The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
On Meteorites and Celestial Stones Pages 91 - 117
The ancients supposed the stars to be the domiciles of the gods; falling stars and falling meteorites signified the descending of a god or the sending of its image to the earth. These envoys were received with divine honor,
embalmed and draped, and worshipped in temples built for them.
The coins to which we have alluded were usually struck in honor of the sanctuaries wherein the aerolites were
objects of adoration, and the temple is often rudely figured with the stone set up in the centre. In many cases the
meteorite was preserved in its original form, which, if conical, was regarded as a phallic symbol; in other cases,
the mass was rudely shaped into the conventional form of some divinity.
It is stated in Spangenberg's Chron. Saxon, that in
998 a.d. two immense stones fell at Magdeburg
during a thunderstorm. One of these is said to
have fallen in the town itself and the other
in the open country, near the river Elbe The
description of a meteoric fall given in an
eighteenth century treatise on meteors, presents
a vivid picture of the phenomena attending — or
believed to have attended — such a fall. We are
told that on June 16, 1794, at about seven o'clock
in the evening a thunder cloud was seen in
Tuscany, near the city of Siena and the town of
cloud came from the north, and shot forth sparks like
rockets, smoke rising from it like a furnace; at the same
time a series of explosions was heard, not so much resem-
bling the sound of thunder as that produced by the firing of
cannon or the discharge of many muskets. The cloud re-
mained suspended in the air for some time, during which
many stones fell to the earth, some of which were found.
One of them is described as being of irregular form, with a
point like a diamond; it weighed about five pounds and gave
out a "vitriolic smell." Another weighed three and a half
pounds, was very hard, of the color of iron, and "smelled
like brimstone. 39
The following passage written in the fourteenth, or perhaps
in the thirteenth century, shows considerable accuracy
of observation: 40
There are some who fancy that the thunder is a stone, for the reason that a stone often falls when it thunders in
stormy weather. This is not true, for if the thunder were a stone, it would wound the people and animals it strikes,
just as any other falling stone does. However, this is not the case, for we see that the people who have been struck
by thunder (sic) show no wounds, but they are black from the stroke, and this is because the hot vapor bums the
blood in their hearts. Therefore, they perish without wounds.
The fall of a siderite twenty miles east of Lahore in India, on April 17, 1621, is reported in contemporary records.
From this iron, which weighed about 3 1/4 pounds, the Mogul Emperor Jehangir ordered two sabres to be made,
as well as a knife and a dagger, and commanded that the fact should be properly registered. Here, as in other
similar cases, the weapons were believed to possess a quasi-
39 King, " Remarks Concerning Stones said to have Fallen from the Clouds," London, 1796, p. 4.
40Megenberg, " Buch der Natur," ed. Pfeiffer, Stuttgart, 1861, p. 92. (This is based on Thomas de Cantimprg's
"Liber de natura rerum," written about 1240.)
magic power because of the celestial origin of the material employed.41
Michele Mercato42 (d.15,93) gjves a vivid description of the fall of a meteor which was observed near
Castrovilarii, in Calabria, January 10, 1583. Some men in a meadow observed a black, whirling cloud rushing
through the air, and saw it descend to the earth not far from where they were standing. The noise accompanying the descent of the meteorite was so deafening that it was heard far and wide, and the poor men fell to the ground
almost unconscious from terror. People from the neighborhood hastened to the spot and, after restoring the
terrified witnesses of the phenomena, discovered a mass of iron weighing thirty-three pounds at the spot where the black cloud had touched the earth.
The startling phenomenon of a rain of stones from the sky which took place under rather queer circumstances is
reported by the Jesuit priest Alvarus as having occurred in China in 1622. The Taoist priests of that land enjoyed
the repute of being able to bring down rain from the sky by their magic or religious rites, and when, during the year
mentioned, China was visited by a drought of unexampled severity, the aid of these rain-makers was invoked.
Yielding, perhaps not unwillingly, to the popular entreaty, a group of priests ascended a hill and proceeded to
pronounce their invocations. To the joy of the onlookers the sky became darkened and a rushing sound was heard,
at first mistaken for an oncoming rain-storm, but to the dismay of all an immense shower of stones of all sizes fell
upon the earth, destroying what remained of the parched fruits and
41 E. F. F. Chladni, "Neues Verzeichniss der herabgefallenen Stein- und Eisenmassen," p. 17; Gilbert's Annalen
der Physik, vol. 1. (From copy having MS. notes and emendations by the author.)
42 Metallotheca Vatlcana, Eomse, 1719, p. 248.
grain crops, and killing or maiming many persons. So terrifying was the sight that the Jesuits who were watching
the result of the affair half -believed that the Last Day had come.
When the panic had finally subsided, the people fell upon the unlucky Taoist priests and beat them soundly.43
In the "Annals of the Ottoman Empire," by Subhi Mohammed Effendi, there is an account of the fall of a
meteor at Hasergrad, on the banks of the Danube, on the fourth of Saban, A. H. 1153 (October 25, 1740). The
weather was fine, not a cloud was to be seen in the sky, and not a breath of air was stirring. Suddenly there arose
a whirlwind, the air became obscured with clouds of dust, rain fell in torrents, and it became dark as night. While
all who were out of doors were hastening to seek shelter from the storm, three terrific peals of thunder were heard,
as loud as the sound of many cannon. After the storm had passed several strange masses partly of stone and partly
of iron were discovered in a nearby field. The Vizier bore two of these as great rarities to the Sultan in
The influence exerted by popular beliefs, even upon the learned, is well illustrated by the opinion given by some
of the leading French physicists of the eighteenth century as to the character of meteorites. When a meteoric
stone fell at Luce, Dept. Mame, France, September 13, 1768, three French scientists, among them the celebrated Lavoisier, were sent to investigate the matter. In their report to the Academy of Sciences, they state that there
must have been some error in the accounts given of the event, for it was an assured fact that no such things as
pierres de foudre, or thunder-stones, existed. This was, of course, perfectly true, but Lavoisier and his companions
did not stop to think
"Ulyssis Aldrovandi, " Museum Metallicum," pp. 528, 529.
