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The Mysterious “Spheres” of Ottosdal, South Africa

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Abstract

The “Ottosdal objects” are spherical and subspherical objects that were found in 3.0 to 3.1 billion year-old (Precambrian) pyrophyllite deposits in South Africa.The objects have been the subject of much attention and speculation by various fringe groups, including Christian and Hindu creationists and advocates of “ancient astronauts”. These fringe groups argue that the objects are either actual or possible “Out-of-Place Artifacts” (OOPARTs), which are supposedly direct evidence of a civilization that either existed billions of years ago or before the Biblical Flood.Advocates of “ancient astronauts” further speculate that the Ottosdal objects were manufactured by intelligent extraterrestrials.
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tive of the Epigraphic Society of Arlington,
Massachusetts, and Mr Roelf Marx, Curator of the
Klerksdorp Museum. According to this article,
Sullivan speculated that the objects were artifacts and
clear evidence of “a higher civilisation, a pre-flood
civilisation about which we know virtually nothing.
Barritt (1982) noted that Marx and Professor JR
McIver, Department of Geology, University of the
Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, lacked a
satisfactory explanation for the origin of the objects.
Barritt (1982) also directed quoted Marx as allegedly
stating that a specimen of the Ottosdal objects slowly
rotated on its axis, while locked in a “vibration-free”
Klerksdorp Museum display case.
Later, Jochmans (1995), a young-earth creationist,
included the Ottosdal objects in his list of “top ten out-
of-place artifacts” and described the objects as being
composed of “manufactured metal” and a “nickel-steel
alloy which does not occur naturally. He clearly claims
that these objects are artificial in origin. In his short dis-
cussion of the objects, Jochmans (1995) repeats the
claim, possibly taken from Barritt (1979, 1982), that
Marx had observed one of the objects slowly rotating
on its axis while locked in a “vibration-free”display case.
Inspired by Jimison (1982) — whose 1982 article
appeared shortly after Barritt’s and may have been
derived from it — Hindu creationists Cremo and
Thompson (1993,1999) published a short description
of the Ottosdal objects after corresponding with
Marx.They argued that the Ottosdal objects are a pos-
sible example of artifacts having been found in geo-
logic strata as old as 2.8 billion years.They discounted
the identification of these objects as limonite concre-
tions made by AA Bisschoff, a geologist at the
University of Potchefstroom, because the objects
were supposedly harder than steel, had grooves that
appeared unnatural, and did not have the form and
other characteristics of concretions.
In the February 25th, 1996, the National
Broadcasting Company, a US television network,
ARTICLE
The Mysterious “Spheres” of
Ottosdal, South Africa
Paul V Heinrich
INTRODUCTION
The “Ottosdal objects” are spherical and subspherical
objects that were found in 3.0 to 3.1 billion year-old
(Precambrian) pyrophyllite deposits in South Africa
(Jackson 1992).The objects have been the subject of
much attention and speculation by various fringe
groups, including Christian and Hindu creationists
and advocates of
“ancient astronauts”. These fringe
groups argue that the objects are either actual or pos-
sible “Out-of-Place Artifacts” (OOPARTs), which are
supposedly direct evidence of a civilization that either
existed billions of years ago or before the Biblical
Flood.Advocates of “ancient astronauts” further spec-
ulate that the Ottosdal objects were manufactured by
intelligent extraterrestrials.
The oldest known article that advocates an artifi-
cial origin for the Ottosdal objects is Barritt (1979).
This article appears in the October 2, 1979 issue of
the National Enquirer as a short version of Barritt
(1982),which repeats and adds much additional mate-
rial to the descriptions and discussion presented in
Barritt (1979).
