It is one of the strangest phenomena reported. Something that can’t happen, but stories saying it does turn up again and again anyway. Stories of animals found alive locked deep within stone or wood, with no observable way they could have entered. This is the mystery of entombed animals:
Reports of entombed animals found inside stones (reputedly sometimes still alive) date back to the 15th century and have occurred as recently as the 1980s. For example, in a letter to Julian Huxley, an Eric G. Mackley claimed to have freed twenty three frogs from concrete in Devonshire and in 1876 sixty-three small toads were reportedly found in the middle of a five meter wide tree trunk in South Africa.
Scientists have paid little serious attention to the phenomenon since the nineteenth century and most specimens were destroyed after the Victorian era, the world’s only remaining entombed toad resides at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton, was found by two workmen in Lewes in 1898 and donated by Charles Dawson in 1901. It consists of an oval, hollow flint nodule millions of years old containing a mummified toad. The toad apparently was quite famous in it’s hey-day, featured on cigarette cards and in paranormal magazines`and it still tours the globe. Dawson’s explanation is that the toad crawled through a small hole in the rock when it was very small, managed to find enough food to grow but then became too large to escape it’s little prison and eventually died of either old age or starvation. He speculated that if the workmen had split the stone before the animal had died, it would have joined the ranks of the living toads-in-the-hole and suggested that this theory could be provide a tentative answer to the hundreds of findings.
However, Dawson cannot be viewed as an entirely reliable source being blamed now for various ‘imaginative frauds’, most infamously for his involvement in the Piltdown scandal, where a faked anthropoid skull was claimed to be Darwin’s ‘missing link’ between human and ape. Sadly, taking this into consideration along with the fact that the toad has visibly shrunk since it’s original discovery (indicating it was not very old to begin with) it is likely that it could be another faked natural spectacle.
Being at my seat near the village of Meudon, and overlooking a quarryman whom I had set 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…
This account, which appeared in the 1761 edition of Annual Register, was attributed to Ambroise Pare, the chief surgeon of Henry III of France in the 16th century. It is an early example of phenomenon. Logically this report is impossible. The stone had to be thousands, if not millions of years old. The toad shouldn’t have a lifetime of more than a few years. If it was really sealed in the stone, how did it get there? Or if it was entombed when the stone was made, how did it survive?
Perhaps one such story over a period of hundreds of years can just be dismissed as a folktale or a hoax, but there are others. Workers doing an excavation in Hartlepool, England, on April 7, 1865, split open a block of magnesium limestone to discover a living toad. The Hartlepool Free Press reported, “The cavity was no larger than its body, and presented the appearance of being cast for it. The toad’s eyes shone with unusual brilliancy, and it was full of vivacity on its liberation.” The animal was very pale when first discovered with a color similar to that of the rock that had encased it, but later the toad turned to an olive-brown. “It appeared,” the Free Press continued, “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 is in the possession of Mr. S. Horner, the president of the Natural Historical Society, and continues in as lively a state as when found. On a minute examination of its mouth it is found to be completely closed, and the barking noise it makes proceeds from its nostrils. The claws of its fore feet are turned inwards, and its hind ones are of extraordinary length and unlike the present English toad.”
We can also see an example of a wood entombment by looking at a story from South Africa. In 1876 the Uitenhage Times printed an article reporting that a timberman who was cutting a tree into planks came across a cache of 69 tiny toads, each the size of a grape. The toads were confined to a hole in the tree. “They were of a light brown, almost yellow color, and perfectly happy, hopping about and away as if nothing had happened. All about them was solid yellow wood, with nothing to indicate how they could have got there, how long they had been there, or how they could have lived without food, drink or air.”
According to the Michigan Argus of December 1st, 1871, one man was so curious about these stories he tried his own experiment to see if such things were possible.. M. Herissan, a French savant enclosed three live toads in separate cases of plaster in February of 1771. In April of 1784 Herissan opened the cases, which were still whole, and found two of the toads still alive, though the third was “a martyr to science.” The article continued saying that the animals were handed over to the Academy of Science and a careful examination showed that “the animals had no communication with the external air, and must have existed without the least nourishment.”
Toads aren’t the only subject of these stories. An 1821 edition of Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine reported a stone mason named David Virture discovered a “lizard imbedded in the stone. 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.” The rock the lizard had been found within had been some 22 feet underground. “It was coiled up in a round cavity of its own form, being an exact impression of the animal,” the article continues, “This stone is naturally a little damp; and about half an inch around the lizard was soft sand, the same color as the animal…The stone had no fissure, was quite hard, and one of the best to be got from the quarry of Cullaloe…”
Turtles have also gotten this treatment. In August 1975 construction workers in Fort Worth, Texas, were breaking up concrete that had been laid down more than a year before when they came across a living green turtle. The animal must have been caught in the concrete as it had been poured because the body-shaped hole in which it had stayed during that time was clearly visible.
Sometimes two different types of animals have been found together as the account from a World War II British soldier reported in Jerome Clark’s book Unexplained shows:
In Algeria in the early part of 1943, I was working with a team whose job it was to quarry stone that was then used for making roads and filling bomb craters…One morning, we had set off the charges as usual and I started to prise away the rock from the quarry face when I saw in a pocket in the rock a large toad, 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. Try as we might, we couldn’t find how it was possible for the two creatures to be where they were – there were no inlets, cracks or fissures leading to the cavity…
Parts of the scientific establishment have taken both an interest in the phenomena, while other members scoff at it. In an article in an 1890 Scientific American a writer declared “Many well authenticated stories of the finding of live toads and frogs in solid rock are on record.” While a few years later the editor for the magazine Nature argued, “It matters little to tell the reporters of such occurrences that the thing is absolutely impossible, and that our believing it would involve the conclusion that the whole science of geology (not to speak of biology also) is a mass of nonsense.”
Most explanations for these events depend on the reporters being hoaxers or bad observers. “The true interpretation of these alleged occurrences appears to be simply this – a frog or toad is hopping about while a stone is being broken, and the nonscientific observer immediately rushes to the conclusion that he has seen the creature dropping out of the stone itself,” says a writer in Nature. This explanation runs in the face of many of the reports where the animal was found in a cavity shaped like the animal itself.
Cases of entombed animals remain a mystery. Clearly the Scientific American writer is correct in saying that there seems to be no answer to this puzzle unless we are willing to rewrite the science of geology or biology. Still, it seems the phenomena exists. Undoubtedly some of the reports are hoaxes, others are errors, but many remain a true mystery for a future scientist to resolve.