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5 Mysterious Artifacts That Defy Explanation

Out of place artifacts, or OOPARTs are mysterious objects from all over the world that were found in circumstances that seem to place them far outside natural and technological parameters generally accepted by contemporary scientists and historians. 

They perpetually frustrate professionals and amateurs alike, and heated debates frequently devolve into decades long quarrels about their provenance and authenticity. 

Now without further ado, let’s take a look at 5 mysterious artifacts that defy explanation. 

Piri Reis Map

Late in 1929 while cataloging artifacts in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace Library, German theologian and historian Gustav Deissmann made an interesting discovery in a stack of mundane items. 

After inspecting a unique parchment-like gazelle skin map, Deissmann was astonished to find that to his eye, it clearly showed the outlines of South America and Antarctica, the latter of which wasn’t officially discovered until 1820.   

Thankfully he rescued the map from obscurity, and it’s now named after the 16th century Turkish cartographer who purportedly made it, a man named Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, or Piri Reis. 

In addition to his mapmaking skills, Reis was a high-ranking naval officer, and though the map wasn’t drawn from his personal travels, he apparently used nearly two dozen source maps made centuries before by Greeks, Arabs, and an Italian explorer of some repute named Christopher Columbus.   

But if the mysterious map was made in the early 1500s, how could it possibly include Antarctica 300 years before its discovery? 

Unlike they are today, the map shows the coasts of South America and Antarctica joined near Uruguay, meaning that the two continents diverged much later than previously thought. 

But strangely, it shows Antarctica not as an ice cap, but as a land mass as it might’ve been more than 6,000 years ago.

Since its discovery the map has fueled heated controversy among historians, cartographers and all-around lovers of out-of-place-artifacts. 

In fact professional contention has hounded it at nearly every turn, especially when in the mid-’60s University of New Hampshire professor Charles Hapgood published a book in which he claimed to have found a number of additional anomalies. 

First, the map was created using the Mercator Projection – a method of cartography that wasn’t discovered by Flemish mapmaker Gerardus Mercator until nearly a century after Reis’ death, and wasn’t perfected until the invention of the chronometer in 1760.

In addition, Hapgood suggested that the map had been based on sources much older than originally thought, perhaps dating back to 4,000 BC, which if true points to an ancient seafaring civilization like Atlantis.  

Hapgood also theorized that in about 9,500 BC the planet underwent a cataclysmic axis shift that moved Antarctica thousands of miles to the south, after which it became ensconced in ice. 

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support this claim. 

He also stated that the inland areas represented on the map were so accurate,that those who created it must’ve been able to view it from above, or put more simply, been capable of flight. 

Not surprisingly, the “Airborne Atlantian” theory was too much for most detractors to bear. 

Some claim the map is an outright hoax, while others suggest it may be authentic, but that its land masses are open to a number of different interpretations, many of which are less dramatic and more in line with contemporary history and geology.   

Either way, the jury’s still out on whether the map is legit and if it shows Antarctica at all, and it’ll likely continue to provoke fierce debate until enough proof surfaces to either support or discredit competing theories. 

Baigong Pipes

Baiong Pipes artifact
Baiong Pipes by Frank Kovalchek is Licensed Under CC-BY

Buried in an enigmatic pyramid near Mount Baigon in China’s Qinghai Province, three murky caves contain dozens of fossilized “pipes” leading to a nearby saltwater lake.

Adding to the mystery, the area is riddled with protruding rocks similar to crumpled pillars commonly found at other archeological sites, and it’s not clear whether they, the pipes, and the pyramid are natural or manmade. 

But even more interestingly, the predominantly iron pipes that range in size from the diameter of a pin to about 16 inches (40 cm) may be nearly 150,000 years old. 

Research carried out by the Beijing Institute of Geology suggests they were smelted from iron, and if that’s the case, their discovery warrants a serious reevaluation of what we think we know about human history. 

In 2002, using a technique called thermoluminescence, which can determine when the pipes were last exposed to intense heat, the findings smashed the theory that humans inhabited the region for just 30,000 years.  

And even then, those living in the area were thought to be nomadic and wholly incapable of extracting ore and smelting metal.

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua claims the pipes are proof that Chinese civilization was far more advanced than its contemporaries, but other scientists remain convinced that the pipes aren’t pipes at all, but natural phenomenon, most likely the fossilized roots of trees that have carbonized over millennia. 