Barritt (1982) appeared in the June 11, 1982 issue
of Scope Magazine. In 1982, this magazine was well
known for its sensational stories and photographs. In
addition to comments by an anonymous Wonderstone
“mine official”, Barritt (1982) includes comments
from Mrs Brenda Sullivan, a South African representa-
Paul V Heinrich is a geologist. He has a BS (Louisiana
State University) and MS (University of Illinois) in geol-
ogy and over 20 years experience as a geologist. His
work experience includes research in archaeological
geology. He is a registered professional geologist in
Tennessee and Arkansas. On the side, he has been inter-
ested both in various reports of “Out-of-Place-Artifacts”
and how common geological phenomena, for example,
concretions, liesegang rings, and orthogonally jointed
bedrock, are mistaken by nongeologists for manmade
artifacts and ruins.
Cut face of Ottosdal concretion
showing typical radial fibrous
internal structure of these objects.
Like some of the Ottosdal concre-
tions, this specimen consists of
two intergrown concretions.
This specimen is 6.2 cm wide.
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broadcast “The Mysterious Origins of Man” (BC Video,
1996).The program contained a short segment on the
Ottosdal objects. It described these objects as “metal-
lic spheres” with fine grooves encircling them. The
program claimed that anonymous “lab technicians”,
later revealed by Cremo as working for the Emerald
City Metallurgical Engineering Company, could not
find any explanation for the grooves. BC Video (1996)
confused the Klerksdorp Museum with the Ottosdal
pyrophyllite mines by stating that the objects were
found in mines at Klerksdorp. The “Stratographic
Column” (sic) web page (BC Video 2003) stated:
“Perhaps the oldest artifacts ever discovered are these
metallic spheres found in Klerksdorp, So.Africa.
In a web site, which briefly appeared on the
Internet (Anonymous 2001), a three-grooved Ottosdal
objects was promoted as an alien artifact called the
“Cosmos”. In addition to rehashing material from a
number of other sources, this web page offered the
opinion of Elizabeth Klarer, a South African psychic
and UFO enthusiast. She proposed that this Ottosdal
Object had been placed in the pyrophyllite by an
“advanced race” and has an “optic disc”, which “con-
tains secrets of the universe”. She predicted that a
“chosen person” would open the optic disc and use
its “secrets” to save the earth. Most importantly, the
“Cosmos”web site (Anonymous 2001), contained sev-
eral close-up photographs of a three-grooved Ottosdal
Object from various angles.
For a brief period of time, a Klerksdorp Museum
web page (Klerksdorp Museum 2002), contained the
text from a letter from John Hund of Pietersburg,
South Africa. This letter provided an account, which
remains unsubstantiated, of the alleged results of an
examination of an Ottosdal Object by the California
Space Institute, a multi-campus research unit of the
University of California. The letter stated, that scien-
tists at the California Space Institute tested an
Ottosdal Object and concluded that its balance “ …is
so fine, it exceeded the limit of their measuring tech-
nology…” and “…to within one-hundred thousandths
of an inch from absolute perfection…”This implica-
tion of these alleged findings is that any known nat-
ural process cannot explain the formation of the
Ottosdal Object.The letter also stated, by way of fur-
ther qualifications, that the California Space Institute
was the organization, which made gyroscopes for the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA).
Numerous other web pages and message boards
have discussed the Ottosdal object after Klerksdorp
Museum (2002). Typically, they consist of rehashed,
quoted, or paraphrased material either from Cremo
and Thompson (1993; 1999), Jochmans (1995),
Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996), Heinrich (1996),
Klerksdorp Museum (2002) or some combination of
these sources. However, little of what is on these
pages represents any new or better information.
SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF THE SPHERES
Discussion of the physical nature and origin of the
“spherical” objects by conventional scientists is limit-
ed to Nel and others (1937) and popular articles by
Cairncross (1988), Pope and Cairncross (1988), and
Heinrich (1996, 1997). Nel and others (1937), who
first described the geology and physical characteris-
tics of the pyrophyllite deposits, simply report the
occurrence of pyrite concretions within them. In
response to Barritt (1982), another article, and an
episode of a 1980s South African Sunday television
program called.“50-50”, Cairncross (1988) and Pope
and Cairncross (1988) argued that the Ottosdal
objects are natural concretions. Cairncross (1988)
noted that the grooves on these objects are often
exhibited by concretions and reflect the layering of
the sediments in which they grew. In an internet
report on these objects, Heinrich (1996) speculated
that the objects were possibly of metamorphic origin.
