The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Impossible Fossils

And so we have made it to the final entry in the 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list. We finish with the second of our two catch-all categories, the first being where we learned about OOParts. In this final entry we are looking at Impossible Fossils, which pretty much live up to their name.

We’ve been over this before in an earlier post on the Paluxy “Man Tracks”. Where a known artifact is being reinterpreted in hopes of supporting an idea that has no support for it. In the Man Tracks case, we have the fossilized imprints of dinosaur metatarsals made by bipedal dinosaurs that can look a little weird, until you understand how bipedal dinosaurs walked [Kuban 2010]. The Man Tracks are also nice cases of fraud in action since more than a few of them were actually carved to look like human feet, and then sold to the unwary [Kuban 2010]. Thankfully the man tracks have mostly been put to rest by through scientific debunking, however there appear to be plenty of Impossible Fossils waiting to take their place.

The particular fossil that the 10 most hits on is a supposed hand print. It’s described by a Creation Science website as:

“This photo shows a human handprint(sic) found in Cretaceous rock in the same layer with the Glen Rose dinosaur footprints. The fossil handprint(sic) is so specific that it displays impressions of the thumbnail, impressions of the tissue webbing between the thumb and index finger, and the impression left by penetration of the middle finger into the mud [Baugh 2006].”

A Texas-based website named “Pastor Art and Sister Sue” appear to be the first to mention the “hand print on stone”  claiming that it was discovered in 1995 formed in Cretaceous rock in the city of  Weatherford, Texas [Kuban 2010]. As with “discoveries” like this, the usual red flags spring up:

  • Red Flag #1: for starts, the article is uncited. I’ve ranted about this before, you must cite your sources!
  • Red Flag #2: There is not indication who found the fossil in the first place, or who studied it, or where, etc.
  • Red Flag #3: There is no record of if it was found in-situ, and after last post, we all know why it’s important to find and document things where they are found.

Pastor Art and Sister Sue have quite a few other impossible fossils on their site as well, things like sandal impressions along with trilobite fossils  Again, I am going to go back over this and make a series out of it.

Thus we reach the end of our journey through the 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts. I’ve had a good time with this and I actually learned a few things that surprised me. I’ve shown not only why and how most of these are frauds and not that puzzling, but I’ve explained several ways to identify other dubious claims.

I send you all out now into the wacky world of weird Archaeology to use this new-found knowledge to debunk on your own. Send me a link when you do, I’m always up for new “mysteries”.


Baugh, Carl,

2006. Creation Evidence Museum. Retrieved September 17 2012.

Kuban, Glen J.

2010. “The Paluxy Dinosaur/”Man Track” Controversy”(, Published by Glen J. Kuban. Retrieved September 06, 2011.

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.


Hoopes, John

2001 The Stone Balls of Costa Rica. Retrieved 9/12/2012. [wm]

University of Kansas

2010 Mysterious stone spheres in Costa Rica investigated. ScienceDaily. March 23 2010. Retrieved 9/12/2012. [sd]

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Ancient Model Aircraft, 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 planes? 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.

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If you want more on this topic, got to: 10 Most Not So Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.



Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith

2010 “Egyptian ‘aeroplane’ models?.” Bad Archaeology. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Orcutt, Larry

2001 “Modle Airplane?” Catchpenny’s Mystries of Nacent Egypt Explained. Accessed July 9th 2012.

“The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.” Accessed April 2 2012.

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.

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?

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“The Coso Artifact.” Bad Archaeology. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Stromberg, Pierre

2000. The Coso Artifact : Mystery from the Depths of Time. The Talk Origins Archives. 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. Accessed July 9th 2012.

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.

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[1] Bad Archaeology. “The ‘Batteries of Babylon’.”   Accessed 6/22/2012.

[2] BBC News. “Riddle of ‘Baghdad’s batteries’.” BBC News Science and Enviroment. 2/27/2003. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[3] Science Friday. “Archaeologists Revisit Iraq.” 3/23/2012. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[4] Skeptic World. “The Baghdad Battery”. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[5] Temples, Tombs, and Spaceships. “The Baghdad Battery.”  Oct 12th, 2010. Accessed 6/22/2012.

[6] The Iron Skeptic. “The ‘Baghdad Battery’.” Accessed 6/22/2012.