Further tests have substantiated this assertion, namely because in addition to iron they contain significant amounts of plant matter and appear to have tree rings. 

It’s well-known that under certain conditions, organic matter like wood can undergo the process of diagenesis, by which it transforms into solid rock like it has in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. 

However chemical analysis has turned up a number of other interesting findings, like the fact that nearly 10% of the pipes’ material can’t be identified, and that some were significantly more radioactive than other geologic formations in the area. 

Needless to say, these anomalies added fuel to fire. 

Yet other theories claim the pipes are fissures left over from ancient floods, or were created by iron-rich magma rising from deep within the earth’s mantle eons ago that cooled into the distinct shapes we see today. 

Ironically, similar structures have also been found in Florida and Louisiana, and scientists there concluded that they were the fossilized root remains of common pine trees. 

Sadly, scientists and scholars familiar with the Baigong Pipes can’t agree on much of anything. 

Like in most cases of OOPART there seems to be lots of contradictory evidence supporting wide ranging and mutually exclusive theories, much to the joy of lovers of the mysterious and unexplained.  

Aiud Aluminum Wedge

Also commonly referred to as the Object of Aiud, the Aiud Aluminum Wedge is regularly cited as one of the most controversial and misunderstood artifacts in the world today. 

Legend has it that the innocuous hunk of metal was found by construction workers 35 feet (10.6  m) under the banks of Romania’s Mures River in either 1973 or 1974, and that it was mixed amongst bones of ancient mastodons – distant relatives of modern elephants. 

The wedge measured about 8 inches (20.2 cm) long, 5 inches (12.6 cm) wide and nearly 2.75 inches (7 cm) tall, weighed about 5 pounds (2.3 kg), and was covered in a thick coating of oxide that scientists determined would’ve taken between 300 and 400 years to form.  

Unsure of what they’d found but convinced it was man made based on its precise, angular and symmetrical form, the workers apparently sent the object to the Cluj-Napoca Archaeological Institute for closer inspection.

Test results revealed that it was made of a complex alloy composed mostly of aluminum, and findings were confirmed by a number of other Romanian labs and institutions that subsequently analyzed it. 

The wedge’s composition is 89% aluminum, 6% copper, 3 % silicon, 2% zinc, and less than 1% each of cadmium, nickel and cobalt. 

Though the strata in which the wedge was found and its proximity to mastodon bones suggest it’s approximately 11,000 years old, significant problems arise due to the fact that aluminum wasn’t first wasn’t first isolated until 1825 by Hans Christian Ørsted in Denmark. 

In addition, the aluminum smelting process requires heat in excess of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (630 Celsius), and mass production didn’t begin until the mid-1880s. 

Hence, a wide range of theories have been proposed, and unsurprisingly they range from relatively mundane to outright fantastical.  

Some prone to otherworldly explanations suggest that the wedge is a landing gear foot from an alien spacecraft, and to substantiate their claim they point to its similarity to those found on American spacecraft from the mid and late 20th century. 

A more likely explanation is that it’s little more than a removable bucket tooth from a modern excavator. 

Other independent metallurgical tests conducted in the ‘90s suggest that the wedge’s composition does closely match modern Duralumin, an aluminum alloy that has been used since the early 1900s in everything from airplane components to heavy equipment parts. 

And under the conditions in which it was found, it’s likely that it could’ve oxidized far faster than normal, giving it its exceptionally aged look. 

Despite the contention that surrounds it, it’s generally accepted that the wedge is manmade, but whether it’s an authentic out-of-place-artifact, the remnant of alien visitation, or just a missing excavator tooth is still unclear, and since it was abruptly removed from public display in 1995, we’ll probably never know.  

Giant Spheres of Costa Rica

Giant Spheres of Costa Rica artifacts
Giant Spheres of Costa Rica

On a balmy tropical afternoon in 1940 while clearing jungle overgrowth on a banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta, a United Fruit Company employee stumbled upon a number of massive stone spheres protruding from the forest floor. 

Appearing as though they’d fallen from the heavens, some of the partially obscured stone orbs were smaller than volleyballs, while others had diameters of more than 8 feet (2.4 m) and were later determined to weigh more than 15 tons. 

