The Impossible Fossils

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This article originally appeared in the January 1954 edition of FATE. 

SEVERAL prospectors, one day in the summer of 1877, were exploring a series of barren hills at the head of Spring Valley near Eureka, Nev. One of the men noticed a strange object protruding from a high ledge of rock nearby. He investigated and was amazed to find embedded about halfway in the smooth surface of the quartzite what appeared to be the leg-bone of a human being, broken off just above the knee. With the aid of his companions, he dislodged the portion of rock that enclosed the bone. Carefully, with their mining tools, they removed the upper part of the encasement.

Giant Leg Bone

The rock was as hard as flint and the bones were solidly set in it. The quartzite was dark red in color while the bones were almost black. When the last of the rocky covering had been removed, the leg-bone and those of the attached foot stood out perfectly, complete with all the toes, part of the femur, the patella or knee joint, tarsus metatarsus, and phalanges, and the joint of each bone was traced precisely. The length from the fracture just above the knee to the end of the toes was just 39 inches. Clearly the bone structure had once been part of a person of extraordinary size.

This unusual object, lying exposed to view on its quartzite bed, was brought to Eureka and there inspected by large crowds. All who saw it agreed that the bones were of human origin. A fruitless search was later made for the remainder of the skeleton.

More Human Bones Encased in Stone

In a letter to the editor of the Zanesville, Ohio, Courier in 1853, a certain John G. F. Holston, declared that with Charles Robbins and Dr. Ball he had recently investigated a phenomenal object taken from the rock of a quarry at Cusick’s Mill, six miles from the city. It was nothing less than the bones of an adult human female, found in a cavity of the solid sandstone rock, perfectly closed and having no communication whatever with any fissure or crack in the rock.

Most extraordinary was the fact that the cavity represented the shape of the body when invested with flesh — the leg, thigh, hip and part of the back being molded with remarkable exactness. Holston said that if the cavity were filled with plaster of Paris, a mould of the entire figure would result. In its original position, the body lay on its right side, the head east, toward the hill, the feet west toward what was known as Jonathan’s Creek. The waters of this creek at high flood swept the base of the hill some 10 feet below the level of the body.

The identical block of stone containing these remains also held the perfect mold of a pair of human hands, which was generally believed by those who inspected it not to be those of the enclosed body. This find was made about 50 feet below the surface level of the ground, and 15 feet from the cliff-edge of Jonathan’s Creek.

Charles Fort

Objects apparently of human manufacture have also been found in rock strata. Charles Fort mentions (Books, 130) the bell-shaped vessel blasted out of solid pudding-stone rock at Dorchester, Mass., in 1851. A contemporary newspaper describes the find as made on the south side of Dorchester’s Meeting-House Hill, 15 feet below the surface.

Among the rock fragments thrown out by the blast was a piece of thin metal, and near this was another quite similar piece. On being joined together the two were found to fit exactly, forming a bell-shaped vessel four and a half inches high, two and a half inches wide at the top and six and a half inches at the base. It was one-eighth of an inch thick, of metallic composition, dominantly silver. Near the top of the vessel was a hole about an inch and a half in diameter, where apparently a handle had been broken off. In line with this hole was another at the bottom, covered with a plating resembling lead. Says a contemporary observer: “Whether it was placed in the ground before the rock was formed or was thrown into its position by a volcanic eruption is a matter of conjecture.”

On exhibition at the Miner’s Saloon in Treasure City, Nev., during the early winter of 1869 was a piece of feldspar from the local Abbey mine. In this rock was embedded something resembling an ordinary two-inch screw, so perfectly outlined, with its regular curve and sharp cut, that many who saw it contended it was of iron and a real screw, which by some mysterious means had become fixed in the rock. This screw is reminiscent of the nail found in a piece of quartz from a North Britain quarry, reported by Fort (Books, 133).

