dense chalcedonic silica, and are filled with a layer of quartz crystals [Stromberg 2000]. The Coso Artifact not only has neither of these characteristics, but its outer shell is softer than a Geode [Stromberg 2000]. These are glaring differences that a geologist would have noticed.

Cut and Polished Geode

Identifying the artifact was actually a pretty simple feat and the story about it is rather funny…to me anyway, so instead of typing the whole thing out, I will simply quote form the article,  “The Coso Artifact: Mystery From the Depths of Time?”  by Pierre Stromberg and Paul Heinrich:

“To help us to learn more about spark-plug technology of a century ago, we enlisted the help of the Spark Plug Collectors of America (SPCA). We sent letters to four different spark plug collectors describing the Coso Artifact, including Calais’s X-rays of the object in question. We expected the SPCA to provide some vague hints or no information at all about the artifact. The actual answers were stunning.

On September 9, 1999, Chad Windham, President of the SPCA, called Pierre Stromberg. Windham initially suspected that Stromberg was a fellow spark plug collector, writing incognito, with the motive of hoaxing him. His fears were compounded by the fact that there is an actual line of spark plugs named “Stromberg”. Though Stromberg repeatedly assured Windham that his intentions were purely for research, he was puzzled why Windham was so suspicious and asked him to explain. Windham replied that it was so obvious to him that the artifact was a contemporary spark plug, the letter had to be a hoax. “I knew what it was the moment I saw the X-rays,” Windham wrote.

Stromberg asked Windham if he could identify the particular make of the spark plug. Windham replied he was certain that it was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. Later, Windham sent 2 identical spark plugs for comparison. Ten days after Windham’s telephone call, Bill Bond, founder of the SPCA and curator of a private museum of spark plugs containing more than 2000 specimens, called Stromberg. Bond said he thought he knew the identity of the Coso Artifact: “A 1920s Champion spark plug.” Spark plug collectors Mike Healy and Jeff Bartheld (Vice President of the SPCA) also concurred with Bond’s and Windham’s assessment about the spark plug. To date, there has been no dissent among the spark plug collectors as to the identity of the Coso Artifact. “

So, a definitive ID, and no decent among experts on the subject. We know the Coso Artifact wasn’t a Geode and that it is a 1920’s spark plug. Now what?

Now we have to deal with those who ignore facts in order to pursue their own belief. Included in this group of people are, of course, the Ancient Alien folks, who claim that the Artifact is evidence of early contact with aliens who’s space craft apparently broke down and then left spare parts behind. Also in this group are the Young Earth Creationists who seem to think the Artifact somehow proves a young earth…by being dated at 500,000 years old, and ignoring the fact that simple math once again eludes them.

And so there you have it folks, The Coso Artifact aka The 1920’s era Spark Plug that got confused for a Geode. I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed with this one, but hey, they can’t all be winners right?

Resources:

“The Coso Artifact.” Bad Archaeology. http://www.badarchaeology.com/?page_id=223 Accessed July 9th 2012.

Stromberg, Pierre

2000. The Coso Artifact : Mystery from the Depths of Time. The Talk Origins Archives. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/coso.html Accessed July 9th 2012.

Stromberg, Pierre and Paul V Heinrich

2004 “The Coso Artifact: Mystery From the Depths of Time?” Reports of the National Center for Science Education. March–April 2004. Vol 24 Issue 2. http://ncse.com/rncse/24/2/coso-artifact Accessed July 9th 2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Ancient Astronauts, Creation Science and Intelligent Design, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Baghdad Battery

Ah the Baghdad Battery, such a simple, yet confounding object…or is it?

Let’s start at the beginning…or should I say beginnings?

The story starts with one German artist/archaeologist Wilhelm Konig who either unearthed the vessel during an excavation in Khujut Rabu [2], or found the object in the basement of the Baghdad Museum when he took over as curator [6]. Now, Konig was a real person, he was appointed Assistant Director of the Baghdader Antikenverwaltung (the Baghdad Antiquities’ Administration), becoming its Director in 1934 [1], and he appears to have published a paper on the Battery but I can’t find a copy [2, 4].

