The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

The Mysterious Origins of Man:
The South African Grooved Sphere Controversy

Copyright © 1996 by Paul Heinrich
[Last Update: April 8, 1996]

An Interim Report

In the NBC program The Mysterious Origins of Man the following claims were made by Charlton Heston
In Klerksdorp, South Africa, hundreds of metallic spheres were found by miners in Precambrian strata said to be a fantastic 2.8 billion years old. The controversy centers around fine grooves encircling some of the spheres. Lab technicians were at a loss to explain how they could have been formed by any known, natural process.
In the above comments, The Mysterious Origins of Man is vague in two matters. First, as noted in Forbidden Archeology, the mystery spheres actually come from wonderstone quarries closer to Ottosdal, West Transvaal, South Africa than Klerksdorp. Saying that these spheres come from in Klerksdorp is confusing as it implies incorrectly that these nodules come from local gold mines. This lead to incorrect speculation on the basis of this bad data that they were pyrite concretions from the gold-bearing quartzite conglomerates. Finally, this video fails to name who the lab technicians that examined these spheres were. As a result, it is impossible to make any assessment of their expertise and credibility.

The Mysterious Origins of Man states that the curator of the Klerksdorp Museum, Rolfe Marx noted that these spheres looked man-made although they came from a period in the history of the Earth when no intelligent life existed. According to The Mysterious Origins of Man, Rolfe Max stated:

They are nothing like I have seen before.
Fortunately in Forbidden Archeology by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, some additional information is given. First, it states:
Over the past several decades, South African miners have found hundreds of metallic spheres, at least one of which has three parallel grooves running around its equator. The spheres are of two types--"one of solid bluish metal with white flecks, and another which is a hollow ball filled with a white spongy center" (Jimison 1982).
It is important to note at this time, that (Jimison 1982) is:

Jimison, S. (1982) Scientists baffled by space spheres. Weekly World News, July 27.

Forbidden Archeology cites as a credible source of reliabe information the Weekly World News, a tabloid known for its largely or completely fictional news stories. For those people who are unfamiliar with the Weekly World News a sampling of the headlines from the March 5, 1996 issue are:

Doctors Bring Cadavers Back to Life (p. 13.)

The Earth's only Low-Gravity Zone! Massive rocks float 40 feet above ground, say scientists -- datelined Chengdu, China. (p. 15.)

Russians Finally Land on Moon...26 years after Neal Armstrong stepped onto lunar surface (pp. 24-25). (This even has a picture of and quotes from Boris Yelsin.)

Dead Wife Orders Hubby Around - from beyond the grave! Her constant reminders show up on his TV screen! (p. 21).

My favorite such story appeared on the front page of the April 7, 1992 Weekly World News with the headline:
Satan Escapes from Hell, 13 Alaskan oil rig workers killed when the Devil roars out of control
This story describes how an oil well penetrated Hell and exploded as Satan roared up through the hole at a drillsite somewhere in Alaska. The front page shows a huge cloud with the likeness of Satan pouring out of a burning oil derrick. There is even expert commentary given on this event in a sidebar by a Dr. Dimitri Azzacov complete with his alleged picture (Brunvand 1993).

Jimison (1982) is a unreliable source of data for discussing the origins of the South African spheres described as used by Forbidden Archeology. Thus, his claims that there are two types of spheres, including one of solid blue metal with white flecks, are suspect and cannot be considered as valid evidence. As documented by Brunvand (1993) in the Scientists Discover Hell storyline published in the Weekly World News, a fictional news article in it might founded be on truth, but the truth is so changed as to be almost unrecognizable and useless as a source of data.

The remainder of the quote from Forbidden Archeology quotes a letter that provides some documentation. However, the letter contains a few factual errors as demonstrated by published information research concerning the pyrophyllite deposits of the Syferfontein Formation that outcrop near Ottosdal, Western Transvaal.

