The haunting reason these sculptures were designed to sink slowly into the mud.

This ghostly statue marks the site of a often overlooked, but devastating natural disaster — one that is sadly still ongoing.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.


In 2006, steaming hot mud erupted, without warning, from a rice paddy in eastern Java, Indonesia, sweeping through a dozen nearby villages.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

20 people were killed, and thousands more were forced to flee their homes permanently.

Footprints in a house overwhelmed by the mud flow. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

The statues were erected by sculptor Dadang Christanto in 2014 to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the tragedy.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

Since they were installed, the sculptures have have been sinking slowly — by design.

"They were not in mud when they started," Christanto told Australia's Saturday Paper in 2015. "And in one year they are nearly submerged. They will disappear. It is not just the environmental disaster but the social disaster."

May 30, 2016, marked the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the deadly mud flow.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

While there have been no more fatalities, mud continues to pour out of the volcano to this day.

There's also strong evidence that the disaster was manmade.

Activists stage a protest on the fifth anniversary of the disaster. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

A 2015 report published in Nature argues that the gas needed to trigger the eruption could only have been unearthed by a nearby oil and gas drilling operation.

"We're now 99 percent confident that the drilling hypothesis is valid," Mark Tingay, the paper's lead author, told The New York Times.

(Other experts continue to disagree, arguing that the mud flow could have been caused by an earthquake.)

Like the Deepwater Horizon spill, this eruption demonstrates how lack of attention to the potential side effects of drilling can have disastrous consequences.

The nearly 40,000 Java residents who were forced to flee their homes have endured an often painful resettlement process. Many initially took shelter wherever they could find it — often in local markets.

"We couldn't shower, we couldn't wash our clothes," Sadli, a factory worker who was displaced by the mud flow, told the Chicago Tribune. "For every toilet, there were dozens of people constantly in line."

Some victims were eventually compensated. Others are still waiting.

When Lapindo, the company in charge of the drill operation allegedly responsible for the eruption, proposed installing two new wells near the site of the disaster, protests erupted and shut down the project.

Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

That isn't to say we should stop drilling for oil and gas altogether.

Icky as oil can be, we need it for the time being, and natural gas can be an alternative to far dirtier sources of power.

But the statues serve as a kind of warning: When we mess with nature without taking the proper precautions, we don't just put our environment at risk.

An artist paints at the site of the sinking statues. Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

We put ourselves at risk too.

Heroes