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Pareidolia

Pareidolia is a phenomenon where we think we recognize things in arbitrary, vague shapes. Known examples include the recognition of faces on animals in clouds, or peaople who think they see a person in a shadow in a dark forest. These are failures of the brains, which are continuously looking for recognition of knwn shapes in what is observed. Pareidolia can be a very strong influence on human perception, so that the effect can be very convincing to a person.

Pareidolia is not an unknown phenomenon in paleontology. Often irregular shaped stones are mistaken for fossils. Especially flint, which can have striking shapes, can lead to this kind of mistakes.


Not a fossil turtle, but the result of cracks an irregularities in the rock. Found at Mill, The Netherlands. Photo: Herman Zevenberg.


Not a fossil alien, but discolouration of a piece of flint. Found at Escalles, France. Photo: Herman Zevenberg.


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