10 Out-of-Place Artifacts People Took Way Too Seriously

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An out-of-place artifact is an archeological discovery that doesn’t appear to fit in with the place and period it’s supposed to be from. They’re often thought to be proof of ancient civilizations, aliens, and other paranormal occurrences. Here’s a look at 10 such objects, and the strange stories behind them…

10. Coso Artifact

In 1961, three people were hunting for valuable stones around Olancha, California, when they came across a mysterious, ancient-looking artifact. They had originally mistaken it for a geode, which is a hollow rock containing sparkly minerals. However, this particular mineral nodule was hiding something much stranger: A cylinder made of porcelain-like material and a thin shaft of bright metal, all encased in a hexagonal sheath of copper and another, unidentified material. This was clearly a technological object, which was odd because geodes tend to be at least 500,000 years old. There is no way that the “Coso Artifact,” as it became known, could be man-made if it was that old.

Mainstream science or archeology never took the artifact seriously. Still, it immediately became a subject of much pseudoscientific and alt-archeological speculation, and remained one for decades. Some said it was from ancient Atlantis. Others thought it was left behind by alien visitors or even time travellers. Finally, in 1999, a skeptic group took some images and x-rays of the supposed “ancient artifact” (or more likely a copy, because the real thing probably got lost in the 1960s). They had noticed that the Coso artifact looked a whole lot like an old spark plug, and showed the images to various collectors. They immediately recognized the artifact: It was indeed a battered, old spark plug from the 1920s, with some of its metal parts rusted away.

9. The Beringer Stones

Early 18th century scientist and University big shot Johann Beringer was a respected physician and natural historian. He was particularly interested in the debate about the origins of fossils, which raged white-hot in the scientific circles of the era. He was also a very single-minded man, who thought he could do no wrong.

One day, during a field trip to dig for fossils, Beringer’s student decided to prank him. On one mountain, they planted fake fossils that were actually nothing more than carefully carved frogs, spiders, birds, lizards, and the like. Beringer fell for it completely, and thought that these increasingly ridiculous shapes were actual fossils. The student decided to see how far they could go, so they made more fossils. The new ones featured inscriptions in Hebrew, Syrian, and Babylonian styles. One of them even had the name “Jehovah” on it. Again, Beringer believed his eyes completely. He started to develop a theory that fossils were merely a kind of bored graffiti by God himself. Then, he wrote a book about it. And then, just as the book came out, he found another “Beringer fossil”… one that had his own name on it. That’s when terrible realization dawned.

Some versions of the story say that the humiliated Beringer spent his fortune trying to buy every copy of his ridiculous book, and died poor and heartbroken. In reality, his fate was less tragic: Beringer found out that the prank had been orchestrated by two jealous colleagues, and immediately sued them. They were disgraced, and Beringer went on to have an illustrious career and write several more books.

8. The Pangboche Yeti Finger

There is a mysterious item labeled “Yeti’s Finger” in the vaults of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum in London. The adventurer who brought it there says he discovered it in 1958, when he was part of a group that visited Pangboche monastery in Nepal. During their stay, they saw the monastery’s prized relic: A large, human-like hand, with sharp nails and crusty black skin. The adventurer was intrigued, and made an arrangement with the temple’s custodians: In exchange for a suitable replacement and a donation to the monastery, he would get one finger from the supposed yeti hand. His accomplice somehow managed to acquire a human hand, the exchange was made, and the finger ended up in the vaults of a museum.

In 2008, someone finally got around to running tests on the clawed, ruined finger, and it was almost certainly from a human. Although the condition of the finger almost certainly explained the “almost” part, they were still intrigued enough to try and get more samples from Pangboche. Unfortunately, someone had stolen the original hand, so the researchers never had the opportunity to thoroughly debunk (or verify) it.  

As a strange little epilogue, WETA Workshop (the prop-makers for The Lord Of The Rings movies) later presented the monastery with lovingly crafted replicas of the hand and another stolen relic, a supposed yeti skullcap. This way, the monks could go on showing the strange objects to people — and make a little profit for the monastery.