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Antikythera Mechanism

Before we can fully appreciate the Antikythera Mechanism, I first have to point out that clockwork and steam powered mechanisms were well known and in use in Ancient Greece, Egypt, India, and China. Things such as mechanical clocks, Automa, and various forms of calendars were in use.  Two and a half millennia before the Mechanism, India used gears to drive doors and lift water (Dunning 2009).

One of the most well known developers of steam and clockwork devices in ancient Greece was Hero of Alexandria, aka Heron. His writings on hydraulics, pneumatics and mechanics were translated into Latin in the sixteenth century and later were reconstructed (Handworx). His designs produced a variety of machines including an aeolipile, a rocket-like reaction engine and the first recorded steam engine (Handworx).

An Illustration of an Aeolipile

China also enjoyed clockwork devices that did a variety of things including keeping track of directions and counting the distance traveled.  The South Pointing Chariot  dates back to 2600 BC and is considered one of the most complex devices of it’s time (Handworx). The chariot sported a figure that always pointed south and drums that kept track of the revolution of the wheels, allowing users to measure distance (Handworx).

A Reconstruction of the South Pointing Chariot

Which brings us to the Antikythera Mechanism, so called because it was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera near Crete (Antikythera).

This is a first for this series, because this artifact is actually real.

Now if you read the blurb about it in The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, you’re led to believe that the ancient world had no clue how to make these kinds of devices, and that nothing with gears ever existed until 1575!  Please re-read the previous paragraphs, then let’s move on.

The Antikythera Mechanism is real, and we do know what it was used for, though the fine details are still up for debate. The Mechanism itself dates from around the end of the 1st century B.C.E. and is one of the most sophisticated mechanisms of it’s time (Antikythera, Dunning 2009). However, close examination of the device shows that every piece is exact and hasn’t been modified after manufacture (Antikythera). Meaning, this was the end product of a great deal of trial and error, like any great invention. Those working on the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) speculate that there may have been as many as ten prototypes leading up to the Mechanism (Antikythera).

The Mechanism is understood to be a complex astrological calendar keeping track of astronomical phenomena (Freeth 2006). It calculated celestial information and displayed cycles of the phases of the moon and lunar/solar calendar (Freeth 2006). It also could predict lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles (Freeth 2006), which are calculations that are older than most civilizations, ’cause the Babylonians kinda rocked.

The Mechanism is currently on display at  the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The three main fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism are in the Bronze Collection and are watched over by Mary Zafeiropoulou, who also works with AMRP to study the Mechanism (Antikythera).

There are about 82 surviving fragments and through the AMRP’s efforts, those pieces have been scanned, digitized and 3D-afied (Antikythera). The AMRP also made all of their research available to the public, and you can read where they are with their research at the Overview page for the project. They also have a You Tube channel with some cool short vids. They’ve reported their finding to the journal Nature as well, talking about their use of surface imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography of the surviving fragments (Freeth 2006). Using these methods they have managed to reconstruct the gear function and double the number of deciphered inscriptions on the fragments (Freeth 2006). Which, among other things, leads to really cool pictures.

These claims that the ancient world was without the knowledge to produce such devices are completely unfounded and can only come from a lack of knowledge about ancient times. Also, to say that we humans needed alien intervention to create something as complex as the Antikythera Mechanism is insulting. Our ancient ancestors are the same as modern humans. If we could figure it out today, which we have, then our ancestors could have figured it out too. Given resources and time, humans have proven they can do almost anything they put their minds to, for good or evil. We have no need for Aliens, Atlantians, or even Gods to aid us, and I think that is what this device shows best.

The Mechanism is a testament to human ability as much as any great earthwork or monument. Let’s not cheapen it.


The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Accessed May 25 2012.

Dunning, Brian.

2009. The Antikythera Mechanism. Skeptoid. December 15, 2009
href=”″> Accessed May 25 2012.

Freeth, T. et al.

2006  Antikythera Mechanism. Nature. Vol 444: 587-591. 30 November 2006. Received 10 August 2006; Accepted 17 October 2006. Accessed May 25 2012.

Handworx. Gearworx History. Accessed May 25 2012.