"Fundgruben des Orients, vol. iv, p. 282; Wien, 1814.
that stones miglit fall to the earth in some other way.
The result of the investigation was sununed up as follows:
If the existence of thunder-stones was regarded as doubtful at a time when physicists had scarcely any idea of the nature of thunder, it is even less admissible to-day, when modem physicists have discovered the effects of this
natural phenomenon are the same as those of electricity. There is no record that the f ulgarite, the fused sand or
rock struck by the lightning, has ever been used.
The opinion which seems the most probable to us, and that which is most in accord with the accepted principles of physics as well as with the facts reported by Abbe Bacheley, and our own investigation, is that the stone was
originally covered with a slight crust of earth and turf, and was struck by lightning and so made visible.
Chladni reports in a pamphlet published in 1794 that the mass of meteoric iron discovered by Dr. Pallas in Siberia,
and known as the Pallas or Krasnojarsk iron meteorite, was regarded by the Tartars as a sacred object which had
fallen from heaven.45 As it is somewhat unlikely that this belief could be accounted for by an ancient tradition, we
must seek an explanation in the conviction among primitive peoples that any mass of rock or metal of unusual
appearance and differing notably from the surrounding formations must have come from the sky. In this way
primitive instinct often anticipates the results of modem scientific investigation. This siderite, of irregular form
and weighing some 1500 pounds, was seen by Dr. Pallas in 1772, and deposited by him in 1776 ; he learned that it
had been found in 1749 at the summit of a mountain situated between Krasnojarsk and Abakansk, by a Cossack.
Most of this famous siderite is preserved in the St. Petersburg Museum.
A singular circumstance in regard to the fall of a meteor, and one that in ancient times would have been explained
"King, " Remarks Concerning Stones said to have Fallen from the Clouds," London, 1796, p. 26.
a miraculous way, is that during the desperate and bloody battle of Borodino, won by Napoleon over the Russians,
September 6, 1812, a meteorite is said to have fallen near the headquarters of the Russian general. This would
certainly have been regarded — after the event — as a manifestation of divine wrath, and hence a prognostic of
the Russian defeat. However, had the French been defeated, the meteorite would have been looked upon as a sign
of divine favor, and it would have been honored and reverenced. In modem times the natural phenomenon is taken
for what it is worth, and the only interest excited is a purely scientific one.
Of all the meteorites that have been discovered, the most remarkable are undoubtedly those found at Melville
Bay, about 35 miles east of Cape York, West Greenland, in 1894, by Admiral, then Lieutenant, Robert E. Peary,
and brought by him to the United States in 1895 and 1897.46
They are now to be seen in the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The first report of the existence
of meteoric iron in the vicinity came from Captain Ross, who in 1818 was given two iron knives, or lance-heads, by
some Eskimo of Regent's Bay. An analysis of the metal revealed the presence of nickel and immediately
suggested a meteoric origin of the material; nothing more definite could be learned at the time from the Eskimo
than that the metal had been taken from an "iron mountain" not far away. In 1840, the King of Denmark, whose
interest had been aroused in the matter, authorized the sending out of an expedition to seek for the suspected
siderites, but the search proved unsuccessful; a later attempt made by the officers of the North Star, a
Franklin relief ship, in 1849-50, also failed. For a time the determination of the telluric origin of the supposed
siderites discovered at Ovifak,Disko Island,West Greenland,
"Lieut. Robert E. Peary, "Northward over the 'Great Ice,' "New York, 1897, vol. ii, pp. 553 sqq.
"THE WOMAN," CAPE YORK METEORITE
In the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. Weight a ton and a half
Obtained by Admiral Peary
by Baron N. A. E. Nordenskiold in 1870, cast some doubt upon the true meteoric character of the iron of which
the Cape York knives had been made, and rather discouraged further searches. It was not until 1894 that these extraordinary masses of meteoric iron were at last seen and located by a European, one of the hunters of the Tellikontinah tribe of Smith Sound Eskimos serving as Lieutenant Peary's guide.
The siderites were three in number, the two smaller having been named by the Eskimo ''The Dog" and ''The
"Woman,'' respectively, while the largest was known as "The Tent."
It now bears the name of Ahnighito, that of the daughter of the explorer.
The two smaller ones reposed loosely upon gneissic rocks, but Ahnighito, found on a small island some six miles
away, on a terrace 80 feet above tide-water and about 100 feet from the shore, lay almost buried in rocks and sand.
Eskimo legend had woven its web about these enigmatic meteorites and the natives saw in them an Innuit woman,
who with her dog and tent had been hurled from the sky in a bygone age by Tornarsuk, the Evil One. Originally the
mass called "The Woman" was said to have closely resem-bled the figure of a woman, seated and engaged in
sewing, but by the gradual chipping away of fragments of the iron this form had almost disappeared. Peary was
told that not long before, the "head" had fallen off and that a party of Eskimo had tried to carry it away, lashed to
a sledge; however, as they were passing over the ice, it suddenly broke up, so that sledge, iron and dogs sank in
the water and the Eskimo themselves barely escaped with their lives.