First hand observations of specimens of the Ottosdal
objects by Heinrich (1997) noted that these objects
are neither the “perfectly round”nor “singular” objects
as claimed by creationists and other fringe groups.To
demonstrate the true nature of these objects, it is nec-
essary to examine both the objects and the literature
that has grown around them systematically.
METHODOLOGY
To investigate the physical nature and origin of the
Ottosdal objects, the pertinent literature was
reviewed.This review included studying popular arti-
cles, books, and web pages, and various scientific
papers on the geology of the Precambrian strata con-
taining them, relevant mineralogy, concretion forma-
tion, and various other topics. Additionally, attempts
were made to verify the various opinions and obser-
vations,which had been posted to various web pages,
for example at the Klerksdorp Museum (2002).
I was also able to examine the actual specimens of
the Ottosdal objects to determine their physical prop-
erties. Dr Susan J Webb of the University of the
Witwatersrand and Allan Frazier of Online Minerals
acquired five Ottosdal objects for me to examine.
After being photographed, three of these specimens
were sliced on a trim saw. A sample from one speci-
men was analyzed using petrographic techniques.
Samples from two specimens, Ottosdal-2 and
Ottosdal-4, were analyzed using X-ray diffraction tech-
niques. In addition, a sample of pyrophyllite taken
from the same mine as the objects was analyzed with
petrographic and X-ray diffraction techniques.
OCCURRENCE
Barritt (1982) shows a photograph exhibiting the
empty spaces left by Ottosdal objects in the face of a
cut in the pyrophyllite quarry.The photograph shows
that the objects are not randomly scattered through
the pyrophyllite,but occur as a very narrow layer,per-
haps in volcanic deposits that were later metamor-
phosed to pyrophyllite.
SHAPE AND SIZE
A number of sources describe the Ottosdal objects as
being spherical. Barritt (1982) initially describes them
as having three longitudinal grooves and being “…so
perfectly made that they look though they were cast
from a mould”. Barritt (1982) quotes both Marx and
Sullivan as referring to these objects as “spheres”. Pope
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and Cairncross (1988) describe the objects as being
“almost perfect spheres”, while Cairncross (1988) sim-
ply described them as being “round. Cremo and
Thompson (1993;1999) and Govradhan Hill Publishing
(1996) further claim that the Ottosdal objects are
“metallic spheres” and are “isolated and perfectly
round”. They state that at least one of these objects
exhibits three grooves. They show a photograph, in
which it appears spherical. BC Video (2003) and John
Hunt, as quoted in Klerksdorp Museum (2002), simply
described the objects as “metallic spheres.
In contrast, various sources also describe the
Ottosdal objects as having shapes that are neither true
spheres nor “perfectly round”. For example, a photo-
graph on the last page of Barritt (1982) shows a three-
grooved Ottosdal Object that is clearly an ellipsoid.
Barritt (1982) also gives the dimensions of a specimen
in the Klerksdorp Museum as being “exactly” 3.3 cm
(1.3 inches) high and 4.0 cm (1.6 inches) long.Barritt
(1982) further contradicts himself and other fringe
publications by quoting an anonymous mine official
as stating that all of these objects are “oval” in shape.
Jochmans (1995) also contradicts himself by describ-
ing them as
“…metallic spheroids look (sic) like flat-
tened globes... Finally, Marx (1996) notes that the
Ottosdal objects, which he has observed, are not all
spheres, but “some” of them are “oblong in form”.
From these descriptions, it is apparent that the
authors have either greatly exaggerated the spherical
nature of these objects or have been very careless in
their descriptions of their shapes.
As shown in photographs that were once posted to
the “Cosmos” web page, Anonymous (2001), the
Ottosdal Object exhibiting three grooves is not per-
fectly spherical as various authors claim. Judging from
the photographs,this three-grooved object appears to
consist of two Ottosdal objects that have closely inter-
grown together. Additional photographs of another
grooved Ottosdal Object in the Klerksdorp Museum,
which were sent to me by van Heerden (2007), also
clearly show that the object is not perfectly spherical.
