The Klerksdorp Spheres: Myth or Metal?

One of the Klerksdorp Spheres

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.�? – Douglas Adams

Smart man, that Douglas Adams.  He, of course, is the renowned and brilliant author of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxystories – originally a BBC radio series, later turned wildly popular novel series and then hit movie.  That quote above is from his lesser known work: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, also quite popular among his fans.

It’s pretty well common sense, that is, if a thing appears to be a thing, it probably is that thing.  There are exceptions though.

Outside of a discussion of the fallibility of our senses, which, if you’re interested you can find here and here, the weirdness of our world quite regularly presents us with items and ideas that defy the ineffable logic above.

One such item – an item, or actually a collection of items, which actually belongs to a group of objects known as out-of-place-artefacts – is called the Klerksdorp Sphere (or spheres as is actually the case).  Also commonly known as the grooved spheres, the Klerksdorp Spheres are what some are calling definitive proof of the advanced technological abilities of ancient (pre-historic) cultures.  You might think that Erik von Däniken should have his hands in this argument, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t.

The spheres are described as small, smooth, metal spheres, usually about an inch in diameter, many with concentric grooves running around their circumference.  Those forwarding claims of advanced ancient technology say that they are perfect spheres, which, if you’re familiar with sculpture, you’re aware of how difficult that is to achieve.  The spheres apparently vary in colour between a dark blue to varying hues of red.  But their most impressive feature is that, according to some, they could not have been manufactured on Earth, but rather could only be made in space.  The common story is that this has been confirmed by NASA.  They are said to be perfectly balanced and to be the hardest objects known to man (alternately they are claimed to only be as “hard as steel�?).

The spheres have been found by miners and rockhounds via mining operations near a small town called Ottosdal, South Africa, owned by a local mining company called Wonderstone Ltd.  Wonderstone’s primary product is a mineral called pyrophylite – which is composed of aluminum silicate hydroxide (Al2Si4O10(OH)2).  Pyrophylite is a relatively soft mineral used in manufacturing, from train brakes to aerospace technologies and even as a sculpture medium.  The Wonderstone deposit is said to be somewhere between 2.8-3 billion years old, and it is inside this pyrophylite deposit that all of the Klerksdorp Spheres have been found.

A carved Hematite bear trinket

That number is generally blamed for the confusion.  The more conspiratorial among us claim that, since the Klerksdorp spheres consist of a different material than the pyrophylite, a material that is said to be much harder (pyrophylite, which is sedimentary, measures a 3 on the Mohs scale, while the spheres, which remain unmeasured, appear much harder – highly scientific, I know), this means that they cannot be natural formations and if they are not natural, then they are manufactured, and since the parent deposit is roughly 3 billion years old, we have a duck that doesn’t appear to be a duck.  Add to this the storyline that they are perfect spheres, so highly balanced that they baffled NASA scientists, and you’ve got a ready-made out-of-place-artefact.

The problem is, much of the above is not true.

The spheres have been studied by a number of people since their first discovery, most notably Paul. V. Heinrich, Geologist and Archaeologist at Louisiana State University, and a team led by Professor of Geology at the University of Johannesburg, Bruce Cairncross.  Also notably, no record exists of any NASA funded or directed study of these artefacts.

Moqui Marbles, hematite, geothite concretions, from the Navajo Sandstone of southeast Utah. Cube is one centimeter square.

Many photos exist that show, without much room for argument, that most of the known examples are not perfect spheres.  In fact most aren’t even spherical at all.  They are generally described by researchers as flattened spheres or discs. Sometimes they are even intergrown, like soap bubbles.  Some have concentric grooves and others don’t, and as mentioned, they have never been measured for hardness (though I can’t imagine why not), but since they are quite easily broken open to reveal a well-defined internal radial structure, the contention that they are so hard they cannot be scratched, even by metal tools, is fairly easily dismissed[1].

Another issue is, as may already be obvious, that they are not made of metal.  According to Heinrich, who used petrographic and x-ray diffraction analysis to determine their composition, the spheres are actually made of hematite, with some consisting of wollastonite.[2]  Hematite is an iron-ore mineral and is highly magnetic (antiferromagnetic).  It’s used most famously in jewellery, its polished black appearance is apparently quite appealing, though its colour can range from black to silver-grey to brown and reddish-brown.

As to the question of how such hematite deposits could form inside the pyrophylite, and how they could emerge with such a manufactured appearance, both Cairncross and Heinrich agree, as do several other geologists, that the spheres are volcanic concretions. Concretion is the result of the process of precipitation of mineral cement within the spaces between sediment grains.  In simpler terms, it means that the small grains of iron-ore sediment, slowly filter through the substrate of the host mineral, in this case pyrophylite, eventually collecting in small pockets within the deposit.  It most often produces small, hard, roughly spherical stones within other, softer sedimentary hosts.  As with the Klerksdorp Spheres, concretions also often have characteristic grooves, which are believed to be a result of fine-grained laminations within which the concretions grew – basically, the shape of the hole in which they found themselves.[3]

This process is well understood and documented, and the Klerksdorp Spheres clearly match other examples of concretion, and while some do claim that it’s odd for hematite and pyrophylite to interact in this way, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.  Whereas, the notion that some ancient culture, 3 billion years old, or so, existed on Earth (an Earth that was VERY different than it is now), developed a culture, technology and artisan skill, and left small, apparently metal balls of rock inside a solid deposit of another kind of rock, all for us to find and boggle at credulously, is pointedly outside of that realm of possibility.

All of the pseudo-scientific claims surrounding these objects, revolve around the notion that they could not have formed naturally.  Cairncross, Heinrich, et al, seem to have lain waste to that idea.  Statements these researchers have made regarding their conclusions have been twisted and distorted by tabloid journalists in the years past, and have muddied the waters surrounding the mythical nature of these artefacts, but rest assured, the truth can be found with a little digging.

[1] Writers at cite a quote from Roelf Marx, curator of the museum where some of the stones are held in Klerksdorp, South Africa, which claims that the stones cannot be scratched.  No original citation of these remarks seems to exist, therefore it may be erroneous.

[2] Heinrich, P.V., 2007, South African concretions of controversy: South African Lapidary Magazine. vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 7-11.

[3] Cairncross, B., 1988, “Cosmic cannonballs” a rational explanation: The South African Lapidary Magazine. v. 30, no. 1, pp. 4-6.

What Does The Soul Weigh? Kind of a Heavy Subject!

In the aftermath of the flurry of articles I’ve read recently, which point out the problems we researchers have with the vast mountains of information available through the internet, it seems particularly apt that I should happen upon the conspiratorial and incredible story of the weight of the human soul today.

Regular readers are aware of my growing obsession with the mind-body question.  That is, do humans have souls?  A question that first reared its head in ancient Greece, with the great philosophising of Heraclitus (c. 475 BCE).  Despite the passionate assertions of a great many people, this question remains unanswered.

Outside of the sometimes highly satisfying philosophical ideas associated with this question, it seems the only way to answer this question with any certainty is through scientific investigation.  Much of that has taken place in the last few decades, from Penrose & Hammeroff’s Orch-OR theory of the quantum soul, to Ervin Laszlo’s Akashic Field Theory, to Parnia’s research through the AWARE Project, there’s no shortage of ideas to read about.

One particularly intriguing feather in the cap of those who claim success in this area of study is the work that’s been done to weigh the human soul.  This idea featured prominently in Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol, which I quite enjoyed even though it’s not his best work.  In the book, Brown described work that had been done by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, though in the book he gives all the credit to the female protagonist working alone and on behalf of the Smithsonian Institute’s top secret research division.  He describes a highly scientific and technologically advanced apparatus used to dynamically measure the weight of people as they died.  He gave no detail regarding the results, however.

