Out of Place Artefacts: Anomalies Challenging Historical Timelines

It’s a phenomenon that could unravel accepted history as we know it. So, what’s the deal with out of place artefacts? Read on to find out.

14 May 2024

Archaeological discoveries have long served to advance, and occasionally challenge, our understanding of history. However, out of place artefacts are a different story entirely. Often shortened to OOPArts, they have the potential to upturn the very foundations of conventional wisdom. Game changers. More precisely, these are artefacts out of historical context; objects discovered in settings that appear to defy all chronological and technological understanding.

From electric batteries with ancient origins to prehistoric spark plugs, such finds have been reported around the world. So, is there a ready explanation for this strange phenomenon? Or are these simply clues that we’ve got it all wrong? We’re digging for all the facts.

What are Out of Place Artifacts?

How was Stonehenge built? (Credit: Kevin A Scherer via Getty Images)

In its simplest form, an out of place artifact is one that doesn’t make sense in relation to its surroundings. It’s a find that confounds accepted historical or scientific models. The most common examples are artifacts out of place in time. This might be technology far more advanced than that of the civilisation in whose possession it was found. Or evidence of human activity before humans were even around. It could also make seemingly inexplicable connections, such as between distant civilisations, even alien ones. Let’s examine how this works in practice.

The Baghdad Battery

Artistic rendering of the Baghdad Battery (Credit: J J Osuna Caballero via Getty Images)

History informs us that the first electric battery was invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800. However, in the 1930s it was argued that it had in fact been pioneered centuries earlier, and possibly as far back as 200 BC. The Baghdad Battery was a terracotta vase of Ancient Persian origin. One that contained a copper tube which in turn encased an iron rod. The components of a battery are, essentially, two different metals respectively acting as a positive and a negative electrode immersed in an electrolyte solution. And tests indicated that the Baghdad Battery had indeed probably once contained vinegar or wine, both possible electrolytes. Thus, with all of the requirements met, it was hypothesised that this was an ancient battery, specifically one used in gilding.

So, there you have it. Surely this was a prime example among artifacts out of place in time. Except this theory ignored several important factors; like the fact that, while it could conduct electricity, it was a negligible amount. And, in any case, there’s no mention or other evidence of such a gilding method, but plenty relating to other techniques. Overall though, it is Occam’s Razor, in other words a much simpler explanation, that quashes the so-called Baghdad Battery theory. Because the “battery” is identical to storage jars for sacred scrolls found in abundance in local archaeological sites.

The Coso Artifact

How did a spark plug get into a geode? (Credit: Tomekbudujedomek via Getty Images)

In February 1961, three rock hunters in California found a spark plug from the 1920s. The strange part? They found it inside what they believed to be a geode, which would make it at least 500,000 years old. How could such an advanced piece of technology be contained within something dating back many millennia before the dawn of human history? Surely this had to count among artifacts out of context. Proof perhaps of time travel, a hyper-advanced ancient civilisation, or alien visitation. The mystery was how it got into a geode. In fact, there’s no proof that it was encased in anything of the sort. The little analysis undertaken found that the material around the plug was far too soft to be a geode. The item has since disappeared, rendering any further tests impossible, but it’s now thought more likely that no such geode existed.

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism in Athens (Credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Stringer via Getty Images)

The Antikythera Mechanism is the ultimate example of a find that changed the popular interpretation of history. Found amid sunken treasure in the Mediterranean Sea, this mechanical device was originally viewed as being in the list of out of time artifacts. After all, with its complex arrangement of scientific dials, it seemed far too technologically advanced for its estimated date of creation, 100 BC. And yet, it’s been deemed genuine and determined as the most complex geared mechanism in ancient history. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the mediaeval period that it would be matched.

