Saltzburg cube at the Heimathaus Museum.
The Saltzburg Cube (sometimes referred to as the Wolfsegg Iron
after the quarry in which it was found) is an archeological oddity.
The story starts in 1855 when a workman named Reidl at the Braun
Iron Foundry in Schondorf, Austria, broke open a large block of
lignite coal (otherwise known as "Brown Coal") which was destined
for the factory's furnace. He was surprised to find embedded in
the coal an artificial-looking object.
The term cube is somewhat misleading. People
often picture the object as a square box with flat edges that
looks like it came out of a machine. It doesn't look like this
at all. The object, which is about 2 ½ inches (67mm) wide and
high and 2 inches (47mm) thick is not a rectangular box. It is
rounded with a surface of bumps and pits. Around the edge of its
smallest dimension runs an indentation, or groove, which is the
object's most notable feature.
Even though it is not a cube, the object does look
like it might have been artificially made and if so, it presents
a conundrum. The chunk of coal it was taken from came from a seam
of Tertiary lignite from a quarry at Wolfsegg am Hausruck, Austria,
that was laid more than 60 million years ago when the dinosaurs
ruled the earth. The coal started as peat (decaying plant matter
that was buried and compressed by geologic forces eventually turning
it into rock). How in the world would a man-made object wind up
buried in stone many millions of years before the rise of modern
Reidl turned the object over to Isidor Braun, the
foundry's owner. Braun's son then took the artifact to the Heimathaus
Museum in Vöcklabruck to have an expert examine it. The next year,
mining engineer Adolf Gurlt, a professor of geology at the University
of Bonn, took a close look at it. He noted that it was coated
with a thin layer of rust, was made of iron, and had a specific
gravity of 7.75. Finally, he pronounced it a meteorite.
But what was a meteorite from space doing in a chunk
of coal? Researchers at this point found this so strange that
articles about the object appeared in Nature, a British
scientific magazine, in November, 1886, and the next year in L'Astronomie,
a French astronomy journal.
example of lignite "brown coal" from a mine in
Bulgaria. (Courtesy Edal CC BY-SA 3.0)
Gurlt's conclusion that the object was a meteorite
was unchallenged for many years until 1966 when the Vienna Naturhistorisches
Museum used electron beam microanalysis to figure out exactly
what the object was made of. The analysis showed most of the "cube"
was iron. This does make sense with the extraterrestrial origin
theory as about 5% of all meteorites are made of iron. However,
those iron meteorites always come with other substances mixed
in: usually traces of nickel, chromium or cobalt. The lack of
these in the Saltzburg Cube make it seem unlikely that it came
of Place Artifact?
So where did it come from? Many people have suggested
that this chunk of iron is an out-of-place artifact (OOPArt) perhaps
left by ancient astronauts from a different planet when they visited
earth millions of years ago. However, it is likely there is a
more pedestrian explanation.
When the cube was examined at the Vienna Naturhistorisches
Museum, two of the scientists analyzing, Dr. Gero Kurat of the
museum and Dr. Rudolf Grill of the Federal Geological Office in
Vienna, suggested it was simply a piece of cast iron. In a later
examination in 1973 by Hubert Mattlianer, it was concluded that
the cube had been cast using the cire perdue (lost wax)
After his examination of the object Grill also observed
that such chunks of metal were often used as ballast for early
Is it possible that somehow during an early mining
effort that a peice of the machine's ballast became wedged in
a seam of coal? Without the chunk of coal it came out of (which
was not preserved), we only have Reidl's word that the object
was found fully contained in the rock. Suppose he was lying, or
perhaps more likely, he was simply mistaken?
If he was, then the mystery just seems to evaporate.
Where is the Saltzburg Cube today? Despite rumors
to the contrary suggesting it disappeared, it still resides at
the Heimathaus Museum in Vöcklabruck, Austria. It is a little
smaller than when it was first found because researchers have
taken some pieces out of it, but it is still with us.
Perhaps the Saltzburg Cube mystery is not really
a mystery at all.
Copyright Lee Krystek
2016. All Rights Reserved.