As everyone knows, fiction is fiction, and Dan Brown is famous for weaving what appears to be truth into his stories, ultimately fooling a great number of people into believing it’s all based on fact.  In this case, as with others, it was not.

I found this concept, that is, that the soul could be weighed, to be of great interest to me personally and so I looked into it.  It turns out there is a basis in truth here…sort of.

In 1901 Dr. Duncan McDougall, a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts, undertook an inspired experiment to determine how much the soul weighed by measuring the body-weight of 6 patients prior to and following death.  He found, as the story goes, that the soul weighs 21 grams.  This result is an averaging of the body-weight difference between patients from a few moments after death.

His experiments, which he also conducted on dogs and apparently found an agreement between species, were eventually discovered and reported through the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and the journal American Medicine, as well as The New York Times.

The problem is, that there were problems.  His methodology was so sloppy that no one could replicate his results.  And, since this was the turn of the 20th century we’re talking about, the available technology was less than reliable.  It stands though, that McDougall tried, and had limited success, in exposing that there seems to be a difference between the weight of a body before death and after.  It’s an easy jump from there to believing the mind-body question answered, but it’s not.  Most of mainstream science regards his conclusions as false, or simply wrong.[1]

Dr. Mosso’s Soul Weighing Machine from 1884

This wasn’t the first such attempt either. Early Italian neuroscientist Dr. Angelo Mosso conducted a similar series of experiments in approximately 1884, with his ‘metal cradle’ or ‘machine to weigh the soul’.  Rather than measuring the difference between alive and dead weight, he believed he could measure an increase in the weight of the head of a subject, during cognitive effort.  His results were less than impressive, for various reasons.[2][3]

McDougall’s and Mosso’s experiments were not, however, what Dan Brown was talking about.  He most likely was referring to a German study conducted in 1988 by two scientists named Becker Mertens and Elke Fisher.  In their study, Mertens and Fisher weighed some 200 terminally ill patients and found, universally, a difference of 1/3000th of an ounce between life and death.  It seems the soul weighs roughly 0.01 grams.  Their results were published in the German science magazine Horizons, and these results are oft cited and held out as proof that the soul exists.

Now, there are some methodological problems here too; namely that air leaving the patients lungs could account for the weight difference, or some instantaneous decay event, possibly releasing gas held inside the patient’s cells.  These and other criticisms have been levelled at this and at McDougall’s results, but there’s an even bigger problem at play.

The whole thing is a hoax, Becker Mertens and Elke Fisher do not exist, nor does the magazine Horizons.[4]  No such research has been undertaken and the so-called evidence is entirely fabricated.[5]

“This type of miss information (sic) is a growing problem, especially for people overly reliant on the web for information. Such irresponsible fabrication does not serve the scientific community or the general public.”[6]

The above hoax, as I would dare to call it, has been retold and blogged about many times, as though the whole things is completely true.  Most notably by new age magazine New Dawn (special issue 15, page 70) and in a Weekly World News article.

As was highlighted perfectly in his New York Times article of October 25, 2013, Steven Schlozman M.D., warns of how easily things like this can get out of control, and how damaging they can be to not only our understanding of the issues involved, but also to our cultural and social evolution.  In his case, the culprit was harmless joke, in this case it may not have been meant in such a pithy tone.  With works like Brown’s Lost Symbol clouding the issue even further, is it any wonder the layman, the regular Joe (or Josephine) has trouble sorting out fact from fiction?

[1] Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (October 27, 2003). Soul Man – Snopes

[2] Sandrone S, Bacigaluppi M, Galloni MR, Cappa SF, Moro A, Catani M, Filippi M, Monti MM, Perani D, & Martino G (2013). Weighing brain activity with the balance: Angelo Mosso’s original manuscripts come to light. Brain PMID: 23687118

[4] The Tribal Scientist – New Horizons, old hoaxes:

[5] Kennedy, Chad, PhD. Spiritual Evolution: How Science Redefines Our Existence(Authorhouse 2011) ISBN-10: 1467024147. Pg. 166.

[6] Kennedy, Chad, PhD. Spiritual Evolution: How Science Redefines Our Existence(Authorhouse 2011) ISBN-10: 1467024147. Pg. 166.

The Russian Screws: Proof of Ancient Aliens?

I recently brought you the story of the Klerksdorp Spheres, which turned out to be a little misleading, that is if you believed the more credulous among us.  Those spheres belong to a category of pseudo-archaeology called Out-of-Place-Artefacts.  If you read the aforementioned post, you know that they aren’t so much out-of-place as misidentified.  I’m not sure the same can be said for the following.

The story is a little complicated, so bear with me.  It’s said that over a period of three years (1991-1993) Russian gold prospectors sought precious metals in the eastern Ural Mountains, along the rivers Narada, Kozim, and Balbanyu.  Apparently, these unnamed prospectors found something quite remarkable while digging for gold.

Fitting in nicely with the Klerksdorp Spheres, what they found is another example of an out-of-place-artefact (or artefacts as, again, is the case), namely the Russian Screws, or the Narada River Spiral Objects, or Ice-age Nanotechnology.  There is little agreement over the name of these objects, but there is agreement over what they apparently mean, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

What was found is, apparently, several examples of small – very small in some cases – metal objects, often resembling spiral screws or springs, made of copper, tungsten and molybdenum.   What they were made of wasn’t readily apparent, but close inspection revealed some interesting things.  These screws or spirals measured from 3cm (1.2 in) to 0.003mm (1/10,000 of an inch), rightly microscopic.  One wonders how they were even spotted in the first place.  They appear to be manufactured, and in most cases are so finely tooled that most believe their existence required technology on par with our modern manufacturing abilities.  Those involved often cite current nanotechnology being developed for microscopic electronics and medical therapies as an analog.

Investigation of these weird objects was undertaken by the Central Scientific Research Institute for Geology and Prospecting for Precious and Non-ferrous Metals, also known by the acronym ZNIGRI, in Moscow, Russia.  A report from ZNIGRI tells, apparently, that the objects were found 1-1.7 metres deep, within a layer of gravel and detritus, which was composed of material from various sources, geologically.

The objects were dated, by association of their depth in the riverbed, to between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago. Placing their origin somewhere within the Pleistocene era (which immediately preceded the current era, known as Holocene).  Most accounts suggest that the objects are 20,000 years old.

The ZNIGRI report in question, titled No. 18/485, draws the conclusion, from apparently exhaustive testing, that “the age of the deposit (the riverbed) and the results of the tests give a very low probability to the assumption that the origin of these unusual, thread-shaped tungsten crystals is of a technogenic (sic) cosmic nature, due to the rocket take-off route from the Plesetsk space-station over the polar part of the Ural region.”[1] Now, if you’re wondering exactly what that means, you’re not alone.

One Mr. Hartwig Hausdorf, German author and Travel Industry mogul, suggests in his book Wenn Goetter Gott Spielen (1997) – translated as If Gods Play God [Our Evolution Came from Space and the Creation Was Programmed], or alternately When Godlike Gods Play – that the above explanation means precisely this: “these objects cannot have originated from earlier test rockets or similar fired from Plesetsk.”  And therefore they must be evidence of an extraterrestrial presence in the area of the eastern Urals approximately 20,000 years ago.  Hausdorf uses the above mentioned report as ammunition to fire at potential skeptic detractors, using the conclusion that the objects are unlikely to have come from old rockets being fired overhead (from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome) as evidence for an altogether different argument.

