Copyright © 2000-2018
[Updated: December 1, 2018]
[NOTE: The artifact has been found and inspected. See below.]
Creationists have often been criticized for failing to present original research and evidence that would overthrow our contemporary view of human origins in favor of another. However, this is not an entirely fair accusation. The creation “science” field known as OOPARTS, or “Out Of Place ARTifactS” is a lively area of study with numerous examples. This paper will examine the most popular and least understood specimen, the Coso Artifact.
The story of the Coso Artifact has been embellished over the years, but nearly all accounts of the actual discovery are basically unchanged.
On February 13, 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey, and Mike Mikesell were seeking interesting mineral specimens, particularly geodes, for their “LM & V Rockhounds Gem and Gift Shop” in Olancha, California. On this particular day, the trio were about six miles northeast of Olancha, near the top of a peak about 4,300 feet in elevation and about 340 feet above the dry bed of Owens Lake. According to Maxey, “We hiked about three miles north, after we had parked some five miles east of State Highway 395, south of Olancha, California.” At lunchtime, after collecting rocks most of the morning, all three placed their specimens in the rock sack Mikesell was carrying.
The next day in the gift shop’s workroom, Mikesell ruined a nearly new diamond saw blade while cutting what he thought was a geode. Inside the nodule that was cut, Mikesell did not find a cavity as so many geodes have, but a perfectly circular section of very hard, white material that appeared to be porcelain. In the center of the porcelain cylinder, was a 2-millimeter shaft of bright metal. The metal shaft responded to a magnet.
There were still other odd qualities about the specimen. The outer layer of the specimen was allegedly encrusted with fossil shells and their fragments. In addition to shells, there were reports of two metallic metal objects in the crust, resembling a nail and a washer. Stranger still, the inner layer was hexagonal and seemed to form a casing around the hard porcelain cylinder. Within the inner layer, a layer of decomposing copper allegedly surrounded the porcelain cylinder.
The Initial Investigations
Very little is known about the initial physical inspections of the artifact. According to discoverer Virginia Maxey, a geologist she spoke with who examined the fossil shells encrusting the specimen said the nodule had taken at least 500,000 years to attain its present form. However, the identity of the first geologist is still a mystery, and his findings were never officially published.
Another investigation was conducted by creationist Ron Calais. Calais is the only other individual known to have physically inspected the artifact, and was allowed to take photographs of the nodule in both X ray and natural light. Calais’s X-rays brought interest in the artifact to a new level. The X-ray of the upper end of the object seemed to reveal some sort of tiny spring or helix. INFO Journal Publisher Ronald J. Willis speculated that it could actually be “the remains of a corroded piece of metal with threads.” The other half of the artifact revealed a sheath of metal, presumably copper, covering the porcelain cylinder.
The Artifact: Where Was It?
The last known individual to possess the Coso Artifact was one of the original discoverers, Wallace Lane. According to the Spring 1969 issue of INFO Journal, Lane was the last known person to possess the object. It was on display in his home, but he adamantly refused to allow anyone to examine it. However, he had a standing offer to sell it for $25,000. In September 1999, a national search was attempted to locate any of the original discoverers, but the attempt was fruitless. At the time the author of this article suspected that Wallace Lane was dead, and the location of the artifact was unknown, possibly destroyed. There were indications that Virginia Maxey was alive but avoiding any public comment. The whereabouts of Mike Mikesell were unknown.
Ever since the artifact was first discovered, numerous individuals have speculated about its mysterious origin and possible use.
Virginia Maxey speculated that “one possibility is that it is barely 100 years old – something that lay in a mud bed, then got baked and hardened by the sun in a matter of a few years.” However it was Maxey who supplied the claim that the artifact could be at least 500,000 years old. “Or else it is an instrument as old as legendary Mu or Atlantis. Perhaps it is a communications device or some sort of directional finder or some instrument made to utilize power principles we know nothing about.”
INFO Journal editor Paul J. Willis speculated that the artifact was some sort of spark plug. His brother found the suggestion extraordinary. “I was thunderstruck,” he wrote, “for suddenly all the parts seemed to fit. The object sliced in two shows a hexagonal part, a porcelain or ceramic insulator with a central metallic shaft – the basic components of any spark plug.” However, the two could not reconcile the upper end featuring a “spring”, “helix”, or “metal threads” with any contemporary spark plug. So the mystery continued. The artifact even appeared briefly at the end of an “In Search Of…” episode hosted by Leonard Nimoy (See video below, time index 4:00).
The Internet offers a plethora of other opinions on the subject. While most websites simply report the mystery as described earlier, some have taken to speculate on the purpose and origin of such a device. Brian Wood, described as “International Director of MICAP (Multinational Investigations Cooperative on Aerial Phenomena) and Producer/Director of The Paranet Continuum Radio Program” suggested that if it isn’t simply a spark plug, “My guess would be some sort of antenna. The construction reminds me of modern attempts at superconductors. Wonder if anyone’s tried replicating the thing using ceramic superconductors and then cooling the thing off with liquid nitrogen to see what happens.” (Source: Wood, B., 1996; October 6, 2000, via WaybackMachine).
Joe Held’s “Joe’s UFOs and Space Mysteries” thought the device:
looks similar to a small capacitor with several different materials. The object is roughly the size of an auto spark plug. Since the formation of geodes can take millions of years this was a very curious find indeed. (Source: http://members.tripod.com/J_Kidd/index.html Last accessed: September 10, 1999; expired link not available via WaybackMachine).