Forbidden Archeology states:

We wrote to Roelf Marx for further information about the spheres. He replied in a letter dated September 12, 1984: "There is nothing scientific published about the globes, but the facts are: They are found in pyrophyllite, which is mined near the little town of Ottosdal in the Western Transvaal. This pyrophyllite (Al2Si4O10(OH)2) is a quite soft secondary mineral with a count of only 3 on the Mohs' scale and was formed by sedimentation about 2.8 billion years ago.

The letter of Mr. Marx is correct in stating that pyrophyllite is mined near Ottosdal. It is mined for stone facing, tombstones, lubricant, absorbent, fillers, and the manufacture of electrical porcelains, enamels, and many other things (Coetzee 1976, Jager 1976).

The pyrophyllite occurs as thin beds within a very thick sequence of felsic volcanics. This sequence of volcanics consist of over three kilometers of massive quartz-feldspar porphyry with only local occurrences of brecciated textures, amygdaloidal or spherical textures, and flow banding. Their massive character is the clear result of metamorphism having altered the volcanic rocks (Crow and Condie 1987, Jackson 1992).

However, the claim that sedimentation formed the pryrophyllite is incorrect and significantly misrepresents the facts. Although either clays or volcanic ash accumulated 2.8 billion years ago along with numerous lava flows to create the Syferfontein Formation, metamorphism later altered the sediments to form pyrophyllite from either clays or volcanic ashes. The pyrophyllite is a mineral created by metamorphism at moderate temperature and burial depths of over several kilometers. Such metamorphism has significantly altered the original clays or volcanic ashes into greenschist grade metamorphics. As a result, the original sedimentary and igneous structures of these rocks have been, except locally, totally obliterated. Any primary concretions within both the sediments and volcanic rocks would also have been obliterated at this degree of metamorphism (Chopin and Schreyer 1983, Jackson 1992).

Jackson (1992, p. 175) states:

Volcanoclastic units now converted to massive pyrophyllite (wonderstone) are a significant component of the Syferfontein Fm. in the Ottosdal area (Fig. 2). These rocks are generally massive and very fine-grained, but are locally thin-bedded and have shallow-amplitude ripple-marks on bedding planes and surfaces (see Nel et al. 1937, plate IIIA). Net et al. believed that volcanic ash deposited subaqueously in quiet water conditions became devitrified and altered to clay (bentonite) which was then metamorphosed to pyrophyllite to form these deposits.

These age of these strata has been determined by van Niekerk and Burger (1969) at around 2.8 billion years.

Forbidden Archeology further claimed that the spheres have a fibrous structure with an inside shell around it that is so hard that it cannot be scratched by steel.

By corresponding by e-mail with rockhounds who have collected these spheres and geologists at the University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, South Africa and at the pyrophyllite mine in Ottosdal, West Transvaal it was determined that the mystery spheres consist of pyrite and goethite. These spheres consist of goethite within the near-surface, weathered pyrophyllite and consist of pyrite in the unweathered pyrophyllite. The pyrite spheres are metamorphic nodules that formed during the alteration of either clay or volcanic ash to pyrophyllite by metamorphism. The goethite spheres are pyrite nodules altered by weathering near the ground surface. These spheres are identical to the ones shown in The Mysterious Origins of Man, but they are much softer than claimed in Forbidden Archeology. Furthermore, there is a lack of any evidence for the existence of the solid blue metal spheres described in the World Weekly News. However, a tabloid newspaper infamous for its fictionalized news is unlikely to have presented such information correctly.

Nel et al. (1937,p. 19) briefly document the presence of pyrite nodules when they state:

Pyrite nodules or concretions have been found in quarried stone, hitherto (sic) their occurrence has been so scattered as to be no appreciable harm.

The harm that Nels et al. (1937) refers is harm caused to the economics of mining this deposit by increasing the amount of waste produced during mining by the presence of the nodules.

