Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for January, 2009

Ice Circles Explained (Kind of)


They are circles, symbol of perfection since ancient times. They are on ice, not seldom on thin ice where no one could possibly stand before braking it. They are the ice circles, a puzzling mystery.

Nowadays, as God and other magical figures are not as active as they were in ancient times, the first explanation apparently everyone think of is… UFOs, taken as synonym of alien spaceships. I can’t blame them, because as a skeptic, or perhaps, a dogmatic debunker, I also used to brush them off automatically as hoaxes without much thought. Interestingly, even the NIDS, far from being a skeptical group, investigated a case and suggested it was a hoax (Report on an Ice Circle in NE Utah, February 21, 2002 – PDF).

It had to take the recent rash of ice circles news reports for me to finally discover that ice circles are not hoaxes and in fact a fascinating phenomenon. Reports date back as far as the 1930s, from several countries in the Old and New world, they often form in thin ice and, most importantly, they have been seen in their forming stages.



The Norwegian Crop Circle Group has online the excellent article by Bob Rickard of Fortean Times that has mostly all the relevant information you will need on the subject, including a photo of the first ice circle reported in 1930. Don’t miss it: Rings of Ice (PDF, FT74, 1994).

whaleflatuf Among the many explanations suggested to the many rings is the idea proposed by Jerome Carr that one particular circle was “created by the near-perpendicular strike of a meteorite and the resulting wave patterns overlapped to produce rings of broken ice”. MUFON investigator Paul Rosenfield actually searched for the meteorite in the bottom of the river, with no success.

Another fellow suggested the phenomenon could be “the result of a fresh spring directly below the ice ‘burping’ aerated water”. That’s an adorable idea, and it’s just the opportunity for me to post this recent photo of whale flatulence (also a newly recorded phenomenon) that you can see on the right. Perhaps we will find ice circles in the arctic?

More plausible explanations relate them to the also interesting “pancake ice”, which are similar and rather well understood, but not exactly the same thing.

But on to real solution to this phenomenon.



Many of the British newspapers (well, at least two of them) mentioned that:

“They occur at bends in the river where the accelerating water creates a force called ‘rotational shear’, which breaks off a chunk of ice and twists it around. As the disc rotates, it grinds against surrounding ice – smoothing into a perfect circle.”

As none other than the Daily Mail nicely put it, along with many photos of other ice circles around the world.

Indeed, while the exact mechanism by which they form is not known, they are all associated with whirlpools or eddies. Randi is right. And thanks to the Internet you can actually see that in action:

That’s the ice circle from Sheridan Creek, Mississauga, Canada just before last Christmas. You will notice in the previous link that even an expert couldn’t explain it very well.

Since the publication of the article on Fortean Times in 1994, at least one other case was published in a journal in 1997 and thus chronicled by William Corliss, but while several ideas can be proposed and it’s obviously a natural mechanism involving the interaction of freezing weather and eddies, no clear explanation much less a reproduction has been made. Shame on us.

The key to the mysteries of the Universe may be related to solving exactly how ice circles are formed. Even if it’s just a very small key.



Since we are talking about Fortean ice curiosities, besides the absurd, unexplained and yet very real Mpemba effect, I can also suggest… the ice spikes:


Or the amazing… snow doughnuts.


Both are rather well understood, and are simply fabulous. Looking at the snow doughnut, I can’t help but think that perhaps man didn’t quite invent the wheel.

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The Door


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The second-best pareidolia… a hoax?

“Out of this World” did a good take on the Wem Town Hall “ghost” that we mentioned as an impressive example of pareidolia. They present videos of the actual fire, present the case and myth, and the latest information I had that analysis by Vernon Harrison on the negatives didn’t find any evidence of tampering. Thus, it seemed it was either a real ghost or a simulacrum.


But they went further and had the negative examined at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford. Keep reading to watch the second part and their surprising finds.

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“Alien Skeleton” case solved


It came to light in 2004, in circumstances akin to a mystery novel. Wilson Estevanovic, from a centuries-old European family now in Brazil, was the curator of many strange artifacts. And just before his death, he gave his son, Wellington, the “mission to recover the pieces”, spread throughout the country in sealed boxes.

Box number 7 should be open only seven years after Wilson’s death”, he said just “moments before dying”. Tense. When the box was finally open, “the surprise. Inside was the mummified skeleton of a singular being. The head measures almost a meter in diameter. The thorax, only 12 cm. The eyes are disproportionate, there are no ears, the teeth are complete and there are six fingers in the feet. Besides the skeleton, in the same box, a rock. ‘It’s a piece of meteorite, weighing 14 Kg’, [Wellington] explains.” Creepy?

Not so much. We uncovered new information that question all this mystery with the not-at-all subtle suggestion that it’s the skeleton of an extraterrestrial. This spurious idea came to a point where a questionable Japanese TV show not only claimed it was an alien, but “reconstructed” its appearance in the images you can see above. Note how they even assume their alien was blue.

In fact, the skeleton is originally from an Anthropology Museum in Bahia, Brazil. It was a specimen showing a case of hydrocephalus and other malformations, but despite them, it was, and is, very human. It was discarded around 1998, around the time Wilson Estevanovic passed away and a few years before the “alien mummy” was allegedly found by his sons.

Keep reading for the new photos and information. THE IMAGES ARE QUITE GRAPHIC. They are shown here to dispel once and for all this non-mystery.

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The word is… Cartocacoethes


Now just when you got used to amazing examples of pareidolia, comes another strange word and even stranger kind of apophenia. Cartocacoethes, the compulsion to see maps everywhere. This may seem like a rare and intriguing idiosyncrasy, but it turns out “the oldest map in the world”, an iconic image that just begs to be seen as a map, may not have been a map at all.

It’s the 8,000 year old Çatalhöyük map:


catal_excavationsvcz Isn’t that so obviously a city plan? Especially when you compare it to a map of the area represented, as reconstructed from contemporary excavations, at right.

There’s even the twin cones of a volcano, suggesting the eruption of Hasan Da?, visible from Çatalhöyük and from where the inhabitants extracted the valuable obsidian used in the making of tools, weapons, jewelry, mirrors and other objects.

Only thing is, the original assessment of what the painting represented was not a map. And recent reevaluations indicate that “it is clear that the original interpretation is much more likely to be the correct one. The painting is unlikely to be a map of Çatalhöyük”.

What was it? Read the post on Making Maps: Cartocacoethes: Why the World’s Oldest Map Isn’t a Map.

And don’t miss the original post on Strange Maps for more cartocacoethes fun.

Relevant to our interests, archaeologist Stephanie Meece warns how the out-of-context interpretation of ancient works of art, based on superficial resemblance to something else, “is a bane of archaeologists, and leads to von Daniken and his spaceships”.

Sure enough, not only is this out of context interpretation the main fallacy of Danikenism (or Charrouxism, or…), but there are also many cartocacoethes examples out there.

I couldn’t find a link, but I do remember (if you find it, please do comment below) seeing a weathered slab of rock claimed to be the oldest known map of something, along with a lot of other wild claims, when it was obviously just a slab of rock. Cartocacoethes. [via Skepnet]

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