The Creationists and the Artifact
With such outrageous speculation, individuals familiar with the creation/evolution controversy would assume that fundamentalist Christians would stay far away from such artifacts and stories. But this isn’t the case. Numerous creationists have been involved with this artifact since its discovery.
As noted earlier, Ron Calais was involved with the Coso Artifact since its initial discovery. Calais was the individual responsible for the natural light and X-ray photographs of the artifact. He also brought the Coso Artifact to the attention of the Charles Fort Society, publisher of INFO Journal, whose 1969 article is the primary source for information on this object to date. Calais’s most recent contribution to creationism was a paper published in the June 1996 edition of the Creation Research Society Quarterly (“Slippery Phylogenies: Evolutionary Speculations on the Origin of Frogs”, by Ron Calais and A.W. Mehlert, pp. 44-48.).
Creation Outreach, a Spokane, Washington based creationism ministry promoted the artifact on their website (updated 10/15/2000; republished on the Hidden Mysteries website) by reprinting an article by J.R. Jochmans. Jochman’s article on the Creation Outreach’s website, originally available through the national Bible-Science Association concluded:
As a whole, the ‘Coso artifact’ is now believed to be something more than a piece of machinery: The carefully shaped ceramic, metallic shaft and copper components hint at some form of electrical instrument. The closest modern apparatus that researchers have been able to equate it with is a spark plug. However, there are certain features – particularly the spring or helix terminal – that does [sic] not correspond to any known spark plug today.
Creation Outreach member Jim Marisch was known to have lectured in local Spokane public school classrooms , but it is unknown if he specifically mentioned the artifact in question. Nevertheless, students exposed to Creation Outreach would inevitably have been redirected to their website for further information.
It should also be noted that according to a letter printed in Atlantis Rising J.R. Jochmans claims to have ghost-written three quarters of the book Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen. Secrets of the Lost Races has often been cited as a reference for the Coso Artifact by young-earth creationists.
Carl Baugh, a young-earth creationist whose claim to fame is the promotion of the Paluxy River Tracks, notes the Coso Artifact in his online dissertation (accessed May 23, 2018) using material from Noorbergen’s Secrets of the Lost Races.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Institute for Creation Research heavily promoted the Coso Artifact through its adjunct faculty member, Dr. Donald Chittick. According to his own literature, Chittick, a Newberg, Oregon resident, held a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and taught at the University of Puget Sound and George Fox College. Dr. Chittick was an active lecturer, traveling in the United State and Canada for more than 20 years, speaking before students both public and private about creationism. In 1981, he was one of five “creation scientists” who testified in pretrial depositions for the Arkansas “Balanced Treatment Act”, which required that “creation science” be taught along with evolutionary biology in that state’s public schools. And in 1993, his lecture to public high school students in Stanwood, Washington led to a community furor, warnings from the ACLU, and a subsequent shakeup in the local school board.
Though he claimed to have had little to do with the ICR, Dr. Chittick encouraged audiences at his lectures to join the ICR, sold their literature, and signed up interested parties for the ICR’s mailing list. Donald Chittick delivered his “Puzzle of Ancient Man” lectures at numerous locations and was sponsored by the ICR as part of their “Case for Creation” lecture series. According to the ICR, adjunct faculty members are “expected to be of high moral character and personal integrity, firmly committed to the ICR Tenets and Educational Philosophy.”
“The Puzzle of Ancient Man” lecture was basically a summary of Chittick’s book of the same title. Like the book, Chittick began his lectures by presenting the Coso Artifact as evidence that ancient civilizations were extremely advanced. Presuming that it is an ancient spark plug, Chittick explained:
A spark plug is evidence of fairly sophisticated development. Reliable dates for such finds are difficult to obtain. However, it has been commonly assumed that formation of geodes requires significant amounts of time. Finding a spark plug in a rock considered to be very old would indeed give it the label of an out-of-place artifact. Evidence of advanced technology, like spark plugs, should not, according to evolutionism, be discovered in old rocks.
Problems with the Artifact Story
Creationists and other proponents of the artifact have woven a riveting story. But a multitude of problems regarding the claims and recent discoveries have cast a much different picture.
The Geologic Evidence: Is the Coso Artifact Encased in a Geode?
When it comes to the geologic evidence, the most stunning claim is that the artifact was discovered in a geode. As Donald Chittick noted, formation of a geode requires significant amounts of time. But what is often overlooked is that the Coso Artifact possesses no characteristics that would classify it as a geode. It is true that the original discoverers were looking for geodes on the day the artifact was found. But this alone is insufficient evidence that the artifact is a geode.
Geodes consist of a thin outer shell, composed of dense chalcedonic silica, and are filled with a layer of quartz crystals. The Coso Artifact does not possess either feature. Discoverer Virginia Maxey referred to the material covering the artifact as “hardened clay” and noted that it had picked up a miscellaneous collection of pebbles, including a “nail and washer.” Analysis of the surface material is noted as having a hardness of Mohs 3, which is not very hard and much softer than chalcedony.
Other arguments regarding the ancient source of the Coso Artifact focus on the alleged fossil shells encrusted on the surface. As noted earlier, if a nail and washer were also found on the surface, the significance of the fossil shells is seriously diminished. Even creationist literature notes how surface materials can lead to mistaken assumptions about the true age of individual objects. Creation Ex Nihilo’s June-August 1998 issue featured fence wire that had become encased by surface materials including “fossil” seashells (quotes in the original article).
The Artifact Itself: What Is It?
