Soaring over the barren, featureless desert of Utah‘s aptly named Red Rock Country, the helicopter crew could not believe its eyes.
A tedious routine flight counting bighorn sheep in one of America’s emptiest regions had suddenly taken a dramatic turn, one that would immediately capture the world’s imagination — and fuel wild conspiracy theories.
In this rugged, canyon-carved, sun-baked corner, an otherworldly, 10ft ‘monolith’ was glinting in the harsh desert light. Three-sided, metallic and as immovable as the menhirs of Stonehenge, it seemed somehow both to have been there for ever and to be a kind of message or sign — but it gave no clue as to its origins.
Feeling reflective: This 10ft metal monolith appeared in a red-rock desert in the U.S. state of Utah last month
Helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings described how a biologist on the flight with him spotted the object. ‘He was like, “Whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!” said Hutchings. ‘”There’s this thing back there — we’ve got to go look at it!” I have to admit, that’s been about the strangest thing I’ve come across out there in all the years of flying.’
A bewildered spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources euphemistically said the monolith — which are usually a single stone or rock — was an ‘anomaly’ after it appeared on November 18, adding: ‘It’s a tough place to get to by vehicle and on foot.’
So who — or what — could possibly have planted it? The internet was instantly aflame with theories. It was a prop left over from films including Indiana Jones, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, all of which were made in the area. It was, others insisted, a satellite beacon, a ‘resonance deflector’ — or maybe just ‘an eyesore’.
But perhaps the most common suggestion was that the monolith was placed there by an alien species of vastly superior intelligence.
Within days, similar objects began popping up all over the world and a near identical monolith appeared on a hillside in Romania (pictured)
Gold in them thar hills: Another strange object appeared in Chia municipality, Colombia, as the metal structures started popping up all around the world
After all, it resembled nothing so much as the huge black object that mysteriously appears in the desert in the epic opening scene of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Fixed into the dusty ground by a higher intelligence, the object appears to teach the ‘apes’ in that film how to use tools — in turn sparking the arrival of humans.
Then, just as strangely as it arrived, the Utah monolith vanished, nine days after it had first baffled the globe. And from there, the mystery only deepened further.
Within days, similar objects began popping up all over the world. A near identical monolith appeared on a hillside in Romania. Internet users were quick to point out that the metallic, triangular object had appeared close to an ancient archaeological landmark, the Petrodava Fortress, built by the ancient Dacian people about 2,000 years ago.
At the end of last week, an especially beautiful monolith appeared in the Joshua Tree National Park of southern California
New on the block: Another monolith appeared on a hilltop near the city of Atascadero in California last week, days after others had mysteriously appeared then vanished
Could this be significant, many wondered. Were aliens trying to send a message? Or were pranksters merely copying the Utah phenomenon that fascinated the planet? Then the monoliths began proliferating with extraordinary profusion. One ‘landed’ at the top of a mountain trail in California. It too vanished.
Another turned up in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, outside a sweet shop. Perhaps the extra-terrestrials were fond of Hershey’s chocolate, some quipped.
At the end of last week, an especially beautiful monolith appeared in the Joshua Tree National Park of southern California. Others appeared in Colombia and the Netherlands.
Finally — closest to home — in the early hours of Sunday morning, a gleaming, three-sided monolith ‘landed’ out of nowhere at genteel Compton Bay, on the south-west coast of the Isle of Wight.
Dog walkers were awed by the sight of the 8 ft object standing rigidly straight, reflecting the winter light that sparkled on the sea. Resident Alexia Fishwick said she was ‘dumbstruck’ when she spotted it during a beach walk, saying the monolith was ‘really quite magical’.
The monoliths began proliferating with extraordinary profusion, with one appearing in a nature reserve near Oudehorne in the Netherlands
Once again, it was in a hard-to-reach place, fixed into the sand below a sheer cliff, accessible only by a narrow footpath. Former Radio 1 DJ Rob da Bank, who lives on the island, says: ‘I’m not sure if it’s aliens, a Coldplay PR stunt or a local mirror dealer drumming up trade, but it got us all down the beach anyway.’
Tory MP Bob Seely was more measured, saying: ‘It’s fascinating that this sculpture has popped up.’
Sculpture? Surely not, many insist. It must be far, far more than that.
A spokesman for Isle of Wight Council claimed the beach at Compton Bay is owned and managed by the Crown Estate — although the National Trust disputes this, insisting it owns the site.
Stunned: Local Peter James was mystified when a monolith appeared out of nowhere at genteel Compton Bay, on the south-west coast of the Isle of Wight
Another turned up in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, outside a sweet shop. Perhaps the extra-terrestrials were fond of Hershey’s chocolate, some quipped
The Trust says the monolith had appeared without permission — how infuriating that the aliens failed to follow proper planning rules — and insists: ‘We need to monitor over the next few days to ensure the beach remains safe and does not become overcrowded.’ The organisation also conducted a full study of the object, concluding that it ‘seems secure on a wooden plinth and is made from mirrored sections of plastic or Perspex material’.
Over in America, suspicion has fallen upon an anonymous collective called The Most Famous Artist, based in Sante Fe, New Mexico. They quickly took credit for the monoliths in Utah and California and, while they were about it, showed some entrepreneurial flair by posting an image of the Utah creation — with a £34,000 price tag attached.
Whatever the truth of the monoliths’ origins, it’s clear there hasn’t been anything like them since crop circles began appearing in 1976. Over the next two decades these phenomena were all the rage. Or, as the Smithsonian Institution said, they were a ‘lens through which the initiated could witness the activity of Earth energies and ancient spirits, the anguish of Mother Earth in the face of impending ecological doom and evidence of secret weapons’.
An anonymous collective called The Most Famous Artist took credit for the monoliths in Utah and California, but founder Matty Mo (pictured) said the craze is now out of control
The mystique of crop circles was finally shattered when two Brits — Doug Bower and his co-conspirator Dave Chorley — were outed as the creators of the first ‘flying saucer nest’ in a Wiltshire wheat field using ropes and boards. There are signs, that the current monolith mania will be more short-lived.
Many seem to disappear almost as fast as they arrive. One at the top of the Californian hiking trail came a cropper when a group of Trump supporters chanting ‘Christ is King’ and ‘America First’ came across it on a hike, took a dim view and demolished it, though it soon reappeared.
But as with those perplexing circles, the beauty of the monoliths seems to be that you can believe whatever you want about their origins. Go all galactic, if you wish, and convince yourself that they have appeared as an urgent — if rather opaque — message from aliens. Or take the view that people with too much time on their hands are planting a few bits of shiny metal and revelling in the subsequent speculation.
As Matty Mo, founder of The Most Famous Artist collective, said when he heard about the Isle of Wight’s version: ‘The monolith is out of my control at this point. Godspeed to all the aliens working hard around the globe to propagate the myth.’