I want to write a story in which colonists on Mars form a religion around their belief that the so-called "Face" of Cydonia is artificial - and they're right. However, the establishment maintains the narrative that it's a natural formation. A handful of scientific outliers reject the religionists' position but nonetheless argue tentatively that it's undeterminable.

What sorts of geological or weathering features would prevent scientists from determining that an artificial construct is, in fact, artificial?

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    $\begingroup$ Is the geology itself artificial, or is there (e.g.) a metallic face under the geology? That would be a lot easier to fit into your narrative as the geology could then simply be worn such that the experts laugh and say, "it's just rocks, fellas." On the other hand, if you want artificially created geology (in the way Mt. Rushmore is artificial geology), this gets a LOT harder. So... what, specifically, is artificial? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 9 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ How long ago was the face made? There isn't much weather on Mars and therefore not much weathering, so if it was made sometime in the near past (say, the last few hundred thousand years) it would be pretty much as it was left, but if it was many millions of years old that would be different. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented May 9 at 2:55
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    $\begingroup$ The question is not answerable unless it is edited to include the arguments of those who maintain that a rock structure which looks very much like any other natural rock structure is in fact artificial. So, what are the artificial-ish characteristics of the rock structure which the proponents of its artificialness have latched on? As asked, the question is backwards. Here on Earth, artificial constructions are very obviously artificial -- they are made of unnatural materials, or they are made of natural materials which are obviously out of place, or they show marks of intentional work etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 9 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, forget that it's Mars. Imagine it as an equivalent "face" construct, carved from a rocky protrusion, that subsequently gets weathered and/or otherwise damaged. (**I only specified Mars because in my story there's a whole backdrop of info that results in this situation. I wasn't going to dive into that in order to ask my question. So, for my storytelling purposes, it doesn't actually /need/ to be Mars.) $\endgroup$
    – ajderxsen
    Commented May 9 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ You can consider real-life examples that might fit your description; the Bosnian pyramid and Gunung Padang in Indonesia. $\endgroup$
    – MastaBaba
    Commented May 9 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


An artificial construct could be either built up, like the pyramids in Egypt, or it could be cut from the rock.

If it is the former, disguise will be all but impossible. Consider Stonehenge, nobody would seriously claim that the stones were deposited that way by the random forces of nature. They were clearly collected and arranged by people.

But if it is the latter, the evidence of artificial construction would be in remaining tool marks and shapes. All the rock is perfectly natural, it is the gaps in the rock which are artificial.

  • Imagine that, as originally built, the Face had almost impossible levels of symmetry. Both eyes were the same size, to the centimetre. Teeth were evenly spaced.
  • Along the lower rim, holes were drilled to anchor the scaffolding. These holes were later filled up, and they were the same diameter, up to the millimetre.
  • Next, imagine that millions of years of sand storms have scoured the face. Not very strong, given the atmosphere of Mars, but persistent. They removed the outermost layer of the face, and they did so unevenly. The scaffolding holes were buried under drifting sand.

So measurements which used to be remarkable fits ("the iris of the left eye is a perfect circle, +/- 3 mm") have become less clear ("there is an indentation which is approximately circular, except for the south-east edge where it is entirely abraded away"). Believers would claim that after making allowances for these abrasions, the face cannot be natural. Sceptics would claim that the believers are selectively allowing and disallowing abrasions to make the data fit their preconceptions.

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    $\begingroup$ "Consider Stonehenge, nobody would seriously claim that the stones were deposited that way by the random forces of nature. They were clearly collected and arranged by people." Fair enough, but it's not a particularly far leap to go from that to "consider the balancing rock formations in the US Southwestern Desert. Nobody would seriously claim that those were stacked up there so precisely by random forces of nature." And yet that's exactly what geologists, and our own intuition, do tell us. So what makes the desert rock formations clearly natural and Stonehenge clearly artificial? $\endgroup$ Commented May 9 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler, in addition to the fitting of the stones it is the complexity of the pattern. The mortise and tenon joins at Stonehenge are hard to swallow as natural. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented May 9 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ Just to enrich this answer with an example that seems artificial but in fact isn't (in order to prove how these things can be undetermined either way): Giant's Causeway. Seriously, look at it. It's very easy to believe that such straight lines must be artificial and for all these columns to fit so snugly. It hardly looks organic. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented May 10 at 6:20

Consider similar phenomena on Earth. On the one hand we have Mount Rushmore, https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm, which we know is an artificial construct, deliberately carved by human beings to look like a set of human faces. On the other hand we have the Old Man of the Mountain in Pennsylvania, https://oldmannh.org/, which is (I presume) a natural outcropping of rock which just coincidentally looks like a human face.

How could you tell them apart? And how could you prove that one is artificial and the other natural? You could say, "Well that's just obvious", but "seems obvious to me" isn't objective evidence. And if someone says, "The opposite seems obvious to me. Mount Rushmore just obviously looks like a natural result of wind and weathering", how would you prove him wrong?

Suppose that a hundred years or however long from now someone said that Mt Rushmore was a natural phenomenon. Suppose at that time there is no longer any surviving film of people carving the mountain. Or if there is, they discount it as forgeries made many years later to explain a mysterious phenomenon. How would you prove it?

We have a similar debate with creation/evolution arguments. Creationists say, This thing is clearly the result of deliberate design by an intelligent being. Evolutionists reply, No, it is really just a chance product of natural phenomenon. You are just imposing a pattern on random events.

Perhaps you could find traces of tool marks on Mount Rushmore. But the "naturalist" could reply, Those are also just the product of random erosion. You are seeing randomness and imposing a pattern on it. Any evidence you produced, someone could say is just random erosion. Perhaps they could come up with explanations for why random erosion would give the appearance of deliberate design. And likewise, any evidence you gave that the Old Man of the Mountain is just natural erosion, the "artificialist" could always say, Maybe the builders deliberately put in that randomness to make it look natural. And besides, we don't deny that there has been erosion over the hundreds or thousands of years since it was made. You're just identifying the erosion that is overlaid on top of the artificial construct.

So my conclusion is, it would be very difficult to prove one way or another, in a way that would convince the "true believers" of the other side.

A sad reality of life is that most people, even scientists, don't really follow the evidence wherever it leads. They come to their conclusion first, based on what they want to believe, and then look for evidence to justify it.

If I was writing such a story, I would include scenes of people presenting evidence one way and the true believers on the other side explaining it away, and then vice versa. Especially if I wanted to make the origin of the object a mystery that is not resolved until late in the story.


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