As noted earlier, numerous individuals have speculated about the apparent purpose of the Coso Artifact. The most popular suggestion is that it is some sort of spark plug, designed and manufactured by an advanced civilization eons ago for technological devices equal to or surpassing our own. But as mentioned earlier, there’s no reason to assume that the artifact was manufactured thousands of years ago. Some have half-heartedly suggested that the device could have been a contemporary spark plug circa 1961. But ancient artifact proponents point to the X-ray of the top half, which indicates some type of tiny spring or helix mechanism. The content of this X-ray, they argue, runs contrary to what we know about contemporary spark plugs.
A clue to what is revealed in the X-ray lies in one of the earliest articles about the artifact. In the Spring 1969 issue of INFO Journal, Ronald Willis suggested that the upper end of the object “is actually the remains of a corroded piece of metal with threads.” The Willis brothers seriously suspected the object was a contemporary spark plug, but were still unable to explain what was in the X-ray. Spark plugs of the 1960’s era typically terminated with no visible threading and tapered to a dull point.
Though many of the interested parties agreed that the artifact bore a striking resemblance to a twentieth-century spark plug, no one seems to have considered the idea of evolution – specifically, spark plug evolution.
In the course of investigating the origins of the Coso Artifact, it was determined that mining operations were conducted in the area of discovery early in the twentieth century. This discovery lead to the tantalizing possibility that primitive combustion engines were used for various purposes in the Coso mountain range. Combustion engines were a very new technology at this time, and so it was extrapolated that spark plug technology would also have been in its infancy. Even if this assumption were correct, identification of the spark plug in question would seem to be a daunting task. To help the authors of this article identify the Coso Artifact, they decided to turn to a little-known group of experts – The Spark Plug Collectors of America.
Letters were sent to four different spark plug collectors describing the Coso Artifact, including Ron Calais’ X-rays of the object in question. Collectors were asked if they could identify what they saw in the photos. The collectors were expected to provide some vague hints, or to not be able to identify the artifact at all. Their actual answers were stunning.
On September 9, 1999, Chad Windham, President of the Spark Plug Collectors of America called Pierre Stromberg of Pacific Northwest Skeptics. Windham initially suspected that Stromberg was a fellow spark plug collector, writing incognito, with the ostensible motive of hoaxing him. His fears were compounded by the fact that there is an actual line of spark plugs named “Stromberg.” Windham had also contacted another spark plug collector, strongly suspecting that he was the culprit, and made a point of looking up the website of Pacific Northwest Skeptics to ensure it actually existed.
Though Stromberg repeatedly assured Windham that his intentions were purely for research, he was puzzled why Windham was so suspicious and asked him to explain. Windham replied that it was so obvious to him that the artifact was a contemporary spark plug, the letter had to be a hoax. “I knew what it was the moment I saw the x-rays” Windham stated. He also added that it was not uncommon at all for spark plug collectors to play pranks on one another.
“Are you sure it’s a spark plug?” Stromberg asked?
“There’s no question about it, ” Windham replied, barely containing his laughter, “it’s a spark plug.”
Stromberg asked Windham if he could identify the particular make of the spark plug. Windham replied he was certain that it was a 1920’s era Champion spark plug. Stromberg was stunned by the collector’s certainty, but Windham insisted that he had nailed the identification. Windham offered to send two identical spark plugs, the only possible but slight difference being the diameter of the packing nut at the base of the plug. Stromberg accepted Windham’s offer and a few days later a package arrived in the mail.
Ten days after the phone call with Windham, Pierre Stromberg received a phone call from Bill Bond, founder of the Spark Plug Collectors of America, and curator of a private museum of spark plugs containing more than two thousand specimens. Bond said he hadn’t spoken to Windham, but said he thought he knew the identity of the Coso Artifact, “A 1920s Champion spark plug.” Spark plug collector Mike Healy also concurred with Bond and Windham’s assessment about the spark plug. The fourth collector, Jeff Bartheld, Vice-President of the Spark Plug Collectors of America contacted Stromberg via postal mail on October 18, 1999, and also confirmed that the artifact was a 1920s Champion spark plug. To date, there has been no dissent in the spark plug collector community as to the origins of the Coso Artifact.
Since Chad Windham mentioned that spark plug collectors enjoy pulling pranks on one another, the question of deliberate fraud inevitably crops up in relation to the Coso Artifact. However, there is little hard evidence that the original discoverers intended to deceive anyone from the start. Pacific Northwest Skeptics investigated the Spark Plug Collectors of America. The group formed in 1975, well after the discovery of the artifact, and none of the three discoverers was ever affiliated in any way that the collectors can recall. Windham and Bond insist that while spark plug collectors enjoy hoaxing one another, they cannot imagine that any of their members would take a prank this far.
Comparisons and Analysis
On September 14, 1999, Stromberg received a package from Chad Windham. Inside the package were the two spark plugs Windham had promised along with an analysis of the specimens. Windham writes:
I am enclosing two spark plugs made by Champion Spark Plug company circa – 1920’s. Plug #1 is 7/8″ – 18 thread. I have loosely assembled the plug, and chipped the “brass hat” off to show the configuration of it and the porcelain under it. Plug #2 is 1/2″ NPT – of same design.
The diameter of the porcelain on Plug #1 is slightly less than 3/4″ – close to the dimension in your letter. As you can see the base and packing nut which hold the porcelain, are sealed with a copper and asbestos gasket. This corresponds with the article. The center electrode of plugs were made of special alloys which may support “…cut in two in 1961 but five years afterwards had no tarnishing visible.”
The sketches included clearly show one rib on the upper end of the porcelain, although Champion used two ribs in this era – probably just an artist’s error. The “top hat matches those of “plug 1 and 2.”
