Material analyses of the “Faces of Bélmez”

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Gerhard Mayer
Pilar Ramiro de Pano 

Introduction: The so-called Bélmez faces attracted considerable attention in the public and the media as well as in the mostly European parapsychological community in the early 1970s. In 1971, phenomena of supposedly paranormal origin occurred in the Spanish village Bélmez de la Moraleda. Discolorations appeared on the concrete floor of a house’s kitchen which were interpreted as images of faces of paranormal origin. The events allegedly were strongly connected to the physical presence of the then 52 years old María Gómez Cámara One characteristic was the dynamics of the formations: they manifested themselves at different speeds, on some occasions directly under the eyes of witnesses, and sometimes disappeared again, or changed their appearance. From the beginning, however, there was suspicion that the faces could have been created by fraud. First investigations were conducted by the police—María mentioned the “scientific police from Madrid” that visited the house for eight days with their technical devices, examined the faces, and removed samples of concrete for analysis. In the following years, further materials analyses were carried out, which played a central role in the assessment of the nature of the phenomena, whether they were real paranormal phenomena or caused by fraud. Outside of Spain, the spectacular case was rather forgotten, probably partly because of misrepresentations, but the interest of the Spaniards themselves remained lively. Still in 2014 a materials analysis was carried out on behalf of a television station.  

With this paper, an overview of the materials analyses carried out with the faces should be given. For this purpose, partly unpublished investigation reports and other archival documents were used in addition to the facts mentioned in published texts. Unfortunately, there is no report from the materials analysis from the first investigation available. Thus, we can only refer to four analyses: one carried out by J.J. Alonso in the year 1975; two others by the Grupo Hepta in 1991 and 1994; and a final one analysis by two scientists, José J. Gracenea and Luis Alamancos, on behalf of the television station Cuarto Milenio in 2014. The purpose of all these investigations was to clarify the question whether the faces were produced by human hands or were occurred in an inexplicable (paranormal) way. The following two conventional explanatory hypotheses were at stake: (1) light-sensitive silver salts or other chemicals were applied, which led to the corresponding discoloration of the cement floor, or (2) the faces were produced by applying paint. 

In summary, despite the sometimes somewhat meagre details of the accessible reports, the picture is quite uniform. The two mentioned conventional explanations for the formation of the pictures, namely the application of a solution of silver salts to the cement floor, which then causes corresponding blackening of the surface, as when developing a photo print under the influence of UV light, or the application of paint and general external manipulations of the floor surface, are not supported by the analyses. Of course, the fact that the last analyses of 2014 as well as those of Grupo Hepta in the 1990s were commissioned by supporters of the paranormal hypothesis must be viewed critically. However, the materials analyses coincide in the decisive findings with those from Alonso’s early analysis. Although Alonso’s client could not be identified, his report shows that he remained sceptical about the paranormal hypothesis, as he offered a conventional, albeit extremely implausible, explanation for the origin of the face he examined.     

Together with all the interview data containing statements from directly and indirectly involved persons, a plausible conventional explanation for the emergence of these faces during the first phase of the appearance in the early 1970s is still missing. It is as if the dark (melanocratic) particles in the cement had arranged themselves in a hitherto inexplicable way to the facial forms. Since relatively large amounts of moisture were detected, especially in connection with the early sealing and covering experiments of Bender and Argumosa, this could play a significant role in formation of the faces, in connection with the hygroscopic properties of the soil material. However, the anomalistic aspect remains unaffected by such speculation. 

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Gerhard Mayer
Gerhard Mayer

Gerhard Mayer is a psychologist and research associate of the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Psychohygiene e. V. in Freiburg i. Br.; chief editor of the Journal of Anomalistics / Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, since 2012 managing director of the Gesellschaft für Anomalistik.

Material analyses of the “Faces of Bélmez”

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