The dimensions of Ahnighito, the largest siderite ever discovered, are given as follows: length, 10 feet 11 inches;
height 6 feet 9 inches ; thickness, 5 feet 2 inches. It weighs something over 36% tons. The weight of "The Woman"
is 3 tons, and that of "The Dog" 1100 pounds. The
chemical compositions of these three siderites, which are regarded as having originally constituted a single mass,
have been determined by J. E. Whitfield. In addition to small quantities of copper, sulphur, phosphorus and carbon,
the following proportions of the main constituents were ascertained: 47
The Dog The Woman Ahnighito
Iron.................... 90.99 91.47 91.48
Nickel................ 8.27 7.78 7.79
Cobalt................ 53 .53 .53
Though smaller and less imposing by its mass than the greatest of the Cape York meteorites, that called
"Willamette" from having been found two miles northwest of the town of that name in Clackamas County, Oregon, ranks as the fourth, or possibly the third largest iron meteorite in the world, and is the largest discovered within
the territory of the United States; remarkable peculiarities of form make it an especially interesting object.48
It was a chance find, made in 1902 by two prospectors in their search for gold or silver. Noting what appeared to
be a very slight rock projection they tapped this with their hammers and the sound of the blow revealed the
presence of metal; digging down here and there, they ascertained the existence of a considerable mass of iron.
Although at first no one supposed that it was a meteorite, before long this fact became known, and the finder, by
very primitive methods and by dint of tireless efforts, succeeded in transporting the iron to his own land. His
courageous attempt to acquire possession of it was not, however, crowned with success, as the courts decided that
the company owning the land whereon it had
47 Edmund Otis Hovey, " The Foyer Collection of Meteorites," American Museum of Natural History, Guide
Leaflet No. 26, December, 1907, pp. 23-27.
48 Henry A. Ward, "Willamette Meteorite"; Proc. Eochester Acad, of Sc, vol. iv, pp. 137-148, plates 13-18.
been found possessed the right to reclaim it from the finder.
When weighed on the railroad scales in Portland, Oregon, the net weight of this siderite was shown to be 31,107
pounds. The most striking peculiarity is the abundance of pittings and hollows and their unusual size. That these
resulted in part from the effects of the enormous heat generated by the swift flight of this weighty mass through the
earth's atmosphere, is generally admitted; but some of the deepest pits are believed to owe their origin to the
decomposition of spheroidal nodules of troilite, and the cylindrical holes to the decomposition of rod-like masses
of the same substance. Willamette, which was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, by Mrs.
William E. Dodge, is 10 feet long, 6 feet 6 inches high, and has a thickness of 4 feet 3 inches.49 Chemical analyses
have been made by Mr. J. M. Davison of the University of Rochester and by J. E. Whitfield of Philadelphia. Their respective determinations are here given:
Iron 91.65 91.46
Nickel 7.88 8.30
Cobalt 21 ?
Phosphorus 09 ?
The famous Canon Diablo meteorite possesses a surpassing mineralogical interest.50 In 1891, at the Tenth
International Geologic Congress, Washington, D. C, the mineralogist Koenig announced that he had discovered
49 Edmund Otis Hovey, " The Foyer Collection of Meteorites," American Museum of Natural History, Guide
Leaflet No. 26, December, 1907, pp. 27, 28.
50"See the present writer's "Diamond and Moissanite; Natural, Artificial and Meteoric," a lecture delivered at
the Twelfth General Meeting of the American Electro-chemical Society in New York City, Oetoher 18, 1907; here
the literature on this important meteor is fully given. Two other interesting meteorites are described by George F.
Kunz and Ernest Wemschenk in the American Journal of Science, vol. xliii. May 1892, pp. 424-426, figures.
microscopic diamonds in this meteorite, and later investigations by Prof. Henri Moissan confirmed this discovery
and enlarged its scope. A mass of the iron weighing about 400 pounds was used by Professor Moissan; this was
cut by means of a steel ribbon saw. As had been the case in Koenig's investigations, the saw soon encountered
excessively hard portions that obstructed its operation, so that twenty days' labor was requisite to separate the
iron into two parts, each with a section area of nearly 100 square inches. On close examination it became evident
that the obstacles to the cutting consisted of round or elliptical nodules, of a dark gray to black hue, and enclosed
in the bright iron.
These nodules were mainly composed of troilite (iron protosulphide). After chemical treatment an insoluble residue
remained, consisting of silica, amorphous carbon, graphite and diamond. Many of these very minute diamonds
were black, but a few were transparent crystals, octahedrons with rounded edges.51 The presence of this diamond material in the interior of the iron mass of the meteorite indicates their formation from carbon by the combined agencies of high temperature and great pressure, as in the case of the artificial diamonds experimentally
produced by Moissan in an iron mass first subjected to intense heat in tho electric furnace and then rapidly
contracted in volume by sudden chilling. The fervid imagination of early writers would certainly have attributed wonderful talismanic powers to stones like these, probably generated in some lost planet and reaching our earth
through the wastes of celestial space, could they have been able to observe and distinguish them with the
incomplete optical resources of their time.
The first announcement of the discovery of these dia-
"See Henri Moiasan; " Etude de la metorite de Caffon Diablo," Comptes Rendus de I'Academie des Sciences,
vol. cxvi (1893), pp. 288 sqq.; see also his paper on the Ovifak meteorite, Comptes Rendus, vol. cxxi (1895), pp.
monds from the Canon Diablo meteorite was made by Dr. A. E. Foote, and not long after Profesisor Koenig's
determination of their character, the present writer suggested an experiment that would afford absolute proof that
the material was really diamond. This was to charge a new skaif, or diamond-polishing wheel, with the supposed
diamond dust obtained from the meteorite; should the material polish a diamond there could be no doubt as to its character.