Costa Rica Spheres

Pre-Columbian stone spheres at the National Museum in Costa Rica (Credit: YURI CORTEZ / Staff via Getty Images)

When 350 previously hidden rock spheres measuring up to eight feet in diameter were discovered throughout Costa Rica, it was an event guaranteed to garner attention. And soon thereafter, they spawned many a myth and legend, cementing their status as artifacts out of context. In particular, much has been made of the claims that the spheres are perfectly round and smooth, with suggestions that such perfection was out of the reach of locals of the time. As such, myriad theories have emerged, including that they were markers for the city of Atlantis and that they were brought there by aliens. In fact, most of the spheres are at least slightly imperfect. What’s more, scientists have determined that they could very conceivably be made using tools like hammers and chisels made of the same rock as the spheres, their shape judged using wooden arches. Meanwhile, sanding could have accounted for their smooth surfaces.

The Best Known Out of Place Artefacts

The Kensington Runestone (Photo: Star Tribune via Getty Images)

There are many artefacts that have at one time or another been cited as being out-of-place, either geographically or out of place in time for their civilisation. Here’s a list covering some of the best known out of place artifacts:

1. Antikythera Mechanism: An ancient Greek device used to calculate astronomical positions and eclipses, discovered in a shipwreck off Antikythera.

2. Baghdad Battery: Clay jars from Parthian period Iraq, hypothesised to have been used as galvanic cells for electroplating or other electrical purposes.

3. Coso Artifact: A 1920s spark plug found encased in a purportedly ancient geode, suggesting anachronistic technology.

4. London Hammer: A tool found in London, Texas, encased in rock purported to be 100 million years old.

5. Maine Penny: A Norwegian coin found in Maine, suggesting pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic contact.

6. Dropa Stones: Discs with tiny hieroglyphs found in China, claimed by some to have extraterrestrial origins.

7. Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone: A stone with unusual carvings found in New Hampshire, with unclear origins and purpose.

8. Kensington Runestone: A stone with runic inscriptions found in Minnesota, claimed to be evidence of Norse explorers in North America before Columbus.

9. Iron Pillar of Delhi: A pillar in India notable for its rust-resistant composition, dating back to the 4th century A.D.

10. Saqqara Bird: An artefact from Egypt resembling a bird, which some speculate could demonstrate knowledge of aerodynamics.

11. Piri Reis Map: A world map compiled in 1513 from various sources, including charts older than any known at the time, showing Antarctica ice-free.

12. Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head: A terracotta head found in Mexico, stylistically similar to Roman sculptures, suggesting trans-oceanic contact pre-Columbus.

13. Baigong Pipes: Pipe-like formations in China, found in a formation associated with a pyramid-like structure, raising questions about their origin and purpose.

14. Dendera Light: Egyptian bas-relief that some believe depicts an electrical light bulb.

15. Great Wall of Texas: A rock formation in Texas that some believe shows signs of being an ancient man-made structure.

These artefacts often challenge the conventional historical timeline and inspire theories ranging from advanced ancient civilizations to alien interventions.

Theories and Critiques

The 1513 Piri Reis map (Credit: selimaksan via Getty Images)

So far, we’ve seen that OOPArts have sparked a range of theories about their origins. Some propose that these artefacts out of historical context may be evidence of advanced ancient civilizations whose existence has faded from memory or history. Others suggest more sensational origins, such as extraterrestrial intervention, though these ideas often receive criticism for lacking empirical support.

It’s often argued that OOPArts are there to support a particular viewpoint, or perhaps purely to garner publicity. Thus, rather than employing conventional methods like carbon dating and stratigraphy to place any finds in a temporal context, they’re either misinterpreted or simply intentional hoaxes.

Out of Time Artifacts Summarised

The Saqqara Necropolis depicting a bird (Credit: syaber via Getty Images)

As we’ve seen, out of place artifacts and those out of time can often be explained using existing timelines or theories. But every once in a while, a discovery comes along – such as the Antikythera Mechanism – that genuinely does challenge our understanding of the development of technology through history.


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