2020, it's fair to say, was an odd year. With a pandemic moving across the world and all the life changes that involved, it's easy to forget smaller stories, like that weird point where monoliths started popping up around the world like Starbucks. So, did we ever get a satisfactory explanation? What was up with the monoliths?
To recap, while workers from the Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau were conducting a helicopter count of bighorn sheep in remote Red Rock County, Utah in November 2020 they discovered a large metal monolith of unknown origin.
People immediately noted the similarities between this object and the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, planted by an unknown alien species in order to shift human evolution forward a notch.
The purpose of the monolith was unclear. Whether by alien or human (and, of course, it is human) hand, leaving a big hunk of metal in the desert is at best ambiguous communication. The mystery got complicated by two problems: several more monoliths showed up, while the original Utah monolith vanished.
The other monoliths, which showed up in Romania, California, and Turkey, were found so soon after the first that they can be dismissed as copycats. Turkey's monolith, for example, turned out to be part of an announcement of its new space program.
But what of the original? After it vanished, a witness said they saw a group of people remove it, telling each other to "leave no trace" and onlookers "this is why you don’t leave trash in the desert", according to the New York Times. Later, a video showed a team dismantling the monument, showing what was inside.
The monolith was eventually returned to the Bureau of Land Management, which still has it now pending an "investigation". However, from the video, you can see that the monolith could clearly be made by humans. Anybody still hoping it is aliens would have to explain why they came all that distance with technology we can barely even imagine, then created a monolith using tools you can find at Walmart.
Prior to its disappearance, Redditors who visited the monolith noted that it "is made of 1/8th sheet steel that is riveted on the seams," adding "there is an amount of insulation inside dampening when you strike it. There is epoxy along the base."
Looking at historic Google Maps images, Internet sleuths were able to find that it was placed in Utah between August 2015 and October 2016. As for who put it there, several artists have been suggested, and several have denied involvement.
One Twitter user believed they had solved the mystery, with some fairly compelling evidence to back it up.
They shared a screenshot of the Instagram page of photographer Eliot Lee Hazel. The "builder" of the monoliths tagged in the Instagram photos, the tweeter claims, lives in Utah relatively near where the new monolith was found. He and the agency the photographer worked with appear to have deleted posts showcasing similar artworks, though this of course could be an unrelated social media clear-up.
Lee Hazel has since denied being behind the monoliths, suggesting another local artist and monolith maker, Derek DeSpain, may have been involved.
In summary, we may never know who exactly placed the monoliths, but we can hedge our bets and say it was an art project, or perhaps a prop from a film, left behind carelessly and prompting a strange craze in an even stranger year.