As for the outer shell, it obviously decayed – probably from salt water (or other corrosive substance) and the outer crust is merely some sort of deposit like sea shells or other deposits collected on the deteriorating surfaces of the spark plug base.
There is NO doubt that this is merely an old spark plug. Most probably, it is a Champion spark plug, similar to the two enclosed.
Windham’s letter did indeed match a careful analysis of the specimens. Most striking is the brass “top hat” that has so vexed previous attempts to provide a rational explanation for the artifact. But the similarities are more than skin deep. Because Windham had chipped the brass top hat off specimen #1, the spark plug revealed a metal shaft terminating in a flared end, presumably to help secure the top hat to the plug’s porcelain cylinder. This revelation led to speculation that such a flared tip could also be visible in the original X-ray of the brass hat. And indeed, as shown at left, the flared end of the metal shaft also appears in the Coso Artifact. The shaft in the X-ray, just below the flare, also reveals deterioration until it meets the porcelain cylinder. This, too, is exactly what we would expect if the artifact is a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. An X ray of the authors’ own disassembled specimen reveals a picture very similar to the original X-ray of the Coso Artifact. As with the original artifact, the central metal shaft of both specimens responds to a magnet.
Proponents of fantastic stories regarding the artifact have made mention of mysterious copper rings that encase the porcelain. But this too can be easily explained. Specimen #1 provided by Chad Windham was completely disassembled, revealing a pair of copper rings sandwiching an asbestos lining (right). According to Windham, this design was necessary because porcelain and steel have vastly differing expansion rates, so the copper was used for compensation purposes.
Specimen #2 was not disassembled by Windham, but also presented a feature that could explain why the artifact had not been identified decades ago. Specimen #2, though suffering from severe tarnish, came with a top nut screwed into its top hat. Almost all Champion spark plug advertisements of the first half of the twentieth century showed pictures of their spark plugs including the top nut already screwed into place. In some cases, the top nut comes in two forms, one of which closely mimics the tip of today’s contemporary spark plugs, which have no threading whatsoever. So it becomes rather easy to understand why the appearance of threads in the Coso Artifact seemed so puzzling to the original investigators.
Spark plug collectors are quite familiar with spark plugs that have been found in unusual places. The Summer 1998 issue of “The Igniter,” published by the Spark Plug Collectors of America, features such an item on page 20. Collector Joe Cook recounted, “Once while scuba diving, a friend of mine made a rare discovery with his underwater metal detector. It looks like a ball of barnacles and shells, but has a spark plug top sticking out of it. Apparently this plug has been under water for quite some time! He asked me if I still collected plugs. I said yes and then he asked me if I ever heard of a ‘King Neptune’ special. I said no and headed for the ‘Master list’ to look it up. When I couldn’t find a ‘King Neptune’ special he began to laugh and handed me the barnacle covered plug and he said ‘bet you don’t have one like this.’ He was right!”
It should be noted that the corrosion of the Coso Artifact almost completely destroyed any of the iron-alloy-based components, with the exception of the metal shaft encased in the porcelain cylinder. The samples received from Chad Windham also revealed corrosion of the iron-based components, but the brass top hats were unscathed, with the exception of some tarnishing. If the Coso Artifact is indeed a 1920s-era Champion spark plug, the X-ray of an almost perfectly preserved top hat is exactly what one would expect. Brass, a copper-zinc alloy is commonly engineered to resist corrosion far better than iron-based alloys. In harsh environments, copper tends to outlast iron, but still succumbs fairly quickly. The rates of decay in the Coso Artifact match the rates of decay one would see in a 1920’s era Champion spark plug. For an excellent review of how ferrous and non-ferrous alloys decay over time, please see “The Elements of Archaeological Conservation” by J.M. Cronyn. This book includes numerous photographs, including X-rays, of contemporary objects that have completely decayed into oxide nodules. Like the Coso Artifact, these examples also feature empty cavities where the original materials once resided. Examples include X-rays of a nodule containing the perfectly preserved shape of a bolt, plating on a padlock (including its internal workings), and a belt buckle.
The formation of the iron oxide nodule likely was hastened by the fact that corrosive “mineral dust” is blown off of the dry lake bed of Lake Owen and onto the surrounding uplands where the artifact was discovered. Salts created by the evaporation of the lake water is regularly blown off of the lake bed by local windstorms. The U.S. Geological Survey has conducted extensive investigations of this phenomena (Source http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/geology/owens/ May 24, 2018).
Finally, as noted earlier, the last known individual in possession of the artifact was Wallace Lane, who was offering it for sale for $25,000. Bill Bond, a spark plug museum curator was asked how much a 1920s-era Champion spark plug would be worth in 1999. His answer was, “A couple o’ bucks. Max.”
Reaction from the Paranormal Community
The authors of this paper asked Dr. Chittick why he felt the Coso Artifact was an object worthy of presentation to the public. Dr. Chittick was specifically asked how he reconciled a previous age estimate of 500,000 years with his young-earth creationist beliefs. On September 29, 1999 Chittick responded:
The article’s speculation that it had taken at least 500,000 years to attain the present form is just that: speculation. Actual petrification of such objects proceeds normally quite rapidly, as is illustrated by several other similar formations. See for instance, the note about the petrified miner’s hat on the back cover of Creation Ex Nihilo (Vol. 17, No. 3) for June-August, 1995. See also an article about another “fossil” spark plug in Creation Ex Nihilo (Vol. 21, No. 4) for September-November, 1999 on page 6.
You asked what I thought about its age. My best guess is that it isprobably early post-Flood. I have not yet been able to obtain sufficient documentation, so I don’t say much publicly. However, there is evidence that they did in fact perhaps have internal combustion engines or even jet engines way back then.