More Compelling Human Artifact Discoveries

The gold thread that Fort says was found in Scotch quarry-rock in 1844 (Books, 132) is paralleled by the curious find at Morrisonville, Ill., in 1891. A woman named Mrs. S. W. Culp was breaking a lump of coal preparatory to putting it into the scuttle. When the lump fell apart she was startled to find embedded in ring fashion a small gold chain about 10 inches long and of quaint workmanship.

Her first thought was that the chain had been accidentally dropped in the coal but as she tried to pick it up she discovered that it was firmly fixed in the lump. Tugging at the middle portion she succeeded in detaching it but the ends, being set more deeply, required additional effort before being freed. The imprint that remained was clear, the two ends being close together as in a necklace. The lump of coal was believed to have been taken from the local Taylorville or Pana mines. Upon further examination the chain was discovered to be of eight-carat gold and to weigh eight pennyweights.

An odd exhumation was made in the strip-vein coal bank of Captain Lacy at Hammondsville, Ohio., in the autumn of 1868. A man named James Parsons was digging in the excavation with his two sons when a huge mass of coal fell down, disclosing a large, smooth, slate wall, upon the surface of which were carved in bold relief several lines of hieroglyphics. The lines were spaced about three inches apart, and contained about 25 hieroglyphics or words apiece.

The news soon spread, and crowds surged to the mine to see the marvel. Several scholars viewed the carved characters but were unable to identify them. An attempt was made to remove the slate wall from the mine but as it was feared that the hieroglyphics would be destroyed in the process, this plan was abandoned. When tapped the wall gave forth a hollow sound, leading many to believe that a cavern or chamber existed beyond it. Dr. Hartshorn of Mt. Union College was sent for to examine the writing. No further reports seem available on the matter.

Insect Discoveries

Perhaps the most striking, and certainly the most numerous, of the mysterious objects that have been found underground are animal and insect fossils. Many entombed animals and insects have been found still alive. One afternoon in 1877 some workmen blasting rock 40 feet down in a quarry west of Eureka, Nev., noticed the curious formation of one of the pieces that had been split off. An examination revealed that embedded in the rock was a wasp nest, the texture and cells of which, although turned to stone, were plainly visible.

On breaking open some of the cells, larvae and two perfectly formed wasps were found within, in the same petrified condition as the rest. Both the nest and the wasps were preserved in natural shape and size, not crushed or flattened. There was no visible crack or other inlet by which the insects could have penetrated the rock. The rock was a granitic sandstone of sedimentary origin. The specimen was carefully cut out and forwarded to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.

Near Ruby Hill, Nev., in 1881, a miner named Joe Molino made a find in the Wide West mine, at a depth of about 60 feet. It was a solid piece of limestone in the very center of which was a small cavity containing six or eight large worms resembling maggots. The worms were alive and crawling when the rock was split and, says the reporter, “The mystery is how they managed to get into the solid rock in this manner.”

From the Longfellow mine, near Clifton, Ariz., was taken in 1892 what was declared at the time to be the most interesting insect and mineral specimen in existence. It was presented to Z. T. White, of El Paso, Tex. When the specimen was fractured by Mr. White, a dull reddish-gray beetle was disclosed, surrounded by a closely fitting mould of iron ore. The beetle lay as perfect as in life in its iron sarcophagus.

Much impressed, White wrapped it in a piece of cloth and while carrying it home to his curio cabinet, he unfolded the cloth and glanced once more at the beetle.

To his astonishment, he saw a small young beetle slowly emerging from its dead parent’s body.

The young beetle was placed under a glass where it thrived and grew. It lived for a period of five months. Finally the mineral specimen, the maternal beetle in its cyst of ore, and the extraordinary younger insect were brought to the editorial office of the El Paso Bullion, where they were presented by Judge J. F. Crosby, with the compliments of the owner, to a prominent scientific association of the Atlantic coast. The Bullion editor was deeply impressed by the find and though granting its authenticity, declared it almost beyond belief.