On September 11, 1893, this experiment was tried at the Mining Building of the "World's Columbian Exposition.
After the skaif had been charged with the residuum separated from the meteorite by Dr. 0. W. Huntington, it was
given a speed of 2500 revolutions to the minute, and in less than fifteen minutes a small flat surface had been
ground down and polished on a cleavage-piece of rough diamond held against the wheel. The experiment was then repeated several times on other diamonds and always successfully.
This showed conclusively that the residuum of the meteorite contained many minute diamond fragments.52
A most important group of meteorites were found in 1886 in Brenham to'wnship, Kiowa County, Kansas, by some
of the farmers of this district in the course of their farming operations.53 Entirely unaware of their scientific value,
the finders used these objects to weight down haystacks, or for similar uses to which they would put small
boulders. In all some twenty of these specimens have been recovered, varying in weight all the way from 466
pounds down to a single ounce. Most of them were taken from an area of about sixty acres, although some were scattered over a wider tract. The largest piece of the group, that oh which the
51 G. F. Kunz and 0. W. Huntington, " On the Diamond in the Cafion Piablo Meteoric Iron and on the Hardness of Carborundum," American Journal of Science, vol. xlvi, December, 1893.
52 George F. Kunz, "On Five American Meteorites," American Journal of Science, vol. xl, Oct., 1890, pp. 312-323.
farmers had bestowed the fanciful name of the "moon meteorite, ''had lain only three inches beneath the surface
of the ground and broke a ploughshare when it was first struck; none of the masses appear to have been buried
deeper down than from five to six inches. The largest mass measures twenty-four inches across the widest part
and fourteen and a half at the thickest part. These Kiowa meteorites are in a sense gem-meteorites, for a number
of beautiful and brilliant olivine crystals occur in them; many are in two distinct zones, the inner one being a bright transparent yellow, while the outer one is of a dark-brown iron olivine, in reality a mixture of troilite and olivine.
The character and composition of the worked iron of meteoric origin found in some of the Turner group of Indian mounds, in the Little Miami Valley, Ohio, indicate that the latter may perhaps be brought into connection with this
group of meteorites. For here, as in the Frozen North among the Esquimo, and in a number of other cases, the iron available for primitive man was mainly that of meteorite origin.
In view of the relatively small number of meteorites that have fallen in historical times, and of the small part of the earth's surface actually occupied by human settlements, we need scarcely be surprised at the statement that there
is but one credibly recorded instance of the killing of a human being by a meteorite. This unique disaster is said
to have happened at Mhow in India, and fragments of the meteorite which fell then are to be seen in museum
collections. The great weight of some meteorites would have rendered them very destructive had they not fallen
in the open country; the heaviest single mass actually known to have fallen, came to the ground at Knyahinya,
Hungary, in 1866, and weighed 547 pounds; it buried itself 11 feet in the ground. Of course much heavier aerolites
and siderites, satisfactorily recognizable as such, have been found, the
heaviest being perhaps that at Bacubrit, Mexico, 13 feet in length with a width of 6 feet and a thickness of 5 feet;
the weight of this mass is estimated to be some 50 tons.
Of meteorites which have fallen in more or less close proximity to human beings, may be noted one at Tourinnesla Grosse, which broke the street pavement; another at Angers, which fell into a garden, near to where a lady was standing; and still another at Brunau, which passed through a cottage roof.54
Many other accidents caused by meteorites or what were believed to be meteorites are recorded, the credibility
of some of the statements not being very convincing; others, however, appear to be quite worthy of credence.
Thus the Chronicle of Ibn Alathir relates that several persons were killed by a rain of stones that fell to the earth
in Africa in August, 1020 A.D.55 In the middle of the seventeenth century the tower of a prison building in Warsaw
is said to have been destroyed by a meteorite.56 A hundred years or so before, on May 19, 1552, there was a great
fall of stones, not far from Eisleben, one of which killed the favorite steed of Count Schwarzenburg, while another wounded the count's body-physician, Dr. Mitthobius, in the foot. This was witnessed by Spangenberg, who reports
it in his Saxon Chronicle; he carried off some of the stones with him to Eisleben.57
An eight-pound stone (probably a siderite) is stated by a certain Olaf Erikson to have fallen on shipboard and
killed two persons, at some time about the niiddle of the seventeenth century; this is rather indefinite information.58
The most remarkable happening, however, is reported from
54Lazarus Fletcher, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. xviii, p. 263; article Meteorites.
55 Chladni, op. cit., p. 8.
56 Petri Borelli, "Hist, et observ. phys.-med.," 1676; cited by Chladni, op. cit., p. 20.
57 Chladni, op. cit., p. 14 ; see also Gilbert's Annalen, vol. xxix, p. 376.
58 Chladni, op. cit., p. 19.
Milan from the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century, when a very small meteorite,
weighing not quite an ounce, fell into the cloister of Santa Maria della Pace (now a cotton factory) and killed a Franciscan monk. Such was the velocity of this little stone that it penetrated deep into the monk's body, whence it
was extracted and preserved for a long time in the Collection of Count Settala. The greater part of this collection
went later to the Ambrosian Library at Milan, but Chladni sought in vain there for any trace of the death-dealing meteorite.59
Among the "Welsh peasants there is a belief that when a meteor falls to the earth it becomes reduced to a mass
of jelly. This they name pwdre ser. The most plausible explanation offered for this fancy is that the autumn, the
season when the largest number of meteors may be observed, is also the time of the year when the jelly-like
masses of the Plasmodium of Myxomycetes most frequently appear in the fields. A peasant who, after noting the apparent fall of a meteor, should go in search of it, might easily come across one of these lumps of plasma, and
might well be induced to think that he had found all that was left of the meteor after its violent fall to the earth. Of course we have here to do with the apparent, not with the real, fall of a meteorite.
In this connection it is interesting to note that the medusa, or jelly-fish, has been called a "fallen star" by sailors.60
This Welsh fancy that meteors or ''falling-stars'' turned to a jelly when they struck the earth appears to have been
quite general in Great Britain, and the jelly-like substance was variously named "star-slough," "star-shoot,"
"star-gelly" or "jelly, " "star-fall 'n.'' The "Welsh pwdre ser literally means "star-rot." As early as 1641 Sir John
Suckling (1609-1642) wrote the following lines which well de-
59 Chladni, op. eit., p. 22.
60 See " Nature " for June 23 and July 21, 1910.
scribe the way in which these gelatinous substances came to be regarded as the remains of a "fallen star":
As he whose quicker eye doth trace
A false star shot to a maxk'd place
Do's run apace,
And, thinking it to catch,
A jelly up do snatch.
Sir Walter Scott also, whose familiarity with superstitions was very great, has not failed to note this one in his
"Talisman," where the hermit says: "Seek a fallen star and thou shalt only light on some foul jelly, which in
shooting through the horizon has assumed an appearance of splendour." Here the star itself is supposed to have
had this gelatinous form.
An. early writer,61 noting this curious belief that ''a white and gelatinous substance" was all that remained of a
fallen star, declares that he had clearly demonstrated to the Royal Society that the mass was composed of the
intestines of frogs, and had been vomited by crows, adding that his opinion had been confirmed by the testimony
of other scientific men. Huxley, from a description, conjectured that the substance was nostoc, a gelatinous
vegetable mass, but this seems to be somewhat doubtful. In 1744 Robert Boyle states that some of this
"star-shoot" was given to a physician of his acquaintance, who "digested it in a well-stopt glass for a long time,"
and then sold the liquor for a specific in the removal of wens.63
A jelly-like mass believed by him to be the remains of a "fallen star" was found by Mr. Rufus Graves at Amherst,
Mass., on August 14, 1819, and duly reported in the American Journal of Science.®^ As this gentleman was at one
61 Merrett," Pinax rerum naturalium Britannicarum," London, 1667, p. 219.
62 The Works of the Hon. Robert Boyle," vol. i, p. 244. "Vol. ii, pp. 335-7, 1820.
time lecturer on ckemistry at Dartmoutli College, his testimony is worth heeding, but there can be no doubt that
while he accurately describes what he found, he was altogether mistaken in supposing that the meteor fell
precisely on the spot where he discovered the gelatinous substance. As we have noted, it has recently been
suggested that these "jellies'' are plasmodia of forms of Myxomycetes which do not appear to have any
connection with the spot whereon they rest, but seem to have fallen from the air.64
Falling stars are explained by the natives of Labrador and of Baffin's Bay as being souls of the departed bound on
an excursion to Hades in order to see what is going on there, while the phenomena of thunder and lightning are
caused by a party of old women, who quarrel so violently over the possession of a seal that they bring the house
down over their heads and shatter the lamps. These "old women" must, of course, be spirits of the upper air, not
In some Australian tribes the sorcerers, or "medicinemen," taking advantage of the superstitious dread of falling
stars common among the aborigines, pretend to have marked the spot where such a star has fallen and to have dug
it up and preserved it in their medicine-bag. These supposititious "fallen stars" are sometimes quartz pebbles, and
in one instance the curiosity of a European investigator was satisfied by the display of a piece of thick glass, which
the sorcerer strictly maintained he had dug out of the ground wherein the star had fallen.66
Arrow-heads encased in silver were looked upon as the solid contents of the lightning flash, and were not only
thought to protect the house in which they were kept from
64 Edward E. Free in Nature, Nov. 3, 1910, No. 2140, vol. Ixxxv.
65 Amaldo Fauatini, " Gli Eschimesi," Torino, 1912, p. 41.
66 Edward M. Curr, " The Australian Races," Melbourne and London, vol. iii, p. 29.
being struck by lightning, but their protective power was believed to extend to seven houses in the imnediate
neighborhood. An interesting example is a neolithic silex arrow-head figured by Bellucci. This has been elegantly
set in silver in modern times, and comes from Pesca Costanzo, in the province of Aquila, Italy.
