The late biologist and prolific writer, Ivan T. Sanderson (whose papers are housed at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia), was a truly eclectic Renaissance man. Sanderson coined the term “OOPARTS” (Out-of-Place-Artifacts) for the various anomalous objects – human , animal, artificial – which have been found throughout the Earth’s strata or in geological formations where they should not be located, according to conventional scientific theory. Accounts of such materials could fill volumes, but the following are a few OOPARTS which I have personally found over the years pertaining to discoveries from Pennsylvania.
Most individuals are familiar with the numerous fossil discoveries found within mines, such as dinosaur footprints embedded in the roofs of coal tunnels in Utah. Yet on December 9, 1863, the Philadelphia Germantown Telegraph mentioned the discovery of a “tree trunk cut out of [a] coal mine by miners at the Baltimore Mine at Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania,” which still had its roots and canopy, embedded in the coal.
Somewhat more out-of-the-ordinary was the discovery of a “hen’s egg,” one which was “firmly embedded in the sand, 33 feet below the surface, in good condition,” which was found “when sinking a well in Plain Grove Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.” The account, recorded within the Philadelphia (PA) Public Ledger for July 28, 1858, remarked how the egg “was broken and appeared fresh, but spoiled in a few minutes after being exposed to the air.”
The True Democrat of Lewistown, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, for May 11, 1864, under the heading of, “A Wonderful Discovery”, recorded a curious incident at a rolling mill of “Wood, Morrell & Company,” at Johnstown in Cambria County. While workers were laying foundations for a new business and using a piece of large sandstone, once cut-in-two, found within, “a frog, pressed as flat as a cent, and lying in a crevice or in the cavity stone,” a reptile which was “plump when it fell out, appeared to be blind,.” The stone had been quarried from spurs of Laurel Hill some thirty years previously.
Somewhat more puzzling is the account recorded in the American Journal of Science, Vol.19, Series 1 (1831), p. 361, entitled “Singular Impression in Marble.” This discovery is also recorded within Sherman Day’s work, Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania…Relating to Its History & Antiquities (Philadelphia: George W. Gorton, 1843), pp’s. 498-499. A letter written to famed Professor B. Sillimon, mentions how “a block of marble measuring upwards of thirty cubic feet,” and taken from between 60 and 70 feet below the surface, had been cut out of Mr. Henderson’s quarry which was, located some three miles west of Norristown in Montgomery County. Within the “body of the marble,” as “exposed by the cutting immediately,” were found “about one and a half inches long and about five eights of an inch,” the “two raised characters.”
Witnesses were called in to observe the above discovery in order to verify its authenticity as well as to satisfy the public that “an imposition had not been practiced by cutting the indentation and carving the letters after the slab was cut off.” A cast of the raised letters was sent to Prof. Sillimon in 1830, which was subsequently published as stated within the American Journal of Science.
Even more intriguing is the account entitled, “Great Curiosity,” printed in the Lewistown [PA] Gazette, on April 25, 1866, of, “a piece of slate taken from a coal vein…running far into the mountain, whose surface was covered with, “as if cut with a graver’s chisel…representations of human faces-the chin, mouth, cheeks, nose, forehead and eyes.”
Yet perhaps most interesting of all was the discovery in the anthracite coal fields of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, in Northumberland County. An object mentioned by many newspapers throughout the state at the time in October of 1899, of “a human head, petrified,” found “on No.3 level, of No.3 slope,” at the Cameron Colliery or mine, by miner George Miller and others. The Philadelphia Press remarked how, “the discovery is the most important to date of the many fossils and vegetable curiosities found in anthracite coal beds.”
The above article stated that, “the head was pried from a mass of rock and was first thought to be no more than a sulphur ball. However, upon close examination a miner saw the resemblance to a face.” The rock, weighing some forty pounds was scraped clean.” The Pottsville (PA) Evening Chronicle of Schuylkill County, stated that the, “jawbones of the head just discovered are very heavy, cheekbones prominent and far apart, while the nose is small and the back of the head flat and broad.” Interestingly, previous to this discovery in 1899, miners at the Henry Clay Colliery had found “a man’s hand,” which was “petrified,” found in a ledge of coal and slate in 1896, according to the Williamsport (PA) Sun, in Lycoming County.
Francis Bacon, the famed English philosopher of the 16th & 17th centuries perhaps wisely stated so long ago how “History is like the planks of a ship-wreck. More has been lost than has been saved.” Frederick Soddy, one of the fathers of modern atomic theory and Nobel Peace Prize winner, in his work Interpretation of Radium believed that there had once existed upon our planet, “a forgotten race of men [who] attained not only to the knowledge we have so recently won, but also to the power that is not yet ours…” He stated, “I believe that there have been civilizations in the past that were familiar with atomic energy, and that by misusing it, they were totally destroyed.” He continued on to say that the very atoms of the prehistoric civilization had disintegrated.
One can speculate as to the origin, meaning, and interpretation of the above findings in Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the world, both ancient and modern, which number in the thousands. If nothing else, it reveals how fascinating our world actually is, and that there are many unexplained anomalies or OOPARTS no doubt waiting to be discovered, perhaps once again here in Pennsylvania. Such accounts as discussed may be found in newspapers available here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.