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SYMHC Classics: Johann Beringer's Fossils

2020-08-15 | 🔗

This 2013 episode covers Johann Beringer, the University of Wurzburg's chair of natural history and chief physician to the prince bishop in 1725. He was also unpopular, and some of his colleagues sought to discredit him. There are two versions of the story -- but which is true?

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Abby Saturday, everybody Saturday classics over the last few weeks have been on the heavier side, so we thought we would something a little lighter out of an archive today, and that is Johann. Bear injures fossils fossils cargoes in quotation marks. There. This is a story that combines all of this ingredients, personality conflicts, a hoax and the delightful explanations people came up with for how to explain fossils, for humanity had actually worked out the science there disarray We came out on April twenty second, twenty thirteen welcome to stuff You missed in history class of production of Iheart radio
hello and walk into the park cast. My name is highly fry and I M Tracy Wilson and today we're gonna talk a little bit about early fossil study. Yes, when, when we started on this podcast, I was very sad that previous hosts had already talked about the bone wars, so I am glad that you found a different, crazy fossil story for us to talk about. It is it's one of those things? It's often told in archaeology studies as sort of a cautionary tale to some degree, but it's kind of a fascinating little story and the tail that's often how old is not really completely accurate. So what we're talking about today is Johan Behringer and he was born. Johann Bartolome is Adam Berenger in one thousand six hundred and sixty seven, he was the son of a professor Johanns, Woodzig, Barringer
and Burner was an active scholar. He eventually became the chair of natural history at the university averts Burg and he was also chief physician to the Prince Bishop, averts Bourgh and the Prince bishops, patronage, enable berringer to study a hobby subjects which was fossils, but unfortunately, Berringer was by most accounts rather arrogant and conceited, which kind of lead to. the events that ended up unfolding right. So there were several theories about the origins of fossils. At the time there was the sporadic prince bull and that was that the results of marine animals mating could escape into the sea and sometimes evaporate into the atmosphere fall down. his reign and grow new fish in the rock crevices, where the fertilized eggs fell, which is delightful. So the theory there is the fish examples that you would find in fossils were actual fish that had grown in Iraq because they had fallen
from the sky as fertilized eggs. There's the Helio memory degree, which is that raised from the sun, could sort of leave a photo print onto stones, of the things that the light had already touched. Just all so delightful it is, and it makes me think of photography a little bit and it's kind of a fascinating theory to be rolling around in the early seventeen hundreds right, the sun, with painting pictures on them. So the next was the plastic theory and that's a similar to this dramatic theory. But with the fossils spontaneously growing inside of rocks people had that same theory about other animals like living animals to give it was at that was used to confuse MILAN. Childless generation was popular. Yes, as as a concept, so goose net clams were spawning geese
people's minds at time. So then there's the signature of God, which was barrenness favourite and in his mind too, because I want to call at the start of our best theory. If you have ever read the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and that's that God carve out the images of animals and plants into the rocks when he was making the earth, and Baron I believed that fossils were quote stones in a peculiar sort. Hidden by the author of nature for his own pleasure, I e they were made by a hat higher power, often just out of a sense of delight, rather than occurring via these other principles that were in discussion at the time and so to set that up. That kind of sets up our story, which is, as we said there too. So we're going to start with the first version we just kind of the legendary version and according to this version again, he Barringer was a professor at the time and on May 31st of one thousand seven hundred and twenty five
You or sometimes three, depending on the source. Students brought him fossil samples, and there were three samples. One had a three dimensional image of the sun and two had worms or worm like markings on them, but they were raised up. They weren't embedded inside the rock. They were top of it like extradited. So he was immediately excited and puzzled by these stones and between the first deliver at the end of May and November of seventeen. Twenty five more sample fossils followed. Yes, the students kept bringing him samples these contained all kinds of different images, including heavenly objects like comments with tales and moons, and then even things like hebraic letters. There were plants, there were insects, there were small animals things that we would probably recognise pretty quickly couldn't happen because a lot of them involved soft tissue that would normally be broken down in a fossil situation, but barons.
It was just super excited by all of these discoveries threat and we, as we ve, talked about before he was pretty arrogant and had a high opinion of his own knowledge. So at this sort of a pride go with before the fall kind of situation. Yes, so he allegedly received somewhere around two thousand of these stones, which he bought were legitimate things yeah. So he. after studying them over the course of several months as they were coming in, he said about writing what he believed would be a masterpiece in lithography studies, which lithography is what fossils are called at the time, not the modern meeting and his one thousand seven hundred and twenty six book. The vertibird lithography was this masterpiece, which he thought was going to be kind of his own scientific opus, and the book features illustrations of the stones and it discusses their possible origins, including the theories that we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast.
