Monday, June 7, 2010

What Happened to the Coso Artifact?

In 1961, geode prospectors in California found what appeared to resemble a spark plug embedded in a geode.  Since it takes many thousands of years to form one of these rocks, the prospectors concluded that it had, somehow, been left on earth by someone ages ago.

It started out as a story about ancient astronauts whose interplanetary spaceship accidentally left the device on Earth.  At last, some proof of alien life was in our hands.

But, it turned out that the thing resembling a spark plug really was a spark plug - a common one from the 1920s.  This changed everything; now, the so-called "Coso Artifact" seemed to prove that geodes could form in less than fifty years.  Such a claim could overturn all modern ideas of evolution and geology.

Alas, the Coso artifact seems pretty boring these days.  It appears to have been encased in clay - not a geode - and, as such, is a fairly nominal object.  There is no evidence that it is an ancient device or that it displays any unusual geological process.  The owner of the Coso Artifact has passed away, but in his final years he did not allow anyone to see the artifact, but he tried to sell it for $25,000.

It's hard to tell if this was a fraud or a misunderstanding.  Did the original discoverers really think they had found something mysterious?  The spark plug was old and worn-down, so they had to have someone examine it to tell them that it was actually a spark plug at all.  That tells me that they didn't know what they had and that they were at least a little interested in getting real answers.

The Coso Artifact is a good example of what happens when we get our hopes up without checking out the details.  I would be more excited than anyone if evidence of a real piece of future technology showed up in an old rock, but if we don't do the homework right away then we can be misled.

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