have been discovered completely encased in stone. yet
have been found to be alive.
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:
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."
Another toad-in-a-tree story comes from the Memoir's
of the French Academy of Sciences in 1719. The article reads
"in a the foot of an elm, of the bigness of a pretty corpulent
man, three or four feet above the root and exactly in the center,
has been found a live toad, middle-sized but lean and filling
up the whole vacant space."
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
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
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.
Some reports, however, are just so fantastic that
it seems the reader is left with no conclusion but to believe
the writer has been pulling their leg. For example:
In 1856 workmen in France were digging a tunnel
for a railway line through some Jurassic limestone when a large
creature stumbled out from inside. It flapped it wings, croaked,
and then died. Workers said it had a 10-foot wingspan, black
leathery skin and a toothed mouth. It was identified by a paleontology
student as a pterodactyl...
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.
Lee Krystek 2001. All Rights Reserved.