“The key word of the report comes finally to the point: The data obtained allow the possibility of an extra-terrestrial technogenic origin.

In view of these conclusions, critics will find it very difficult to accuse me of pseudo-documentation or embarrassing behaviour.”

I do not agree, as you may already have picked up.  The above noted report notwithstanding, eliminating a single possibility, an inconclusive position at best anyway, does not support the validity of any other possibility in-and-of-itself.  Though, as with the Klerksdorp Spheres, there is a bigger problem at play here.

All of the above information comes from several articles across a number of websites, the most relevant being an abstract of Hausdorf’s book from by Arthur Neuman.  Another important one is an article from titled Anomalous Archaeological Artefacts, which covers several other weird objects as well.  If you happen to look into this story though, you’ll notice something striking, almost right away.  All of the websites that offer information on this topic give an almost verbatim retelling of the story from either of the above websites.  And all of them, and included, cite the following URL as their source: (excluding the bits taken directly from Hausdorf.) no longer exists, unfortunately, so whatever they intended us to see is now unavailable. However, in lieu of this, one can start looking a little closer at the details of the story, and I have some bad news for you…

Not only can I find no record (online) of the study, identified above as ZNIGRI Report No 18/485, but as far as I can tell, ZNIGRI itself, or the Central Scientific Research Institute for Geology and Prospecting for Precious and Non-ferrous Metals, doesn’t exist[2], and neither, apparently, do the aforementioned rivers[3] (unless they are either local or regional names not known internationally, or are too small to be listed in online resources).  This is by no means conclusive in itself either, but these failings of the original information give more than ample cause to question whether any of the above is factual.

We know that the spiral objects exist, as there are photographs showing them quite clearly.  Though this, of course, says nothing about where or when they were found, or how they were made and by whom.  As a result of the online source material being unavailable, we are forced to put our faith in Hausdorf, who by his own admission, isn’t exactly trusted as an impartial source of information on these topics by the skeptical or scientific community.

Though the word rests gently on the tip of my tongue, I hesitate to say that the case of the Ice-Age Nanotechnology is an outright hoax, but it seems clear that the situation is at best unsettled and at worst a complete mystery.

At this point I’ll offer a little unsolicited commentary on this apparent trend.  Is there no journalistic integrity in the greater paranormal community?  Are we so desperate for page views and internet fame that we’ll latch onto any sensational story in the name of contrarianism or alternative history?  Trusting that the blogger/writer before us did their due diligence and not only sought the truth of the matter, but also that what theyfound was the truth.  A decent researcher can find almost anything on the internet, whole books have been transcribed and uploaded for ease of use.  If you can’t find the original source, look for supporting information to back up the claim.  If there is none, tell your readers the truth of it.

Confirmation bias is a growing problem in the online world.  If you look for a particular view, to back up your own, you’re likely to find it.  But that doesn’t mean that your view is correct.  Exposing the truth of these tales does not, contrary to many complaints, harm or diminish one’s sense of mystery.  In fact, I believe it enhances it, by clearing the table of the chaff, of the mundane and bogus, allowing us to focus on the real mysteries of this world.  It may seem, of late, that my focus has shifted from paranormal interests, to skeptical interest, but I assure you, I love the weird as much as I ever did, and while I’m disappointed to find so many people accepting stories like the above uncritically and without that proverbial grain of salt, I will continue to bring you all the strangeness I can find, but I will present the truth, as best as I can find it.

Having said all of that, I cordially and sincerely invite you to offer any information you might have on any of the issues pointed out above.  Does ZNIGRI really exist, but maybe under a different name?  Did I miss a listing of the rivers involved?  Is the original report available somewhere, maybe in hard copy? (I know Hausdorf offers to send a copy to anyone for the cost of shipping, but I was thinking of independent sources like libraries etc.)  Let me, and anyone who happens to read this know about it!

IMPORTANT!  Keep reading Part Two of this story…there’s more!


[1] Arthur Neuman. Ice-Age Nanotechnology Discovered. 2001

[2] The Russian Government – Ministries and Agencies:

The Russian Screws: The Mystery Continues (Part two of two)

It’s been nagging at me since I posted the counterpart to this post less than eight hours ago, that I may have dismissed the issue of the Russian Screws with a might too much haste and enthusiasm.

After intensive search online, through Russian language websites, search engines and wiki pages, I am, maddeningly, no closer to an answer.  While it seems that others, though only a few, have come to the same conclusion that I did in what I’ll now call part one of this two part saga, all attempts to verify the information contained in Hartwig Hausdorf’s book Wenn Goetter Gott Spielen have hit dead ends.

It turns out though, that Hausdorf misreported or mistranslated the original Russian in his source material.  The research organization he identified as ZNIGRI or the Central Scientific Research Institute for Geology and Prospecting for Precious and Non-ferrous Metals, is actually TsNIGRI, or The Federal State Unitary Enterprise – Central Research Geological Exploration Institute of Nonferrous and Precious Metals[1], which operates under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

This organization is responsible for “…the forecast, the search for, evaluation, exploration, advanced technology exploration, processing and analysis of ores diamonds, gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, cobalt, monitoring of mineral resources, geological and economic evaluation deposits of mineral raw materials situation.”[2]

So, at least that part of Hausdorf’s story seems to be legitimate, if not confusing and difficult to verify.

TsNIGRI oversees or controls two journals, National Geology, which was founded in 1933 and is a scientific or industry periodical that publishes articles and commentary on the theoretical aspects of geology, and Ores & Metals, which was founded in 1992 for the “rapid dissemination of information and the creation of an information base for fundamental research in the field of ore deposits and their geological structure and mineral resources.”

Unfortunately, while these journals are archived online through the Russian language E-Library, a searchable database of literally millions of Russian scientific publications and individual articles, I can find no mention of the Narandan Spiral Artefacts (or Narandan Metal Fasteners, as a Russian language entry calls them, or even through any other variation of the several names that have come up in this research) through either of the mentioned publications, or any other.

Hausdorf mentions two researchers by name in his book, as originally cited in part one from Arthur Neuman’s article, a Dr. Valerii Ouvarov and Scientific Assistant Mme. Dr. E. W. Matveyeva.

Matveyeva apparently is, or was, a researcher with TsNIGRI, but all searches for him or her return results directly related to Hausdorf’s book and claims.  The same problem occurs with Ouvarov, with the exception of some obscure references to a UFO Report DVD, apparently developed by him or her.  There is also a book written by a Russian UFOlogist named Mr. Valery Uvarov titled The Pyramids.  If this is the person in question, it adds no credibility to Hausdorf’s claim.  The problem is exacerbated of course, by the apparent misspellings or transliterations of both names, alternately given as Jelena Matveev and Valery Ouvarov or Uvarov.[3]  Making the search quite difficult.

As mentioned in part one, the rivers cited, in the Ural Mountains where the supposed artefacts were found, were also not found in any listings of waterways in the area.  However, after adjusting for Hausdorf’s apparent difficulty with translating either from Russian to German, or from German to English, a spelling variation of one of the rivers returned a result for Kožim.[4]  Which is a tributary of Kosjun of the Komi Republic in Russia.  The other rivers, Narada (or Naradan) and Balbanyu are still unaccounted for, though again, this may be due to incorrect spellings.

So, all in all, it seems clear that Hausdorf’s claim that “critics will find it very difficult to accuse [him] of pseudo-documentation or embarrassing behavior” is patently wrong.  If he were trying to make this issue impossible to research, he could scarcely have done a better job.  It could be said though, that it’s not entirely his fault.

