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.