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Mysterious monolith puzzle may have been solved, though it's now disappeared

It's probably not aliens. Debate continues on whether it's a McCracken.

Steph Panecasio Former Editor
Steph Panecasio was an Editor based in Sydney, Australia. She knows a lot about the intersection of death, technology and culture. She's a fantasy geek who covers science, digital trends, video games, subcultures and more. Outside work, you'll most likely find her rewatching Lord of the Rings or listening to D&D podcasts.
Steph Panecasio
3 min read
Utah mystery monolith

Despite comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the monolith's origins are earthly in nature.

Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau

A week ago, the internet went wild at the discovery of a metallic monolith mysteriously standing in the middle of the Utah desert. The rumor mill quickly began churning at the find by Utah's Department of Public Safety. Was it aliens? Had 2001: A Space Odyssey been brought to life?

And then just as mysteriously as it appeared, the monolith is now gone.

Regardless of where the monolith has now disappeared to, some particularly devoted Reddit users have spent a fair amount of time and effort trying to discover where it came from in the first place. A handful of theories surfaced, including the monolith being a leftover Westworld prop or possibly the work of minimalist sculptor John McCracken.

The Redditors were able to isolate the monolith's approximate location, tracking the flight paths of Utah Public Safety's helicopters to triangulate a rough area near Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. Once the approximate location was narrowed down, the internet sleuths took to Google Earth to isolate the coordinates and figure out when the monolith first appeared.

Historical imaging data reflected that the monolith arrived sometime between August 2015 and October 2016, leaving open a fairly significant gap. Roughly around that time, the epic sci-fi drama Westworld was filming in a nearby location, so the best bet at the moment is that someone on the crew either didn't pack up properly or maybe even used the metal slab to play a long-term Kubrick-inspired prank on the world.

The location had also been used in a number of other TV shows and movies, from more recent films like 127 Hours and Mission: Impossible 2, stretching all the way back to classic Westerns in the 1940s and 1960s -- though the chances that the Westerns left behind a 10- to 12-foot metal monolith is about as unlikely as the alien scenario.

Could it be a McCracken?

Another theory points to the monolith being the work of sculptor John McCracken, who died in 2011.

The David Zwirner gallery, which reportedly represents his estate, appeared to suggest in a tweet that the Utah monolith was a legit McCracken. "The portal to Utah is at David Zwirner 20th Street," the gallery tweeted. 

While some close to McCracken reportedly think it's unlikely he would have left this artwork in a desert, the artist's son, Patrick McCracken, told The New York Times that news of the monolith reminded him of a conversation with his father back in 2002. 

"We were standing outside looking at the stars and he said something to the effect of that he would like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later," Patrick McCracken told the Times. "This discovery of a monolith piece -- that's very much in line with his artistic vision."

The timeline, however, presents more questions. If the 2015-16 window worked out by people on Reddit is accurate, that means the monolith was put up several years after McCracken's death. Even if it is a legitimate work by the artist, it's unclear who put it in the Utah desert and whether that was part of a McCracken plan. 

Knowing who removed the monolith could provide some answers, but that's also still a mystery.

Mysterious monolith disappears

Officials from the Bureau of Land Management in Utah recently made a statement, declaring that the monolith was gone, but they have no idea who took it. 

"We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the 'monolith' has been removed from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands by an unknown party," read the statement, posted on Facebook. 

"The BLM did not remove the structure which is considered private property."

The Bureau of Land Management has said it has no plans to investigate the disappearance, stating that's the business of the sheriff's office.

The story, however, apparently doesn't end there. A structure that appears to be identical to the one in the Utah desert was found on Batca Doamnei Hill in Romania on Nov. 26, according to The Mirror. As was the case with the monolith found in Utah, it's not clear where this one came from and who installed it. 

See also: How to watch every Star Wars movie and TV show, from Darth Vader to Baby Yoda