Dr. Chittick’s revelation that he was already aware of “fossil” spark plugs was startling. Dr. Chittick was asked in a follow-up letter about how he can positively date the Coso Artifact to the Great Flood since he was already aware of contemporary spark plugs that appear to be fossilized. In his response on October 23, 1999, he commented:
It has not been my privilege to personally examine the Coso artifact or location and strata where it was found. There are two reasons I considered the artifact significant.
1. It obviously is a man-made item.
2. Those who evaluated the strata said that it appeared to be old, not modern strata. Those two items are the principle basis for my conclusion that it was worth study. Certainly it does merit further study in my judgment. Numerous items like that abound, but I haven’t been able to document them as thoroughly as I would like, and so I don’t say too much about them.
As noted earlier, the alleged strata where the Coso Artifact was found is unknown since all three discoverers had separately searched for geodes all morning before consolidating their collections in a single sack. Even if the exact location was discovered, the artifact was an oxide nodule freely laying on the surface, so the strata where the item was discovered is irrelevant.
Once the investigation revealed beyond a reasonable doubt the true origins of the artifact, Dr. Chittick was informed by Pierre Stromberg via postal mail. Dr. Chittick was warned about the publication of this paper, and was urged to issue a preemptive retraction as well as paste a disclaimer in his book detailing the Coso Artifact story as fallacious. Dr. Chittick never responded. However, following further objections to Chittick’s continued reference to the artifact by others, by 2004 he had removed all references to the artifact from subsequent editions of his book and no longer mentioned it during his lectures. (See time index 9:30 below for his last discussions regarding OOPARTs)
Donald Chittick died on December 4th, 2016.
Ken Clark of Spokane’s Creation Outreach at first expressed interest in the new discoveries. But when he learned that the true identity was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug and was offered detailed proof, he no longer communicated with the authors of this article. However Creation Outreach no longer promotes the artifact as of May 24, 2018.
The 2000 Conclusion and Subsequent Reaction
In 2000, the authors of this investigation concluded:
The Coso Artifact is a remarkable example of how creation “science” fails when the assumptions of its theory are implemented in a real life archaeological situation. Young-earth creationists commonly assume that almost all sedimentary layers were deposited during the Great Flood. Therefore, any items closely associated with such strata must date back to the time of Noah.
Perhaps the most surprising revelation is the stunningly poor research Dr. Chittick conducted regarding the artifact. Several times he referenced creationist articles that should have cast the original claims in extreme doubt. But somehow, he continued to be fascinated by the artifact. Anti-creationists familiar with Dr. Chittick will remember a previous incident with Dr. Chittick. When confronted about his fallacious statements by Jim Lippard regarding Lucy’s knee joint in the mid 1990s, he ignored these warnings and continued to mislead his audiences until confronted in person by Pierre Stromberg at the conclusion of a lecture in Seattle. It is possible that Dr. Chittick could be still promoting the Coso Artifact both in lectures and in his book without acknowledging any of his private conversations with the authors of this article.
The Coso Artifact was indeed a remarkable device. It was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug that likely powered a Ford Model T or Model A engine, modified to possibly serve mining operations in the Coso mountain range of California. To suggest that it was a device belonging to an advanced ancient civilization of the past could be interpreted as true, but is an exaggeration of several thousand years.
After the authors of this investigation released their findings, reaction among OOPARTS promoters was largely accepting of the conclusion. However, Joseph Robert Jochmans, one of the earliest creationists who was involved in the initial promotion of the artifact and allegedly the ghost writer for most of “Secrets of the Lost Races” registered strenuous objections to Stromberg’s and Heinrich’s conclusion.
In 2009, Jochmans wrote an article that appeared in the January 2011 edition of The Bulletin of the Woodland Hills Rock Chippers, Inc. He wrote:
With this revelation, Stromberg and Heinrich triumphantly annnounced they had finally solved once and for all the enigma of the Coso Artifact’s true relatively modern origins, and declared, “Case closed. End of story.”
However, there are still a number of nagging unanswered quesetions and literally “loose ends” about the object that need to be addressed further.
First of all, if the original encased artifact was in fact a sparkplug, no matter what geologic era it may have come from—prehistoric or present—it would have exhibited many very precise similarities to any modern sparkplug simply because of its limiting parallel design function parameters. Case in point is the appearance of the so-called terminal threading in the Coso artifact, which cannot be used to date it to the 1920’s just because this was also part of a Champion sparkplug design from that era.
On all the samples I inspected, the screw-threading terminals appear very small and very obscure and would not have shown up so prominently as they supposedly do on the X-ray pictures.
What this means is that we are back to square one—in the Coso object we are dealing with what may be a sparkplug, but which has parts that do not correspond with any known sparkplug in today’s developmental line of such compo- nents. No where do we find a corresponding spring component featured on any modern plug, no matter what its age.
Perhaps the most curiously unique aspect about the Coso artifact that so far no skeptic has yet addressed head-on is the fact that one of the chief component materials that appeared deep in its interior was a sheath of carved wood that had become petrified over time—a process that takes thousands of years to complete, the wood cells being gradually re- placed by a mineral substitute. The formation of such a metamorphic material would not have been possible from just the 1920’s on.
But the real revelation is this—has anyone ever seen a sparkplug that used wood as one of its main ingredients?
Jochmans continued, claiming that the original geologist who inspected the artifact approached him in 1985 and showed Jochmans his original geological report on the artifact. But the geologist would not allow Jochmans to keep the report or make copies. Jochmans alleged that the geologist died and he was trying to obtain permission from the geologist’s estate to release the report to no avail.