Living Frogs and Toads Encased in Rock

Live frogs have been found in coal and in rock strata. Two Welsh miners breaking coal in a pit near Bathgate, Linlithgowshire, in 1846, were astonished on splitting a large fragment to see a frog leap from it. The cavity in which it had lived was perfectly smooth, of the exact shape of the frog, and to all appearances without any opening by which to obtain air or food. The hind legs of the creature were at least twice as long as those of an ordinary frog, while the forelegs were barely perceptible.

In 1848 four young miners were digging coal in No. 8 pit at Gartlee, near Airdrie, Scotland. They had just broken off a mass of coal about four feet in diameter and were chopping it into smaller pieces when near its center they came upon a kind of petrification. Suspecting that this might contain something of value they worked at it carefully with the points of their picks.

Soon they saw a brown spot, which upon further examination turned out to be a frog, not fossilized, but apparently alive. It began to stir and before long awakened from its dormant state. When the miners turned it over several times, its movements became more vigorous. One of the men placed the creature in a pail of water. It proved able to swim but seemed to be in great pain and changed color.

The men preserved the matrix of coal in which the frog had been embedded, there being impressed upon it a delicate mold of the animal’s body. This, together with the frog itself, was placed in the museum of the Andersonian University of Glasgow.

Among the many persons who inspected the objects was a Mr. Craig, lecturer on geology in that institution. Craig became greatly interested and went to Airdrie where he investigated the circumstances surrounding the discovery. He obtained a written statement from the four young miners, whom he found to be intelligent and of good character.

Craig communicated about the matter with the well-known geologist, Dr. Buckland, who on the basis of some experiments he had made insisted that there must have been some aperture, however slight, through which the animal entered and whereby insects and air could be obtained. He had found that toads he had imprisoned invariably got lean and died where such an opening did not exist. The circumstances of the present case, however, Craig found, definitely excluded the possibility of any opening.

Craig cited the corroboration of a friend of his, R. Jamieson who, with several others, had some time before enclosed a toad in clay and after putting it into a broken bottle had buried it about 18 inches underground. At the end of 12 months the toad was dug up and found to be still alive and in fair condition. If, declared Craig, an animal can survive for 12 months without food, water, or air, there seemed to be no reason why it should not survive even longer, perhaps for ages.

Frog in Sandstone

Coal is a strange enough place in which to find a living animal but a live frog was found 172 feet below the surface, embedded in solid sandstone, by some workmen engaged in sinking a vertical shaft at the Black Diamond Coal Company’s mine on Mount Diablo, near San Francisco, in 1873. The partial imprint of its form upon the rock where it had lain was perfect in outline. The animal lived for 12 hours after its extraction, having very possibly been injured in the process. The president of the coal company was said to have later presented the remains to the San Francisco Academy of Sciences.

From Farmington, Me., in 1868 comes a similar story. A well digger in the course of his work struck some scaly rock two feet below the surface of the ground. He blasted four feet farther through this stratum, at which depth he found three frogs completely embedded in the stone. These frogs were from three to four inches in length, but only about an eighth of an inch thick, seemingly flattened by pressure. At first they appeared lifeless, but 10 minutes later they moved slightly. They commenced inflating themselves and by the end of half an hour they had resumed their natural shape and size and hopped off. Their color was almost identical with that of the ledge in which they were found.

Perhaps the most detailed description of a rock-imprisoned frog is one published in a Tuscarora, Nev., newspaper in 1879. Five hundred feet down in the Grand Prize mine near that town, a blast released a tiny frog from the rock. It was immediately brought to the surface and placed in a glass jar in F. H. Phelps’ drug store on Weed Street.

Transparent Frog

At first it was almost white in color and nearly transparent but after a week its back changed to a dingy mottled green. It had no mouth and consequently was unable to eat. Its eyes, which never closed even to wink, resembled two small, black, glass beads. They evidently were sightless since objects brought even within a hair’s breadth of them failed to effect any movement or change in them whatever.