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Ica Stones

As we move on down the line of the 10 most not-so-puzzling ancient artifacts, we come to the Ica Stones. These are perhaps the most perplexing to me, since I don’t understand how anyone can look at these and think they are real.

A bad day for Fred Flintstone

These little gems range in size from cobbles to boulders, and depict a wide variety of images from humans co-existing with dinosaurs, to advanced surgery, and spaceships with advanced technology.

Apparently, this one is a modern hoax starting in 1966 when one, Dr. Javier Cabrera Darquea, a Peruvian physician, received a small carved rock as a gift for his birthday. The stone apparently came from a small town in Peru called Ica.  Dr. Cabrera seems to have had a great interest in prehistoric extinct fish, because when he saw the carved rock he recognized as such (Polidoro 2002, Carroll 2002, Feder 2010).

The Fish That Started it All.

Never mind that Dr. Cabrera never identified the fish, or mentions how he knows the fish is an accurate depiction of said unidentified species (Carroll 2002).

Dr. Cabrera became so fascinated with the little stone that he went looking for more. Lucky for him the locals were more than happy to provide them to him. Basilio Uschuya, a local farmer, began to provide more of the black volcanic stones to him. Uschuya claimed that he was finding them in a cave not far away. Uschuya never made known the location of the cave and Cabrera never appears to have gone looking for it. Still, Cabrera did become so engrossed with the stones and their apparent message that he built them a museum, left his physician career, and dedicated the rest of his life to buying all the stones he could get from the locals (Polidoro 2002). The Ica Stones are currently displayed in the Ica Stones Museum in Ica, Peru, which houses approximately 11,000 of the estimated 15,000 or more stones that are said to exist (Ross 2007, Feder 2010).

Dr. Cabrera and His Collection

So, as always we must ask, What are the Ica Stones really?

The stones themselves are varying sized pieces of Andesite, which is a type of hard volcanic rock. Various images have been engraved on the surface of these rocks depicting, as I said earlier, all sorts of crazy stuff. They also seem to all have a certain type of patina on them seemingly verifying their age. Cabrera has claimed that andesite is too hard to carve using stone tools (Carroll 2002), so for him it’s a sign that the stones were carved using advanced technology, like so many of the stones depict. The reality is that the stones are graved, as in a surface layer of oxidation has been scratched away, not carved (Carroll 2002). The difference is in the shallowness of the images on the surface of the stones.

Then there is that pesky patina, which many supporters claim is evidence of the carvings great age. Again, the reality is that the patina can be faked, as any antiquities expert will tell you.

Added to this is the admission of Basilio Uschuya to both the Erik Van Danikin and Peruvian authorities that he forged the stones, going as far to explain how he did it and producing one on the spot to prove his innocence (Ross 2007, Carroll 2002). Apparently, a dentist drill will carve anything, and the patina can be faked by either baking the stones in cow dung, or leaving them for a time in the Chicken coup (Ica N.d.). He chose his subjects from illustrations in comic books, school books, and magazines (Carroll 2002, Polidoro 2002, Ross 2007, Feder 2010). He also said that he had not made all the stones, and continued to sell similar stones to tourists as trinkets after the inquiry by the Peruvian government (Ica N.d., Feder 2010).

That’s pretty cut and dry for me, but for others, there is more to the stones then a simple hoax.

What I do like about these stones is how they manage to cross all the common conspiracy groups at the same time. See, the stones simultaneously supposedly validate the claims of the Ancient Astronauts Theorists, the Creationists, and the Atlantis folks all at once. They seem to have a little something for everyone.

Man Hunting the Tasty Sharp-toothed Brontosaurus.

For the Creationist folks there is the images of Dinos and Man living together. Sometimes they are hunting each other, sometimes Man is domesticating the Dinos. Whatever image that stones depict, all the Creationists see is evidence of a young earth and their particular slant on prehistory, despite the 60 million years that separates living dinosaurs from our earliest human ancestors.

The Nazca Lines, therefore Aliens.

For the Ancient Alien folks, there appear to be several stones that depict celestial bodies, things that might be space ships, and of course the Nazca Lines. All those things add up to Aliens visiting and teaching humans advanced technology, and leaving the newly advanced humans species with no other way to record such a visit, then to carve the events primitively onto stones.