In the end, we’re left with the same problems as were mentioned in part one; none of his story can be verified.  It’s interesting to note that the Wikipedia entry for the Naradan Metal Fasteners, as mentioned above, lists Hausdorf’s book as well as two further websites – and, both of which are no longer operating – as the only sources for the entire entry.  Of further interest though, is that the only website listed on that entry that is still in operation (listed as an external link, not a source) displays a verbatim abstract of Hausdorf’s book, precisely as it appears on  From the dates of the web pages, it seems clear that Arthur Neuman did some copy/pasting from that earlier accounting.  And those of you who are paying attention, will find the same broken URL identified in part one listed near the very top of the page.

Well now, we’ve come full circle.  Yet we still don’t have any answers.  Are the Narada or Naradan Spirals real?  Are they 20,000 years old?  Were they examined scientifically by a Russian Federal agency, or by some crackpot UFOlogist?  Did Hausdorf make the whole thing up?  It seems obvious that something was found, there are pictures after all.  But a recurring anecdote keeps resurfacing with every dead end, and that is that there is or was some manufacturing or industrial factory located near to or upstream from the excavation area in question.  The suggestion, though completely unqualified as far as I can tell, is that these so-called artefacts are nothing more than metal wastes from some manufacturing process, carelessly dumped into the wilderness of the Ural mountains.

I can no more tell you that these things are discarded tips from mechanical pens, than I can say they’re proof of ancient alien contact.  What you can take away from all this though, is that there is no part of this story that is certain, not my view or Hausdorf’s, or any of the people who seem to have plagiarised his work.  It seems we have a genuine mystery on our hands, but I still think it’s unlikely that aliens are involved.



[2] Translated from original Russian by Google Translate from

[3] – Naradan Metal Fasteners:

[4] – Kožim:

Crypto-weirdness Isn’t What It Seems

If you’ll pardon my language, it seems the more time one spends on social media, the greater their chances of being duped by the clever bullshit of those who, it seems, are just out to fool everyone.  My recent posts have been an exercise in exposing the hijinks of people who go out of their way to create and spread stories that are, shall we say, not exactly above board.  This isn’t by design, I look for and try to celebrate mysteries, unfortunately, many of the stories that circulate the internet dressed as mysteries are actually hoaxes in drag.

Today I give you a relatively new urban legend, if you will.  As the story goes, according to the team over at Paranormal Geeks Radio:

“In 1971 farmer Ted Litton caught this weird animal alive in his artificial pond in Lilac,TX, & got his pic in the paper. 8 hours later his farm was besieged by Army soldiers wearing decontamination suits. They drained the pond, leaving an odd, spheroid cavity in the bottom. Litton says the Army dismissed his beast as a freak of nature yet they confiscated it, promising him 5 grand (which never materialized).”What you don’t know can hurt you-1860-1998″”[1]

I came across this story by way of a post on Facebook, in a private UFO group, which quoted the above in its entirety accompanied by the picture (above).  It struck me as a little weird, so I looked into it, as you might imagine I would.

The above, copied directly from the Paranormal Geeks Radio blog, seems to be the earliest mention of the story, and it’s dated April 13, 2013.  The actual author isn’t listed, but the host of the radio show is Jim Heater.  You can however, find the story verbatim, repeated throughout the social networking site Pinterest, of all places.  As mentioned though, it’s now making its way around Facebook, and will no doubt soon be picked up by the more credulous in Ghost Hunting circles.

Some sleuths have already cracked the case though, so when you see it posted in your favourite places, you can feel safe in responding with criticism.


You’ll notice in the picture that the man holding what appears to be a strange alien-like lobster type creature, is wearing what appears to be sunglasses suspended around his neck with a neoprene lanyard or strap.  If the picture had indeed been taken in 1971, as the story says, that feature would seem to be out of place.  Others have suggested that there appear to be telltale distortions and marks in the image which point to the use of photoshop in its origin.

With a little investigation I’ve been able to identify the creature, sort of.  It’s a type of deep sea scorpion from the family Eurypterid (order Eurypterida).  Which is all well and good, but the thing you should be aware of, is that these creatures, which are arthropods that are related to arachnids, are extinct.

Yeah, kind of a problem for the story, although this fact would do little to sway believers, since all manner of extinct animals are said to be roaming the wilds at any given moment.  So I wasn’t satisfied with this as the ultimate evidence for hoax.

Further reading and searching though provided such an answer.

DVD Cover of BBC’s Sea Monsters

The man in the photo is in fact, an animatronic engineer with the UK based, award winning special effects design company Crawley Creatures.[2]  The creature is in fact, completely fake.  It’s an animatronic model designed for and used by producers for the show Chased by Dinosaurs: Sea Monsters.  The show, originally titled Sea Monsters, was a BBC television trilogy (2003), hosted by Zoologist Nigel Marven and has since been released in the US on DVD under the title mentioned above.[3]

Now, we find that the creature is in fact an extinct Megalograptus, which, as mentioned, was a member of the Ordovician Eurypterids.[4]  But, again, the story told above is without a doubt a complete and total hoax.  Though I’m not yet prepared to outright accuse the folks at Paranormal Geeks Radio of any wrong doing, they have certainly not helped the situation by retelling the story as fact.

So you see, yet again, what at first glance appears to be something quite extraordinary, turns out to be something that is, while quite cool, not at all what so many people seem to hope it is.

Dreams & Near-Death Experiences: Two Sides of a Different Coin

“The Knight’s Dream”, 1655, by Antonio de Pereda

Where do the images in your dreams come from? Are they the product of pure imagination, or do they have a more down to earth origin?

This might seem to you, to be a fairly simple question, but rest assured, it’s anything but.

There are in excess of eleven scientific theories on dreams, from both a psychological and a neurobiological perspective.  There is the Freudian view of dreams and the Jungian view of dreams.  Dreams have a cultural meaning in terms of ancient history, philosophy, theology, literature and pop-culture.  Some believe they can be prophetic, others think they’re the manifestation of an alternate reality.  To some they are a nightly escape into a world of fantasy, for others they are frequently a horrific adventure into past hurts and fears.

Whatever they mean, which ultimately is a highly subjective and semantic idea, there are some facts about dreams of which you might not have been aware.

There is, without question, a defined physiology to dreams, a physical process undertaken by the brain, the mechanics of which are relatively well understood.  It is our subconscious mind playing movies for our benefit while we sleep, right?

Well no, not actually. Dreams occur most often during REM sleep.  That is, the sleep cycle characterised by Rapid Eye Movement.  The average person spends, or will spend, approximately six years of their life dreaming, in nightly bouts lasting between five and twenty minutes.  There doesn’t appear to be a single area of the brain responsible for generating dreams, but little is known about their precise origin, despite continuous testing and research for centuries.

So, where do the landscapes and characters of our dreams come from?  Without delving into a discussion of the merits of Freudian or Jungian archetypes, which are more interesting in discussion than in practise, there are a few theories that shed some light on the subject.

Since 1976, when J. Allen Hobson and Robert McCarley turned Freud’s theory of unconscious wishes on its head, most researchers have yielded to the idea that dreams are, in some fashion, the result of our subconscious mind sorting out short- and long-term memories from our waking lives.

Along a progression in thinking, from the Activation Synthesis Theory, which speaks more to the neurobiological origin of dreams, to the less well defined theories of long-term memory excitation and the strengthening of semantic memories, it seems clear that memory plays a key role in the dreamscape.

Published in the journal Science (October 13, 2000 issue), are the results of the inspired research of the Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Robert Stickgold PhD. Stickgold is, among other things, the Director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition.

His paper, titled Replaying the game: hypnagogic images in normals and amnesicstells the story of a group of people playing video games, of all things.

Dr. Robert Stickgold

Stickgold and his colleagues used the video game Tetris to study the function of memory in dreams, and they found, as may not be surprising, that when people played the video game for a set period of time prior to sleeping, their dreams featured elements from the game.  From geometric shapes and landscapes, to activities such as sorting objects in the dream.  This may not seem particularly interesting, but consider that he tried the same experiment with amnesiacs, or people who suffer from amnesia, a neurological condition that prevents sufferers from converting short-term or semantic memory into long-term memory. There are different forms of amnesia, ranging from the Hollywood style wiping of a person’s long-term memory and identity to other types of memory related maladies as noted above.

When Stickgold conducted his experiment on the amnesiacs he found, quite remarkably, that they too dreamed of geometrically themed landscapes and activities following a set duration of game play.[1]

Interestingly, this seems to prove, with room for discussion, that dreams are in fact the process of the subconscious mind cementing learned information into either semantic memory or episodic memory – which is related to factual knowledge, i.e. 2+2=4, rather than subjective experiences.  Further research by Stickgold and others has further confirmed this idea in recent years.

This means that the imagery you see or experience while dreaming isn’t the product of pure imagination, it comes directly from memory.  The faces and buildings and other sensory aspects of your dreams are taken directly from, or are amalgamations from recent memories.  When you dream of people or places that you don’t readily recognise it may be because your mind has twisted the details ever so slightly in its attempt to make sense of the information, or that the memory involved was insignificant to your waking consciousness and therefore isn’t something you readily recall, or possibly a combination of both processes.

Dr. Sam Parnia

This is all very interesting, especially if you’re a student of psychology, or are particularly fond of Freud, but it has an impact on something you may not immediately realize.

As reported here, Dr. Sam Parnia, Critical Care Physician and Director of Resuscitation Research at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, has, through his research in conjunction with the AWARE Project (The Nour Foundation – Human Consciousness Project) likened the phenomenon of Near-Death Experience to that of a dream state.[2]

“We’ve certainly found in our studies … that if we manage to get to patients immediately after waking up — which is not easy at times — and talk to them, they tend to remember more, and if you go back and reinterview them within a couple of days, they tend to have forgotten their experiences, possibly. So we think that probably many more people have these experiences — if perhaps not even everyone — but somehow their memories get wiped in the same way that most of us — if not all of us — dream every night, but somehow there’s a disruption to the memory circuits that allow us to recall our dreams the following day.”[3]

This seems a reasonable comparison, NDE’s, which often are reported to have Out-Of-Body Experiences associated with them, are described in much the same way as dreams.  Though one thing is quite different about NDE’s, in roughly 80% of reported NDE’s the imagery is universal or archetypal among those who experience it.  Meaning, in simple terms, that those who have Near-Death Experiences often report strikingly similar landscapes, events and characters in the dreamlike world of the experience.

This has been held up as strong evidence that NDE’ers are in fact experiencing a real event.  That they are actually meeting with loved ones and with religious characters and are travelling in a real, albeit non corporeal place to whatever end, and are ultimately being pulled back from that place or journey upon resuscitation.

Dr. Kenneth Ring

This has potentially far reaching implications, such as bringing us closer to answering the mind-body question.  That is, do we have a soul?  Or, is there an afterlife?

Those questions are without a doubt very much unanswered as it stands, and while Parnia’s research pushes forward, though admittedly not with the goal of answering those questions directly, it seems we may find ourselves closer to an answer in the near future.

The above though, might give you the wrong impression.  NDE’s are not like dreams, as convenient as Parnia’s analogy above may be.

Dr. Kenneth Ring, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut and one of the leading researchers in Near-Death studies, has outlined in his 1999 book Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind that, even without the benefit of sight, blind people share in the common archetypal imagery known to sighted, Near-Death experiencers.[4]

This sort of flies in the face of the idea that NDE’s are in any way similar to dreams, other than superficially.  One of Ring’s research subjects, Vicki Umipeg, a forty-five year old blind woman, remarked about her experience:

“This was the only time I could ever relate to seeing and to what light was, because I experienced it.”[5]

Vicki was blind from birth, and as researchers have known for decades, if not centuries, blind people do not dream in visual terms.  They experience dreams in terms of other sensory perceptions, such as touch, smell and sound etc.  If a person lost their sight at some point later in life, they can experience dreams that incorporate limited visual stimulus, relative to the length of time they’ve been blind.  In simpler terms, blind people don’t have visual dreams, because they have no visual memories.

This supports the notion that dreams are the product of memories, as demonstrated by Stickgold et al.  Though it quite thoroughly dismisses the idea that NDE’s are dreamlike.  If they are not similar to or related to dreams, and the imagery experienced during an NDE are not the product of memory as dreams are, what does that say about where the imagery of NDE’s comes from?

Many modern theories coming out of neurophysiology and psychology have suggested, with varying success, that the environment and characters reported with NDE’s are the result of some unknown neurological or neurodegenerative process associated with the early stages of death.  Whether the instant decay of neurons and synapses or de-oxygenation of blood in the brain, or even changes in the quantum state of the brain being perceived by failing synaptic functions, the problem is that the specific archetypes reported seem to be generated independently of the memories of the patient.

If the rich and often alien environments reported with NDE’s are the product of imagination, this is counterintuitive when considered alongside the above theories.  Can a brain with no electrical activity and quickly degenerating physiology be expected to generate a vivid and hyper-realistic dreamscape, the likes of which could scarcely be replicated in actual dreams?

This, of course, is entirely suppositional, and doesn’t speak to any of the other issues tangled in amongst the mind-body question, but it does seem to give much food for thought.  NDE’s and their associated OBE’s seem not to be associated with the memories of their experiencers, and as such, their imagery need to be accounted for in some other way.  Whether that’s through neurophysiology or quantum mechanics is yet to be discovered, but we do seem to be tantalisingly close to an answer nonetheless.

[1] Stickgold R, A Malia, et al. Replaying the game: hypnagogic images in normals and amnesics. Science. 2000 Oct 13; 290(5490):350-3. [PMID: 11030656]

[3] – ‘Erasing Death’ Explores The Science of Resuscitation. February 20, 2013.

[4] Ring, Kenneth. Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind. iUniverse Books, ISBN-10: 0595434975

[5] Williams, Kevin. People Born Blind Can See During A NDE – Dr. Kenneth Ring’s NDE Research of the Blind

The Galaxy is Getting Crowded: What Does the Drake Equation Say About Kepler’s Discoveries?

NASA’s now-disabled Kepler Space Observatory

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last month or so, you’ve no doubt heard the exiting news coming from NASA.  On November 4th, a team of scientists working with NASA’s Kepler data announced through a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that there are 8.8 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy.

That’s a whole lotta planets, with a whole lotta potential!

The new findings, which were the result of an in-depth study of data from NASA’s now-crippled orbiting telescope, the Kepler Space Observatory, tell us that in the Milky Way galaxy – our galaxy – which consists of some 400 billion stars of varying size and type, there are just shy of nine billion planets of comparable size to Earth.  All of which orbit stars of the same type as our sun, and reside in what’s now commonly called the Goldilock’s zone (not too close/hot and not too far/cold).

This is held, and rightly so, as an important and profound discovery.  Over the past several years, Kepler has been peering at an area of space containing approximately 42,000 stars.  Using data and images from that tiny slice of our galaxy, scientists looked for Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars and then extrapolated that data to accommodate the entire galaxy, resulting in the number 8.8 billion, with an error rate of less than 8 percentage points.

