Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Few More Mind-Blowing Things You Won't Believe Were Built by Nature

Probably my last Cracked article for at least a year was published today - 5 Mind-Blowing Things You Won't Believe Were Built by Nature. The premise is incredible archaeological discoveries that turned out to be natural phenomenon, but that fooled supposedly reputable scientists and got widespread and inaccurate media attention. A strong undercurrent of the article was the perpetuation of pseudoscience, that is self-serving amateur historians and archaeologists misrepresenting the actual evidence to create sensational stories that, by happenstance, sell loads of their own books.

Mankind, the world, and their shared history is sensational enough without having to create mystical ancient civilisations or grand conspiracy theories, and so it's fair to say that I'm not a fan of pseudoscience. I was a little worried that Cracked might edit out the anti-pseudoscience element of the article, focussing instead on the natural phenomena that looked a little like man-made relics. Happily, they kept it in, and I'm very happy with the final article, which is a more succinct, funnier, and directly on-point version of mine.

I submitted seven entries and they used five. Here are the two they cut.

The Peruvian City of Gold
For centuries, explorers and archaeologists have been searching for the mythical Peruvian city of Paititi. Not just because it’s pronounced “pie-titty” (although that’s certainly worth searching for), but because it’s a legendary city of gold. Numerous expeditions have been made, led on by dreams of untold riches and a place in history – but all have failed (because Paititi exists no more than Atlantis or Equestria).

Some people will go to the ends of the earth to find pie-titty  

But in early 2008, the official News Agency of Peru announced an incredible discovery – the ruins of Paititi had been found near a small town in the south of the country,  covering  an area of over 400,000 square feet (that’s kind of the same size as a Wal Mart store). The evidence was compelling – buried under vegetation were mysterious structures built from huge, perfectly cut blocks of stome, to form massive walls, just like a fortress. National Geographic also got on board, tentatively reporting the discovery of the lost city.

                                 Pictured: left Paititi and right Paititi                      Source

So, what happened? Well, as ever it pays to look at the person who is shouting loudest. Which in this case was the nearby town’s mayor. He immediately declared the site a cultural tourism site, to be put on the nation’s money-spinning tourist circuit. While there’s no suggestion he was wilfully misleading people as to the origins of the ruins, he was also no archaeologist. And when the serious archaeologists came in to take a look, they had bad news for him.

The good news was that it would sell well on Ebay as a Star Wars Sandcrawler model

It was goddamn sandstone again. The ruins of the lost city Paititi were just quirky sandstone formations. In a four page report, they thoroughly rubbished any chance of the blocks being man made, saying that natural chemical and physical processes– such as the movement of the earth – created breaks and shifts in the stone that to the layman might resemble an artificial wall. If Paititi ever existed, it certainly wasn’t at this site.

Or in other words: the hunt for Paititi is still on.

“We’ll split it 50/50. You get the pie...”     Source

The Underwater Cuban City or Sonar Atlantis

In 2001, just off the coast  of Cuba, surveyors stumbled upon what appeared to be the ruins of a Maya-like city 2000 feet under the sea, covering around 8 square miles. Sonar brought back images that, as it was widely reported, indicated buildings, monuments, pyramids, and streets, that appeared to be built from huge smooth cut granite blocks. Estimates of 6000 years of age were given, hugely predating known civilisation in the area. Yet again, our version of early history was set to change.

So what happened? Tellingly, after that initial flurry – very little. The following much published photo:

Compelling evidence for ancient society...

Was actually a computer generated guess based upon these sonar images:

Compelling evidence for buying a better computer.

And grainy images such as these can be very misleading. In the words of a professor of oceanography and the man who discovered Titanic “it can be sort of like looking at an ink blot -- people can sometimes see what they want to see." There were some failed further expeditions and lots of wildly inaccurate and  conspiratorial theories appeared online out but no further evidence of a lost city has emerged – because it’s just a bunch of rocks in the sea that look vaguely strange from a certain angle.

It’s not the first time sonar images have magically become ancient ruins. Around the same time, the BBC (among others) reported on an incredible discovery of underwater ruins off the coast of India that they claimed to be over 9000 years old. Numerous artifacts had been recovered from the site. They even ran the story with this very misleading image (pro-tip: it’s a photo of an entirely different place).

The trees and sky are the subtle giveaway

In fact, read the article closely and the magic name comes up: Graham Hancock. Like the Yonaguni  Monument, he’s incorporated the underwater Indian city into his “ancient lost world civilisation” theory, all based upon a very generous re-imagining of these routine sonar images.

If it's a Gungan city, we should definitely keep the hell away

But what about the artifacts? These are also known as geofacts – stones that look like artifacts. There are numerous explanations for them, always geological, and their authenticity has been comprehensively taken down, with one geologist witheringly remarking, “It must be remembered, that it can be quite easy and is quite common for nongeologists to be confused by natural rock formations.”