The frog’s general shape was not unlike that of other frogs, except that its forelegs and toes were disproportionately long. Its sense of feeling and hearing appeared normally acute and it was nearly as lively as the general run of its surface-bred brethren. Concludes the editor: “While we will not venture any surmise regarding its history prior to its liberation we will vouch for the truth of the above narrative and description.”

Ancient Toad

Toads, like frogs, seem able to defy scientific dictums and live for ages encased in solid earth and rock. Reports came from Acton, Ontario, in 1893 about a wonderful discovery made at the local Brown & Hall sawmill, while a large pine log was being worked up. After some outside slabs had been cut off, a large toad was seen to poke its head out of a hole in which it was embedded, having barely escaped being cut in two by the saw. It was declared a mystery how the creature got there, being perfectly encased in the wood, with no possible means of ingress or egress. As that particular log was the fourth or fifth up from the butt of the tree, the toad was located, before the tree was cut, at least fifty or sixty feet from the ground. The only possible conclusion seemed to be that the toad had been imprisoned in the infancy of the tree and had grown up with it, and was consequently hundreds of years old. Local naturalists declared the toad to be of a species unknown to the area. The cavity in which it was found was perfectly sound and as smooth within as though carefully rubbed and polished. The creature was surrounded originally with solid wood from 41/2 to 30 inches thick.

Toad in a Trance

A dispatch came from Tacoma, Wash., in August, 1893, stating that a toad with curious cat-like claws was found embedded under 17 feet of hardpan in that city. Some men were digging a cistern when one of them drove a pick into the hard earth, finding at the pick’s end a smooth hole in which was the toad, apparently dead. Ten minutes in the open air, however, revived him. He ate several flies that were captured for him and lived for two weeks in a bottle, where he was furnished with water and pulverized earth. Hundreds of persons inspected him and he surprised the members of the local Academy of Sciences by the fact that he did not die after such sudden exposure to the air. The toad escaped from its jar and a few days later was found pulseless, rigid and cold in a neighboring house. Pronounced dead, it was just about to be buried when it regained animation. Some time later the toad again went into a trance, suggesting that it was able to suspend animation indefinitely either at will or by accident. It is described as having been about the size of an egg, of the same grayish color as the hardpan and somewhat resembling a tree toad.

In the museum of Hartlepool, England, visitors of 1865 stared at the active toad that had been found in a slab of magnesium limestone by some quarry laborers. It was generally supposed to be 6,000 years old (pre-Darwinian dating).

A tiny toad in 1846 hopped out of a large block of ironstone four or five feet square when this was broken up. The toad was not much bigger than a bee and very black, like the ironstone, and it proved an agile swimmer. The ironstone was located 30 feet below the surface of the Lugar Iron Company’s mine near Glasgow, Scotland.

A toad about two inches long was exhumed from the rock by a blast in the shaft of the Metacom mine, near Austin, Nev., in 1866. His lively habits amused and astounded the local miners. In appearance he seemed not at all different from ordinary toads of the vicinity.

Some investigators believe that toads are found exclusively in rocks belonging to the carboniferous era. If this be true, how can we explain the live toad found in granite, a metamorphic or volcanic rock? A quantity of granite was used in 1829 to repair the walls and steps of George’s Dock Basin, Liverpool, England. A reporter was attracted by a crowd of persons around a block of granite which had been cut apart by the workmen. He was informed that a toad had been found in a cavity laid open by the cutting instruments. He observed both the cavity and the toad. To extricate the creature, one of the men cut away a portion of the stone from the edges of the cell. The toad was removed and for a time exhibited signs of life. All those present seemed to agree that no deception could have been practiced and most of them, including the reporter, came to believe the toad had been enclosed “from the era of granitic infancy.”

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