Petrified Foot

Bob (aka Cranky Media Guy) sent me a link to an article about "Scientific Hoaxes" scanned from the Dec. 1931 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine. I love old popular-science magazines like this. They're a great source of strange information.

Unfortunately whoever scanned this article missed two pages, so you skip from a discussion of the Central Park Zoo Escape straight into a discussion of the Cardiff Giant. Nevertheless, the image of a "petrified foot" on the front page caught my curiosity. The caption reads: "A water-worn stone was once offered to the Smithsonian Institute as a petrified foot. Note the striking resemblance."

The article offers no more information about this unusual gift to the Smithsonian. So I did some research in the Google News Archive and was able to find a reference to the petrified foot in a July 18, 1908 Washington Post article titled "Nature as a Faker":

To the Smithsonian Institution not long ago somebody sent from the Bad Lands of Nebraska what purported to be a fossil ham. It did in very truth look like a ham, and, to render the verisimilitude complete, the bone was actually sticking out at one end of it. Nevertheless, an investigation showed that the alleged bone was in reality a "vaculite" -- an extinct mollusk's shell, rodlike in form -- and the rest of the "ham" was a mere accidental agglomeration of stony stuff.

One day, quite recently, a young man walked into the National Museum at Washington and presented to the anthropologist in charge a petrified foot. It was received with many thanks, though recognized at a glance as a water-worn fragment of rock which had accidentally assumed a shape resembling a foot.

Such chance imitations as these frequently occur in nature. Another one, deposited in the same institution, was supposed by the finder to be a petrified oyster. It looks as if on the half shell: all its parts are wonderfully distinct, and there is even a small pearl in it seemingly. Yet it is not an oyster at all.

Nineteenth-century newspapers were full of reports of animals and body parts found petrified in their entirety, perfectly preserved, which reflected a popular misunderstanding about the process of petrifaction. Soft tissue is almost never petrified, because it decays long before the petrifaction process can occur.

Pareidolia Science

Posted on Mon Feb 04, 2008


Somewhere i saw a "letter" that was supposedly from a Smithsonian official to a prolific donor of questionable artifacts. This letter was in response to the donation of a naked Barbie doll which was suppose to be a preserved mummy of an ancient race of little people. Supposedly, the guy was determined to be not right in the head but harmless so they kept taking the artifacts as a way of humoring him while trying to tell him that his findings were really nothing. Does this ring a bell with anyone.
Posted by Tim  in  Maryland  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  11:18 AM
If Barbies AREN'T mummies of an extinct race of tiny people, why are so many adults assiduously collecting them, and even paying large sums of money for the less common ones?
Posted by Big Gary  in  Big Thicket, Texas  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  02:23 PM
Fossils of hard parts (such as bones, shells, or wood) are indeed much more common than soft-tissue fossils. However, soft parts can sometimes be fossilized. For example, sometimes a soft body is encased by mud or other sediment before it has decayed. The body may then rot away, but it can leave a "mold" that becames filled with other material that eventually solidifies and hardens into rock. Other examples are small creatures and plant parts that became buried in volcanic ash, and insects, pollen, and other matter getting stuck in tree resin that eventually becomes amber.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Fossil Rim, Texas  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  02:29 PM
He is a link to that letter. Guess its fake
Posted by Tim  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  02:30 PM
Wasn't some soft tissue or bone marrow recently found, unfossilized, in a T-Rex fossil? Just think of what surprising things could be found 65 millions years from now when our fossils get investigated.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  03:37 PM
it's a space peanut
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Mon Feb 04, 2008  at  11:00 PM
Yep, I've ehard of the Barbie Doll guy too - not sure where. Probably the Forten Times

There's a well - called the Dripping Well - in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. The water runs over an wall, then drips down into the pool. If you tie soft objects - like teddy bears, or I suppose a human foot would do - to the bottom of the wall, so the water runs through it, the object eventually turns to stone. it's not cased in stone, it does actually become petrified. They do it to teddy bears, wedding bouquets, all kinds of things.
Posted by Nona  on  Tue Feb 05, 2008  at  05:44 AM
Nona, how long does petrification take in that well?
I have a president, er, I mean, ah, a Teddy Bear, that I'd like to experiment with.
Posted by Dan Pheasant  in  Quail Run, Texas  on  Tue Feb 05, 2008  at  08:42 PM
Oh to petrify an object, like say, just randomly, a bush, it'd have to be hanging there for six months. And then you'd have six months of watching it slowly turn to stone. I don't know about you, but I'd enjoy that. Revenge should always be long and protracted.
Posted by Nona  on  Wed Feb 06, 2008  at  06:15 AM
Knaresborough Haiku

Leadfoot I am not.
I stood too long in the well;
a stone's in my shoe.
Posted by Big Gary  in  Mineral Wells, Texas  on  Wed Feb 06, 2008  at  08:49 AM
IgNobel laureate Chonosuke Okamura claimed to have found microsopic representatives of modern animals (including humans) in 400 million year old rocks. See here:
Probably the best example of Fossil Pareidolia, although there are many others.
Posted by Lars Dietz  in  Dsch  on  Wed Feb 06, 2008  at  12:51 PM
Alcohol is good because it
Posted by Alcohol rehab  on  Thu Feb 07, 2008  at  07:05 AM
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