Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer, 1667-1740.

Beringer was the senior professor and dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Würzburg, chief physician to the prince-bishop, and chief physician of Julian Hospital. He was somewhat stuck-up about it. Of more interest to us, he was also very interested in fossils (from the Latin fossilis, meaning 'dug up', and that's really all they knew, back then). He tended to classify them as lusus naturae, believing that they did not come from antediluvian creatures, but were just pranks of nature (This was one of the big theories of the day). Unfortunately, his fossil hunts in the hills around Würzburg didn't turn up anything of interest. He kept trying, but his collection of fossils was composed of specimens sent to him by distantly located friends and acquaintances.

In 1725 Beringer started another hunt for fossils on Mount Eivelstadt, a location which his workers had already been over once before without any success (these hunts did not actually involve Beringer in any of the field work, but if they found anything, they were to bring it to him). But this time, they did find something; on May 31st, his workers brought him three stones, one bearing the likeness of the sun, the other two of worms.

Thereafter, stones were found with all kinds of images; "...representing all the kingdoms of Nature, but especially those of animals and plants, are small birds with wings either spread or folded, butterflies, pearls and small coins, beetles in flight and at rest, bees and wasps (some clinging to flowers, others in their nests), hornets, flies, tortoises from sea and stream, fishes of all sorts, worms, snails, leeches from sea and swamp, lice, oysters, marine crabs, frogs, toads, lizards, cankerworms, scorpions, spiders, crickets, ants, locusts, snails, shell-bearing fishes, and countless rare and exotic figures of insects obviously from other regions. Here are nautili, ammonites, starfish, of very different and delightful species, shells, spiral snails, scallops, and other heretofore unknown species. Here were leaves, flowers, plants, and whole herbs, some with and some without roots and flowers. Here were clear depictions of the sun and moon, stars, and of comets with their fiery tails." And even better, some rocks bore Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew characters, some times single letters, sometimes whole words, and best of all, sometimes the name Jehovah. Sometimes a snail or other creature would have an inscription on it's shell. Nearly 2,000 of these were unearthed before the work was halted for the winter in November of that year.

Clearly, these were excellent evidence for the lusus naturae theory, and more specifically, the "God made these" theory. (The lusus naturae interpretation was never saying anything but "god created these in their current form"). Beringer was very scientific about it -- he did not claim that all of these were made in the same way, and he put forth many ways they might have been formed. Perhaps some were left over from the flood, formed from the plastic power of the earth (vis plastica), spawned from eggs and seeds that had become trapped in the rock, or carved by pagans. But none of these could explain the name of God in the stones.

When winter came, Beringer started work on a book describing his find and it's implications in great detail. While he was writing it, two of his colleagues, J. Ignatz Roderick and Georg von Eckhart claimed that the stones were frauds, created recently by human hands, and that Beringer was a fool to think otherwise (if he indeed did). They manufactured a few stones themselves, and had one of Beringer's workers take them to him. He accepted them as true fossils, and Roderick and Eckhart openly declared that they had created them, throwing suspicion on the older stones. Beringer published his book, Lithographiae Wirceburgensis, in 1726 (like most scientific books of the day, it was in Latin).

The book was well and powerfully written, thoroughly researched, and made it quite clear that these stones could not be fakes. While there were the marks of a sculptor's knife on many of them, he was certain that this knife could not belong to anyone but God. It sold very well, which was a bit of a problem when shortly thereafter Beringer decided that he had been wrong about the whole thing, and tried to buy back and burn every copy.

No one knows why he changed his mind -- the most popular story is that he found a rock with his own name carved in it. Whatever happened, it caused him to request a official inquiry into the matter, which began on April 13, 1726. It was found that only one workman was guilty of any misdeed; Christian Zanger admitted to receiving stones from Professor Roderick, although this accounted for only three out of the nearly 2,000 finds. He also said that Roderick had claimed to have buried some other stones himself. If Roderick and Eckhart were ever questioned, no record of it remains, but they left town shortly thereafter (Würzburg as a whole was not happy with them).

Common myth claims that Beringer 'died of shame' shortly thereafter, but in fact he lived 14 more years, dying in 1740. He never spoke of the stones again, but went on to publish a couple other works.

In 1963 Lithographiae Wirceburgensis was translated into English and published by the University of California Press. If you want the first edition, these days they go for over $10,000, and the 1963 edition is likely to be about $40.00. Many of the stones (called "Lugensteine" {lying stones}) are still in various museums, and most likely can also be purchased for large amounts.

There is a picture of Beringer at:

There are some photographs of his stones at:

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