Hund, as cited in Klerksdorp Museum (2002),
claimed that an Ottosdal Object examined by the
California Space Institute was balanced “…so fine, it
exceeded the limit of their measuring technology…”
and “…to within one-hundred thousandths of an inch
from absolute perfection…” Correspondence with a
scientist, Arnold (2002), who works at the California
Space Institute, indicates that he remembered exam-
ining an Ottosdal Object, that Hund had loaned them.
However,Arnold (2002) denies that anyone told Hund
that the object had the extraordinary properties
described in the letter as quoted by Klerksdorp
Museum (2002). He suggested that there was “some
error in transmission” and that Hund had completely
misunderstood what had been told him. In addition,
Arnold (2002) noted that the claim made by Hund
that the California Space Institute makes gyroscopes
for NASA is completely false. Judging from my corre-
spondence and from personal examination of actual
Ottosdal objects, the claim that the California Space
Institute found them to be perfectly balanced and
shaped spheres lacks any substance and credibility.
A careful examination of the Ottosdal objects
demonstrates the imaginary nature of the “perfectly
spherical” descriptions given by various authors. As
first noted by Heinrich (1997), the Ottosdal objects,
which were collected from the Wonderstone mines
by Webb and Frazier, exhibit a wide range of shapes
including spheres, flattened spheres, discs, and clus-
ters of two to four spheres grown together like soap
bubbles.Although three specimens are roughly spher-
Examples of concretions from the Ottosdal pyrophyllite quar-
ries showing variations in size and morphology.
with poorly developed longitu-
dinal groove. Same concretion, whose internal structure is
shown on page 28.
composed of hematite.
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ical,they definitely are not “perfectly round”as various
fringe group authors claim. All of these Ottosdal
objects, including the “Cosmos” illustrations by
Anonymous (2001), are well within in the range of
shapes exhibited by natural concretions.
The size of the Ottosdal objects varies over a rela-
tively small range. Cairncross (1988) notes that these
objects vary in size from a few millimeters to several
centimeters. Barritt (1979, 1982) reports that they are
as large as 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. Marx (1996)
reports that these objects vary in size from 3 to 5 cm
(1.2 to 2 inches) in diameter. The five specimens,
which were studied for this paper, varied from 3.6 to
8.5 cm (1.4 to 3.3 inches) in length and 1.3 to 5.2 cm
(0.5 to 2.0 inches) in height. The ratio of height to
maximum length of the five objects studied varied
from 0.30 to 0.83.
COMPOSITION AND INTERNAL STRUCTURE
A variety of descriptions of the composition of the
Ottosdal objects have been published. For example,
Jochmans (1995) claims that the Ottosdal objects are
composed of a “…nickel-steel alloy, which does not
occur naturally…” The source of this claim is
unknown, although it might be an imaginative elabo-
ration of the descriptions by Barritt (1982), where
they are described as “metal spheres”. According to
Barritt (1979, 1982), an anonymous mine employee
reported that there were two types of Ottosdal
objects. The employee described the first type as
being solid all of the way through and composed of a
bluish-white “metal” having a reddish tinge and
embedded flecks of white “fibres”. The second type
was hollow with a thin skin and was more common.
Barritt (1979, 1982) adds that this “skin” is about 0.5
centimeter (0.20 inch) thick with a sponge-like
whitish center. Descriptions of these objects given by
Cremo (1993; 1999) and Govradhan Hill Publishing
(1996) appear to be a summary of the descriptions
given by Barritt (1982). Marx (1996) reports that the
Ottosdal objects have a hard concentric shell that
exhibit “perfectly concentric grooves” that surround
either a spongy substance or material resembling
charcoal. Cairncross (1988) describes two types of
Ottosdal objects. One type exhibits a brassy metallic
color and the other exhibits a dark earthy brown
color. Based only upon visual inspections, Cairncross
(1988) speculated that the former might be com-
posed of pyrite (an natural iron sulfide mineral) and
the latter is siderite (natural iron carbonate).