The Italians are convinced that if the arrow-head, or similar object, come in contact with a piece of iron, the
"essence of the lightning" departs from it, revealing itself in a spark; hence they wrap it up, carefully, in skin,
cloth, or paper so as to guard it from harm. Sometimes these objects are anointed with oil, a survival of the custom
of making pro-pitiatory offerings of oil. This usage in the case of sacred stones is very general, and is met with in
places as remote from each other as Sweden, India and the Society Islands.67
In an Iroquois myth and legend. He-no, the god of thunder, is an object of great veneration because of the
powerful aid he renders to those whom he favors. He is believed to direct the rain which shall fertilize the seed in
the earth, and also to give aid to the harvesters when the fruits of the earth have ripened. While traversing the
celestial vault, in his joumeyings hither and thither above the surface of the globe, he bears with him an enormous
basket fiUed with huge boulders of chert rock. These he casts at any evil spirit he may encounter, and when on
occasion a spirit succeeds in avoiding such a boulder, it will fall down to the earth surrounded by fire. We have
here another version of the almost universal myth of thunder- stones.68
In treating of the flint arrow-heads of the American Indians, Adair notes that in form and material they closely
67 Bellucci, " II feticismo in Italia," Perugia, 1907, pp. 17 sqq.
68 Harriet Maxwell Converse, "Myths and Legends of the N. Y. State Iroquois," edited and annotated by Arthur Caswell Parker (Ga-wa-so-wa-neh), New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 125, Albany, 1908, p. 40.
resembled the "elf-stones" with which European peasants were wont to rub any of their cattle believed to have
been "shot" by fairies or elves. A village in which one of these magic objects existed was considered to be
particularly favored by fortune, as they not only served to protect the cattle from bewitchment but were equally efficacious in preserving human beings from the spells of witches.69
In East Prussia, when cows are believed to have been bewitched so that their milk is under a spell, resort is had
to the powers of a perforated "thunder-stone." Such stones were ancient stone hammers with a central
perforation for a handle. The stone is held beneath the cow at milking-time, and the milk is allowed to pass
through the perforation.70 By this means the spell is broken and the milk becomes harmless.
Such perforated stones are also used to protect a house from being struck by lightning. When a storm approaches
nearer and nearer, the owner of one of these magic stones will thrust his finger through the hole, twirl the stone
around three times, and then hurl it against the door of the room.
When this has been done, the house is believed to be proof against lightning.71
In Westphalia the stone is laid upon a table alongside of a consecrated candle, the shrewd peasants thus assuring
for their houses the protection of the church as well as that of the ancient God of Thunder.72
Another phase of the superstition in regard to the stone axes known in many different parts of the world as
thunderstones, because they are believed to have fallen during a thunder-storm, is given by Dr. Lund in a letter
written from Logoa Santa in Brazil. He states that the inhabitants
69 Adair, "History of the American Indians," London, 1775, p. 425.
70 Frischbier, "Hexenspruch und Zauberbann," Berlin, 1870, p. 19.
71 Ibid., p. 107.
72 Hartmann, "Bilder aus Westfalen," Onnabruck, 1871, p. 144.
rather look askance at these stones, believing that wherever they are found the lightning is apt to strike, "in order
to seek its brother!73
The stone implements of various forms found in the shell-heaps of Brazil are called by the natives Curiscos or ''lightning-stones. ''The Guaranis name them'' stars fallen from heaven"; the Cajuas, '' stones hurled by the
thunder ''; and the Coarados, "axe-stones." A high price is paid for these by the gold-seekers in Brazil, who
believe that, by attraction, they show the presence of gold beneath the surface, just as the divining-rod is supposed
to be affected by the presence of water or by hidden treasures.74
The peasants of Slavonic descent in Moravia have great faith in the virtues of the ''thunder-stone.'' During
Passion " Week the stone has the power to reveal the location of hidden treasures, and it is also believed that
warts on man and horse will disappear if they be rubbed with such a stone before sunset. However, not only healing virtues are attributed, for if the stone be hurled at anyone and strikes him, it inflicts a mortal wound.75
A poetic and appropriate name has been applied to the earliest of the chipped stone artefacts of primitive man by
archaeologists. They are called "Dawn Stones" (eoliths), and the name characterizes these interesting relics, the
first steps in the development of sculptural art, as products of the dawn of human civilization.
A curious survival of the adoration of stones is reported by the Earl of Roden in his "Progress of the Reformation
in Ireland." 76 A correspondent informed Lord Roden that
73 Lund, " Om de Sydamericanske Vildes SteenSxer," Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed, Copenhagen,
1838-1839, p. 159.
74 Kath, in Globus, vol. xxvi, p. 215 (Braunschweig, 1874).
75 Koudela and Jetteles in Anthrop. Gesellsch. Wien, vol. xii, p. 159 (1882).
76 Quoted by Sir J. E. Tennant in Notes and Queries, vol. v, 1952, p. 121 (No. 119, Feb. 7, 1852).
in Inniskea, an island off the coast of Mayo, there was, in 1851, a stone idol called in the Irish tongue Neevougi.
This was said to have been preserved and worshipped from time immemorial. The stone is described as having
been wrapped in so many folds of homespun flannel that it looked like a mass of that material. This is explained
by the custom of dedicating a dress of this flannel to the stone whenever its aid was sought, the garment being
sewed on by an old woman who officiated as the priestess of the stone. Prayers were offered to this strange idol
for the cure of diseases, as it was supposed to be endowed with extraordinary powers.
A stranger petition sometimes made was that a storm might arise and wreck a ship upon the coast so that the
thrifty islanders might profit by its misfortune; on the other hand, with charming inconsistency, when they wished
to go a-fishing or pay a visit to the mainland, the trusty stone was expected to assure them fair weather and a
In Tavernier's time (about 1650) many poor families living in the woods and on the hillsides in India, far from any
village where there was a temple, would take a stone, probably one of a peculiar shape, and would roughly paint
on it a nose and eyes in red or green color. This being done, the whole family would gather about this stone and
reverently adore it as their idol.77
In certain districts in Norway, up to the end of the eighteenth century, superstitious peasants used to preserve
round stones, and set them up in a conspicuous place in their houses. At Yule-tide these stones were sprinkled with
fresh ale. Some of them were worshipped as divinities, and every Thursday, or oftener, they were smeared with
butter, or some similar substance, before the flre. This ointment was allowed to dry on the stone, which was then returned to its
" " Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier," La Haye, 1718, vol. ii, p. 439 ; liv. iii, chap. xi.
place of honor. These ceremonies were supposed to insure the health and happiness of the household.'78
The fact that special ceremonies were performed in connection with these stones on Thursday, as well as the
name " Thor-stones " applied to many of them, indicates that in early times they were associated with the
worship of the god Thor. The so-called thunderbolts— usually flint axe-heads — are believed to have been hurled
at the trolls or elves by the thunder, so that these evil-disposed
spirits might be subdued and prevented from fulfilling an old
saying, according to which they would desolate the earth.