While he was working on the book, rumours started to circulate that the stones, but he had were fake, contribute created by Contemporary hoax, with the goal of seriously embarrassing him because he was pompous and pretentious, This episode is brought to you by Mazda, and we ve been a pig for you drive, a mountain don't really know the you're in well and instead It being a harrowing and frightening experience, it's an absolute delight that is sickly, when it was like when we had the, opportunity to test drive the all new miles to see Ex thirty at the end of last year out in California, I loved driving that car and it is part of their best driving best performing see you ve line up in the market. It has credible handling, it is intuitive and their masterfully crafted. You kind of feeling you're almost spoke vehicle. That's made just for you MA
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and I'm in a red a passage from it. It's a little bit lengthy, but stick with us. He says quote, then, when I had all but completed my work, I caught the rumours circulating throughout the city, especially among per when an and learned men that every one of these stones, which, on the advice of wise men, I propose to expound in a published treatise, were quote recently, sculpted by hand made to look as though at different periods. They had been resurrected from a very old burial and sold to me as one indifferent to fraud and caught up in the blind green. curiosity further that I once deceived in my wretched turn, was deluding the world and trying to sell new hoaxes as genuine antiques to the silent laughter of prudent souls. I was shocked beyond words to learn that the authors of this atrocious calumny were two men, perhaps best described as a pair of antagonists, whose names I have reason to protect. At present, men with whom I was closely associated in numerous functions for
our colleagues in the academic society. He went on in this whole chapter about the hopes, rumours to say our video Norfolk stones are not the hand wrought products of recent artistry, as some persons have shamelessly pretended and attempted to pedal to the public by widespread rumour and gossip, so the two men he keeps her hurrying to, but not naming are a geographer J, ignites Roderick, who was a professor of geography, algebra and analysis at the University of votes, bag and a historian George on a card who was Privy councillor, in librarian to the court and the university. But the hoax rumours, of course, were indeed true, so he became so embarrassed according to the legend when he found a stone and had his name carved on it just as the book was rolling off the presses and into the hands of the public and he was
Julie, so chagrined at this and Heaven having been prank by students that he tried to buy up every copy of the book in existence and bankrupted himself and died soon after the ordeal in misery and destitution. So thus the sort of legendary version of the story. Yes, that's the x Emily cautionary tale of a fossil hopes and the real story does have some seeds of truth in that version. There are some wide swings into the realm of falsehood as well. The dates for the stones being ended the to in the publication of his book are indeed correct, but the machinations of the hoax, The manner in which it was revealed in what happened. Post discovery are quite different and
He'll story was actually revealed in court documents and transcripts that were found in the votes burg. State archives, Doktor, Heinrich Kirshner, is recognised as the person who discovered these items in nineteen thirty five, although Melvin E On and Daniel J Wolf who produced the agitated and translated work of bare injures book are the people that are cited with doing so more often ya. And Wolf themselves, site Kirshner work and the story. That's told him. The transcripts is really one of academic envy. It's kind of jested a drama, that's playing out among colleagues that are just kind of have vendettas against one another and have a jealousy at the heart of their relationship
burned. Your did take students with him to dig for fossils, and there were three in particular that were involved in this particular episode. One was seventeen year old Christians, honour and two brothers Nicholas who is eighteen and valentine. Who is fourteen hain? It turns out that the prank was not something that they thought up themselves. It was a plan on the parts of J, ignites, Roderick and George on a cart to use, bear injures own obstinate against him rhetoric in a cart head, apparently hired Zangara to polish stones, for them that Roderick had carved ends of age them a little bit and then Zangara plant them and dig sites, but some are also handed off to a stone cutters assistant to sell to berringer, as though he had accidently found them at sites or as though the he'd come into possession of them
kind of to support the idea that it was natural by having these things come from multiple sources, instead of one stream of supply, which might look suspicious right and part of the reason that he was convinced that these fossil samples, where the work of guide was the inclusion on some of the stones of language that put them out. the natural imprint theory right, while animals and plants happen in nature, letters don't so that's part of why Berringer, who is already a little predisposed to think that these were divine creations? Badges supported that theory as far as he was concerned, rather than dismissing the validity of the fossils, as some people may have approached them right so because the samples substantiated his theories of false of where fossils came from as cognitive bias, kind of lead him down. The path of words mean they're. Real
instead of words mean they're fake. Yes, so he fell right into the trap set by his fellow academics and, as barons are simple, set, grew and he started working on his book in earnest. Roderick in a cart apparently began circulating the hopes rumour because they were afraid that if berringer published the work without the hoax being revealed, they could see how be connected to the findings and would be ruined along with their colleagues. If they were starting to think that if he went ahead and published it, the entire university would kind of be embarrassed and they would be embarrassed in whether or not they were implicated is hucksters. It could be just a really bad seen said they didn't want him to publish the book now. I was partially covering their own behind value. At this point,