According to Marx (1996) and Cremo and Thompson
(1993,1999), Bisschoff concluded that the specimens,
which he examined, consist of limonite.The color of
the five specimens of Ottosdal objects, which were
studied by the author, were dark reddish brown, red,
and dusky red as defined by the color chart of the
Munsell Color Company (1975).
The internal structure of three Ottosdal objects,
specimens Ottosdal-1, Ottosdal-2, and Ottosdal-4, was
determined by cutting them open with a trim saw.All
three of these objects, exhibit a spectacular radial
structure, which breaks into concentric shells. They
are clearly natural concretions. Internally, the concre-
tions were found to be both porous and friable. One
of two noticeably “grooved spheres”, which was cut
on the trim saw,exhibited faint ghosts of flat lamina-
tions cross-cutting its radial structure. A prominent
internal lamination was specifically associated with
the external groove.The cut surface also failed to sup-
port the claim that grooves had been artificially cut
into the specimen.
The analysis of two Ottosdal objects, specimens
intergrown like soap bubbles. This specimen is composed of wollastonite.
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Ottosdal-2 and Ottosdal-4, by X-ray diffraction tech-
niques revealed that they consist of two different min-
erals.As confirmed by petrographic and two X-ray dif-
fraction analyses, specimen Ottosdal-2 consisted of
hematite,a common naturally occurring iron oxide. X-
ray diffraction analyses by Holmes (2007) demon-
strated that specimen Ottosdal-4 consists of wollas-
tonite (CaSiO3), a common metamorphic mineral,
along with minor amounts of hematite and goethite, a
hydrated iron oxide. Holmes (2007) also confirmed
that Ottosdal-2 consisted of hematite.
HARDNESS
Marx (1996), Cremo and Thompson (1993;1999), and
Govradhan Hill Publishing (1996) also claim that
some of the Ottosdal objects are harder than steel.
Marx (1996) further implies that this hardness is typi-
cal of all,not just one or some, of the Ottosdal objects.
An examination of the five Ottosdal objects collected
for this study found none of them to be harder than
4.0–5.0 on the Mohs scale (a rating of 7–8 is typical of
hardened steel). Marx (1996), who openly admits to
having “no geological training”, and Cremo and
Thompson (1993; 1999), and Govradhan Hill
Publishing (1996), whose source for the hardness
claim was apparently Marx,are clearly mistaken about
these objects’ being harder than steel.
POWER OF ROTATION
In correspondence sent to Bruce Cairncross and me,
Marx stated that a reporter had falsely quoted what he
had said about the rotation of the objects.According
to him, it was true that the Ottosdal objects had rotat-
ed in their museum cases. However, he unequivocally
stated that the claim by Barritt (1979, 1982) that the
Klerksdorp Museum display cases were free of out-
side vibrations is completely false. According to his
correspondence, Marx clearly told the reporter that
vibrations from underground blasting in local gold
mines regularly vibrated the museum’s display cases
and caused the Ottosdal objects to rotate. Judging
from Marx’s first-hand accounts, it is clear that the
claim that these objects’ rotating under their own
power is completely false.
DISCUSSION
The descriptions of the physical characteristics and
properties of the Ottosdal objects found in the litera-
ture of fringe groups badly distort reality. They also
show a profound lack of expertise by fringe authors
in making basic observations concerning the physical
characteristics of the objects that they are discussing.
The first-hand evidence indicates that the Ottosdal
objects are composed largely of hematite, wollas-
tonite, pyrite, or some combination of these minerals.
Trained geologists, Nel and others (1937) and
Cairncross (1988), concluded that the Ottosdal
objects are composed of pyrite within the pyrophyl-
lite deposits. The presence of Ottosdal objects com-
posed of hematite and wollastonite is proven by X-ray
diffraction and petrographic analyses. Given the diffi-
culty of identifying fine-grained minerals from visual
inspection alone, it is understandable that Cairncross
(1988) confused either hematite or wollastonite with
siderite. In addition, hematite and geothite are often
called “limonite” when they occur as a massive earthy
mass lacking any observable crystals.Thus, the identi-
fication of some of these objects as consisting of
limonite by AA Bisschoff is a general specimen
description for these minerals when detailed miner-
alogical analyses are lacking.