So let’s ignore the two conflicting origin stories and move on.

When the vessel was examined there was evidence of an acidic substance being present, and a copper cylinder and a metal rod, all held in place with an asphalt plug. Konig supposedly said this was a battery and was used for electroplating items with gold or sliver leaf, and ever since the pseudo-archaeology world has run with it.

So here are the red flags:

Red Flag #1 – Multiple Origin Stories.

Anytime I see this I get suspicious. If it was a real discovery of a real object of this much importance, there would be a record to certify its authenticity.  We’re lacking this here. Konig was a real person, but he wouldn’t be the first in history to have his identity abused to further a fantasy.

Red Flag #2 – Dating The Pot Itself.

This little tid-bit doesn’t pop up until research begins to be done on the pot. You see, the original age of the pot is said to be from the Parthian era, 250 BC – 225 AD [6, 2]. Yet if we look at the artistic nature of the pot itself we find they are made in the style of the Sassanians People, who lived from 250 AD – 650 AD [6, 2]. This is an 900 year difference.

Red Flag #3 – Electroplating

Konig suggested the batteries were for electroplating, but again, there is no real evidence to support that [2]. To start, the method used by Mesopotamians is believed to be fire-gilding, using mercury [1]. Not to mention the  only scientist to supposedly able to use the batteries for electroplating, didn’t make any records of her experiments.

Dr Arne Eggebrecht, a past director of Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, supposedly experimented by connecting several replica Batteries together and used grape juice as her acid. She claims to have deposited a very thin layer of silver on an object [2]. Other scientists dispute this, due to a lack of records and that no one has been able to replicate her experiment [2].

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Bettina Schmitz said, “There does not exist any written documentation of the experiments which took place here in 1978… The experiments weren’t even documented by photos, which really is a pity,” she says. “I have searched through the archives of this museum and I talked to everyone involved in 1978 with no results.” Dr Schmitz is currently a researcher based at the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum.

Red Flag #4 – The Actual Construction of the Battery.

A Modified “Baghdad Battery”

The clay pot is roughly five inches long, with a copper cylinder inside and an iron rod all held in place by an asphalt stopper. Testing suggests that there was some kind of acidic substance inside the pot at one time [5]. Things start to fall apart when we examine the battery further.

The vessel and the metal innards all resemble artifacts found elsewhere in the region, in Seleucia on the Tigris river, which were used to store papyrus [4,5]. The acidic residue in the pots could easily have been decimated papyrus [4, 6] and since the batters were supposedly left to the elements, it’s not unthinkable that this is indeed the case [4].

Also, the asphalt cap used to seal the battery completely covered the metal pieces [4], so there would have been no way to actually connect the battery to anything [1,4]. Even if there had been a way, there have never been any wires to suggest such a connection, or any devices that would require electricity, found associated with the batteries [2, 4].

Red Flag #5 – Archaeologists Familiar with the Region don’t Think it’s a Battery, When They Think About it at all.

Elizabeth Stone, Stony Brook University archaeologist and professor of archaeology, talked about her dig in Iraq, the first in 20 years [3]. During the interview on NPR’s Science Friday she received a question from a caller asking about the battery. She replied that she didn’t know a single archaeologist who believed the Battery was a battery [3]. Dr. Stone is considered an authority on Iraq archaeology, and if anyone knew anything about the Batteries, she would. Her null answer, speaks volumes on the topic.

Building a Baghdad Replica.

The Anatomy of a “Baghdad Battery”

It is true that, with some modification, you too can build a Battery that works, as has been proven by the Mythbusters and several academic projects [6]. There are even directions on the wonderful site Instructables on how to build your own. However, sticking a probe into a lemon will provide more of an electrical current then the Battery, and is much cheaper to constrict [5].

