The mysterious Medusa statue
“And those who see your face, may they instantly solidify into stone.”
– Athena to Medusa, Greek mythology
It was the morning of May 5 1905 when a letter from Anna von Blom, a Dutch scholar of Grecian culture and archaeologist, caused incredulous agitation in the Adventure Club of Europe (ACE).
Honourable ladies and gentlemen,
I now believe I have found what my companions and I have been seeking for years. Definitive proof of the existence of the most famous of all the Gorgons, the Medusa. Solidified into stone, her face turned into a hideous grimace, it was with much shock that this morning we happened upon the ghostly statue.
With the help of the locals the figure was recovered from a buried temple near Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. The weight was unimaginable, the stone of the most flawless countenance. Holding her hands still in front of her face, she closely matches the descriptions made by Hesios and Aeschylus. I tell you this now – inside this statue there is a human being, solidified into stone by the sight of the Medusa.
It fills me with joy to finally be able to share this important discovery with you.
Even before Anna von Blom returned to Europe, a hot debate developed around her astounding discovery. While the newspapers refused to print the incredible archaeologist’s claim, supporters were quickly found within the Adventure Club of Europe who wanted to enable Anna von Blom to make contact with German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. He was the one who only a few years before discovered the so-called x-ray, with which it was possible to screen the inside of solid objects from the outside. This would ensure the innermost part of the statue was not visible to the naked eye. Röntgen, who four years previously was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics, initially refused to comply with this dubious request, deciding it was better to refute Blom’s claim publicly with the help of his x-ray apparatus rather than support it.
When Anna von Blom finally reached the x-ray laboratory in July 1905 the tension was overwhelming. Members of the ACE, along with selected archaeologists, eagerly awaited the result, which W. C. Röntgen initially – according to witnesses – reluctantly showed.
Walter Altmann, a former member of the ACE, describes the first moment after seeing the radiograph as ‘truly breathtaking’.
No one said anything. Many of us even forgot to take a breath”,
his diary reads.
A skeletal contour was evident in the picture. Even the shadows of the different organs could be seen.”
Finally, Anna von Blom herself broke the silence saying simply,
‘I told you’.
Now that even a renowned physicist had given Anna von Blom’s theory weight, the headlines in the press started to roll out. In summer of 1905, the ‘Medusa Statue’, which had an estimated age of around 2700 years, was the topic of every discussion throughout Europe and America.
The majority of the scientists, however, believed that, similar to the plaster models of the Pompeii dead, it was the victim of a volcanic eruption whose bones and intestines were buried and preserved under a layer of ash. Later, it was thought in these circles, a second volcanic eruption probably filled the human cavity under the ashes with liquid basalt.
Anna von Blom, convinced that a large part of the Greek mythology was based on actual human history, vehemently contradicted her critics. It was no coincidence that the statue had been found in the Atlas Mountains – the mountain itself, according to myth, had been created by the fossilization of the Titan Atlas. For volcanic effusion rock, it seemed to von Blom, the surface of the statue was much too fine and the density too massive.
After her death in 1931, Anna von Blom bequeathed the statue to the Adventure Club of Europe. Meanwhile, researchers have confirmed that at the time of the creation of the statue no earthquake took place in the vicinity of the Atlas Mountains.
In the possession of the Adventure Club of Europe:
- X-ray images of the statue
- Photos of the meeting between Anna von Blom and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen