The 13th Floor

Five Mysterious Objects That Should Not Exist

The five objects and technologies below should not exist.

They are tangible, physical evidence that history, culture and perhaps even Reality itself are a collection of agreed-upon theories instead of verifiable fact. They’re physical glitches in the Matrix, as it were.

These five things include out-of-place archaeological finds, objects that indicate ancients used advanced technology, and artifacts that simply defy any explanation — yet they’re sitting there stubbornly in museums, forcing either a re-writing of history or a simple head-scratching admission that “no one really knows.”

Let’s examine each one in more detail, and see if we can get to the bottom of these eternal mysteries…

The Baghdad Battery

Image Credit: Ironie via Wikimedia Commons

History says that this multi-part device was invented in 1800 — but this ceramic pot with a couple of metal tubes begs to differ. Created sometime between 250 BC and AD 640 in what is now Iraq, the “Baghdad Battery” was made by the Parthians, who were not known for technology. Somehow, though, they seem to have hit upon the idea that sinking two different kinds of metal into an acidic liquid like vinegar produces a small electric current. Maybe they used it to electroplate gold; maybe it’s part of a long forgotten religious ritual (I can imagine that a tangible shock from the gods could be very persuasive argument for the divine in ancient Iraq); but no matter what it was used for, it exists, it works, and it should not be.

The Lycurgus Cup

Image Credit: Johnbod/Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Romans used nanotechnology.

Made in the 4th Century, the Lycurgus Cup is made of dichroic glass — glass that changes color depending on the light. A glassmaker whose name is lost to history created the cup by suspending in the glass nanoparticles of gold and silver so small they can’t be seen without an electron microscope. The tiny particles block specific wavelengths of light — so the glass changes color depending on the light and what’s inside the cup.

Because glass is fragile, few examples of Roman nano-glass have survived, so we don’t know how widespread this practice was. It’s easy to speculate that it was simply decorative — but modern uses for the technique are include high-end optics, holograms, and 3D displays. It’s probably a stretch to suggest that Romans developed 3D computer displays… but hey, we’re all friends here, so maybe they did!

Madonna with UFO

As a rule, I don’t believe “ancient aliens” theories — pointing to every vaguely rocket-like shape in ancient Mayan frescoes as proof that space aliens visited ancient people is a little silly. But I make an exception for Madonna with Saint Giovannino. I mean, just look at it — that’s a guy and a dog looking at a UFO in the sky! He looks amazed… and who wouldn’t be? It’s a flying freakin’ saucer up there!

Domenico Ghirlandaio painted Madonna with Saint Giovannino in the 15th Century, and some have suggested the strange object in the sky in the background may be meant to depict the Holy Spirit or an angel (popular motifs of the time), but you only need to look at it to see the difference between Ghirlandaio’s UFO and an angel.

The Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca Head

Image Credit:

I love the story of the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head! Discovered in 1933 by archeologist José García Payón in a collection of grave offerings just south of Mexico City, the head is about fist-sized and made of terracotta. It doesn’t seem that odd at first… but then you learn it’s not Olmec in origin. It’s Roman.

So why was a Roman head in a pre-colonial Mexican grave? How did it get there? No one knows.

Theories range from “Someone put it there as a joke in 1933” to “There was trade between Romans and indigenous Americans,” but none of these theories is all that convincing — so feel free to make up your own. Maybe the head floated on a piece of driftwood from some Roman shipwreck to an amazed indigenous person out fishing. Maybe it was aliens. No one knows!

The Antikythera Mechanism

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discovered in the wreck of an ancient Greek ship in the Aegean sea, this collection of at least 30 bronze gears — once housed in a shoebox-sized cabinet — is the earliest computer ever discovered. That’s right: The ancient Greeks had computers. (Robots, too.)

The intricate mechanism was operated by a hand-crank, and was designed to calculate dates and predict astronomical phenomena. It accurately charts the position of the sun, moon, and planets, as well as noting when eclipses will take place, and it was created about 1500 years before it “should have” been possible — before it was even proven that the earth revolved around the sun.

Perhaps the work of Hipparchus, inventor of trigonometry, the Antikythera mechanism even told your fortune: It refers to eclipses’ color, size, and winds — all part of the idea that the nature of eclipses were indicative of good or bad futures.