And just in case there was any need for yet another discovery of Atlantic, in 2009 this sonar image appeared, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Streetview leaves a lot to be desired
Source(on slideshow)

The size of Wales, or New Jersey, this mysterious grid-like pattern was discovered off the coast of Africa. Rectangular, and very unnatural looking, many people jumped the conclusion that this was possibly the sunken remains of the mythical city of Atlantis. Even the more sober and respectable suggested it was an anomaly worthy of further investigation. But Google themselves threw water on the flames of excitement: the lines are just imperfections of sonar reflections gathered from ships’ data.

In other words, just like the existence of Atlantis and all these other mysterious lost civilisations - there’s nothing there.

It was quite a long road getting seven entries accepted - it was surprisingly tricky getting examples that superficially appeared to be man-made but were actually just natural, and that received widespread inaccurate reporting from reputable sources with compelling pictures. The following are suggestions I made that the editors didn't go for, for whatever reason, and so were never fully written up.

Adam’s Bridge

In the Hindu religious epic, the Ramayama, a bridge (called Ram Setu) connecting India to Sri Lanka is built by monkeymen. In 2002, NASA published satellite images of the area that created a lot of excitement – according to experts, the unique curvature indicated it was man-made, dating back 1.75 million years, about the same time human habitation began in Sri Lanka and seemingly corroborating the Ramayama.

Or maybe not. The 27km structure is better known in the West as Adam’s Bridge, and is a chain of limestone shoals which have assumed the curving arc shape over time due to ocean currents.

Noah’s Ark

In 1948, after earthquakes and heavy rain, a formation was uncovered at Mount Ararat, the mythical site of Noah’s Ark. In 1959, a Turkish captain examined aerial photos, and discovered boat shaped form of almost the exact biblical dimensions of Noah’s Ark. This all came to a head in the 1980s when various expeditions to the area generated headlines about discoveries and analyses of wood discovered. Of course, a conclusion was never fully reached, just further expeditions.

Although not reported as heavily in the press, weary geologists confirm that it’s an entirely natural rock formation, backed up by microscopic studies.

Wood, apparently.'s%20ark&pg=PA112#v=onepage&q&f=false,7530814&dq=wyatt+noah%27s+ark&hl=en

Balanced Rock: Celts vs Geology

In the town of North Salem, NY is a highly irregular rock formation.

This is the 60-90 ton Balanced Rock, reckoned by some to be the work of Celtic tribes who crossed the Atlantic centuries before Columbus. Evidence for this is based upon it looking unusual, and Celtic tribes were known to do stuff like this - over in Europe, of course. No actual evidence has been found, and it would radically alter known history. Despite this, the North Salem Historical Society have actually changed the sign in recent years to give it credence.

The real explanation is that it's a glacial erratic, a geological term for rocks transported by glacial movement and left hundreds of miles away, often in precarious positions. There are lots of these around the world.



Alien Skulls

This 1930s discovery of a unusual skull – significantly larger than average, with huge eye sockets - found its way to a neonatal nurse, who claimed it was beyond normal human deformities. DNA testing indicates it was male, and carbon dating that he died 900 years ago. It’s now in the hands of author Lloyd Pye, who claims it is a human-alien hybrid, and has concocted a weird reconstruction.

In fact, it’s very likely the poor child suffered from hydrocephalus, whereby the skull fills with spinal fluid. Many skeletons with this condition are known. But that hasn’t stopped Pye making a living from the skull, from books and donations.

Meanwhile, in 2003, this tiny 6-inch skeleton was found in the Atacama Desert. And it’s real, not a stupid hoax.

It has been featured in a “revealing” documentary, but fortunately, this didn’t fall into the hands of a pseudoscience author. DNA and other tests have confirmed it was a child of 6-8 years old with an unknown medical condition.

Baigong Pipes

Note: These were featured in a 2008 Cracked article about unexplained phenomenon.

A decade ago, in a remote province of China, scientists investigated a mysterious pyramid-like structure. Nearby was ancient but sophisticated system of metal pipes, many rusty. Extra-terrestrial origins were widely touted for the pipes, thought to be 150,000 years old.

This is all over the internet. What is much less publicised is the sober explanation. They are fossilised casts of tree roots formed by the processes of pedogenesis (a soil creation process) and diagenesis (a soil-to-rock process). Atomic emission spectroscopy has confirmed this. The process has also been observed in locations in Louisiana and the Colorado Plateau.
(directly lifted from Beijing’s English language “City Weekend” magazine)
(A Google translation of a Chinese article, which the previous link summarises)

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