Monday, 28 December 2015

H.G. Wells or Dr Who?

At the end of the year its traditional to tell ghost stories ..... well instead, I am going to present you with a mystery that was reported in the press, not centuries ago, when all evidence has long been lost (if it was ever retained), but as recently as 2008.

Out of Place Artefacts (OOPA's) are popular subject on the internet, and there are 'those who want to believe', who cite them as examples of ... well, almost anything, from Time Travel or Extra Terrestrial visitations, through evidence of Atlantis, to Lost Dinosaur civilisations.

Perhaps the most well-known (and actually best evidenced), of these objects are the rounded spherical metal balls, that occasionally turn up in the deepest mines around the world. I first read of these as a boy in a book of 'mysteries' .... they were recorded as having been found in a deep German coal mine, buried in the coal seams. The book suggested that they were obviously from an advanced culture, because they were perfectly spherical, metal, and engraved for some unknown purpose.

Approx 3 - 4 centimetres maximum diameter and 2.5 centimetres in thickness

Unfortunately these objects in the book, reportedly found in a mine in the late 1700's, had been 'lost', so we only had the pictures drawn at the time of their discovery to go by. One of the images was duly presented to my wondering eyes, and was a spherical object with striations around its equator/mid-section.

Sadly, I now know that these objects are neither as 'mysterious', nor indeed as rare as I was led to believe back then .... they even have a Wiki page. The 'lost' German finds ( I believe from Saxony in the story), were almost certainly pyrophyllite deposits that are called 'Klerksdorp spheres', and which regularly turn up underground in South Africa and Australia. It’s likely that the 18th century German reports just mixed up the mine type (from iron ore to coal), possibly to make it more 'mysterious', or maybe just because the original German authors, had heard tales of the imprints of trees and ancient leaves, that regularly appear in coal mines, and just got confused.

So it is not the tale of the mysterious OOPA's that I am going to recount .... No, instead my tale is possibly proof of time travelling.

In 2008 it was reported that archaeologists excavating a Ming dynasty grave in Shangsi, southern China, had found something that had them baffled. The Ming Dynasty - or the Empire of the Great Ming - were the ruling dynasty in China from 1368 to 1644 and the archaeologists believed they were the first to visit the tomb, which had been sealed 400 years ago when its occupant had died, and was still sealed when they started the excavation.

The archaeologists were filming a TV documentary with two journalists, when something dropped off the tomb and hit the ground, with what seemed to be a metallic sound. The object was encrusted in mud and rock, and in front of the cameras, the lead archaeologist picked it up and started to gently clean it with his fingers.

Initial examination suggested that it was a metal ring ... they were excited that it had some relationship with the tombs occupant, maybe an offering from a family member. However when they carefully cleaned it a little more, there then came a big surprise, when they found that the object found inside this sealed tomb, was a miniature watch. It was designed in the shape of a ring and marked 'Swiss'.

Mysterious Example of Out of Place Artefacts (OOPA's) From Ming Tomb in Shangsi China.

What makes this mystery more intriguing is that the watch was thought to be at least a century old, and had stopped at 10:06 (am or pm is not known).

Now it’s not an Einstein moment to realise that watches (especially from Switzerland), did not exist during the Ming Dynasty (indeed Switzerland didn't exist as a country during much of that dynasty), so the question was .... how did a 100 year old watch, get inside a sealed tomb that was at least 400 years old?

The archaeologists believed that there are no records of any Westerners, let alone Swiss archaeologists, being in Shangsi province in Southern China, at the turn on the last century, or indeed since. Of course the watch could have been imported and a local had lost it, but then how did it get inside a tomb sealed 400 years ago?

No one has come up with any credible explanation to this mystery to date, and it seems likely that we will not find out soon (if ever) ..... so I leave it with you as a possible proof of a Victorian time traveller visiting an ancient tomb in China, where he dropped his ring watch.

H. G. Wells would be pleased ....


  1. Another example of assuming "Romulan zebra" upon hearing hooves.
    I recently heard about a forensic search dog handler who planted evidence to be the one who found it which led to at least one conviction of an innocent person. Professionals can be psychopaths too. Nullius in verba.

    1. Actually of course if time travel is possible we would be up to our armpits in time travellers. We aren't so ipso facto it isn't.

    2. Gentlemen (or is that Gentleman and Roboman?) ... you wait all week with no comments, thewn suddenly get two at once.

      Actually it was meant as a light hearted piece to end the year. So while I agree with both comments, in that (a), You should never simply take someone's word for things, and that (b) time travel is only a theoretical, and not a practicable idea, as proved by the fact that we haven't seen any.

      But it also true that the story as told above is both true, and still as far as I know unexplained. No doubt there is a a boring and prosaic explanation for it, but until it turns up, this remains an unexplained event (I stand to be corrected), and worth a post for what it is, a gentle look at 'the unexplained'.

      Thanks to both of you for the comments.

    3. Responding to our little robot friend in my capacity as Darth Vader's advocate; like Fermi's paradox where there are no doubt millions of absent ETs, time travel may be possible but extremely difficult or/and very well regulated.

    4. Even so, if it was possible, it would already have happened.

    5. Actually I am a Robowoman. The fact that we are not up to our armpits in time travellers also is a possible indication of the mature of time. The future can't have yet occurred in order for tome travellers to have arrived now and it would be a paradox if we had to go through one cycle of time in order for time travel to be invented and then for them to appear here which is not what happened. So either time travel never happens (most likely option) or it gets invented in the future but opens new branching alternative time lines if used so as to avoid a paradox.

    6. Fay Dowker could tell us something about the nature of time and she hasn't ruled out the possibility of closed timeline curves (time machines) according to General Relativity.
      Listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage

    7. Sadly the level of Physics that Ms Dower is at and the terms she uses in the article link are way over my head.

      I am sure there are many theories on the nature of time. But as I understand it even if time travel is physically possible, it would take the energy of a universe to perform it. In any case the fact that no time travellers have ever been identified suggests that it never occurs or branches from our time line. In either case it's makes it unusable as an explanation of a Swiss watch in a Chinese Tomb. Thanks for the reply though. I wasn't expecting one.

    8. Homer Simpson said "I'm the first non-Brazilian to travel backwards through time."

      Thanks for all the comments ... I will revisit this subject in due course.


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