While most accounts of Jochmans asserted his young-earth creationist pedigree, Jochmans did express his doubts about young-earth creationism in an article published in the July/August 2008 issue of Atlantis Rising. (Source: https://atlantisrisingmagazine.com/article/in-the-beginning/ – [Source expired: ed.])
Following a series of strokes in 2013, Joseph Robert Jochmans died on November 14, 2013.
Others in the paranormal community noted that Stromberg and Heinrich were never able to physically inspect the artifact, which was still missing, possibly destroyed. So some contemporary OOPARTs promoters have suggested, the world may never know for certain the true nature of the artifact.
Due to this uncertainty, the Coso Artifact continues to be promoted by some individuals and organizations as an object worthy of attention and capable of upsetting the mainstream consensus of human origins and history. For example, in 2018 ancient astronaut proponent Erich Von Daniken released a book titled Impossible Truths, featuring a slew of discredited OOPART claims including the Paluxy River tracks, the Ica Stones, and the Coso Artifact.
In Impossible Truths, Von Daniken writes,
Nor can they know anything about the geode that was found on 13 February 1961 on the edge of the Amargosa Desert (California) that housed a metal pin in its interior  (Figures 114–115). The existence of the pin in an object that is at least 500,000 years old provides evidence of significant knowledge of metallurgy at that time.
An Unexpected Development
On April 12th, 2018, Pierre Stromberg received a postal letter from the family of one of the original co-discoverers of the Coso Artifact. In the letter, the family acknowledged Stromberg’s conclusions and invited him to meet with them, discuss the original discovery, and physically inspect the artifact. Stromberg accepted the invitation and a location amenable to both parties was negotiated.
On May 16th, 2018, Stromberg traveled to the rendezvous point and met with the family of one of the co-discoverers. The family revealed the artifact, which was intact, and Stromberg inspected it for one hour.
The family revealed to Stromberg that all three co-discoverers had died decades ago, and the family retained ownership of the artifact in the ensuing decades. It was also revealed that the family regard the artifact as a curious and strange family heirloom, but none of them ascribed any fantastic significance to the object. Stromberg was informed that the family regarded the object as an encased spark plug even before the 2000 results were published.
Stromberg inquired as to when the family started to suspect that the artifact was a contemporary spark plug and they revealed that the artifact was inspected by several educational institutions.
One inspection was conducted by geologists at the University of Nevada, Reno in the mid to late 1960s. The family was privately informed that the object was most likely a contemporary spark plug but the geologists could not identify the exact make so there was some uncertainty in their findings. Stromberg requested identification and documentation of the individuals involved in this inspection. The family regretted to inform Stromberg that they had no knowledge of their identities and had no corroborating documentation.
The family also indicated that additional x-rays were taken at either UCLA or USC but could not recall which institution was involved in the photography. The x-rays did not reveal anything that hadn’t been already revealed by Ron Calais’ x-rays and there is no information at all as to who inspected the artifact during this study nor was any documentation saved.
The family did show Stromberg the original x-ray images taken by Ron Calais and Stromberg noted that the x-rays appeared to be the same as those viewed by the public in the ensuing decades.
The family also revealed that the United States Navy showed some interest in studying the artifact, but were informed that if such a study were to be conducted, it would require dissection and other destructive techniques to determine the true nature of the object. Members of the family decided to decline the offer and leave the artifact intact.
Stromberg also discussed the 1977 appearance of the Coso Artifact on “In Search Of…” hosted by Leonard Nimoy. He inquired as to why no actual photographs or video of the artifact appeared in the television segment and was replaced by a poorly contrived facsimile. The family indicated that they had never been contacted by the In Search of crew and noted that they were as surprised as everyone else when the artifact made an appearance on the show.
After the family had answered Stromberg’s questions, they presented the artifact for inspection.
The 2018 Inspection
The Coso Artifact is stored in a small, transparent, cubicle box, held in place by carved green styrofoam.
After the artifact was removed from its case, its mass was determined to be 160 grams. The top half measured 70 grams and the bottom half measured 90 grams.
Unsurprisingly, the length of the artifact with both halves combined matches the length of a 1920s Champion spark plug – three inches.
The artifact’s surface exhibits a reddish-brown color that is typical of other spark plugs that have formed oxide nodules. While it had already been established that any fossils adhering to the surface of the artifact would not provide any significance in dating the encased object, Stromberg did not observe any intact fossil shells on the surface of the artifact. Heinrich also inspected photographs taken of the artifact and did not identify any fossil shells.
In July 2018, a physical inspection of the artifact was conducted by geologist B. Charlotte Schreiber of the University of Washington Earth and Space Science department. Again, no shells or shell impressions were detected on the surface of the artifact.
Stromberg still had in his possession the two 1920s Champion spark plugs that were provided to him by Chad Windham of the Spark Plug Collectors of America in 1999. Stromberg disassembled Plug #1 which has a 7/8″ – 18 thread and placed the large hex nut on the internal hexagonal cavity of the lower half of the artifact. The hex nut fit perfectly in the hexagonal cavity. Until this inspection, there was some uncertainty as to the exact type of plug threading of the artifact. It can now be established that the artifact’s hexagonal cavity corresponds to a 7/8″ – 18 thread.
The copper ring on the lower half was clearly visible, exhibiting the partial decay that reflected Heinrich’s analysis of varying decay rates of different materials in a Champion spark plug.
