The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of unknown origin found embedded in the asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American cities. Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate, but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation of the following inscription:
IN MOViE `2001
ON PLANET JUPITER
Toynbee tiles were first photographed in the late 1980s, and their first known reference in the media came in 1994 in The Baltimore Sun. A 1983 letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer referenced a Philadelphia-based campaign with themes similar to those mentioned in the tiles (e.g., resurrecting the dead on Jupiter, Stanley Kubrick, and Arnold J. Toynbee) but did not refer to tiles.
In the United States, tiles have officially been sighted as far west as Kansas City, Missouri, as far north as Boston, Massachusetts, and as far south as Washington, D.C. Since 2002, very few new tiles considered to be the work of the original artist have appeared outside of the immediate Philadelphia area. Many older tiles considered to be the work of the original tiler have been eroded by traffic, but as of 2011 older tiles remain in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; St. Louis, Missouri; Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio; and South America, among other locations.
On June 19, 2013, tiles resembling the Toynbee tiles appeared on a street in Topeka, Kansas. They were removed by the evening of the next day. Less than a month later, on July 17, 2013, a tile resembling the Toynbee tiles appeared on a street in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In a documentary film about the tiles, Justin Duerr assumes that “Toynbee” refers to the 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, and that “Kubrick’s 2001” is a reference to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film co-written and directed by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, about a manned mission to Jupiter. The toynbee.net website speculates that Toynbee refers to Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Toynbee Convector”.
The majority of tiles contain text similar to that above, although a second set is often found nearby. Several of these allude to a mass conspiracy between the press (including newspaper magnate John S. Knight of Knight-Ridder), the U.S. government, the USSR (even in tiles seemingly made years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution), and Jews. The writing is of a similar style and poor quality.
A tile that used to be located in Santiago de Chile mentions a street address in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 2624 S. 7th Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The current occupants of the house know nothing about the tiles and are annoyed by people who ask, though this is the former residence of a named recluse and alleged tile-maker, as shown in the 2011 documentary film Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Toynbee-tile enthusiasts believe that a native Philadelphian created the Toynbee tiles because of the large number that appears in the city, their apparent age, the variety of carving styles, the presence of the “tile creator’s screed”, and the Philadelphia address on the Santiago tile.
Arnold J. Toynbee’s “The Idea”
According to letters written by the tiler, allegedly uncovered by Toynbee tile researchers in Philadelphia in 2006, “Toynbee’s idea” stems from a passage in Arnold Toynbee’s book Experiences, pp. 139–142:
“Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into ‘soul’ and ‘body’ is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body… Someone who accepts—as I myself do, taking it on trust—the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more ‘scientifically’ if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.”
Ray Bradbury’s “The Toynbee Convector”
Another possible interpretation is that the Toynbee reference comes from the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Toynbee Convector”, which alludes to Toynbee’s idea that in order to survive, humankind must always rush to meet the future and believe in a better world, and must always aim far beyond what is practically possible, in order to achieve something barely within reach. Thus the message might be that humanity ought to strive to colonize Jupiter—as in Clarke’s work—or something greater, to survive.
Arthur C. Clarke’s “Jupiter V”
Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Jupiter V” involves a spaceship named the Arnold Toynbee on a mission to Jupiter. It contains elements in common with 2001.
David Mamet’s “4 A.M.”
Playwright David Mamet has spoken of his belief that the tiles are an homage to one of his plays, and has described it as “the weirdest thing that ever happened”. In his 1983 work 4 A.M. (published in the collection Goldberg Street: Short Plays and Monologues in 1985) a radio host based on Larry King impatiently listens to a caller who contends that the movie 2001, based on the writings of Arnold Toynbee, speaks of the plan to reconstitute life on Jupiter. The radio show host quickly points out the factual errors in the caller’s assertion and the logical fallacies of his plan.
Researchers for the 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles claim to have uncovered several pieces of evidence that predate Mamet’s play, including a 1980 call by the tiler to Larry King’s radio show. They cite a 1983 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer which mentions a local man “contacting talk shows and newspapers to spread the message” about bringing the dead to life on Jupiter, as depicted in the film 2001.
There is no public or private agency dedicated to conserving Toynbee tiles. Many tiles now exist only as photographs taken before their destruction. The tiles have enjoyed attention from American and European media outlets, including from The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, Spiegel Online, and NPR. In 2011, Philadelphia-based filmmakers Justin Duerr, Jon Foy, Colin Smith, and Steve Weinik released Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, an independent documentary film about the tiles. The film was selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary category, and Foy won the category’s Directing Award.
Hundredth Monkey Effect
Macabre Grimoire Chapter 15 Toynbee Tiles
Hosts Ari Show, Robert Mehling, and Travis Nye
Produced by Robert Mehling and TheSiouxEmpire.com
Voice Over by Dave Holly
Opening Theme Enhance Your Starry Night by Mouthful of Bees