So what are the Baghdad Batteries?

They are simply clay vessels that housed copper cylinders. Such cylinders are known to have held papyrus scrolls.The majority of Archaeologists agree with this interpretation. I’m going to invoke Occam’s Razor and go with the the archaeology here, that supports the vessels as being scroll jars.

I know that’s not as Hollywood as electrical batteries or evidence of alien contact. But it is closer to reality and the majority of the evidence supports it, where there is none to support the other ideas.

Resources:

[1] Bad Archaeology. “The ‘Batteries of Babylon’.” http://www.badarchaeology.com/?page_id=208#   Accessed 6/22/2012.

[2] BBC News. “Riddle of ‘Baghdad’s batteries’.” BBC News Science and Enviroment. 2/27/2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2804257.stm#story Accessed 6/22/2012.

[3] Science Friday. “Archaeologists Revisit Iraq.” 3/23/2012.
http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/03/23/2012/archaeologists-revisit-iraq.html. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[4] Skeptic World. “The Baghdad Battery”. http://www.skepticworld.com/ancient-artifacts/baghdad-battery.asp Accessed 6/22/2012.

[5] Temples, Tombs, and Spaceships. “The Baghdad Battery.”  Oct 12th, 2010. http://sites.matrix.msu.edu/pseudoarchaeology/2010/10/12/the-baghdad-battery-and-ancient-electricity/. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[6] The Iron Skeptic. “The ‘Baghdad Battery’.” http://www.theironskeptic.com/articles/battery/battery.htm. Accessed 6/22/2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Grooved Spheres

I’ve seen this article several times now, and I meant to address it the first time, but then I got distracted by something shinny…er I mean work?

Either way, the biggest reason I let it go was that I wasn’t terribly concerned about it. I mean, these things are so obviously geofacts or frauds, who in their right mind would believe them? Then I saw this same article come across my feed on Linked-In, it kinda made me sad. So, to make myself feel better, I will explain why these 10 ‘puzzling’ artifacts are not so puzzling after all.

Sadly, as with a lot of things, it’s easy to put a lie or misinformation out there, it’s twice as difficult to explain why they are wrong. So we’ll be looking at each of these “artifacts” one at a time. Starting with:

The Grooved Spheres

Grooved Sphere

The most common image of the Grooved Spheres

There is a phenomenon in the human brain called Pareidolia. This particular event is what causes us to see shapes in the clouds, faces on trees, and the Virgin Mary on toast. What’s that got to do with grooved spheres you ask? Well, the long and short of it is, Pareidolia is a fancy way of saying, we see what we want to see, and the people hyping the Grooved Spheres want to see what isn’t there.

Those who I would not describe as experts want these stones to be something otherworldly, something strange, and inexplicable. The problem is that experts have explained them, and they are rather worldly, but still cool.

The major claims about the Spheres is that they are perfectly spherical [1], grooved [1], made of metal [1], are harder than steel [2], rotate on their axis [2], sing the theme from Star Trek, and are rather boss DJ’s…Ok I made the last two up, just in case you can’t tell.

The glaring problem with most of these claims is, as usual, the lack of evidence to back them up. Not to mention there only seems to be a few ‘sources’ that just get repeated over and over again, without being fact-checked. One of which is the ever creative Weekly World News [2].

When you ask actual Geologists about these ‘puzzling’ Spheres, you get some very un-puzzling answers.

These were pretty much debunked in 1996 [3] by Paul V. Heinrich, a research associate at the University of Louisiana. He did some extensive research into the Spheres, analyzing their structures, and even cutting a few in half.  He found the Spheres to be completely natural. Lets looks at what he found.

Lets start with what the Spheres are actually made of; they consist either of hematite (Fe2O3), or wollastonite (CaSiO3) mixed with minor amounts of hematite and goethite (FeOOH) [2]. The Spheres found in unaltered pyrophyllite (Al2Si4O10(OH)2) consist of pyrite (FeS2) [2].