Floating Heart Surgery.

For the Atlantis folks there are images of advanced technology and surgery. Stuff far to advanced for primitive brown people, so obviously the erudite Atlanteans brought their knowledge to these people, and again, had no better way to record all of this then to carve it into stone.

Where do we go with all of this?

No matter how you cut it, all three groups are claiming a very advanced, yet somehow lost and forgotten culture. So to all three groups one has to ask, why  has no one has ever found any other remnants of this great culture? Where are the encampments, the trash, the burials, the kilns, the tools, the grave goods, the monuments, the trade goods, the descendants of the people? Why if this culture is so advanced that they could perform modern surgery and take down animals hundreds of times their size, could they not find a better way to preserver their history then shallowly scratched stones? Why is it that no dinosaur’s fossils can be dated to an age contemporary with man (Polidoro 2002)?

Collection of Various Stones.

Dating the stones presents it own set of duh moments. Stones without organic mater can’t be carbon dated, so we rely on the strata in which they are found. Removing the stones without documenting where they were found pretty much renders the stones undatable, and basically useless to the archaeological record.

Sound Familiar? Yah, I’ve harped on this point before: let’s assume for a brief moment the Ica stones are real. Since they have never been properly recorded, and the cave they were supposedly found in has never been located, they are completely out of context, and nothing of significance can be learned from them. It also makes it impossible to date them or assigned them to a cultural group. Which is the fancy way of saying, they are completely useless.

Add to that the numerous debunking of the stones starting in 1977 during the BBC documentary “Pathway to the Gods”, Uschuya produced a “genuine” Ica stone with a dentist’s drill and claimed to have produced the patina by baking the stone in cow dung (Ica N.d.).

Then again in 1998, after four years of investigation, Spanish investigator Vicente Paris declared the stones a hoax (Ica N.d.). He stated that the stones showed traces of modern paints and abrasives. The strongest evidence he presented was the crispness of the shallow engravings; stones of great age should have substantial erosion of the surfaces (Ica N.d.).

Finally, a recent examination of the stones, done in Barcelona by José Antonio Lamich, founder of the Spanish “Hipergea” research group, revealed signs of sandpaper and recent carvings, backing up Paris’ investigations (Polidoro 2002, Feder 2010).

So with all of this stacked against the Ica Stones, not to mention the clearly ridiculous images depicted on the stones, how can anyone believe these are anything other than a hoax?

Here There Be Dragons!


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Carroll,Robert T.

2002.  Ica Stones. Skeptics Dictioary. Accessed 5/3/2012

Feder, Kennith.

2010.Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. Greenwood

Polidoro, Massimo.

2002. Ica Stones: Yabba-Dabba-Do! Skeptical Inquier. Volume 26.5, September / October 2002 Accessed 5/3/2012

Ross, Sara.

2007. The Ica Stones and Dr. Javier Cabrera. PARA Web Bibliography B-03. Accessed 5/3/2012

The Ica Stones of Peru

N.d. Accessed 5/3/2012

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Dropa Stones

The Dropa Stones are puzzling artifact #2 on the 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list.

Dropa Stones

These are “The” Dropa Stone images.

What are the Dropa Stones?

The Story of how the stones were found is kinda up in the air. The major story states that a Chinese archaeologist named Chu Pu Tei, found the stones in 1938/37 while he was looking at some caves. Inside the caves he found a series of graves that each contained a skeleton measuring a little over a meter in height (about 3 feet for the non-metric speaking). Buried with these tiny people were mysterious grooved stones, that became known as the Dropa Stones.

Now, the stones made their way from Chu Pu Tei’s possession to that of another researcher by the name of Professor Tsum Um Nui, of the Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies. He was able to translate them, and he found out that the little people were indeed aliens and they had been hunted to near extinction by the local humans, because they were short and ugly. Apparently, the humans and  the aliens were able to solve their differences, because the aliens are also the supposed ancestors of the Dropa tribe, which is still around today.

Somewhere in there the stones traveled to Russia, and were photographed, then lost, and pretty much everyone associated with them vanished as well. So now all we have are a few grainy pictures that look a lot like Bi discs, and no-one with first hand knowledge. Completely believable, Right? Right?