In a previous post, I had hypothesized that the spheres were metamorphic nodules composed of some manganese oxide. The hypothesis that they are metamorphic nodules has been verified. In part because it was based upon incorrect information given by Forbidden Archeology, the hypothesis that they consist of some manganese oxide has proved to be incorrect.

Forbidden Archeology further states:

In his letter to us, Marx said that A. Bisschoff, a professor of geology at the University of Potchefstroom, told him that the spheres were "limonite concretions." Limonite is a kind of iron ore. A concretion is a compact, rounded rock mass formed by localized cementation around a nucleus.

As defined by Jackson and Bates (1987), limonite is a field term for group of brown, amorphous, naturally occurring, hydrous, ferric oxides whose identities are unknown. Limonite can be composed of variable proportions of goethite, hematite, and various other iron hydroxides. By this definition, Dr. Bisschoff correctly identified the composition of one of two groups of nodules present in the Ottosdal pyrophyllite deposits. It is likely he was shown only the goethite and, thus, did not know that pyrite nodules were also present. However, the spheres are nodules, not concretions, because they are of metamorphic, not sedimentary origin. The presence of goethite nodules in the weathered pyrophyllite is consistent with the presence of pyrite nodules in the unweathered pyrophyllite because goethite is a common weathering product of pyrite as noted by Jackson and Bates (1987).

Forbidden Archeology objects to the identification of the spheres as limonite for two reasons. It claims that limonite concretions usually occur in groups that are stuck together like soap bubbles. Forbidden Archeology argues that the spheres which normally appear isolated and perfectly round, thus, cannot be limonite. Finally, this book argues that the spheres are too hard to be limonite.

The first objection is based upon false information. Contrary to the claims of this book, limonite can occur as isolated, rounded spheres. Furthermore, in case of these goethite nodules, their spherical shape is inherited from the pyrite nodules which have been converted to goethite as a result of weathering. Thus, the objection to some of the nodules being limonite, composed of goethite, on the basis of shape and isolated occurrence is a false objection that lacks any basis in fact.

The last objection that some of the nodules are not limonite on the basis of hardness is also a false objection. Given the other errors of fact in the letter of Mr. Marx, this might be just another error. Also, the goethite nodules can have other harder iron hydroxide minerals associated with them that can account for this observation. Technically speaking, they together would still be defined by Jackson and Bates (1987) as limonite. The identification of limonite by Dr. Bisschoff is substantiated by other knowledgeable rockhounds and geologists who have independently noted the presence of goethite nodules within the weathered pyrophyllite.

Forbidden Archeology notes:

Neither do they normally appear with parallel grooves encircling them.

Some of the goethite nodules do exhibit a parallel groove around them. However, not all of the nodules like the spheres shown on the The Mysterious Origins of Man have the grooves. Whether some of the pyrite nodules exhibit these grooves in not yet known.

Forbidden Archeology continues:

For the purposes of this study, it is the sphere with three parallel grooves around its equator that most concerns us.

It is interesting to note that there is one three-grooved sphere out of hundreds.

Even if it is conceded that the sphere itself is a limonite concretion, one still must account for the three parallel grooves.

There is no chain-of-evidence that clearly proves that this sphere with the three grooves had them when found in place. If artificial, the grooves could have been carved innocently just as folkart and later mistakenly thought to have been present when it was found. Since the spheres are metamorphic nodules from the pyrophyllite, then they could not have been carved before the sediment was buried and metamorphosed, because the nodule would not have existed at the time that the sediments were deposited. Thus, If these grooves are artificial, than they were created after the nodule was extracted from the pyrophyllite and they are considerably younger than the age assigned to them.

