Whatever Happened to Those Monoliths?

Soldiers stand guard near a monolith, triangular in shape and metallic in composition, that appeared at the ancient site of Göbekli Tepe, thought to be the world’s oldest temple, in Sanliurfa, Turkey. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In November of last year, a shining triangular prism was spotted in a remote part of the Utah desert. The mystery of the whole thing, its eerie and extraterrestrial qualities, enchanted internet users around the world. It was given the moniker “the monolith” because it was reminiscent of similar structures in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and soon other monoliths started appearing everywhere. For many people, who I imagine are happier than me, it was incredibly inspiring — there have been dozens and dozens and dozens of copycats, from California to Morocco to Finland. Per Wikipedia, there have been 11 monoliths “discovered” in Germany alone and more than 30 in the U.S.

I, like Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones, felt irritated by the whole thing. I suspected that the monolith was at best a Banksy, or at worst some marketing ploy for a new Netflix show. (Later, a Utah artist claimed to be behind for its erection and its dismantling, but maybe we should take that with a grain of salt, since he apparently has a history of lying to the authorities.)

So when I saw the news that a monolith had been discovered in Turkey, close to Göbekli Tepe, a UNESCO World Heritage site, my first thought was, Oh brother, not this again. What differentiates the Turkish monolith from its brethren is that it has an inscription that says, “Look at the sky, see the moon” in Turkish. Also, it’s being guarded by the military police.

Even though it has a little more flair, I hope we can accept the Turkish monolith as a normal part of life in 2021. It is not a mystery — even though we don’t know who exactly put it there, we know human beings did it, and we know that they were undoubtedly inspired by the 100-plus other monoliths around the world. Maybe they did it because they just fancy themselves artists. Maybe they did it because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and life has become very boring, or maybe life was always boring in rural Turkey. But sometime around monolith No. 100, monoliths themselves became boring too. So if you’re looking to anonymously erect a sculpture, and you want it to have an aura of mystery, you should know that there are other shapes — a cone, a cube, even a cylinder — that are less played out.

Whatever Happened to Those Monoliths?