The internal structure of the hematite Ottosdal
objects indicates that they are natural concretions
that are pseudomorphs after original pyrite concre-
tions. It is well known that limonite, goethite and
hematite will form such pseudomorphs in these situ-
ations. This transformation occurs when oxidizing
chemical reactions transform pyrite into limonite,
goethite, or hematite while keeping the external
shape of the pyrite. The porous and friable nature of
the hematite concretions is likely the result of a
decrease in the volume of the concretions as they
were transformed from pyrite to hematite.
The Ottosdal object composed of wollastonite is
also readily explained as a natural concretion. The
Wollastonite often forms as the result of the interac-
tion of silica-rich fluids with calcium carbonate dur-
ing the metamorphism of volcanic deposits to pyro-
phyllite, which also silicified adjacent beds of lava
(Nel and others1937). The relict structure of the
object is also typical of natural deposits.
In contrast to the various observations provided by
the fringe-group literature,the sizes and shapes of the
Ottosdal objects fall within the range of shapes
observed for natural concretions. The intergrown
nature,which some of the objects exhibit,is quite typ-
ical of natural concretions.The observed and reported
sizes of these objects fall well within the size range of
concretions,which can vary from a few millimeters to
over 6 meters (up to 18 feet) (Dietrich 1999; Raiswell
and Fisher 2000).
The longitudinal grooves exhibited by some of the
Ottosdal objects, as noted by Cairncross (1988), were
caused by sediment laminations. The grooves in the
concretions represent individual laminae within the
host sediments. These laminae were slightly finer-
grained than overlying and underlying sediments.As
the concretion grew within the sediments, it grew at
a slightly slower rate within these laminae than in
adjacent layers, which resulted in the formation of the
grooves. How this process can produce longitudinal
grooves and ridges on spherical and subspherical con-
cretions is well illustrated by innumerable iron oxide
concretions found within the Navajo Sandstone of
southern Utah called
“Moqui marbles” (Chan and oth-
ers 2004).The longitudinal ridges and grooves exhib-
ited by these concretions are more pronounced and
irregular than those in Ottosdal objects because the
sediment in which they grew is coarser than the sed-
iments in which the Ottosdal objects formed.
It is also clear from this investigation that the
fringe-groups literature contain blatantly incorrect
information about the physical character of these
objects. For example, the various claims that the
Ottosdal objects are perfectly round are refuted by
both direct observation of the actual specimens and
published photographs of them. In addition, the sup-
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porters of these objects are non-natural in origin are
completely wrong in their claims that the objects
rotate in “vibration-free” cabinets, are “perfectly bal-
anced, “are hard as steel”, and are composed of a
“...nickel-steel alloy, which does not occur natural-
ly...”. Jochmans (1995) even incorrectly noted that the
objects were found in silver mine.It is quite clear that
the those who argue for an artificial origin for these
objects have based their interpretation on miscon-
ceptions and misinformation about the physical char-
acteristics of these objects.As a result, they complete-
ly failed to make a credible case that these objects are
anything other than interesting, but completely natur-
al, geological concretions.
Finally, the case of the Ottosdal objects is not
unique. It appears that lay people often mistake con-
cretions of various shapes for intelligently designed
and manufactured artifacts. For example, the Moeraki
Boulders of New Zealand, which are natural “cannon-
ball” concretions, have been mistaken for the sail
weights of Chinese junks. Natural concretions found
by explorers on Seymour Island, Antarctica, were
misidentified as artifacts.Concretions from the bottom
of the Bay of Cambay (Khambat) have also been mis-
taken for ancient artifacts (Heinrich 2002). In a similar
case, Kuban (2006) argues that an alleged shoe print
mentioned by Cremo and Thompson (1993; 1999) and
other fringe archaeologists and creationists, as having
been found in Triassic strata within Nevada, is “…most
likely a broken ironstone concretion…”.