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I heart, radio, apple pie, Jes or wherever you get your purchase There's some dispute as to how he was finally convinced that this was a hoax. It is possible, but he found a rock with his name on it, but no such rock has ever been recovered and some account suggests that Roderick and Eckhardt had finally thought that things had gone too far and that they outright told Berringer that the stones were fakes, but he wouldn't believe they're confession, because he was so convinced at that point. There's also a theory that the church bishop was involved and convincing him of the truth. this is a part of the story that hasn't ever really been clear and it's not referenced in the court proceedings that we have to document it announcer. The fraud was exposed, though, however he was convinced, Behringer took action and on April 13th of one thousand seven hundred and twenty six, there was a hearing at the Vets
Cathedral chapter accusing Roderick and car of trying to dupe berringer. So, unlike the legend story, where he just is ashamed and tries to hide the whole thing he actually is pretty open about trying to pursue his Hoechst and bring them to justice municipal trials, followed all of this. On April, the fifteenth and June eleventh of seventeen twenty six, the diggers that were involved were questions about their involvement and if he read the yawning wolf, translation and adaptation of beer injures book, the hearings are included in the appendices and all of the specific questions. they ask. The kids are in there, which we won't go through because it really is kind of a long arduous. Have you ever carved a thing? Do you know had a car, I mean they're, really specific questions and they go on for quite a while, but the trial papers began and
rather abruptly we ve talked about other trials on the podcast in theirs often lake. We get the opening arguments. The discussion in the lead in this kind of just starts with questions to the kids and ends after the June Eleventh trial, which was also questions. It doesn't really get to what happened like in deliberation and discussion. It just kind of includes the questions and the answers. Roderick tried to shift the blame to the boys. Berringer had hired to help him with his digs, and the Haines really appeared to be innocent and the whole thing there was apparently a bribe that was offered design. also to blame. The hang the Hain brothers, but Zanger refused to take it. Yes, so it pretty quickly became apparent that Roderick in a cart were in fact guilty and they were disgraced when that became obvious. So the very thing they had hoped to avoid by pointing out the hopes and starting a hoax rumours, came to fruition in their trial. So
hunger was implicated, but it doesn't appear that any real punishment came to him because he did know that they were facing these stones he did asking the commission for assistance in collecting eight days worth of wages that Roderick owed him for polishing stones, which I just thought was sort of funny that in the midst hold as he's like yeah, they were failure and he still owes me money for this fraud loved it. That's all over the motorway, for. All of this is that the antagonists wanted to ruin berringer, because quote he was so arrogant and despise them. All. Here is just a simple as that I have seen some kind of lead Dependable sources that suggested that there may or may not have been a love affair
involved between one of the other academics in someone that was connected to berringer, but I never had any verification of that. It really does in most articles in discussions on a kind of come down to you. They just thought he was an arrogant, jerk right and they just want to put him in his place, let's your face with our fake fossil yeah and while tales of Berringer shaman demise completely color the apocryphal story. As he said, it's kind of a cautionary tale of like you know, don't fall for things that you just want to believe because you'll end up poor in embarrassed and and die and early that out of your shamed, he actually emerged from the hopes, ordeal pretty well in his time and he went underwrite two more books. It were not about fossils, so he really came out pretty well in the whole deal so Eckhardt Army. her hand died for years after the trial, and he had actually been working
the history of the duchy averts bird for many years. But after this all happened, he was denied access to the library archives and he never got to finish that work, Roderick, left, averts Borg and shame Berringer died in seventeen forty, which was fourteen years after the hoax trial and even though the remainder of his life seems to have gone pretty well, he has not been treated terribly well by history, he's become kind of a symbol of gullibility and the foolishness of cognitive bias in one thousand seven hundred and sixty seven, which was twenty seven years after his death and forty one years after the original publication and trial bear injures. Vicksburg with Argovie was republished and forty four hundred thirty four of berringer stones, which king we known as Lucan Steiner, which literally means livestock or lying stones. Actually, survive. There were four hundred and ninety four depicted in the book.
And many of the collection that remains are at the university museum at Oxford Berringer claimed that he had received more than two thousand, but it's possible that that's a bit of an inflated number, so you can go visit some of these down. Some of them are apparently in the hands of private collectors as well, because they are still significant in there in antiquity and can new to me a cautionary tale, even though he did not die in shame immediately. After no oil, then he went after the people are trying to make a fool of him, which I kind of love about mandatory, don't be a jerk or fall prey to your own humorous is the moral of the story yeah so that, as the story of Johan Bearings lying stones, which a sort of just love, it's one of the stories that we wish there were even more records. There are no like portraits of him, for example, but I still just love that had studied in examined in
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