A seven-foot face has been re-discovered among rocks on a remote island in British Columbia. First noticed—and then lost—by a kayaker, a Native American man who spent several years searching for it has recently located it.
According to a story on CTV News, “Hank Gus of the Tseshaht First Nation had heard about the ‘face in the rocks’ years ago. A Washington State kayaker stumbled upon the face back in 2008 while paddling past Reeks Island in the Broken Group Islands. Gus had been searching for the carving for two years. Then, just a few weeks ago, he finally found the hidden treasure and took a cell phone video of the seven-foot-tall face carved into a cliff.”
Whether the face was carved or not is unknown—there are no early records of it, and the area is difficult to access. It’s certainly possible that early First Nations groups created it, but it’s just as likely to be natural.
There are psychological reasons why people see faces where they don’t exist: It’s a phenomenon called pareidolia, in which the brain sees faces in ambiguous stimuli such as clouds, coffee stains, and rocks. The human brain is hard-wired to recognize faces; in fact faces are the first things that babies learn to recognize, and parts of the brain are specialized for finding and recognizing faces (there’s even a specific type of cognitive disorder called prosopagnosia in which patients cannot recognize faces).
Faces are critically important from an evolutionary point of view and in our everyday communication—we make eye contact, look at facial expressions, and so on; an enormous amount of information about other people comes from their faces in the form of nonverbal cues about intent and emotion. Since we spend so much of our lives looking at faces, it’s not surprising we see them even when they aren’t there.
Regardless of the origin of the British Columbia rock face—whether the product of a skilled (and agile) sculptor or the human tendency toward pareidolia—the rock joins several others. The New Hampshire State Quarter depicts one of the best-known (and completely natural) rock formations in the world: the “Old Man of the Mountain” series of cliff ledges in the White Mountains of that state. First noted in the early 1800s the Old Man was much beloved and visited by several presidents before finally collapsing in 2003.
Hank Gus, the man who located the rock face on the British Columbia island, concluded that in the end “It doesn’t matter if it’s natural or manmade. It just looks really nice to share with others who come and visit us.”