Everybody loves that Steven Spielberg movie when a cute, child-friendly ET phones home.
That movie, of course, is pure fiction, but so are news reports claiming that an 800-year-old cellphone, used by extraterrestrials, has been found in Austria.
Images of that curiously shaped object are indeed remarkable. Nevertheless, even if they were genuine, they do raise an interesting point: Why would spacelings, advanced enough for interplanetary travel, not use iPhones or Androids or something even more advanced.
Instead, these ETs would "phone home" with something that looks exactly like an outdated Nokia -- the sort that were popular more than a decade ago.
The truth behind this intergalactic controversy: German sculptor Karl Weingärtner created these clay objects in 2012, with lettering designed to look like they were from ancient Sumeria.
Weingärtner, who was selling the items online, posted a photo of his sculpture on Facebook where someone called it "BabyloNokia." He has no idea why some websites got the story so wrong. And he's angry about it.
"The photo was used without my knowledge and without my consent,” he told HuffPost. “It's not what I wanted. I do not believe in UFOs and I do not believe in aliens."
The story first appeared Dec. 21 on the Conspiracy Club website under the headline "800-Year-Old Mobile Phone Found In Austria? Check This Out."
"The strange and wonderful mobile phone was found in Austria. This strange thing was discovered in an excavation in Austria," the story claims. "It has many similarities with the wireless devices today [sic]."
The Express website used Weingärtner's photo without attribution and followed the initial report with more detail:
"The tablet was dated to around the 13th century BCE. By that time, the Sumerian writing style -- usually known as cuneiform -- had already been around for a few thousand years."
The Express also cites the Paranormal Crucible YouTube channel, which asks, "Is it evidence of an advanced civilization or time travel?”
In none of the reports do the writers identify who supposedly found what would be, if verified, perhaps the most extraordinary archeological discovery ever.
Two days after Conspiracy Club posted its story, MysteriousUniverse.org posted a piece suggesting the clay cellphone supports Sumerian scholar Zecharia Sitchin's controversial theory that extraterrestrials created modern-day humans through genetic engineering.
"The tablet looks surprisingly like a modern phone, with the 12 keys, a display and a ‘talk’ button. Could these extraterrestrials have tried to introduce the Sumerians to a phone-like communications device, only to find they weren’t ready for it and dialed them back to a stylus and clay tablets?"
The author of that piece, Paul Seaburn, told HuffPost he saw the Conspiracy Club article but didn't link to it.
Seaburn said he thought it was strange that the article didn't name the researchers or link to a source. He also wondered how the 800-year timeline was determined.
"I think I did the best I could under the circumstances while still trying to get the story up in a timely manner," he said.
Since then, the alien theory has been bandied about in various blogs as well as the Daily Mail, which describes the cellphone story as "absurd."
Snopes.com connected the dots between Weingärtner and his cellphone last week, declaring, "There are several indications that this post was simply a joke."
When HuffPost showed the Snopes piece to Seaburn, he conceded it was a more likely explanation than any alien theory.
However, Seaburn has not updated his own story.
"Someone posted the Snopes article on the comments. I think that's enough," he said. "Hey, we work in weird news. We're not Bob Woodward."