There are ten different methods for detecting extra-solar planets, most rely on effects that the orbiting planet has on its parent star, such as changes in the red-shift of the light emitted by the star, or in changes to the star’s brightness, thereby allowing scientists to deduce information about the planet in question.  Kepler uses, or rather used, the Transit Method for detecting extra-solar planets.  That is, it’s equipment measured the transits of planets orbiting distant stars across the plane of the star, which results in a regular but very slight dimming of the star’s relative brightness, which when detected, can be used to determine the position, orbital distance and size of the planet in question.

A graphic representation of the Transit Method of exoplanet detection

The Kepler project has been wildly successful, and the numbers above are really only the tip of the ice burg.  Scientists focused only on relatively small and dim sun-like stars, which are not at all common, whereas the data covered all types of stars.  Earlier estimates suggest that at least 15% of red dwarf stars in our galaxy may have Earth-sized planets orbiting in the Goldilock’s Zone.  Combining those numbers gives the incredible result of more than 40 billion right-size, right-place planets, and that’s just in our galaxy.  There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there!

Of course, what does this all really mean?  So there are some billions of planets that, at least superficially resemble Earth, that doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that there are that many planets that can support life (as we know it).  We know from our own solar system, and our study of Mars and the moon, that water, at least in our system, is or was at one time somewhat abundant.  And we know that water is crucial for the development and survival of life (again, as we know it), but we know nothing about the presence of water outside of our system.  It’s speculated that it probably does exist, in frozen form if not liquid, on at least some planets, however few, but that’s hardly a sure thing.

When it comes to life outside of Earth, we know very little.  Even though our knowledge is severely limited in that regard, it does seem somewhat naïve to dismiss the possibility that life exists elsewhere…the numbers are compelling.

As reported here, there are a few methods we know of for estimating the likelihood that extraterrestrial life exists.  In most cases, scientifically speaking, when one discusses extraterrestrial life, they mean, implicitly, microbial or simple life.  Others though are less selective in their thinking.  The subject begs to be discussed.  The most popular, if not the least reliable method for speculating on the likelihood of alien life, that is complex, intelligent alien life, is the Drake Equation.

Formulated in 1961 by the world renowned Astrophysicist Frank Drake, the Drake Equation provides a method for statistically considering how many intelligent civilizations might evolve within the Milky Way galaxy (N).  The equations is expressed as follows:

N= R* x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc x L

To derive N, one must consider:

R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy

fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets

ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets

f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point

fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life

fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

Early results, by Drake and independently by some of his colleagues, were quite low.  Drake originally cited N=10, and later calculations provided for wildly differing conclusions, ranging from -10 to 10,000.  The reason for this discrepancy is due entirely to the nature of the values involved.  All of the values, up until now, have been completely arbitrary and based on, at best, educated guesses.  Guesses that were extremely difficult to justify.  This fact prompted critics to cry foul, claiming that the equation was useless and that any result derived from it worse than speculation – due mainly to the fact that the public was/is likely to misunderstand the failings of the idea and thereby assign much more importance to the figures than was warranted.

Dr. Frank Drake

The complaint that nearly all of the variables in the equation are unknowns (with the exception of R*) has now been silenced, at least partly.  Thanks entirely to the work done by NASA’s Kepler Scientists, we now know (with acceptable margins for error) the true value of Fp, allowing us to calculate N with all the more accuracy.

When one works through the equation with this new information and using best known estimates for all other values, we find now that N=10,800.  This fits with Drake’s later calculations, as well as those of others in various fields who have endeavoured to legitimise the idea.  Of course, while the Kepler data serves to resolve what amounts to possibly the most important value in the equation, the results remain inconclusive.  Though one is required to remember that the Drake Equation was always only ever meant to provide an estimate of the prevalence of intelligent life in our galaxy, and to provide a starting point for further discussion and research.


Those with an affinity for astrophysics and/or statistics may find the following to be, well…awesome.  The brilliant fellows over at Onomaly Extraterrestrial Software have developed a smart phone app based on the Drake Equation.  With it, users can input their own values and watch as the application calculates the result graphically, showing elegant visualizations of the Milky Way based on whatever outcome the equation generates…and so much more.

If you have a smart phone, and the above interests you in any way…you have to get this app!

DrakeEQ is now available in the Apple App Store.

(This has NOT been a paid advertisement, I just find it to be worth sharing)

Kaspar Hauser Highlights Our Obsession With The Wild Child: Feral Children in History and Literature

Scrawny and disheveled and wild, a child steps from the cold darkness of the woods and into the bustle of a small European village.  Quietly, slowly, step by cautious step, she makes her way to the largest, most impressive building in sight, and on the step, she collapses in a pile of malnourishment and neglect.  Long hair and tiny scraps of cloth for clothing are the only distinguishing features as a growing crowd of onlookers gathers to inspect this forgotten vestige of an era past.  Questions slip from the mouths of witnesses: Who is she?  Where did she come from?  What should we do?

They soon find the child is mute, or at least unwilling to talk.  She is inquisitive but fearful of people and new and loud experiences, and totally unaware of the civilities that come from a decent upbringing.  The child is hungry, very hungry, but seems confused by eating utensils and even amused by the novelty of prepared food.  It becomes painfully clear that this child has been through an ordeal that would, perhaps, have ended a weaker soul.

This is a wild child.

The above story may seem familiar to you, and not just insofar as it seems like the plot to a fairly cheesy period mystery book you might find in an airport lounge.  It seems, if you’ll indulge, to stir something primal inside of us.  That last bit is a touch misleading though, for the proper term is feral child, not wild child (which engenders visions of some hippy road trip or something).

Lupa Capitolina: she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. Bronze, 12th century AD

In fact, this story is one of the oldest morality tales known to man, and what’s more is, the basic plot has never left our literary psyche over the millennia.

You may find the following names somewhat familiar; Romulus and Remus (no, not the Klingon brothers), Atalanta, Enkidu, Tarzan and Mowgli.  These are just the most famous examples of feral children in our literary history.  Of course, the last two may be more familiar than the others.  Pop culture has celebrated the romance of what, in reality, would be a devastating and permanently retarding experience for any person.  The classic tales of Tarzan, a character dreamed up by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1912 Tarzan of the Apes, exemplify the quintessential feral child.  Abandoned or lost as a young child, possibly at birth, to be raised by either primitives or animals in a wild jungle environment (apes in Africa in the case of Tarzan).  The child learns the laws of the jungle and once faced with the modern world upon their discovery, either struggles with or outright rejects the prospect of rejoining the human race.  And who could forget Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, the Indian feral child of The Jungle Book?

As interesting and entertaining as these examples might be, they are just stories, though they are stories with an origin.  That oldest known examples of feral children tales come, actually, from what is arguably the oldest known manuscript, the Epic of Gilgamesh.  In it, Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods, befriends Gilgamesh, and after several adventures during which the two slay frightening monsters, Enkidu is killed by the gods, leaving Gilgamesh devastated by the loss.

Romulus and Remus come from ancient Rome’s original creation myth, wherein the brothers escape the violent efforts of their maternal Grandfather Numitor and Great Uncle Amulius to rid the kingdom of rightful heirs to the throne.  As infants born of the god Mars, they are left for dead but rescued by a she-wolf and woodpecker, who raise them.  Ultimately they grow strong and return to challenge Amulius’ claim as King and emerge victorious, creating the great Roman Empire in their wake.  (The story’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the gist.)

The point of all this is to illustrate that these stories speak to us on a culturally universal level.  There is a feral child type story in nearly every human culture since the Sumerian civilization, and probably originates with tribal traditions before that.  What’s truly incredible about this motif though, is the staying power it has in literature, and this may have something to do with the fact that many of these stories, at least later ones, are true (with some obvious poetic licence around the edges).

