• Reading Level 5

The monoliths from outer space (or maybe not)

Do we Earthlings NEED to believe in aliens? The appearance of strange monoliths in the Utah desert and Romania has fuelled speculation that creatures from another world want to make contact. In prehistoric Africa, a tribe of apes wakes to an extraordinary sight. A tall, perfectly carved monolith has mysteriously appeared among them. The apes can make nothing of it – but shortly afterwards one of them picks up a bone and realises that he can use it as a weapon. The monolith seems to have triggered a crucial step in the development of mankind. Many thousands of years later, a group of American scientists visits a colony on the Moon with which contact has been lost. There, they discover an identical monolith. As light from the sun strikes it, it emits an eerie high-powered radio signal. These are scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s classic science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on a short story by Arthur C Clarke, The Sentinel, it was released in 1968. Now, over half a century later, echoes of it have started appearing in different parts of the Earth. Two weeks ago, a team of biologists counting bighorn sheep by helicopter in the Utah desert spotted a gleaming monolith in a remote canyon. Made of metal and measuring over 12ft high, it had been carefully embedded in the ground. How it had got there was a mystery. “It’s odd,” said a spokesman for Utah’s Department of Public Safety. “There are roads close by, but to haul the materials to cut into the rock, and haul the metal… To do all that in that remote spot is definitely interesting.” He added that the monolith could have been there for 70 or 80 years – and that leaving it in the desert without permission was illegal, “no matter what planet you’re from”. One theory was that it was a land art installation – possibly by John McCracken, a minimalist artist with an interest in science fiction who died in 2011. Others suggested that it was a left-over movie prop: Red Rock Country, as it is known, has been a location for the Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies. But McCracken’s gallery and the Utah Film Commission dismissed both ideas. So, had it been left by aliens? Those who believed it had were encouraged by the helicopter pilot’s description of it as “about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all the years of flying”. Then, on Friday night, there was a new development: a visiting photographer, Ross Bernards, saw four men arrive as if from nowhere and lever the monolith out of the ground. As it fell, it broke into pieces, which they carried away in a wheelbarrow. One of them was heard to say: “Leave no trace.” Disappointingly, Bernards’s photos showed that the monolith was partly made of plywood. But this has not stopped speculation that it was removed by government agents to conceal evidence of alien activity. The story does not end there. Yesterday brought reports that a similar monolith, triangular in shape and covered in a looping scrawl, had been found on a hill in Romania. Whether it was the work of a copycat artist or something more mysterious has yet to be established. Do Earthlings need to believe in aliens? Space oddity Some say, yes: life would be very dull if we only thought about the physical world we inhabit. We have imaginations that need to be fed, which is why story-telling is such an essential part of human culture. And once we have imagined things, they can become reality: many works of science-fiction by writers such as Arthur C Clark have proved prophetic. Others argue that the world is such an extraordinary place that there is no need to look beyond it. You only have to watch one of David Attenborough’s wildlife films to realise that miraculous things happen right under our noses. Buddhists teach that wisdom comes through acceptance – experiencing life as it is rather than trying to shape or embellish it. KeywordsStanley Kubrick - An American film director, producer, screenwriter and photographer. Widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Kubrick's movies include The Killing, Spartacus, Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register