As noted earlier, Jochmans asserted in his 2009 rebuttal, citing his discussion with the original geologist:
Perhaps the most curiously unique aspect about the Coso artifact that so far no skeptic has yet addressed head-on is the fact that one of the chief component materials that appeared deep in its interior was a sheath of carved wood that had become petrified over time—a process that takes thousands of years to complete, the wood cells being gradually replaced by a mineral substitute. The formation of such a metamorphic material would not have been possible from just the 1920’s on.
A casual inspection of the artifact’s central object can easily lead someone to reach such a conclusion. The central object does not exhibit a clean, brilliant white porcelain color as one would expect from a Champion spark plug. Instead, the central object displays a mild tannish discoloration and granulation lines one would associate with wood based materials.
However, a more careful inspection of the artifact reveals that these granulation lines extend not just through the central object but all the way across the entirety of the face of each half of the artifact. In fact, a direct line can be traced across the oxide nodule, across the porcelain center, and through the other half of the oxide nodule. This is indicative of the diamond saw cut lines that Mike Mikesell inflicted on the object during his initial cut.
Another interesting observation is the diameter of the porcelain center – 3/4″. The diameter of the porcelain center of a 1920s Champion spark plug is not 3/4″ except for a very small portion of the length of the porcelain center – 3/16″. However, the copper rings surrounding the porcelain center along with the 7/8″ – 18 thread nut correspond to the section of a 1920s Champion spark plug where the diameter of the porcelain center is 3/4″. This means that when Mike Mikesell cut the artifact in half using his diamond blade saw, he made the cut at the worst possible diameter for his diamond blade.
Stromberg was keen to identify the allegations that a “nail” and a “washer” was observed on the surface of the artifact. The story of the Coso Artifact has been embellished in some areas over time and Ron Calais’ 2009 rebuttal noted, “The later X-ray images would also reveal that the clay spheroid, near its outer edges, also held two other metal pieces, what looked like a nail and a washer.”
If this was the case, then the “washer” Calais was referring to was in fact the cap portion of the artifact’s “top hat” that helped Windham identify the artifact as a 1920s Champion spark plug.
Jochmans asserted in his 2009 rebuttal:
Over the course of the past several decades, I have had opportunities, while visiting both the Henry Ford Museum near Dearborn, Michigan, and the Harold Warp Museum of Minden, Nebraska—both of which have the world’s most excellent collections of old model automobiles—to talk with those who maintain the collections and keep spare engine parts on hand. Several times they have granted me permission to examine some of the earliest sparkplugs used— including the Champion models in question—and I have found that these do not so easily correspond to the Coso artifact as the skeptics claim. On all the samples I inspected, the screw-threading terminals appear very small and very obscure—and would not have shown up so prominently as they supposedly do on the X-ray pictures
As Stromberg carefully examined the surface of the top half of the artifact, he stumbled upon a startling and unexpected observation. While some of the pebbles on the outside surface were black, the very top of the top half of the artifact revealed a curved black object that appeared very much to be an exposed portion of the spark plug’s “top hat”. Right next to the curved black object was an unusually bright object sticking out of the top of the nodule like a thick nail. Brassy bright.
It was at this very moment that Stromberg realized that the very top portion of the artifact was exposed. And that top portion appeared to be the “top hat” that was identified in 2000.
A closer inspection of the brass “nail” revealed that along its side was a small “spring like” threading, severely blackened. Stromberg obtained Windham’s second specimen that was provided in 2000, unscrewed the top of the spark plug, and held the threading up to the threading observed on the artifact. The threadings and diameter were an exact match.
Once it was established that the “top hat” was visible on the artifact, the reference spark plug provided by the Spark Plug Collectors of America, “Plug #1” was disassembled and the length between the end of the “top hat” and the widest portion of the porcelain cylinder was measured. The length matched the distance on the artifact between the end of its “top hat” and the cut Mike Miksell had performed on the artifact. Thus, another data point verified the artifact’s origin as a 1920s Champion spark plug and verified again that Mike Mikesell had performed his cut across the widest portion of the porcelain cylinder.
The May 16th, 2018 physical inspection of the artifact confirms the verdict reached in 2000. The Coso Artifact is a 1920s Champion spark plug, surrounded by a concretion that has been typically observed with other spark plugs in similar environments.
J.R. Jochmans’ 2009 assertion that the threading on the artifact didn’t match the threading of 1920s Champion spark plugs has been determined to be false.
J.R. Jochmans’ 2009 assertion that the central object was petrified wood has been determined to be false. The central object is porcelain surrounding a metal shaft.
The hexagonal cavity inside the artifact is an exact match for the hexagonal nut typically found on 1920s Champion spark plugs – 7/8″ – 18 thread.
The central object inside of the artifact was not completely enveloped by the oxide nodule. The “top hat” was partially exposed facilitating a thorough comparison with the original x-rays as well as with the reference specimens provided by the Spark Plug Collectors of America.
The so called “nail” and “washer” noted in the original articles have been determined to be the brass “top hat” and central metal shaft of the 1920s Champion spark plug.
Inspection by two professional geologists have determined that no shells are present on the artifact. While the presence or lack of presence of shells on the artifact is a superfluous factor in the artifact’s disposition, this raises further questions as to the competency of the original alleged geologist who inspected the artifact in 1961.
Though the Coso Artifact has been deemed to be an object of more humble origins, the cultural impact of the artifact cannot be denied. It is a hallmark of the young-earth creationist, ancient astronaut, and pseudoarchaeological communities. It played a significant role in the birth and popularization of the OOPARTs movement of the latter half of the 20th century which even now continues to enjoy considerable attention.