7. Kensington Runestone

The Kensington stone is an old Viking runestone that was found in Minnesota, of all places. In 1898, farmer Olaf Ohman unearthed this grey, 200-pound rock with ancient runic writing, and for the next century, debates of its true origin raged. Amateur archeologists have poured money into putting together evidence of the stone’s authenticity.  Academics feel that Vikings probably didn’t sail all the way to Lake Superior, and have spent decades trying to prove that the Kensington runestone is a fake.

In 2011, a Swedish research paper found some evidence that the stone is indeed a forgery. They found and deciphered a numerical code carved in the stone. It read: ”The Ohmans found. We kept/collected firewood at the stone.” Unfortunately, this makes it seem that the Kensington stone was just an elaborate prank by Olaf Ohman, who could not face the shame of revealing the truth when the story exploded.

6. Tamil Bell

The mystery of the Tamil bell is not who made it, or when. It bears clear inscriptions and markings of the Tamil culture, and experts estimate that it was made sometime between 1400 and 1540 AD. However, the question is this: How did the bell end up in a remote Maori village in New Zealand, where the natives used it as a cooking pot? There is no other indication that the area had ever been visited by other cultures before 1840 or so, when European William Colenso met them. Even stranger, the villagers told Colenso that they had found the bell in the roots of a large tree which had been blown over in a storm many years before.

Exactly how the bell found its way to the village has never been conclusively proven. Still, many people have been interested in its history, and careful research has given us some insight about one very possible reason, which experts call the “derelict theory.” It doesn’t feature any ancient foreign visitors to New Zealand, or paranormal forces. According to the derelict theory, the original owner of the bell was a man called Moslem Tamil, who was likely from one of the well-known ship-owning families based on the port of Nagapattam, in southeast India. One of Tamil’s ships was overwhelmed by the sea and abandoned, yet its wooden hull remained intact enough to keep afloat for years. Over time, the currents brought the empty ship in New Zealand, where it was cast ashore. Centuries passed and the elements took their toll, until the bell was the only thing that remained resting under the tree that had grown over it until the Maoris finally found it.

5. Saqqara Bird

The “Saqqara Bird” is a small, wooden bird-shaped statue that was excavated in 1898 from a tomb in Saqqara, Egypt. Experts estimate to be around 2,000 years old, and mainstream researchers say it was a child’s toy, boomerang, or perhaps an early weathervane of sorts. However, other, more mystically-minded people have noticed that it has certain aerodynamic properties that make it seem like a scale model of an extremely efficient, glider-type airplane. Here’s what one pioneer of such thinking, Dr. Khalil Messiha, wrote about these properties:

“The wing is made of one piece of wood, and its span is exactly 18 cms. The part of the body is the thickest—8 millimeters. Then it tapers in thickness towards the tips. One can note also that there is a Dihedral angle which is slightly unequal on both sides due to slight distortion of the wood, caused by the passage of time.”

It’s worth noting that while the properties he describes are correct, he also assumes that the Saqqara Bird used to have a tailplane back in the day. This doesn’t do his theory any favors because there is no proof of the object ever having one, and without it the Bird doesn’t have enough aerodynamic stability to fly reliably. He even built a balsa wood replica of the Bird to test his theories, and it flew very well… for a few yards, and only with the added tailplane.  

Other people have also tried to test replicas of the Saqqara Bird, with or without the tailpipe and with varying results. We’ll probably never know what the Bird was really supposed to be, but it’s probably safe to assume that if ancient Egyptians used this model to build aircrafts, they had more than their share of plane accidents.

4. Dendera Light Bulb

The ancient Temple of Hathor in Dendera, Egypt features a number of underground caverns and corridors. One of the walls in this complex features the Dendera Light Bulb: A strange hieroglyphic image that looks a whole lot like a “Crookes tube,” an early version of the light bulb. Shows like Ancient Aliens and paranormal enthusiasts such as author Erich Von Daniken have claimed that the image is proof of mysterious ancient technologies: A wavy snake represents a filament, a lotus flower depicts the socket of the bulb, and a “djed pillar” is an image of an insulator. There’s also a picture of a baboon, which Von Daniken claims is a warning that the device could be dangerous for people who can’t use it correctly.