Kaspar Hauser – Johann Georg Laminit (1775–1848)

There are no less than forty well-known accounts of real-life feral children from between the 14th century to present day, all over the world.  In 536BC, Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus (twenty-sixth dynasty) is said to have deliberately abandoned twins with a goat herder, giving him instructions to feed them, but never talk to them or instruct them in any way.  He hoped to find the divine language in this way.  Most accounts suggest he failed.

The problem is that many, if not most of those accounts are quite unreliable in their veracity.  They were often the result of second or even third-hand testimony and are seldom backed up with any kind of historical record such as migration records or death census.  There are a few though, that stand out from the crowd, if you will.  One such account is the famous story of Kaspar Hauser.  Hauser’s tale is not that of a true feral child, however, as we shall see.

In 1828, on May 26, a young man appeared on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany.  He carried with him a letter addressed to Captain von Wessenig, the Captain of the 4th Squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment.  The famous line from the letter, also said to be the only thing the boy could say at the time, was “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was”.

Hauser was, by all accounts, an idiot (in the classical sense), he spoke little, knew nothing of reading or writing, except to crudely write his own name, and he scoffed at food offered him that he did not recognize.  In time, and under the tutelage of several people, including the jailor Andreas Hiltel and a Mayor Binder, he began to learn to speak more and to draw or sketch (some of his sketches survive today and are quite striking).  He told his own story – and this is where his story differs from the traditional feral child accounts – saying that all he ever knew was a cold, dark concrete cell with a straw bed and a horse carved out of wood as a toy.  His captor would feed him bread and water each morning without revealing himself, and on occasion Hauser claimed that the water made him sleep deeply and he would wake to find his nails and hair had been cut the next day.  Shortly before he had been released, his captor, presumably, had entered the cell and taught him everything he knew, such as it was; writing his name and the phrase about becoming a cavalryman.

Pencil drawing by Kaspar Hauser, 1829

He was soon after released and sent on his way to Nuremberg, where he found himself at the charity of strangers.  There are some real problems with his story, namely that his physical condition at the time of his arrival in Nuremberg is thought to have been much better than would be expected for someone who had spent his entire life locked up in a small room and without contact of another living being.  He bounced around, living with several benefactors, most of whom initially felt pity for his situation and were intrigued by his story, but nearly all of whom eventually labelled him a liar.

Eventually, and some think to gain sympathy for his earlier troubles, he apparently faked a stabbing, wherein he was cut above his eye.  He claimed that a mysterious stranger had done it, though most believe he used a razor to inflict the wound on himself.

On December 17, 1833, Hauser died of a stab wound to his chest.  The events surrounding his death are just as mysterious as those surrounding his sudden appearance.  He said to witnesses on December 14th, while slowly dying from his wound, that he had been lured to Ansbach Court Garden by a mysterious stranger, who stabbed him while handing him a bag.  Police later recovered a small violet purse in the precise location Hauser had described, which contained a penciled note written in mirror-writing.  The note read as follows:

“Hauser will be

able to tell you quite precisely how

I look and from where I am.

To save Hauser the effort,

I want to tell you myself from where

I come _ _ .

I come from from _ _ _

the Bavarian border _ _

On the river _ _ _ _ _

I will even

tell you the name: M. L. Ö.”

Hauser’s account was, even at the time, widely doubted.  With his history of lying and his previous attempts to cull favour by faking personal injury, people were not in the mood to humour him any longer.  The Ansbach Court of Enquiry maintained that he had inflicted the wound himself and invented the story about the mysterious stranger.  There is, apparently, forensic and documentary evidence to support this position, and in light of everything, many are in doubt of his entire story.

The note in mirror writing. Photography, contrast enhanced. The original has been missing since 1945.

The facts are, he arrived one day under the cloak of mystery, and left another, under equally mysterious circumstances.  Not much more can be said of him, but of feral children stories in general, of the many accounts to choose from, Kaspar Hauser’s may be the most memorable.  We do know that feral children exist, and have existed throughout our history, and it seems we’re programmed psychologically to identify with these lost relics of humanity past.

Somewhat more sensational stories have emerged in recent years, such as that of Lyokha (Russia 2007), who was raised by wolves, showed definite wolf-like behaviour and escaped custody to return to the wild after only a single day in medical care.  These stories are fascinating in a side-show kind of way, but they also have psychological and sociological value.  We can learn from the children in these stories, but we can also learn from our reaction to the stories and from our apparent obsession with the motif through the ages.  Humans are survivors.  We routinely face death and destruction with bravery and determination.  If these small children could survive the wilds with nothing but their wits and their will, it would seem that we, as a species, can survive anything.

Lebeau Plantation Burns to the Ground; Is This A Ghost Hunting Issue?

No doubt you’ve heard the story by now.  This past Friday a group of men claiming to be ghost hunters burned a historic building in Louisiana to the ground.  This situation is appalling, disturbing and perhaps not really all that unique.

As reported by Fox8 New Orleans, seven men, ranging in age from 17 to 31 entered the historic Lebeau Plantation house in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, looking for ghosts.  According to investigators, the men consumed alcohol and marijuana while inside (and probably prior to), and when their efforts to find any ghostly or paranormal activity failed, they deliberately set fire to the building.

“They were in there looking for ghosts, drinking, smoking dope, and for some reason they made a decision — a conscious decision — before they left to set this building on fire.  St. Bernard lost a part of its history today, and these seven individuals are responsible for that.”

Five of the men, who according to St. Bernard Parish Sherriff, James Pohlmann, were all part of some door-to-door sales group travelling through the area, have been charged with arson, simple burglary, and criminal damage over $50,000, while the remaining two were charged with accessory to arson. Ownership of the property has yet to be determined, and as such it’s unlikely there will be any restoration effort.

This is truly a tragedy, not only for the loss of this historic location, that has sat empty for an undisclosed period of time, but also for the harm this act has done and will do to the collective reputation of the paranormal research community in general.  Lebeau Plantation had long been a so-called hot spot for ghost hunters, and many stories of its haunted nature circulated the St. Bernard Parish community.

Other ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiast are, understandably, attempting to distance themselves from the event and the behaviour.  Several blogs have reported the story, condemning the men and their actions as atypical of their community, essentially saying that those men are ‘not real ghost hunters’.  This sentiment is being repeated time and again across the popular social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, but – and I realise this will not be a popular position – they aren’t really accurate when they single this case out, suggesting that it’s an isolated incident unrelated to the paranormal research community.

It may be the case that these men were less organized and scientific in their pursuit of ghosts than some others who undertake the same pursuit, but this hardly disqualifies them as ghost hunters.  This argument amounts to a classic case of the ‘one true Scotsman’ argument, which says that these undesirable elements of the community are not actually a part of the community, when they really are, demonstrably so.

If they claimed that their purpose for being there was to hunt ghosts, which they have freely admitted, then they are by every definition ‘ghost hunters’.  Beyond this is the fact that this kind of behaviour is nothing new to the field of paranormal research.  Many other buildings have been burned or damaged in pursuit of ghostly activity.  The vast majority of so-called ghost hunting groups have in fact trespassed on private property and forced their way into vacant or abandoned buildings to affect their trade.  Yes, the Lebeau Plantation incident is more extreme than most other examples of this flaw in the community, but it is not unique.

