Three Faces: Altered Landforms or Pareidolia? (Part 1 – The Badlands Guardian)

This series of articles discusses three surface features that resemble faces: a strange landform in Alberta Canada known as the Badlands Guardian that was discovered in 2005, a carved stone formation found by Daniel Ruzo on the Marcahuasi Plateau in Peru in the 1950s, and the Face on Mars, a mile-long structure on the surface of Mars first imaged by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976.

Figure 1 The Badlands Guardian is barely evident in Alberta’s earliest air photos taken in 1949-1951.

Badlands Guardian

Twenty-five miles east of the town of Medicine Hat in Alberta Canada is a landform that resembles a face looking due west. This feature known as the Badlands Guardian was first discovered in Google Earth imagery in 2005. Although the feature is thought to be the result of erosional processes there is much about it that is unusual. 

First is the visual form itself – that of a human figure, similar in appearance to the indigenous people from this part of Canada, wearing a headdress. It could have been any ethnic group. That it appears to represent the people native to the area is an interesting coincidence.

Second, the formation is aligned to north. There are perhaps hundreds or even thousands of similar badlands formations in North America. That one of these formations is oriented to north is not unusual in itself. That it is aligned to north and depicts the indigenous people would seem to be an unlikely coincidence.

Figure 2 Appearance at noon on the summer solstice (left), Equinox (middle), and winter solstice (right).

Even more remarkable, the alignment of the feature to north and to the path of the sun is such that the feature maintains a consistent appearance at noon over the course of the year (Figure 2). This would not be the case if it were oriented in another direction.

Figure 3 The Badlands Guardian is not visible at ground level.

The Badlands Guardian is an example of the hollow face illusion. Like numerous geoglyphs across the world the Badlands Guardian can only be seen from above (Figure 3).

Although it is likely that nature conspired to produce this phenomenon by the interplay of countless random events, it is not impossible that a pre-existing landform could have been modified in specific ways to produce this face. Either way, the Badlands Guardian is a remarkable feature.

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