Out-of-place artifact (OOPArt) is a term coined by American naturalist and cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson for an object of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest found in a very unusual or seemingly impossible context that could challenge conventional historical chronology by being “too advanced” for the level of civilization that existed at the time, or showing “human presence” well before humans were supposed to exist.
The term “out-of-place artifact” is rarely used by mainstream historians or scientists. Its use is largely confined to cryptozoologists, proponents of ancient astronaut theories, Young Earth creationists, and paranormal enthusiasts. The term is used to describe a wide variety of objects, from anomalies studied by mainstream science and pseudoarchaeology far outside the mainstream to objects that have been shown to be hoaxes or to have mundane explanations.
Critics argue that most purported OOPArts which are not hoaxes are the result of mistaken interpretation, wishful thinking, or a mistaken belief that a particular culture couldn’t have created an artifact or technology due to a lack of knowledge or materials. Supporters regard OOPArts as evidence that mainstream science is overlooking huge areas of knowledge, either willfully or through ignorance.
In some cases, the uncertainty results from inaccurate descriptions. For example: the Wolfsegg Iron was said to be a perfect cube, but in fact it is not; the Klerksdorp spheres were said to be perfect spheres, but they are not; and the Iron pillar of Delhi was said to be “rust proof”, but it has some rust near its base.
Many writers or researchers who question conventional views of human history have used purported OOPArts in attempts to bolster their arguments. Creation Science relies on allegedly anomalous finds in the archaeological record to challenge scientific chronologies and models of human evolution. Claimed OOPArts have been used to support religious descriptions of pre-history, ancient astronaut theories, and the notion of vanished civilizations that possessed knowledge or technology more advanced than that of modern times.
The following are examples of objects that have been argued by various fringe authors (see list) to have been OOPArts:
A minority of OOPARTs are at least debatably unusual within the scientific mainstream, although not impossible for their time period.
- Antikythera mechanism: Its clockwork-like appearance, dating to about 1,000 years before clocks were invented, has been claimed by fringe sources to be evidence of alien visitation, and authors such as Zecharia Sitchin argue that this artifact is a product “not of Man, but of the gods”. However, mainstream scientists consider the Antikythera mechanism to be a form of mechanical computer created around 150–100 BCE based on the theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by the ancient Greeks whose design and workmanship reflect a previously unknown, but not implausible, degree of sophistication.
- Maine penny: Some authors argue the 11th-century Norse coin found in a Native American shell midden in Maine, United States is evidence of direct contact between Vikings and Native Americans in Maine. Mainstream belief is that it was brought to Maine from Labrador or Newfoundland via an extensive northern native trade network. Over 20,000 objects were found over a 15-year period at the Goddard site in Blue Hill, Maine. The sole non-Native artifact was the coin.
- Baghdad Battery: Vase and rods made in Parthian or Sassanid Persia. May have been used as a galvanic cell for electroplating, though no electroplated artifacts from this era have been found.
- Dorchester Pot: A metal pot claimed to have been blasted out of solid rock in 1852.
- Kingoodie artifact: An object resembling a corroded nail, said to have been encased in solid rock.
- Fuente Magna: A bowl with what appears to be a Sumerian inscription on it, but was found in Tiwanaku.
- Lake Winnipesaukee mystery stone: Originally thought to be a record of a treaty between tribes, subsequent analysis has called its authenticity into question.
- Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head: A terracotta offering head seemingly of Roman appearance, found beneath three intact floors of a Pre-Columbian burial site in Mexico and dated between 1476 and 1510.
- Baalbek megaliths: Supposedly impossible to move with Bronze Age technology.
- Dendera Lamps: Supposed to depict light bulbs, but made in Ptolemaic Egypt.
- Iron Man (Eiserner Mann): An old iron pillar, said to be a unique oddity in Central Europe.
- Iron pillar of Delhi: Supposedly demonstrates more advanced metallurgy than was available in 1st millennium India.
- Nazca Lines: Supposedly impossible to design without the aid of an aerial view.
- Pacal’s sarcophagus lid: Described by Erich von Däniken as a depiction of a spaceship.
- Piri Reis map: Several ancient astronauts authors, and others such as Gavin Menzies and Charles Hapgood, suggested that this map, compiled by the Turkish admiral Piri Reis, shows Antarctica long before it was discovered.
- Saqqara Bird: Supposed to depict a glider, but made in Ancient Egypt.
- Shakōkidogū: Small humanoid and animal figurines made during the late Jōmon period (14,000–400 BCE) of prehistoric Japan, said to resemble extraterrestrial astronauts.
- Stone spheres of Costa Rica: Inaccurately described as being perfectly spherical, and therefore demonstrating greater stone-working skill than was present in pre-Columbian times.
- Quimbaya airplanes: Golden objects found in Colombia and made by Quimbaya civilization culture, they are supposed to represent modern airplanes. In the Gold Museum, Bogotá, they are described as figures of birds and insects.
- Abydos helicopter: A pareidolia based on palimpsest carving in an ancient Egyptian temple.
- The Newark Holy Stones, used as extremely unlikely evidence that Hebrews lived in the Americas, but more probably a hoax.
- The Hidden character stone, a Chinese petroglyph.
Natural objects mistaken for artifacts
- Baigong Pipes: Their natural origins are challenged; see the article for details.
- Eltanin Antenna: Actually a sponge.
- Klerksdorp spheres: Actually Precambrian concretions.
Erroneously dated objects
- Coso artifact: Thought to be prehistoric; actually a 1920s spark plug.
- Malachite Man: Thought to be from the early Cretaceous; actually a post-Columbian burial.
- Wolfsegg Iron: Thought to be from the Tertiary epoch; actually from an early mining operation. Inaccurately described as a perfect cube.
- Acámbaro figures: Mid-20th century figurines of dinosaurs, attributed by Waldemar Julsrud to an ancient society.
- Crystal skulls: Supposedly demonstrate more advanced stone-cutting skill than was present in pre-Columbian South America. Appear to have been made in the 19th century.
- Ica stones: Depict Inca dinosaur-hunters, surgery, and other modern or fanciful topics. Collected by Javier Cabrera Darquea, who believed them to be prehistoric.
- Kensington Runestone: Purports to have been made by 15th century descendents of Leif Ericson‘s colony. Generally believed to be a modern-day hoax.
- The Michigan relics, forged, supposedly ancient artifacts that were supposed to prove that people of an ancient Near Eastern culture had lived in Michigan, USA.
- The Tucson artifacts, another hoax.
- The Calaveras Skull, an admitted hoax.
- Los Lunas Decalogue Stone: Supposedly made by Pre-Columbian Israelite visitors to the Americas. Generally believed to be a modern-day hoax.