CONCLUSION
An examination of the Ottosdal objects indicates that
they and their grooves lack any indication of being
artificial. They are just another example of how con-
cretions have been mistaken for intelligently designed
and manufactured objects. The misidentification of
natural objects as the byproducts of “intelligent
design” is an important lesson that needs to be
learned by many fringe group members.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank Allan Fraser, and Dr Susan J Webb, and
Desmond Sacco for their successful efforts at obtain-
ing specimens of Ottosdal objects for my study.Also, I
thank H van Heerden for pictures of Ottosdal concre-
tions currently on display in the Klerksdorp Museum.
Also, I thank Roelf Marx and Frans Waanders for giv-
ing copies of hard-to-get handouts and articles con-
cerning these concretions. Finally, I thank Dr Kevin R
Henke for taking the time and trouble to review this
article for me.
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AUTHORS ADDRESS
Paul V Heinrich
9887 Kinglet Drive
Baton Rouge LA 70809
inselberg@cox.net
... The reference to the 'observations of Moses' is to a self-published work (Ephraim 2007) by a relentlessly self-publicizing creationist who regards himself as 'the leading expert on the book of Genesis'. The reference to 'man-made metal spheres in the Precambrian' is presumably to the Ottosdal spheres, which, though Precambrian, are not artificial (Heinrich 2008). The reference to 'canopy theory' is to a young-earth creationist idea about the source of the water in Noah's Flood; the reference to 'dynamic-decay theory' is to a young-earth creationist idea about the earth's magnetic field; the reference to 'the hydro-plate theory' is to a rival young-earth creationist idea about the source of the water in Noah's Flood: none possesses any scientific credibility whatsoever. ...
Article
A recent report from the Kentucky Department of Education summarizes and responds to comments from the public about the treatment of evolution in the Next Generation Science Standards, under consideration for adoption in Kentucky. The responses are assessed, receiving the overall grade of A-minus, and their usefulness as a model for teachers facing similar comments is discussed.
Article
Existing interpretations of cement textures and isotopic compositions may significantly under-estimate the depth and duration of concretionary growth. Minus-cement porosities can commonly under-estimate depths of concretionary growth for some, or all, of the following reasons; (i) cements might not passively replace host sediment porosity, (ii) non-cement carbonate phases (such as replaced bioclastic carbonate) can be significant, (iii) sediment compaction models over-estimate rates of porosity loss at shallow (<500 m) depths and (iv) cementation can create a framework that prevents compaction and preserves porosity. Cement textures can be used to distinguish two modes of growth; concentric growth, where successive layers of cement are added to the outer surface (radius increases with time), and pervasive growth, where cement crystals grow simultaneously throughout the concretion volume (little or no radius increase with time). Cement textures of siderite concretions are mostly consistent with pervasive growth, but many calcite microsparite concretions show no diagnostic textural features and could grow either concentrically or pervasively. Concretionary cementation, whether concentric or pervasive, occurred such that there was accessible porosity which could be filled by later cements. Pervasive growth in particular is associated with the retention of substantial amounts of porosity which may be filled by chemically and isotopically distinct phases. The resulting chemical gradients across concretions may then reflect variations in the relative proportions of early and later cements more than variations in porewater composition. Carbon isotope data from modern sediments show that dissolved carbonate in the methanogenic zone has a continuum of values from -30‰ to +15‰, and thus overlaps 13C-depleted values normally considered characteristic of sulphate reduction. Many concretions previously thought to have grown entirely during sulphate reduction may therefore have continued cementation during methanogenesis, indicating a deeper and more prolonged cementation history. The necessary carbonate supersaturation for concretionary growth could either occur throughout the porewaters (the equilibrium model), or be generated in situ by organic matter decay (the local-equilibrium model), or created where external fluids are introduced (the fluid-mixing model).
