2020 - A Desert Odyssey

November 30, 2020

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Mystery, Monolith

I’m sure most people saw the intriguing news that a tall prism shaped metal structure, now known as the Utah Monolith, had been found by conservationists in the desert in the US, sticking out from the rock floor of a canyon. It’s been great to see sleuths figure out (opens new window) where the monolith is located, using flight plans and google maps satellite view (in a slot canyon in Lockhart Basin in San Juan County, Utah), approximately when it was placed, using historical satellite photos (between August 2015 and October 2016) and how it was made, with several people visiting the site (it’s hollow and made from riveted stainless steel sheets). However, the mystery of who put it there has still not been solved.

In a further twist to the story, the monolith has now disappeared - presumably taken by either the original creators or someone else who wanted to add to the intrigue of this case.

I’m a big fan of these kinds of mysteries, which seem to fall into two camps. Some are real, genuine mysteries, such as the Antikythera device (opens new window), the Somerton Man mystery (opens new window) and the Phaestos Disc (opens new window). Others are obviously contrived, like the Voynich Manuscript (opens new window), the Kryptos monument (opens new window) and the Georgia Guidestones (opens new window). This monolith is also not the only mystery that appears to be related to the book/movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" - the Toynbee Tiles (opens new window) are another 2001 related enigma, and I’d recommend watching the documentary Resurrect Dead (opens new window) to see more about the tiles, along with a possible answer to who’s behind them. It’s always fascinating to see people trying to piece together these types of puzzles, and I’ve recently been doing a little of it myself with the Cicada 3301 (opens new window) puzzles from a few years ago.

However, it’s unfortunate when these mysteries go too far. QAnon (opens new window), which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is a prime example of someone inventing a mystery that is causing real harm. In that case the motivation appears to be political, with the result of fomenting unrest in the US - something they definitely don’t need any more of at the moment. The Oak Island story (opens new window) is one that started off as an interesting case study in people’s wishful thinking, but it’s sad to see how much time and cash has since been poured into this literal money pit. And, closer to home, pre-Māori settler conspiracy theorists (opens new window) (such as Noel Hilliam, Martin Doutre, Ian Wishart and Cedric Livingstone) seem to often be driven by racism and a desire to de-legitimise Māori land claims, rather than being engaged in an honest search for the truth.

Let’s hope that nobody tries to hijack the Utah Monolith and make it into something it’s not. For now it’s a harmless prank which we may never know the backstory to - fingers crossed it stays that way.