Originally it was Thor himself who was believed to hurl the
These stones were supposed to be endowed with wonder -
When a woman was in labor, ale was allowed to drip over a
stone of this , kind, and was then given to the woman to drink.
All through the Scandinavian countries the peasants believed
that if such a stone were hung up in a house or on cattle, the
trolls and other malevolent spirits would be driven away, and
all spells and witchcraft would be rendered harmless.79
In Sir "William Brereton's account of his travels (1634-
" Magnusen, " Om en Steenring med Eunelndskrift," Annaler for
Nordisk Oldkyndighed, Copenhagen, 1838-1839, p. 133.
" Magnusen, " Om en Steenring med Eunelndskrift," Annaler for
Nordisk Oldkyndighed, Copenhagen, 1838-1839, pp. 132-134.
1635) 80 we read that he saw in the School of Anatomy at Leyden
a stone called "Fulminis Sagitta, or the dart of the thunderbolt,
about the size of your little finger." This was either a belemnite 81
or a stone arrow-head of somewhat similar form. It bore a Latin
inscription to the following effect: "Many believe
that nursing children can be cured of rupture if this stone be attached to their thighs, or if they do not suffer from
this complaint, they will be preserved from it.''
On the ridge-beam of an Irish cottage at Portrush was found a neolithic celt of the kind believed by the peasantry
to be "thunderbolts." This celt had been placed on the roof of the cottage to protect it from being struck by
lightning, a notion thoroughly in accord with the theory of sympathetic magic. In Surrey, England, a like belief is
held as to the fossil belemnites, and nodules of iron pyrites such as have been found in Cretaceous formations
near Cragdon are also thought to have fallen from the sky during a thunder-storm, and to possess peculiar powers
in reference to the lightning. 82
In Ireland the prehistoric stone arrow-head is believed to have been shot at man or beast by the fairies. Should an
old woman be so lucky as to find one she will become highly honored in her village, and it is used as a cure for
diseases produced by the wiles of evil spirits. To effect a cure, the saigead ("arrow") must be placed in water,
which is then given to the sick person to drink. 83 Cows which have been wounded by the "fairy-darts" are also
made to drink of this
80 Brereton, " Travels in Holland, the United Provinces, England, Scotland and Ireland, 1634-1035," Chetham
Soc, London, 1844, p. 41. '
81 The fossilized horny process of an extinct cuttlefish.
82 A. E. Wright and E. Lovett, "Specimens of Modern Mascots and Ancient Amulets of the British Isles,"
Folk Lore, vol. xix, 1908, p. 298; PI. VI, fig. 2.
83 Mooney, " The Medical Mythology of Ireland," Am. Phil. Soc, vol. xxxiv, p. 143, 1887.
water. The Irish peasants wore the stone arrow-heads, set in silver, as amulets for protection against injury from
like weapons at the hands of the fairies. Similar superstitions exist in the North of England.^* Nilsson believes
that the "elf -shots" (the arrow-points or axe-points) of the Irish peasantry are identical with the "Lap-shots" of
the Swedish peasantry. These stones were thought to have belonged to the Laplanders, the "black elves" of the
Edda, and were therefore used as a protection against the witcheries of these elves. The idea that the substance
or thing that has caused an injury can effect a cure of this injury, appears in the Edda. 85
The shepherds in -the French Alps value the "thunderstones" (peyros de iron) very highly. They are handed
down from father to son as precious heirlooms, and when the flocks are driven to the pasturage, one of these
wonder-working stones is embedded in a tuft of wool on the back of the bell-wether ; this is supposed to serve as a protection for the whole flock.86 In Spain the peasants call these stones piedros del rayo, or "lightning-stones." 87
The names bestowed on such prehistoric stone implements by the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago, of Java
and Sumatra, all indicate that they are believed to have fallen from the sky. In Malacca they are called batu
gontur, "lightning-stones," and in Sumatra we have the name anakpitas, "child of the lightning." In the island of
Mas, near Sumatra, they are worn as amulets on the head or attached to the sword. The Watubela islanders
denominate them "teeth of the thunder," a name which suggests the appellation glossopetra ("stone-tongue"),
and like this is evidently
84 Henderson, "Folk-lore of Northern England," pp. 185, 186.
85'Nilsson, "The Primitive Inhabitants of Scandinavia," trans, by that author and ed. by Sir John Lubbock, 3d ed., London, 1868, pp. 200, 201.
