Monolith mania: where are these mysterious sculptures coming from?

A surprising number of monoliths are popping up around the globe

Today's expression: Without a trace
Explore more: Lesson #323
December 24, 2020:

Just when you thought things were getting really weird… Mysterious monolith sculptures have been popping up in random locations around the globe. It’s unclear who is behind the statues, but one witness saw the creators in action. We can tell you about it, but we can’t explain it. Plus, learn “without a trace.”

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Monolith mania: where are these mysterious sculptures coming from?

Lesson summary

What a year. First the mysterious seeds, now mysterious sculptures. Hi there, I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and this is lesson 323. Merry Christmas Eve, for those of you who will celebrate tonight and tomorrow. I hope you are enjoying the holidays safely on this unconventional year.

Coming up today: Have you heard about the monoliths? They are metal sculptures appearing at random locations around the world. That’s today’s story—and for the expression, we borrowed a line from a character in the story. The expression is “without a trace.” JR has a song of the week. And remember, he posts the full lesson online, so you dig a little deeper at PlainEnglish.com/323.

Monolith mania

Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any more out of the norm, it again surprised us with mysterious monoliths popping up all over the world. From deserts in the American west to hillsides in Romania to fields in Belgium and beaches in Britain, these monoliths are causing quite a stir.

But, wait a second: what exactly is a monolith? Here’s the dictionary definition. A monolith is “a single large block or piece of stone, as in architecture or sculpture.” The most famous monoliths are from ancient times—for example, Stonehenge in Britain.

So far, so good. But the Stonehenge monoliths have been there, in the same spot in Wiltshire, England, for over four thousand years.

Not these new ones. These new metal, mirrored monoliths just recently appeared in remote locations. They were not created by ancient cultures. They’re just huge metal pillars—like a vertical sculpture made of metal. In fact, they’ve been likened to the monoliths that appeared in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. An alien monolith is a recurring symbol in the movie.

These monoliths do look like a scene straight out of a Sci-Fi movie, but are they really the work of aliens? Let’s see if we can find out.

The first and most prominent monolith was discovered in Utah’s Red Rock country. This is a remote area of the American west. A team surveying bighorn sheep for Utah’s wildlife agency first spotted the monolith from a helicopter. The scientists were up there in a helicopter counting bighorn sheep on the ground when they saw a huge metal sculpture.

It was ten to twelve feet tall, made of stainless steel, and planted firmly in the ground. What added to its mystery was the location and timeline. Somebody had to use heavy machinery to embed the monolith in the ground. The remote area has no roads nearby, making the installation even more challenging. How could someone get such a heavy object there, install it, and leave without a trace? And when did this happen? Officials had no idea how long the monolith had been there because park rangers rarely go there.

Well. The monolith caused hundreds of visitors to venture into the barren area to take photos and videos. However, just as quickly as it was found, the monolith disappeared on November 27. But this time, there was a witness.

An amateur photographer was there when four men turned up under cover of darkness. The men dismantled the structure and took it away. As they left, one of them turned to the witness and said: “Leave no trace.”

A few days later, a group of four men from Utah confirmed with video footage that they took down the monolith in the name of natural preservation. They objected to the hordes of people visiting the natural spot where usually humans don’t go. All that is left now of the monolith is a triangle-shaped hole where the monolith once stood, surrounded by the tracks of those who came to see it.

Ok, so we know who took down the structure, but we still don’t know who created it. Artists that specialize in minimalist structures similar to the monolith have denied creating it. An anonymous group called The Most Famous Artist took credit for the monolith and is currently selling replicas for $45,000. Maybe, maybe it was them; but something’s fishy. Maybe they are the real creators, or maybe they are simply taking advantage of the publicity.

Now, what about the rest of the monoliths found across the globe?

On November 28, the first copycat monolith was found on the hillsides of the city Piatra Neamt in northern Romania. Three days later, the monolith disappeared. The mayor of the city joked he thought it was an honor that aliens had chosen their city to install a monolith.

A monolith mania started to take root as more and more monoliths started appearing at random locations around the globe. A beachside on the Isle of Wight saw a ten-foot monolith show up over the first weekend of December. A mischievous local artist took credit for the structure.

Then, a monolith was found in the middle of a field in Belgium. It became a worldwide trend: there have been copycat monoliths in—get this—eighteen European countries, ten of the United States, plus Canada, Panama, Australia, Colombia and Paraguay.

See the photos below

I’m speechless. I don’t even know what’s going on in this crazy world anymore! I can tell you about it, I guess, but I can’t explain it!

If you want to see a picture of the monolith, then go to the end of the transcript of today’s lesson on the web site, PlainEnglish.com/323. At the bottom of the transcript, I always include links to English-language articles about the main topic, so you can continue reading in English about any topic you like.

The articles I’m linking to this time all have photos of the monolith. The photo with this lesson is of Stonehenge—I couldn’t find any free-use images of the new monolith. But you can see photos of this monolith by visiting those links at the bottom of the transcript at PlainEnglish.com/323.

I’ll also post a picture of them in the free Facebook group, which you can access at PlainEnglish.com/Facebook.

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Expression: Without a trace