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Utah monolith disappears but mystery remains as copy pops up in Romania

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A man next to the spot that held the world-famous Utah monolith, now removed. (Photo: Canyon State Overland)

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Utah received worldwide attention for the mysterious monolith that seemed to appear out of nowhere and then less than a week after being in the spotlight, vanished into the night.

While the mystery of the Utah object and its disappearance remain, a similarly mysterious object has appeared in northern Romania, though in a much less remote location and with noticeable visual differences from the one erected south of Moab in the wilderness. While roughly the same height, the Romanian three-sided metallic object is decorated with rows of swirling patterns and is said to be two feet taller than its American companion piece.

It also shows signs around its base of recent digging while the Utah piece was more seamless in its installation into red rock.

First spotted on Nov. 18, Utah's Department of Wildlife Resources noticed the shiny object from the air, and after telling of the unusual finding on social media, along with photos, it became worldwide news. Seemingly every news outlet covered it, starting locally, and expanding to major news TV networks, to newspapers coast to coast and then on to international news.

The new object is in northern Romania, at a town called Piatra Neamt, only meters away from an ancient fortress reportedly built approximately 2,000 years ago, according to The Daily Mail. Unlike the Utah monument, it wasn't hidden in a remote location for years and just popped up before the weekend. Many have compared the steel, triangular object to that seen in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," a 1968 Stanley Kubrick movie co-written with Arthur C. Clarke.

The film was based on a Clarke short story titled "The Sentinel." And while the Utah and Romanian monuments draw comparisons to an object in the film that transitions from violent monkeys on earth to flying in space, there are some distinct differences.

Those wishing to be technically accurate might note that the name "monolith" refers a one-piece rock and the Utah object is visibly bolted together and is made of three pieces, so it is neither one piece — mono — nor a rock — lith. But the name is here to stay, no matter what the origins of the word. The solid free-standing rock, hinted to be the birth of violence and sapiens among primates in the film, is a true single, seamless rock object.

The Daily Mail describes the Romanian location as near "one of the most famous mountains in Romania, and is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the country," a significant contrast from Utah's remote structure. Like the Utah location, the installation of the monument wasn't officially approved. Both objects have been compared to works by American artist John McCracken who died in 2011. He was known for creating freestanding objects.

News of the original monolith also spread on traditional news and to crowd-sourced news sites like Reddit, where sub categories of the massive information website were dedicated to finding the monument reddit.com/r/FindTheMonolith/ and celebrating it reddit.com/r/UtahMonolith/. And while not easy to find, it wasn't that difficult either. Those reddit groups located it in 45 minutes and confirmed it with Google Earth and Google Maps.

The Google Earth app allows a look at old images of the area and while the Utah object wasn't present in 2015, it was in 2016, meaning that before it exploded as a fun distraction in 2020, it had been in the remote canyon for a few years. It was removed, reportedly Friday, and it isn't known if it was taken by those who placed it or if somebody else removed it. KUTV spoke to hikers who believed they were among the first to see it missing and said they may have seen it leave the area on a flat-bed truck.

The metal object also was popping up in video and in photos on Instagram and other platforms.

According to the Daily Mail a spokesman for McCracken's works said it did not belong to the artist but they later said he believes it is "definitely by John."

This is disappointing to those who wanted to believe the objects came from space, but the details, like rivets, of the objects give them strong impressions that they are of terrestrial, contemporary, human origin.

The Bureau of Land Management said it was not responsible for the removal of Utah's metal structure and said, "Over the course of Thanksgiving week, a relatively large number of people visited the site, which has not been developed for heavy visitation."

“We recognize the incredible interest the ‘monolith’ has generated world-wide. Many people have been enjoying the mystery and view it as a welcome distraction from the 2020 news cycle,” BLM field manager Amber Denton Johnson said. "Even so, it was installed without authorization on public lands and the site is in a remote area without services for the large number of people who now want to see it. Whenever you visit public lands please follow Leave No Trace principles and Federal and local laws and guidance.”

BLM said visitors have not been kind to the area and left behind human waste and parked on vegetation. It also said there are a number of remarkable developed places to visit, though none of them have a mysterious object.