Of course, the three-grooved sphere could be a sphere of a different origin than the metamorphic nodules found in the pyrophyllite. However, if this sphere is composed of a different material then the nodules present in the pyrophyllite, then there is no evidence linking this sphere to the nodules found within the pyrophyllite. Also, had the sphere been buried in the sediment about 2.8 billion years age, their subsequent metamorphism would have severely defaced the grooves exhibited by the sphere and have deformed the sphere itself. Thus, if the sphere is composed of something other than pyrite or goethite, there is no evidence connecting it to the pyrophyllite deposits. In that case, it would be impossible to assign any sort of age, significance, or origin to it without additional study of the three-grooved sphere itself.

Neither The Mysterious Origins of Man nor Forbidden Archeology present any evidence that the grooves are artificial. The Mysterious Origins of Man quotes only anonymous lab technicians as their evidence. Without some idea of their expertise and affiliation, it is impossible to judge the expertise, impartiality, and validity of their judgments. Forbidden Archeology presents no documented evidence at all that these grooves are artificial.

Forbidden Archeology concludes:

In the absence of a satisfactory natural explanation, the evidence is somewhat mysterious, leaving open the possibility that the South African grooved sphere--found in a mineral deposit 2.8 billion years old--was made by an intelligent being.

However, there is a complete lack of any evidence that either the nodules/spheres are artificial or that the grooves were cut prior to burial. As far as can be determined at this time, the spheres consist of pyrite nodules of metamorphic origin and goethite nodules formed by the weathering of the pyrite. Since the nodules are metamorphic in origin and, thus, formed by metamorphism while the enclosing strata were buried under kilometers of rock, the grooves, if artificial, had to have been cut after they had collected from the pyrophyllite during quarrying operations. As a result, the grooves are far less than 2.8 billions old. The nodules are clearly of natural origin and less than 2.8 billion years old.

There are natural processes that can account for single, possibly multiple, grooves. However, until actual specimens can be acquired for study, it is rather pointless to speculate on such a matter.

The study of these nodules is ongoing. At this time, I am trying to obtain via surface (snail) mail actual specimens of these and copies of private reports containing data about them. This unfortunately, will likely take some time, possibly months.

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References Cited (by me and in quotes):

Brunvand, Jan Harold, 1993, The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends. W. W. Norton, New York.

Coetzee, C. B., 1976, Talc and Pyrophyllite. in C. B. Coetzee (ed.), Mineral Resources of the Republic of South Africa. Republic of South Africa Handbook no 7, Pretoria, South Africa, pp. 427-429.

Chopin, C., and Schreyer, W., 1983, Magnesiocarpholite and and magnesiochloritoid: two index minerals of pelitic blueschists and their preliminary phase relationships in the model system MgO-Al2-O3-SiO2-H2O. in Studies in metamorphism and metasomatism. American Journal of Science. vol. 283-A, pp. 73-96.

Crow, C., and Condie, K. C., 1987, Geochemistry and origin of Late Archaean rocks from the Rhenosterhoek Formation, Dominion Group, South Africa. Precambrian Research, vol. 37, pp. 217-229.

de Jager, F. S. J., 1976, Dimension Stone. in C. B. Coetzee (ed.), Mineral Resources of the Republic of South Africa. Republic of South Africa Handbook no 7, Pretoria, South Africa, pp. 347-353.

Jackson, J. A., and Bates, R. L., 1987, Glossary of Geology. American Geological Institute, Alexandria, Virginia, 788 pp.

Jackson, M. C., 1992, A Review of the Late Archaean volcano- sedimentary Dominion Group and implications for the tectonic setting of the Witwatersrand Supergroup, South Africa. Journal of African Earth Sciences. vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 169-186.

Jimison, S. (1982) Scientists baffled by space spheres. Weekly World News, July 27.

Nel, L. T., Jacobs, H., Allen, J. T., and Bozzoli, G. R., 1937, Wonderstone. Geological Survey of South Africa Bulletin no. 8, Pretoria, South Africa.

van Niekerk, C. B., and Burger, A. J., 1969, Lead isotope data relating to the age of the Dominion Reef lava. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa. vol. 72, pp. 37-45.

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