Though only a few dozen were immediately discovered, all told nearly 300 spheres were found, and they were made from a variety of rock types including basalt, limestone and sandstone. 

Finding unique artifacts in the jungle wasn’t exactly breaking news for local laborers and fruit company executives, and many of the stone spheres were whisked away, ending up in the gardens and courtyards of government buildings and the home of wealthy foreigners and Costa Ricans. 

Others, so large they couldn’t be moved by heavy equipment, were dynamited long before their archaeological significance became apparent. 

Scientists estimate that the stones were hewn around 600 AD, or about 1,400 years ago, but their near perfectly round forms suggest they were made with steel tools, which according to current historians weren’t first used until the 13th century. 

Unfortunately, in this case radiocarbon dating wouldn’t help solve the mystery, because it’s only capable of dating the rock, not the era in which it was carved. 

In addition, much of the stone used in the spheres’ construction came from quarries 50 miles (80.5 km) away, raising the question as to whether large rectangular blocks were cut and moved to their current site, or if they were formed into spheres there and rolled to where they were found. 

Either way, the logistics and manpower required must’ve been staggering. 

Since their discovery more than 80 years ago, the stone spheres’ true purpose has been elusive, but they were most likely made for ceremonial reasons and had no practical value, much like the statues on Easter Island. 

Others theories claim they were navigation aids or symbols of wealth and status for the civilization’s highest officials. 

Some evidence suggests that they were originally laid out in patterns with astronomical significance, likely marking important celestial events like the solstices that could have played important roles in agriculture and tracking the passage of time. 

But alas their builders left no written records or oral tales behind, so it’s unlikely that there will ever be a definitive explanation. 

The spheres do however highlight the advanced nature of pre-Columbian societies, and as such they’re now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Starchild Skull

Starchild skull artifacts
Starchild skull

Who are we, and where did we come from? 

For those who’ve ever pondered such questions, behold the Starchild Skull. 

Though the bizarre skull’s story didn’t gain international attention until the 20th century, its history dates back approximately 900 years, when the living being to which it was attached died in northwest Mexico about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Chihuahua.

The tiny, elongated and misshapen skull with hopelessly close set eye sockets thought to belong to a horribly deformed 4 or 5-year-old was buried in a tunnel next to the remains of a normal adult female, but though the child probably died of natural causes, evidence suggests that the woman committed suicide.

Both were purportedly found in 1930 by a teenage girl exploring a mineshaft, and though it’s not certain what happened to the skull in the intervening years, in February of 1999 it ended up in the hands of American author and paranormal investigator Lloyd Pye, who claimed to have gotten it from Ray and Melanie Young of El Paso, Texas. 

Early on Pye became convinced that the skull wasn’t just strange, but that it was distinctly unhuman, theorizing that it could be a human-extraterrestrial hybrid – and he set out to substantiate or disprove this assertion once and for all.   

To this end he submitted the skull for extensive testing, and some of the results seemed to confirm his suspicions. 

The skull was much lighter and more durable than typical human skulls, and analysis of tooth wear suggested it belonged to an adult despite its small size. 

And more interestingly, the interior of the bone contained crimson fibers and residue that couldn’t be identified, which was later confirmed by scientists at the world-renowned Stanford Research Institute.

In addition, the interior volume of the Starchild Skull is nearly 20% larger than that of an adult, and it lacks frontal sinuses altogether.  

Though he’s often labeled a conspiracy theorist and “conehead” by traditional scientists and skeptics, Pye, who died in 2013, shrugged off the criticism, pointing to the ridicule and persecution endured by Galileo when he suggested that the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. 

Likewise, Pye added that one day our distinctly human-centered view of the universe may definitively proven to be false. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a number of scientists from esteemed institutions like Yale University and Canada’s Bureau of Legal Dentistry have determined that the Starchild Skull is indeed that of a male human child who likely suffered from a condition called congenital hydrocephalus, and that its mitochondrial DNA is consistent with the offspring of human parents, although in 2003 additional DNA testing determined that the woman buried beside the boy couldn’t have been his mother. 

Like most mysterious artifacts, the legend of the Starchild Skull is rife with unproven theories, contradictory “evidence” and abundant legend and lore, but that said, it makes for a great campfire story, and science be damned, it’s just downright fun. 

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