Monday, March 23, 2009

Toads encased in stone

Stories of animals - mostly toads - found alive when a stone (or a lump of coal) is broken open date back centuries. Some of the better-known examples from more than 200 instances described since the 1500s are listed below:
  • 1733: Two quarrymen working for master builder Johan Gråberg in Wamlingebo, Sweden, were cutting large blocks of sandstone from more than 10' below the surface. One of them discovered a large frog sitting in the middle of a sizeable boulder he had just cut in two with his hammer and wedge. Part of the stone nearest the frog was so porous that the violence of the blow had fragmented it, destroying the impression of the animal’s body. Since the frog was in a lethargic state, Gråberg could not provoke it to move, even when he lifted it out on a spade. When he touched its head with a stick, it closed its eyes. Its mouth was covered with a yellow membrane. Gråberg killed the frog with a shovel, an act for which he berated himself “for being the Slayer of that extraordinary Animal, which might have lived for many hundreds of years within its stony Prison.”
  • 1761: French surgeon Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-1590) wrote, "Being at my seat near the village of Meudon, and overlooking a quarryman whom I had sent to break some very large and hard stones, in the middle of one we found a huge toad, full of life and without any visible aperture by which it could get there. The laborer told me it was not the first time he had met with a toad and the like creatures within huge blocks of stone."
  • 1821: Tilloch's Philosophical Magazine wrote that stonemason David Virtue found a lizard embedded in a chunk of rock from 22' below the surface: "It was coiled up in a round cavity of its own form, being an exact impression of the animal. It was about an inch and a quarter long, of a brownish yellow color, and had a round head, with bright sparkling projecting eyes. It was apparently dead, but after being about five minutes exposed to the air it showed signs of life. It soon ran about with much celerity."
  • 1865: The Hartlepool [England] Free Press related this account following an excavation of magnesium limestone from 25' underground: "The cavity was no larger than its body, and presented the appearance of being a cast of it. The toad's eyes shone with unusual brilliancy, and it was full of vivacity on its liberation. It appeared, when first discovered, desirous to perform the process of respiration, but evidently experienced some difficulty, and the only sign of success consisted of a 'barking' noise, which it continues to make invariably at present on being touched....The toad, when first released, was of a pale colour and not readily distinguished from the stone, but shortly after its colour grew darker until it became a fine olive brown."
  • Mid-19th c.: Scientific American reported that silver miner Moses Gaines found a toad inside a 2' boulder: "[The animal was] three inches long and very plump and fat. Its eyes were about the size of a silver cent piece, being much larger than those of toads of the same size as we see every day. They tried to make him hop or jump by touching him with a stick, but he paid no attention."
  • Mid-20th c.: A British soldier was quarrying stone during World War II to make roads and fill in bomb craters. After a planned explosive detonation, the stone slab was pried away from the quarry face to reveal "in a pocket in the rock a large road and beside it a lizard at least nine inches long. Both these animals were alive, and the amazing thing was that the cavity they were in was at least 20 feet from the top of the quarry face."
In an article in Fortean Times, which features the above illustrations, British doctor Jan Bondeson reexamines the case studies and the contemporaneous experiments conducted to replicate the disputed phenomenon. Evidence still extant includes a toad that had been found inside a flint nodule in a Lewes quarry c. 1900, now mummified and on display at Brighton's Booth Museum. Bondeson concludes:
The entombed toad is an anomaly in the true sense of the word. The phenomenon is not only irrational but completely inexplicable. There appears to be no reasonable explanation for this remarkable series of observations of toads and frogs discovered inside blocks of stone. The counter-arguments proposed here are hardly sufficient to exorcise these prematurely buried toads, which have led their own slumbering, accursed half-life outside the boundaries of biology for several centuries.

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