Geologists agree that these little Spheres are actually concretions formed in either volcanic sediments, ash, or both [2]. What causes the groves, simply put, is the formation process itself. The material the concretion forms in is softer than the concretion, and so when the softer material erodes away, all that’s left is the imprint it made.

For example, think of making a sand-mold candle. If you’ve never done this before let me explain. To make a sand candle the first thing you do is find some wet sand, like you would on the beach, or in a kid’s sand box. Then you press a shape into the sand, which is why it needs to be wet so it will hold it’s form. Next you pour melted wax into the mold you formed in the sand, add a wick, and let the wax harden. After the wax is all hard, you scoop it out of the sand, brush off the excess, and depending on your artistic ability, you have a lovely molded candle!

Let me tie this together for you, what you just did with the candle is similar to what happens when concretions form. When you poured the wax into the mold, the wet sand was the more stable, harder structure. Once the wax hardened, the reverse was true. But because the wax was hardening inside the sand, the sand left an imprint of itself on the wax. You’ll notice on your lovely new candle that on top of the shape you intentionally made, there are lots of little  bits of sand stuck in the wax. When you brush those off they will leave behind cavities in the wax. This is how the groves in the stones formed.

It really is that simple, and that cool. The Grooved Spheres are quite natural, but the formation process it takes to form them is very interesting and the end product is obviously very cool to look at.

As can be seen, these are hardly ‘perfect’ spheres. W block is 1 cm squared for scale.

Also, since this is a natural process, the Spheres are hardly perfectly spherical. This is evident in the pictures of the Spheres themselves. They are spherical in nature, round and grooved, but not perfectly. So there goes that claim, debunked by the pictures offered by the people making the claim.

None of these are ‘perfectly’ spherical. W block is 1 cm square used for scale.

So, we know what the Spheres are made of, we know how they are made, and we know what they look like…let’s adress the more fantastical claim that they rotate all by themselves on an axis.

This one is perhaps the quickest bit to debunk, it seems the whole rotation thing is from a misquote from Roelf Marx, the former curator of the Klerksdorp Museum. He reports that he was misquoted in regards to these objects when he was interviewed [3]. The fabricated quote has Marx saying that the objects rotated by themselves in vibration-free display cases in the Klerksdorp Museum. Rather, Marx stated that they rotated precisely because of the numerous earth tremors generated by underground blasting in local gold mining [3].

Similar claims about NASA’s bafflement over the Spheres are likewise unsupported [2].

This one looks like the Death Star. That proves something right?

So it seems none of the puzzling claims about the Spheres hold any water, but this article continues to make the rounds every so often. Why? More importantly, why do people give it credence?

The first glaring problem with the article is that it’s on multiple websites, all of them conspiracy type sites, and not one of them offer an author for the article. The second issue is, nothing that is in the article is backed up by citation, even if it’s a crappy source, cite your work people!

I think the third issue here is most people don’t know what a well researched, well written article looks like these days. I will blame the internet for this and a very lazy media. So I make this plea to the internet population, please don’t assume that an article is full of facts just because it’s on the I-net! Be critical, look for sources, look for citation, ask yourself if the article backs up its claims with equivalent evidence.

I’ve laid out for you here why the Grooved spheres are natural , really cool, and unique occurrences, but natural all the same. These are geofacts , natural occurring mineral objects that are often confused for being man made. Why? Because of good old fashion Pareidolia.

[1] “The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.” http://www.ancientx.com/nm/anmviewer.asp?a=75. Accessed April 2 2012.

[2] “Klerksdorp sphere.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klerksdorp_sphere#cite_note-Cairncross1988-6. Accessed April 2 2012.

[3] 1996.  Heinrich, Paul.  “The Mysterious Origins of Man: The South African Grooved Sphere Controversy.” http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mom/spheres.html. Accessed April 2 2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

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