The artifact remains in the posession of the descendants of one of the co-discoverers. As of this writing, the family has chosen to remain anonymous. However, they have indicated a willingness to consider displaying the artifact in a museum or similar publicly accessible and responsible cultural institution, on loan.
The 2018 Gallery
All photographs contained in this gallery are copyrighted material. All photographs linked by this page pertaining to the 2018 physical inspection of the artifact are copyrighted material. Inquiries regarding reproduction of these photographs should be directed to Pierre Stromberg.
#1: The Coso Artifact is stored in a small, transparent, cubicle box, held in place by carved green styrofoam.
#2: A modern day photograph of the two halves. Compare with figure 1.
#3: A photo of the bottom half.
#4: Another photo of the bottom half.
#5: Another angle of the bottom half.
#6: The bottom half was photographed from all angles.
#7: Final photo of the bottom half from the outside.
#8: The top half of the artifact. Note the appearance of the top portion of the “top hat”.
#9: This perspective gives a better view of the “top hat” and the alleged “washer”.
#10: Note how brass tarnishes black in the presence of water and mineral salt environments.
#11: Threading on the “top hat” can been seen in this photograph.
#12: Same angle of the “top hat” with different lighting.
#13: The other side of the upper half of the artifact.
#14: Note the presence of copper rings.
#15: Two distinct layers of the concretion can be seen.
#16: Inside the upper half.
#17: Again two distinct layers of the concretion are seen.
#18: Comparison with a disassembled 1920s Champion spark plug.
#:19 The 7/8″ – 18 thread fit perfectly in the hexagonal cavity.
This paper would not have been possible without the gracious help from the following individuals:
Chad Windham, Bill Bond, Mike Healy, B. Charlotte Schreiber, Jeff Bartheld, Arnie Voigt, Dr. David Q. King, Ken Atkins, Gary L. Bennett, Dr. Alan Bowes, Linda Safarli, Casey Doyle, Paul Cook, Ross Langerak, and the family of the co-discoverer who made the artifact available for examination.
Willis, Ronald J. 1969 (Spring). The Coso Artifact. The INFO Journal 1(4): 4-13.
Cook, Joe. 1998 (Summer). Where Did You Get That? The Igniter 23(3): 20.
Steiger, Brad. 1974. Mysteries of Time and Space. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey.
Anonymous. 1998 (March-May). Bell-ieve It: Rapid rock formation rings true. Creation 20(2): 6.
Anonymous. 1991 (December-February). Fossil pliers show rock doesn’t need millions of years to form! Creation 14(1): 20
Anonymous. 1998 (June-August). Fascinating Fossil Fence-Wire. Creation 20(3)
Noorbergen, Rene. 1977. Secrets of the Lost Races. Bobs-Merrill Company.
Steiger, Brad. 1979 (March 4). Were Ancient Scientists Really Tuned to Today? Parade. 9-10
Cronyn, J. M. 1990. The Elements of Archaeological Conservation. Routledge, London.
Anonymous. 1999 (September-November). Sparking interest in rapid rocks. A ‘spark-plug fossil’ has lessons for long-agers. Creation 21(4). 6.
Chittick, Donald E. 1997. The Puzzle of Ancient Man. Precision Graphics, Oregon.
Carl Baugh’s dissertation mentions the Coso Artifact
Federal Mogul – the current parent company of Champion Spark Plugs
Paul Heinrich’s home page (Wayback Machine, 7 Nov 2011)
Smithsonian’s article regarding the Coso Artifact
Message to Eagle’s speculation about the Coso Artifact
Book Facts features another spark plug encased in a concretion
Futurism’s take on the Coso Artifact
UFOholic discusses the mystery
Cool Interesting Stuff keeps the mystery going
UFO Alien Database promotes extraordinary solutions to the artifact
The Event Chronicle notes the artifact as a continuing mystery
Salon Magazine mentions the Coso Artifact
Brian Wood, International Director, MICAP and his reporting of the Coso Artifact
The Spark Plug Collectors of America
“The Most Authentic Unexplained Ancient Artifacts”
“These Amazing Artifacts Could Rewrite History As We Know it!”
“Most compelling is the Coso Artifact”
Jason Colavito’s review of Impossible Truths by Erich Von Daniken
Joseph Robert Jochman’s reference to the Coso Artifact in “Strange Relics from the Depths of the Earth”
Joseph Robert Jochman’s article about the flaws of young-earth creationism
https://atlantisrisingmagazine.com/article/in-the-beginning/ [Source expired: ed.])
Jonathan Gray’s book, “Dead Men’s Secrets: Tantalising Hints of a Lost Super Race”
About the Authors
Pierre Stromberg was involved in the organized skeptic community during the 1990s in Washington State when he created the “Pacific Northwest Skeptics” group. His participation included the intelligent design battle in Burlington involving Roger DeHart, the Coso Artifact investigation, setting the record straight on Lucy’s knee joint, and examination of Bob Larson’s exorcism seminars.
Paul V. Heinrich is a geologist and Research Associate at Louisiana State University. He has a B.S. (Louisiana State Univ.) and M.S. (Univ. of Illinois) in geology and over 31 years experience as a geologist. His work experience includes years of research in Quaternary geology, geologic mapping, and geoarchaeology. He is a registered professional geologist in Tennessee (#1373), Arkansas (#1710), and Louisiana (#86). He has been interested in the “Wildside of Geoarchaeology” since watching the “Mysterious Origins of Man” in 1996.
(An earlier version of this article, co-authored by Pierre Stromberg and Paul Heinrich [copyright 2000], was previously published on Hall of Ma’at.)