Article
In 1958, at a site near Lewisville, Texas, stone tools and burned animal bones were found in association with hearths. Later, as the excavation progressed, radiocarbon dates of at least 38,000 years were announced for charcoal from the hearths. Still later, a Clovis point was found. Herbert Alexander, who was a graduate student in archaeology at the time, recalled how this sequence of finds was received. On a number of occasions, stated Alexander, the opinions voiced at that time were that the hearths were man-made, and the faunal associations valid. Once the dates were announced, however, some opinions were changed, and, after the Clovis point was found, the process of picking and ignoring began in earnest. Finding a Clovis point in a layer 38,000 years old was disturbing because orthodox anthropologists date the first Clovis points at 12,000 years. Some critics responded to the Lewisville find by alleging that the Clovis point had been planted as a hoax. Others have said the radiocarbon dates were wrong. After mentioning a number of similar cases of ignored or derided discoveries, Alexander recalled a suggestion that in order to decide issues of early man, we may soon require attorneys for advocacy. This may not be a bad idea in a field of science like archaeology, where opinions determine the status of facts, and facts resolve into networks of interpretation. Attorneys and courts may aid archaeologists in arriving more smoothly at the consensus among scholars that passes for the scientific truth in this field. But Alexander noted that a court system requires a jury, and the first question asked of a prospective juror is, "Have you made up your mind on the case?" Very few archaeologists have not made up their minds on the date humans first entered North America. The idea that Clovis-type projectile points represent the earliest tools in the New World is challenged by an excavation at the Timlin site in the Catskill mountains of New York State. In the mid-1970s, tools closely resembling the Upper Acheulean tools of Europe were found there. In the Old World, Acheulean tools are routinely attributed to Homo erectus. But such attribution is uncertain because skeletal remains are usually absent at tool sites. The Catskill tools have been given an age of 70,000 years on the basis of glacial geology.
Article
The Dominion Group is a volcano-sedimentary sequence of Archeaan age underlying the Witwatersrand Supergroup in northern South Africa. New radiometric dating and recent petrologic studies make a review appropriate at this time. This review of the Group highlights its potential importance in understanding the tectonic setting and derital source of the economically important Witwatersrand Supergroup. The sequence consists of a basal clastic sedimentary unit, with conglomerate containing placer Au and U, overlain by mafic amydaloidal lavas and capped by massive feldspar-phyric felsic volcanics, recently dated at 3074 Ma. The mafic volcanics are amygdaloidal lavas deposited in subaerial or shallow subaqueous conditions. The felsic volcanics are mainly lavas or welded pyroclastic flows with interbedded volcaniclastic sediments. Geochemically, the Dominion volcanics are a bimodal sequence with subalkaline mafic tholeiitic basalts to andesites and low-silicarhyolite. The mafic volcanics are believed to have formed by partial melting of enriched mantle sources followed by fractionation. Relative depletions of Nb and other high field strength elements, along with Nd isotpic data, suggest a “subduction component” in the mantle source of the mafic magmas. The felsic volcanics were probably generated by partial melting of lower crustal sources. The Dominion volcanics, along with contemporaneous granitoid intrusions, represent a period of extensive magmatic activity on the tectonically-active northwestern flank of the Witwatersrand basin in a continental rift zone. If detrial gold in the Witwatersrand sediments was locally derived from exhalative or shallow-level lode deposits, Dominion Group magmatism could have been the driving force of the hydrothermal system producing the gold-bearing sulphide deposits along with contemporaneous hydrothermally-altered granites.
Article
Recent exploration has revealed extensive geological evidence for a water-rich past in the shallow subsurface of Mars. Images of in situ and loose accumulations of abundant, haematite-rich spherical balls from the Mars Exploration Rover 'Opportunity' landing site at Meridiani Planum bear a striking resemblance to diagenetic (post-depositional), haematite-cemented concretions found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah. Here we compare the spherical concretions imaged on Mars to these terrestrial concretions, and investigate the implications for analogous groundwater-related formation mechanisms. The morphology, character and distribution of Navajo haematite concretions allow us to infer host-rock properties and fluid processes necessary for similar features to develop on Mars. We conclude that the formation of such spherical haematite concretions requires the presence of a permeable host rock, groundwater flow and a chemical reaction front.
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