Update: On Wednesday morning, hikers in California discovered a third 10-foot metal monolith almost identical to the two others that popped up in Utah and Romania. The 200-pound structure was found the day after the same monolith in Romania disappeared without explanation. State officials, as well as Romanian news outlets, are still investigating the appearance and disappearance of each monolith.
This story was originally published on November 30, 2020.
If you played a drinking game in which you had to take a shot every time someone described the year of our lord 2020 as “unparalleled,” you’d be passed out on the floor in no time. Alas, this year really has been one for the history books, in many of the worst possible ways. Be it a global pandemic, the continued rise of white supremacy in the U.S., or goddamn murder hornets, this year has tested our capacity to stomach all things strange, unacceptable, and worrisome. And just when you thought you’d had enough, enter: a mysterious monolith.
What is it? How did it get here? We attempt to answer those questions (and some more, similarly strange ones) below.
What is a monolith?
Contrary to what the Democratic party thinks, a monolith is not the Latinx vote. Instead, a monolith is described as a “single block or piece of stone of considerable size, especially when used in architecture or sculpture,” per dictionary.com. The monolith we're talking about, though, refers to a shiny silver structure that first appeared in Utah earlier this month, then mysteriously went missing, then turned up again, apparently, across the world in northern Romania. As reported by the Daily Mail, the European-version of the now-missing Utah sculpture lies “only a few feet away from where an ancient Dacian fortress once stood.” Because, no, 2020 hasn’t been bone-crushingly creepy enough.
Where did the Utah monolith come from?
The Utah monolith was first spotted on November 18 by “wildlife biologists performing a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep,” as reported by the Associated Press. (Cheer if you had that Mad Libs-esque sentence on your 2020 bingo card.) To date, no one knows where the Utah monolith came from, though some believe it is reminiscent of and indeed is a John McCracken sculpture, as reported by VICE. McCracken was a minimalist artist who sculpted geometric forms who died in 2011; according to The New York Times, the David Zwirner Gallery, which represents McCracken's estate, "has asserted that the mystery monolith is a bona fide McCracken."
And, McCracken's son told the paper: “He wasn’t your average sort of dad. He believed in advance alien races that were able to visit earth. To his mind, these aliens had been visiting Earth for a very long time and they were not malevolent. They wanted to help humanity to get past this time of our evolution where all we do is fight each other.”
Still, there's no evidence that the late artist has anything to do with this particular monolith, although we wouldn't put it past 2020 to find out that hoaxes are now being played from beyond the grave.
Where was the monolith found in Utah?
Initially, the exact location of the Utah monolith was not disclosed to the public for fear it would draw a crowd and, in turn, the need for people who aren’t familiar with the harsh terrain of that part of the Utah landscape to be rescued. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people don’t really give a you-know-what about the rules and will instead buck any sort of safety measures in the name of “freedom.” As a result, we know that the OG monolith was located “in a red rock slot canyon south of Moab,” per a local ABC cable news station. The coordinates of the monolith also circulated on Reddit.
Of course, it's not there anymore, as Kimberly Finch, a Bureau of Land Management spokesperson said in a statement: “We received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the ‘monolith’ has been removed from the Bureau of Land Management public lands by an unknown party.”
What’s the monolith made of?
The Utah monolith was described in the Times as a “slab of metal into the rock floor.” But given that its origins cannot be 100 percent confirmed, it’s impossible to know for sure, for example, what kind of metal the monolith is indeed made out of. If it is a McCracken, then it’s safe to assume the monolith is made out of the same materials the sculptor often used: “glossy, resin-covered planks."
Did the monolith disappear?
Yes, the monolith in Utah has, in fact, disappeared. According to a Facebook post from the state’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM): “The monolith was removed by an ‘unknown party’ sometime Friday night. The BLM did not remove the structure which is considered private property. We do not investigate crimes involving private property which are handled by the local sheriff’s office. The structure has received international and national attention and we received reports that a person or group removed it on the evening of Nov. 27.”
Is the monolith found in Romania the same as the one in Utah?
I mean, you be the judge? Romanian officials do not know who is responsible for the erection of the latest monolith, per The Daily Mail, but initial reports conclude that is of the same height, made of similar material, and bears similar carvings as the one in Utah.
Why are people comparing the monolith to '2001: Space Odyssey'?
In Stanley Kubrick's classic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, similar monoliths were erected in a deliberate act meant to “trigger huge leaps in human progress,” per The Daily Mail. Also, the space travel depicted in that film can be used to draw a straight line to the existence of aliens, which the U.S. government has basically confirmed exist. All to say, given what the outgoing Trump administration has done to stall and, in many cases, backpedal our collective national and global efforts at progress, we’d say any extraterrestrial efforts to “trigger huge leaps in human progress” seems like a good idea to us. What could possibly go wrong? In 2020, it seems the answer is: everything.