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Those Enigmatic Erratics

Out-of-Place Artifacts or Out-of-Whack Chronology  

by Philip Rife  

This author personally subscribes to the catastrophic theory of history.

Namely, that one or more times prior to our present recorded history, mankind achieved a high level of civilization--only to have nearly all traces of it obliterated by widespread destruction, either natural or manmade.

However, some of the most popular evidence traditionally marshaled in support of such a scenario may in fact be suspect. The evidence in question consists largely of apparently manmade objects encased in pieces of coal or rock, and what seem to be human footprints solidified in stone.

Consider, for instance, the following item from the June 11, 1891 edition of the Morrisonville, Ill. Times:

A curious find was brought to light by Mrs. S. W. Culp last Tuesday morning. As she was breaking a lump of coal preparatory to putting it in the scuttle, she discovered, as the lump fell apart, embedded in a circular shape, a small gold chain about ten inches in length of antique and quaint workmanship. At first Mrs. Culp thought the chain had been dropped accidentally in the coal, but as she undertook to lift the chain up, the idea of its having been recently dropped was at once fallacious, for as the lump of coal broke...the middle of the chain became loosened while each end remained fastened to the coal. This is a study for the students of archaeology who love to puzzle their brains over the geological construction of the earth from whose ancient depth the curious is always dropping out. The lump of coal from which this chain was taken is supposed to come from the Taylorville or Pana mines (in southern Illinois) and almost hushes one's breath with mystery when it is thought for how many long ages the earth has been forming strata after strata which hid the golden links from view. The chain was an eight-carat gold and weighed eight penny-weights. (1)

Here are a few more examples from the numerous other such cases that have turned up over the years:

  • In the late 1870s or early 1880s, an iron thimble emerged from a piece of coal being burned in a stove in Colorado.(2)

  • In 1912, a worker feeding coal into a furnace at a power plant in Thomas, Oklahoma split open a large piece of coal and found an iron pot inside. "This iron pot fell from the center," recalled the man, "leaving the impression or mould of the pot in the piece of coal. I traced the source of the coal, and found that it came from the Wilburton, Okla. mines."(3)

  • In 1937, a woman in Pennsylvania discovered a large ceramic spoon or ladle while removing the ashes of a large chunk of coal she'd just burned in her stove. The Smithsonian Institution was unable to determine the article's origin.(4)

Coal isn't the only material where erratic artifacts have been found:

  • In 1844, quarry workers found a piece of gold thread embedded in rock at a depth of eight feet in Rutherford Mills, England.(5)

  • No fewer than three "impossible" objects were found encased in rock or widely separated parts of the world in the year 1851. A piece of auriferous quartz from California split open when it was dropped, reaving a slightly corroded cut iron nail that was "entirely straight and had a perfect head."(6) Another nail was discovered in a block of stone from Kingoodie Quarry in northern England.(7) And a mystery object of exquisite workmanship was unearthed by workers in Dorchester, Massachusetts. An article in the June 1851 issue of Scientific American described the latter as a "bell-shaped vessel 4 1/2 inches high, 6 1/2 inches at the base, 2 1/2 inches at the top, and about an eighth of an inch in thickness. The body of this vessel resembles zinc in color, or a composition metal, in which there is a considerable portion of silver. On the sides there are six figures of a flower, or bouquet, beautifully inlaid with pure silver, and around the lower part of the vessel a vine, or wreath, also inlaid with silver. This curious and unknown vessel was blown out of solid pudding stone 15 feet below the surface."(8)

  • In 1869, a piece of feldspar taken from a mine near Treasure City, Nevada was found to contain the oxidized remains of a tapered, uniformly threaded iron screw in its interior.(9)

Then there are what appear to be human footprints impressed (not carved) into rock surfaces at various sites:

  • In Southern California's Elysian Park, "a distinct imprint in solid stone of a shoe worn by a human being," was discovered, according to the Los Angeles Herald. "The peculiar feature of this find is that the owner of the foot wore a shoe of antique Mexican fashion, with high, narrow heel and broad, flat sole. The imprint is perfectly clear and looks as though the owner had unwittingly put his right foot into soft mud but a day or two ago and left his mark. The fossil imprint was discovered by laborers who were making a deep cut for the new wagon road. It was cut out of solid rock, four feet or thereabouts below the surface soil. The stone is a fine-grained shale, impregnated with lime" (from the Savannah Morning Star, April 13, 1897).(10)

  • In 1927, what seemed to be another fossilized shod footprint was found in limestone in Pershing County, Nevada. Microphotographs of the imprint revealed double stitching with an extremely fine thread.(11)

  • In the early 1930s, the head of the geology department of Berea College investigated a series of ten manlike tracks found in sandstone in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. "Three pairs of tracks show both left and right footprints," he later told a Louisville newspaper. "The position of the feet is the same as that of a person. One pair shows the feet parallel to each other, the distance between the feet being the same as that of a normal human being." He estimated the foot in question would take a size 7 1/2 EE shoe.(12)

The conclusion drawn by most writers has been that if these are genuine man-related artifacts (and not freaks of nature), they provide compelling evidence that man has been on this planet far longer than generally believed.

However, there's another, less discussed series of finds that seems to suggest a quite different possible answer to the puzzle. Namely, that the Earth--or at least the portions of it where this second group of artifacts have been found--may not be as old as thought.

Consider, for instance, the coin an Englishman found imbedded in a lump of coal about 1900. It clearly bore the date 1397. Somehow, an object little more than 500 years old wound up inside a material supposedly formed millions of years ago.(13)

Of possible relevance, a group of scientists who studied the aftereffects of the massive 1980 volcanic eruption and deforestation of Mount St. Helens discovered that peat deposits had developed in an unexpectedly short time at the bottom of a nearby lake. The team concluded that under the right conditions, some coal beds could theoretically form in far less time than conventionally thought.)(14) The fact that this information comes from an organization with an agenda, the imformation must be treated skeptically.

Or consider the unusual "geode" picked up by a rockhound near Owens Lake in California in 1961. It was encrusted with fossilized shells, and a geologist who examined it reportedly estimated its age as being at least half a million years. However, when the object was X-rayed, it was found to contain what appeared to be a common 20th Century sparkplug at its center.(15)

No less an authority than Charles Fort himself weighed in convincingly on the subject of erratics that (in at least some cases) may not be as ancient as we think. In The Book of the Damned, he cites two cases that caused him to have second thoughts. One involved quartz crystals reportedly formed in a mine in what, because of the known circumstances, could not have been more than 15 years. The other involved sandstone that had formed at the site of an old mill in only 12 years. Firmly locked inside the sandstone was said to be a piece of wood with a nail in it.(16)

Of course, none of this means there aren't some-perhaps many-erratics indicative of prehistoric catastrophism. Only that all alternative explanations need to be considered whenever one of these "impossible" finds turns up.  


1. INFO Journal, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 47-48. 2. Ibid., #59, p. 31.

3. Brad Steiger, Mysteries of Time and Space (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1976), p. 46.

4. INFO #59, p. 31.

5. John Keel, Our Haunted Planet (Greenwich: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1971), p. 14.

6. Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (New York: Ace Books, Inc.), pp. 130-131.

7. Andrew Tomas, We Are Not the First (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), p. 29.

8. Brad Steiger, Worlds Before Our Own (New York: Berkley Publishing Corp., 1978), photo section.

9. UFO Report, Summer 1975, pp. 28-29.

10. World Before Our Own, pp. 30-31.

11. Mysteries of Time and Space, p. 31.

12. Worlds Before Our Own, p. 97.

13. INFO #59, p. 31.

14. "Mount St. Helens and Catastrophism," Impact #157.

15. Jacques Bergier, Extraterrestrial Intervention (New York: New American Library, Inc., 1975), pp. 12-17.

16. The Book of the Damned, p. 131.

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