86 Tournier, Bull, de la Soc. a'Anthrop., 1874, p. 386.
87 Bull, de la Soc. d'Anthrop., 1860, p. 96. 8
derived from the form of certain of tliese prehistoric celts.88
The Burmans have given the highly poetic name of "rainhow-disease" to the disorder known to us as appendicitis,
and they use the axe-heads and other pointed or sharpened arrow-headsi of the Stone Age for the cure of this
malady, stroking the region affected with one of these implements. The natives share in the delusion almost
universal among primitive peoples, that these stone implements have fallen from the sky during thunder-storms,
and that they partake of the nature of thunderbolts; hence they are supposed to destroy the rainbow-disease, as
the approach of heavy storm' clouds, charged with lightning, darken the sun and put an end to the beautiful
In the island of Mindanao, one of the Philippine group, the heathen Manobos called the thunder the "speech of the
lightning," and regarded the latter as a kind of wild animal, so that whenever the lightning struck the earth or a
tree they believed that the animal had buried its teeth in the spot. They therefore looked upon any stone
implement found there as one of these teeth.89
The ancient stone hammers found in Japan are called rai fu seki, "thunderbolts," or tengu no masakari, "battle-
axes of Tengu," the warder of the heavens. Other stone implements bear the name "fox-axes," or "fox-planes."
These peculiar designations are employed because the fox is a symbol of the devil, and the stone axes are
regarded as weapons of the devil. Of course this in no wise prevents their use as amulets or medicinally; indeed,
their powder is thought to be an especially effective remedy for boils and ulcers. Many such stones may be seen
in the temples, where
*" Morgan, "Maeriaux pour I'hist. primitive," Paris, 1885, p. 484; Verhandl. Berl. Anthrop. Ges., 1879, p. 300;
Von Rosenberg, "Der Malayische Archipel," Leipzig, 1878, p. 175.
" Semper, " Die Philippinen," Wurzburg, 1869, p. 61.
they are carefully preserved and shown to the pilgrims who visit the different shrines.90
Even at the present day, the superstitious belief in the magic properties of the prehistoric stone implements still
survives among some of the Scandinavian peasants. They believe that these offer protection against lightning,
and they are very unwilling to part with them. In some regions the stone axes or arrow-heads are supposed to
afford protection against lightning, and they are occasionally used to relieve the pangs of childbirth. In the latter
case they are placed in the bed of the suffering woman. Another curious use to which they are put is as a cure for
an eruptive disease of children. Here the flint is struck sharply with a piece of steel, so that the sparks fall upon
the child's head.91
This gives us an added proof of the association of these stone axes, etc., with fire and with the lightning flash.
The Burmese celts or stone hatchets are frequently of jade and differ from those usually met with in Europe and
India, in that they are provided with a chisel-edge instead of a double-sloped cutting edge. An interesting account
of the superstitions connected with these implements is given by Mr. Theobald,92 from whom we quote the
following passage. It will be noted that the Burmese ideas are in almost exact accord with those current in Europe.
The Burmese call these implements mo-jio, thunder-chain or thunderbolt, and believe that they descend with the lightning flash, and, after penetrating the earth, work their way back by degrees to the surface, where they are
found scattered about the fields among the lower hills, usually after rain, or on removing the crops. The true
mo-jio is supposed to possess many occult virtues, and it is not common to find one which does not show signs of
having been chipped or scraped for medicinal purposes.
90Von Slebold, Jr., Verhandl. Berl. Anthrop. Ges., 1878, p. 431.
91 Sven Nilsson, " The Primitive Inhabitants of Scandinavia," trans, by the author and ed. by Sir John Lubbock,
3d ed., London, 1868, p. 199.
92 Memoirs of the Geological Survey of India, vol. x, pp. 255-259.
One of the chief virtues of the mo-jio is to render the person of the wearer invukierable ; and many an unlucky
mo-jio has succumbed to the popular test, which is to wrap it in a cloth and fire a buRet at it at short range.
If the man misses the cloth, the authenticity and power of the charm is at once established; if the stone is
fractured it is held not to be a real mo-jio.
Fire will not consume a house which contains one, though I never heard of this ordeal being attempted. Last but
not least is the known fact that the owner of a real mo-jio can cut a rainbow in half with it.
Certain recent happenings have suggested that the name "aviator-stone" would be a peculiarly appropriate
designation for meteorites, and indeed this new name would only serve to emphasize the legendary belief, that he
who bore with him a meteorite when he was in deadly peril would escape all injury. By a strange coincidence those
who are willing to take great risks and chances are generally more or less superstitious regarding small things,
and a daring aviator recently remarked that on one occasion, when his machine had suddenly fallen fifty feet, he
felt for his tie and said to himself: "This accident has happened because I forgot to put on my opal pin, but I have
been saved from injury because I carried a meteorite.'' This aviator, having mentioned the incident to Harmon, a
few minutes before the latter made his successful attempt to win the Doubleday- Page_aviation prize, Harmon immediately took the meteorite which had been shown to him, saying : ''Let me have it.'' He accomplished his
task, and although both the competing machines were injured, the aviators themselves were saved.
A meteorite, of course, cannot be claimed to be a preventive of danger on all occasions, but several who have
always carried them have seemed to escape all sorts of harm. Some years ago a meteorite was given to Edward
Heron Allen, the famous writer on palmistry and the violin, and this gifted man always wore it about him. One
morning he awakened to find that the entire roof above him had fallen
in, except just that portion over his hed. He told the story to one of the best known ladies in Boston; one who
is known for her public spirit, her love of art and her faultless manner of entertaining. This lady successfully
urged Allen to give her the meteorite. A few days later, while out driving, a great truck with two runaway horses attached to it struck her carriage. Instinctively she raised her muff to protect her face; the muff was almost cut in
two, but the lady was not hurt. A few days later, while she was walking under some scaffolding, it fell, and the open
part where the hoists went up proved to be just where she stood. Although surrounded by ruin, she remained