If you doubt that this is the case, I’ll refresh your memory.  In October of 2009, A&E network aired a much hyped new paranormal reality show titled Extreme Paranormal.  I watched it with much anticipation as it was billed to bring a new type of investigation style to the community, and was the brain child of a group of paranormal investigators who, up until then, had a decent reputation.  I, like most people, was sorely disappointed with the show, but more than that, I was outraged at the ridiculous and dangerous (not to mention illegal) activities portrayed on screen by these so-called ‘irreverent ghost hunters’.

I watched in amazement as they made ridiculous assumptions and used unconventional equipment (to say the least) in order to provoke a reaction from the spirits that were presumed to inhabit the location.  The circular saw used to cut the bars on one of the prison cells was a particularly stupid example.

In that show, which was immediately cancelled after that first episode, the hosts sprayed lighter fluid onto the concrete floor of the prison, in the shape of a pentagram, which they then lit ablaze in an effort to further provoke the spirits.

I ask you, how is this any different than what those men did to the Lebeau Plantation?

Deliberate?  Check.  Irresponsible?  Check.  Pointless?  Check.  Malicious?  Definitely, though for different reasons in these two cases.

The seven arson suspects are (left to right) Bryon Meek, Dusten Davenport, Kevin Barbe, Joshua Allen, Jerry Hamblen, Joseph Landin and Joshua Briscoe.

Now you may say that Extreme Paranormal is, as with the Lebeau Plantation fire, not representative of the greater paranormal community, but I maintain that it most certainly is.  The results may normally be much less severe than in the St. Bernard Parish case, which has rendered an otherwise valuable historic site completely destroyed, but all you need to do is look through the news from the last few years to find examples of the disrespect members of this community have for the property of others.  In the case in question, no one was hurt, physically at least, but this isn’t always the case, and the proof is in the pudding…do a Google search for ghost hunters shot for trespassing and you’ll be amazed how many links will be served up.

To add a personal touch to this, I can say from my own experience, that would-be ghost hunters and even those much more experienced have done and will continue to do considerable damage to the historic and vacant Sulphur Springs Hotel in Cambridge, Ontario (Canada).  I was fortunate (or unfortunate, as the case may be) to work as the live-in caretaker of that building for a period of two years.  I witnessed first-hand the damage and vandalism that people inflict on such buildings, and every time I caught the perpetrator in the act, their reason for being there was ‘I was curious about the building because it’s supposed to be haunted’.

Of course, there are criminal elements in every city or town, which apparently delight in causing such damage for no other reason than they were bored, but in these cases, when the people in question admit, freely, that their purpose was hunting ghosts, what other conclusion is there?

The obvious call here is to suggest that this community needs organizing and oversight, it needs regulation and government involvement.  Real benefits would be found in standardizing methodologies, licensure, and officially defined terms and practices.  This is never going to happen though, and the pursuit will ultimately remain little more than a hobby for most in the field.  When, or rather if, the field of paranormal research attains any kind of credibility in its workings, it will thus be considered a scientific pursuit and will no longer be accessible to the layman.  It could be said that this would reduce the number of incidents like this, but something would be lost along the way.

I don’t have any answers.  I just wish people would remove their blinders and finally understand that there are major flaws in the way ghost hunters and paranormal investigators go about their business.

Manpupuner Rock Formation: Russia’s Best Kept Secret

From a western perspective, much of the history and topography of Europe is both mysterious and beautiful, and nowhere is this more evident than in Russia.  Russian history and geography is entirely foreign to most in the western world, it’s a state of secrets, harsh climate and spectacularly unique terrain, especially in the area of the Ural Mountains.  There have been many strange stories of mysterious events and locations in the regions along the Ural range, the Dyatlov Pass Incidentcomes to mind, of course.

In the northwestern region of Russia, where the Urals meet the Komi Republic – a federal subject of Russia – is one of the country’s seven wonders.  This region boasts the largest tract of protected virgin forest in the world, which is also the first natural UNESCO World Heritage site in Russia (the Virgin Komi Forests).[1]  This is not, however, the most interesting thing about the area though.

Not far from the Virgin Forests, located in the Troistko-Pechorski District of Komi stands one of the world’s most beautiful rock formations: Manpupuner.

Manpupuner [Man-pupu-Nyer], or as it’s more popularly known, the Seven Strong Men Rock Formation (also Poles of Komi) is one of the best kept secrets of the Urals.[2]  As the name suggests, this is a group of seven massive stone pillars or columns, jutting out from a hilly plateau on the western side of the mountain.

Not much is known about their formation, but it’s generally believed that they are the product of wind and ice erosion from and since the last ice age retreat.  Some suggest that they could be a karst formation, which are geological formations that are caused by dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock.[3]  Their shape, which is irregular and inconsistent, has proven to be too much for even the most skilled rock-climbers.  To date, no one has reached the top of any of the pillars by way of climbing.

The pillars range in size from 30 to 60 metres (200 feet), and the plateau on which they sit is quite difficult to reach.  Most of the visitors to the site arrive by chartered helicopter, but some of the more adventurous among them endeavour to travel the more than 140 kilometres from the nearest village, Ust-ilych, by boat up the river Ilych and then embark on a two-day hike through the dense Taiga forest.[4]  The trek becomes a pilgrimage by the time the weary travellers reach Manpupuner to camp.  From the pictures alone though, the view seems worth the trip.

The Seven Strong Men are said to be spiritually significant both for modern visitors and for the indigenous Mansi people into antiquity.  Legend says that the rocks were once an entourage of ancient Samoyed Giants.  The giants are said to have been on a trek to destroy the Vogulski people, or the people of the Vogulski mountain area, who were in fact Mansi.  Upon reaching the Manpupuner plateau, the group’s shaman saw the holy Vogulski mountains – Vogulski means ‘naked mountain’ in the Mansi language, which refers to the fact that the mountain is treeless above an altitude of 1000 metres, and would provide a unique view from a distance – surprised or awed by the mountain, the shaman dropped his ceremonial drum and the seven giants immediately turned to stone.[5]  The pillars are sometimes referred to as ‘Mansi Fools’ by locals, which suggests that this legend may be a little mixed up, and/or perhaps we are, yet again the victims of complex transliterations between Russian and English.

Despite the obvious allegorical nature of the legend, the site retains its spiritual air.  Many people who visit Manpupuner report feelings of deep contentment and calming energy permeating the site.  Though this is a common effect said to be characteristic of many such locations, similar to reported experiences at Stonehenge or Mesoamerican ruins, for example.  The Mansi people are said to visit the site to remove limestone for shamanistic rituals even today.

Of course, there are those who look at the Seven Strong Men and their legends, and see the hand of man, or perhaps aliens in their making, as might not be surprising.  Rumours of ancient alien involvement in Manpupuner have started to circulate on the fringes of the paleo-contact community, but it seems fairly obvious that these giant stone columns are a natural formation with only incidental significance to the Mansi culture by virtue of their strange appearance.

No, it’s not Disney, this is Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Manpupuner is one of Russia’s best kept secrets, and tourism has, up to now, been at reasonable levels, affording the site a relatively untouched existence.  This is set to change, however, as many western thrill-seekers and nature buffs are looking for new and exciting places to visit.  Being one of the Seven Wonders of Russia, enjoying the company of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Mount Elbrus, the tourism potential of the site and the economic benefits of foreign money flowing into the small villages of the area are hard to deny.[6]  Let’s just hope it doesn’t get out of hand, such as with Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

[1] – Virgin Komi Forests:

[2] On A Visit to the Seven Giants – language)

[3] Manpupuner Rock Formations; Gigantic natural towers in a Russian plateau – Atlas Obscura

[4] Hiking Expedition to Manpupuner, Russia – Munich –

[5] Manpupuner stone pillars, Man-Pu-Pu-Nye rock formations –

[6] Russia’s Seven Wonders –