The American Journal of Science and Arts 2(2): 144-147 (Nov 1820)

2. Curious Geological Facts.

In the Quarterly Review for Dec. 1819, No. 43, p. 52 the following very interesting fact is mentioned. It is introduced in giving an account of the quarries of marble from which the blocks are taken for the construction of the celebrated Break-water at Plymouth, in England "The quarries are situated at Oreston, on the eastern shore of Catwater; they lie under a surface of about twenty-five acres, and were purchased from the Duke of Bedford for £10,000. They consist of one vast mass of compact close-grained marble, many specimens of which are beautifully variegated; seams of clay however are interposed through the rock, in which there are also large cavities, some empty, and others partially filled with clay. In one of these caverns in the solid rock, fifteen feet wide, forty-five feet long, and twelve feet deep, filled nearly with compact clay, were found imbedded fossil bones belonging to the rhinoceros, being portions of the skeletons of three different animals, all of them in the most perfect state of preservation, every part of their surface entire to a degree which Sir Everard Home says he had never observed in specimens of this kind before. The part of the cavity in which these bones were found was seventy feet below the surface of the solid rock, sixty feet horizontally from the edge of the cliff where Mr. Whitby began to work the quarry, and one hundred and sixty feet from the original edge by the side of the Catwater. Every side of the cave was solid rock: the inside had no incrustation of stalactite, nor was there any external communication through the rock in which it was imbedded, nor any appearance of an opening from above being enclosed by infiltration. When, therefore, and in what manner these bones came into that situation, is among the secret and wonderful operations of nature which will probably never be revealed to mankind."

The perusal of the above brought to my recollection a fact if possible still more astonishing: it is mentioned by Count Bournon in his Mineralogy, and as that work has (I believe) never been translated, I will here give the passage entire.

"During the years 1786, 7, and 8, they were occupied near Aix in Provence, in France, in quarrying stone for the rebuilding, upon a vast scale, of the Palace of Justice. The stone was a limestone of a deep grey, and of that kind which are tender when they come out of the quarry, but harden by exposure to the air. The strata were separated from one another by a bed of sand mixed with clay, more or less calcareous. The first which were wrought presented no appearance of any foreign bodies, but, after the workmen had removed the ten first beds, they were astonished, when taking away the eleventh, to find its inferior surface, at the depth of forty or fifty feet, covered with shells. The stone of this bed having been removed, as they were taking away a stratum of argillaceous sand, which separated the eleventh bed from the twelfth, they found stumps of columns and fragments of stones half wrought, and the stone was exactly similar to that of the quarry: they found moreover coins, handles of hammers, and other tools or fragments of tools in wood. But that which principally commanded their attention, was a board about one inch thick and seven or eight feet long; it was broken into many pieces, of which none were missing, and it was possible to join them again one to another, and to restore to the board or plate its original form, which was that of the boards of the same kind used by the masons and quarry men: it was worn in the same manner, rounded and waving upon the edges.

"The stones which were completely or partly wrought, had not at all changed in their nature, but the fragments of the board, and the instruments, and pieces of instruments of wood, had been changed into agate, which was very fine and agreeably coloured. Here then, (observes Count Bournon,) we have the traces of a work executed by the hand of man, placed at the depth of fifty feet, and covered with eleven beds of compact limestone: every thing tended to prove that this work had been executed upon the spot where the traces existed. The presence of man had then preceded the formation of this stone, and that very considerably since he was already arrived at such a degree of civilization that the arts were known to him, and that he wrought the stone and formed columns out of it."

3. Fossil Bones found in red sand stone,
communicated by
Professor NATHAN SMITH.

Mr. Solomon Ellsworth, Jun. of East-Windsor, (Conn.) has politely favoured me with some specimens of fossil bones, included in red sand stone. Mr. Ellsworth informs me that they were discovered by blasting in a rock for a well; they were 23 feet below the surface of the earth, and 18 feet below the top of the rock. Unfortunately, before Mr. Ellsworth came to the knowledge of what was going on, the skeleton had been blown to pieces, with the rock which contained it, and several pieces of bones had been picked up, and then lost. The specimens which I have seen are still inclosed in the rock, but from their appear­ance, it is possible that they are human bones. Mr. Ellsworth states that the bones were found in a horizontal position across the bottom of the well, as he thinks nearly to the extent of six feet. It is to be hoped that the pieces of bones, when they are cleared of the rock which incloses them, will enable us to ascertain the fact whether they are human bones, or the bones of brute animals. Possibly by examining more of the fragments of the rock which have been thrown out by blasting, we shall find some bone that will be decisive of the genus of the animal to which they belong. Whether they are human or brute animal bones, it is an important fact as it relates to Geology.

Note by the Editor.—The rock in which these bones were found, was the old red sand stone, of Werner, which, with superincumbent ridges of green stone trap, forms an extensive region from the sea shore at New-Haven to the state of Vermont, and intersects the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. This sand stone region, which is more than one hundred and ten mites long, and varies in breadth from three miles to twenty-five, touches the primitive on both sides, and at the northern end, the boundary rocks being, generally, mica slate and clay slate. The discovery of bones, in such a formation, so nearly allied to the primitive, (and in fact the sand stone rock is very arm, and made up of large portions of quartz, feldspar and mica—the palpable ruins of granite, with no cement, but liner portions of the same blended with oxid of iron,) cannot but be considered as very interesting. The bones were evidently those of a perfect and considerably large animal—some of the ribs were preserved; there was a long cylindrical cavity, which appeared to have been occupied by an os humerus remaining in the rock, with one of its condyles, and a portion of the sternum—of that part which is terminated by the ensiform cartilage. Other hones were so completely encased in the rock, that it could not be seen what they were. Professors Smith, Ives, and Knight, of the Medical Institution of Yale College, all admitted the possibility that they might be human bones, but did not consider the specimens as sufficiently distinct to form the basis of a certain conclusion. This is understood also to be the opinion of Professor Mitchell, of New-York.