To break this story down will take a bit. Let’s look at all the Red Flags:

Red Flag #1 –  The story appears on several web sites, most of which looked copied and pasted, there is no author mentioned, and no citation.

I went over why this is a red flag in the first post in this series on the Grooved Spheres.  There are a few occasions where no citations are ok, such as the above story where there is no real citation to give. Another time would be first hand or original research. The stories on these websites don’t fall into either category.

Red Flag #2 – None of the names of any of the researchers appear to be real, and there is no record of  the Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies.

This one is probably the most damning. None of the named participants in this hoax have any record of existing. On top of that, Professor Tsum Um Nui’s name isn’t even Chinese. It appears to be a badly adapted Japanese name.

Of even more interest is the fictitious Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies. There is no such place in record, ever. Yet this is where Professor Tsum Um Nui  supposedly translated the stones in only 24 years, which could be considered Red Flag #2.5.

Red Flag #3  – The remains of the ‘aliens’ as well as the Dropa Stones have all managed to vanish, as well as anyone who might have ever seen the stones.

Supposed Dropa Alien
There is so much wrong with this picture, not the least of which is the incredibly bad quality.

There is no real way to verify if this picture is authentic, even the site where I found it is quick to point that out. Be that as it may, this tiny skeleton and the disks pictures at the beginning of the post are nowhere to be found. As a matter of fact, there is no mention of the remains recovered from the caves that Chu Pu Tei discovered, or of any other grave good recovered from those burials. There are no mentions of lost documentation, only a slight mention here and there that Chu Pu Tei might have written a report that was suppressed by the Chinese Government.  The only recovered items from the cave graves appear to be the stones, and those are lost within a few decades of discovery. So basically, there is no physical evidence, or any kind of written documentation, of the stones or the graves.

Red Flag #4 – The few pictures we have the Dropa Stones are identical to what are called Bi Discs, which are known artifacts that are part of the Chinese culture.

This one is pretty plain, but the Bi Discs got to be very elaborate in their decorations.

The Bi Discs are flat disks made of jade with a hole in the center of the disk. Thousand’s have been recovered from Neolithic burials all over China[2]. They appear to be indicative of social status and rank [2], and were recently used in the Beijing Olympic Medals which were designed to look like bi discs on the back [3]. They also seem to be tied to the concept of Heaven (sky), and were very important in the day-to-day lives of ancient Chinese [2].

These were gold, silver, and bronze medals with circles of jade inlaid into them.

Red Flag #5 – The actual Dropa people.

I spent a fair amount of time looking for these people in some kind of link I could give you. Pretty much the only one I can find that doesn’t mention these people as some kind of Alien-Human hybrid is Bad Archaeology. I’m not saying these people don’t exist somewhere in China, I’m just saying that I can’t find any academic sources to back up their existence in the first place. I’m also not saying that Bad Archaeology is not a good site, its exactly the opposite, I am saying that I would be much more comfortable talking about a group of people if I could find some anthropology sites or reports on them.

So, you can clearly see the massive issues with this particular ancient artifact. Most of the UFO sites that I came across discounted the stones as a Hoax, going as far as to blame Von Daniken for really pushing the story. As far as anyone can tell the first mention of this story was in a German Vegetarian Magazine, and then the same story was translated and reprinted in a Russian yellow-rag two years later [4]. The story was never taken seriously and almost faded away till Von Daniken got hold of it, wrote two books about it,  and then another book named Sungods in Exile got published by an unnamed author under a nom-de-plume of David Agamon, who later came out and said the whole story was fiction [4]. Von Daniken hasn’t yet recanted.

So, not only is the origin of the story of the Dropa Stones dubious, but the story itself is as well. There is no evidence of anything related to the stones, and no one to back up any of the claims made by the story. It’s even difficult to prove that the real Dropa tribe exists. All that can be said is somewhere, someone put pen to paper and wrote a story of a Chinese archaeologist finding something cool. That’s all you can prove, and that’s all these stones are, a really long-lived story.

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[1] “The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.” Accessed April 2 2012.

[2] National Gallery of Art. The Golden Age of Chines Archaeology. Accessed 4/14/2012.


[4] Bad Archaeology. “The Dropa (or Dzopa) stones.” Accessed 4/14/2012

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