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The so-called ‘Gurlt cube’

The so-called ‘Gurlt cube’, which is scarcely cuboid (source: Wikipedia)

In the autumn of 1885, a workman named Reidl, who worked at a foundry in Schöndorf, near Vöcklabruck (Austria), founded by Isidor Braun (1801-1866) and then run by his sons, broke open a block of brown coal that had been mined at Wolfsegg (Tomas 1971, 45). The Tertiary coal deposit from which the coal came is generally dated to about 60 million years ago. He found a small steel cube embedded inside it; according to the published descriptions, the cube had two rounded faces and a deep groove running around it. It measured 67 × 67 × 47 mm (2.64 × 2.64 × 1.85 inches), weighed 785 g (1.73 pounds) and had a specific gravity of 7.75. Braun’s son took it to the Heimathaus (Museum) in Vöcklabruck. During a lecture to the Naturhistorische Verein (Natural History Society) of Bonn in 1886, the mining engineer Adolf Gurlt (Professor of Geology at the University of Bonn) suggested that it was meteoritic in origin. A cast is kept in the Oberosterreichisches Landesmuseum in Linz, where the original object was exhibited from 1950 to 1958; according to Peter Kolosimo, the original is in Salisbury Museum in the UK, a clumsy error for Salzburg!

In 1966-67, the object was analysed by at the Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum, using electron-beam microanalysis, which found no traces of nickel, chromium or cobalt in the iron, suggesting that it is not of meteoric origin, while the lack of sulphur shows that it is not a pyrites. Because of its low magnesium content, Dr Gero Kurat (born 1938) of the Museum and Dr Rudolf Grill (1910-1987) of the Geologische Bundesanstalt of Vienna thought it might be cast iron, the latter suggesting that objects of similar form had been used as ballast in early mining machinery. A further investigation by Hubert Mattlianer, in 1973, concluded that it had been cast using the cire perdue (lost wax) technique.

Images of the object do not show an impressive cubic artefact. Far from the artificial cube with complex features suggested by the written accounts, it has a pitted surface and an irregular shape that is far from cubic. Considering that both the original object and a cast still exist, it is curious that the writers who promote it as a mystery never approached the museums to request a modern photograph. The photograph reproduced here shows an object that is quite unlike their enthusiastic descriptions of it. Perhaps it is not so curious that they do not show a modern photograph: what we can see suggests that Adolf Gurlt’s opinion was a reasonable one, to judge from the photograph, although questions remain as a result of the differing results of the chemical analyses. It is little wonder, in fact, that Bad Archaeologists do not reproduce photographs of ‘Dr Gurlt’s cube’ as they would instantly undermine the overblown claims for artificiality.

9 Responses to Dr Gurlt’s iron cube

  • privacyisazombie says:

    Looks like it could be an ingot.

  • WB says:

    Disagree. There is no way that nature made this shape, especially the groove. So the first question is, was any official dating technique used, and if so, what was its estimated age? If more than 7,000 years ago, and believing as I from sight alone, then this is significant.

  • What happens to the iron in the blood of the animals that became the fossils that became the coal and oil deposits? Maybe that’s what this object is. The iron deposits of multiple animals accumulated over time with compression and the veiny stuff is basically rivers of other sediment running through it, with the groove being a pocket of water or other material separating the iron clump from the carbon clumps.

    What about in situ photographs? Wouldn’t it be good to know how the object was found, what material (shape of) the brown coal?

    On the other hand if this is iron and is not a pyrite what is it doing in brown coal and also, if compression and potentially water was in the sediment, why hasn’t the iron oxidised and turned green?

    How do you know it is iron?

    • Artor says:

      Identifying it as iron is easy, as iron is magnetic and chemically reactive. If it doesn’t have the expected isotopes to be meteoric, it could well be bog iron. This doesn’t require animal blood, but rather decaying plant matter and mountain runoff. The iron collects in oxygen-poor bogs and settles out of suspension to form nodules. Much of the steel that drove the Viking Age was derived from dredging bogs, and of course, peat from these bogs is what eventually turns into brown coal. The problem with that though is that bog iron nodules usually have a convex, pillowy texture, whereas this piece has concave dents all over it. Visually, it looks much more like a meteor. I’d like a modern lab to do the assay again to confirm it’s non-meteoric origin.

  • student says:

    it can be dated using archaeometallurgy , if it is hand made the details of the magnetic field during the creation time (after melting the iron chill under kiri temp. and the data on magnetic field of earth during creation is saved – inclination, declination and the strength of the field) are kept in the artifact and so it can be dated

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      I suggest you read this before asserting that archaeometallurgy would be able to date the object!

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