It’s a fantastic theory. If correct, it would completely change the way we think about ancient Egyptians. It’s just a shame that in reality, any Egyptian historian could tell that the “light bulb” and the “light” emanating from it actually depict a lotus flower and its scent.

3. The Dorchester Pot

The Dorchester Pot was a strange, ornate metallic object that was found in two parts at an explosion site during the 19th century. It had reportedly been hiding inside the stone for roughly 500 million years, which clearly meant that it wasn’t man-made. Was it an artifact from an ancient, possibly alien civilization? Whatever the truth, it was certainly enough to interest people. The Pot even featured in Scientific American, in an article that called it “a relic of a bygone age.”

Of course, the real story is a lot more mundane. The artifact is almost certainly just an Indian pipe holder from the Victorian era, and therefore it was just a few years old at the time of its finding in 1852. Why wasn’t it recognized immediately for what it was? Unfortunately, we don’t know. Maybe the finders just weren’t up to date on fancy pipe holder designs, or maybe they really wanted to believe that ancient cultures from hundreds of millions of years ago had a very similar aesthetic to their own.

Still, Indian pipe holder or not, how did the “Dorchester Pot” artifact get inside the supposedly 500-million-year-old rock in the first place? The answer is depressingly simple: It probably didn’t. The broken object was found in the rubble after the explosion, so there is absolutely no proof that it was ever inside the rock. It’s most likely that someone just discarded the object near the site, and it got caught in the blast.

2. Abydos Helicopter

The Abydos Helicopter is another hieroglyphic mystery that people enjoy depicting in the strangest way possible. It’s an Egyptian bas relief that is completely unassuming, except for one odd fact: One part of this ancient artifact appears to be an image of a very modern helicopter. Pictures of the artifact made rounds on various paranormal-themed mail lists of the 1990s. Some people even thought there was more to the image than just the “helicopter”: They saw multiple planes, a submarine, and even a UFO.

However, actual Egyptology experts are very familiar with the (in)famous helicopter, and are all too happy to explain what it really is. First of all, the pictures that circulated in the paranormal enthusiast circles were often doctored to look even more mysterious than the real thing. Although the actual glyphs do somewhat resemble a helicopter, this is just a coincidence caused by erosion and some lazy stonework: Over time, workers re-carved and filled in the stone to replace some of the glyphs, and when the filling eventually fell out, parts of the glyphs overlapped and combined to form “mysterious new signs.” There’s even a technical term for this: ‘Palimpsest’. The human eye’s tendency to see familiar shapes where there are none took care of the rest, and the Abydos Helicopter was born.

1. Baigong Pipes

The Baigong Pipes are one of the most mysterious out-of-place artifacts ever discovered. They’re a vast, sophisticated series of rusty, metallic pipes embedded in the rock of Mt. Baigong, in a particularly harsh region of the Qinghai province of China. The pipes’ diameter ranges from a fraction of an inch to 16 inches, and way they’re buried in the area’s geology means that they definitely weren’t installed using modern technology. In fact the pipes, which seem to connect a strange mountain cave and a nearby saltwater lake, almost certainly predate known human history.

It’s virtually impossible that the Baigong Pipes are a forgery. It’s practically guaranteed that they’re ancient. Once, it was thought that they might be a by-product of volcanic activity forcing high-iron magma through fissures in the rock, but that’s unlikely because there’s an oil field nearby; oil fields take a long time to form, and their relationship with volcanic activity tends to be pretty flammable.

So… did we finally find the real deal? Are the Baigong Pipes a construction project by alien visitors from many millennia ago?

No, they probably aren’t. And even if they were, those aliens were almost certainly not plumbers — they were gardeners. Recent research indicates that the mysterious pipes are actually fossilized casts of ancient tree roots. The roots were once carried to their current resting place by an overflow from a long-extinct lake, and over time, they were subjected to the forces of pedogenesis (the process of soil-forming) and diagenesis (the transformation from soil into rock). This covered them with a rusty, metallic cast, which remained and was buried by geology after the roots themselves withered away. To back up this theory, the scientists collected samples from the pipes — and discovered ancient plant material and even microscopic tree rings.

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