Friday, August 22, 2008

Dr. Berringer and the lying stones or beware of wanting too hard to believe

"Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer (1667-1740) was a Senior Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Like many physicians of the time, he cultivated an interest in natural history. In particular, he was intrigued by what was call the study of oryctics, or 'things dug from the earth.' Today we would call this the study of fossils, or paleontology."

In 1725, three boys he hired to scour nearby Mt. Eivelstadt and bring him any interesting things they found, turned up with three stones, one of which had "a stylized image of the sun," while the other two bore "images of worms."

As the months went boy, the boys brought him close to 2,000 stones on which were found images of plants, insects, bird, snails, astronomical objects, and even Hebrew letters. Dr. Beringer was not only interested in these items but puzzled. In 1726, he wrote a "treatise about the stones, in order to bring them to the attention of other scholars." That's a typically scientific approach to such a matter.

Much of Beringer's book mused on the origins of the stones; theories as to where they came from. He suggested maybe they were "relics of the Great Flood, or whether they were the product of 'the marvelous force of petrifying moisture.' He even wondered whether they were the work of man. For instance, could the stones 'be ascribed to the superstitious art of the heathen Germans?"

In the end, he decided there were too many of them to be man-made or part of a hoax. So, they had to be produced by nature. He just didn't know how.

"According to legend, just as the first copies of his book were rolling off the printing press, the boys presented Beringer with a final stone, one which had his own name carved in it. Finally, he realized that he had indeed been the victim of an elaborate hoax. Humiliated, and in a state of panic, Beringer frantically tried to buy up all the existing copies of the book."

Beringer had been fooled by two of his colleagues, a Professor of Geography, Algebra, and Analysis and a by the Privy Councillor and Librarian to the Court and the University.

He took them to court and won.

The two colleagues created this complicated and lengthy hoax because they hated Beringer for being "so arrogant" and acting like he "despised them all."

Beringer lived for 14 additional years, and wrote two more books. The hoaxers, however, did not fare so well. One died within four years and the other finally had to leave Wurzburg as a "cloud of dishonor" followed him around.

Here lies the lesson: Beware of "the danger of wantonly pursuing unsupported hypotheses."

[Most of the above was taken from an article at musuemhoaxes. You can read the entire story here.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am trying to not be taken in by hoaxes and phonies. It is not easy but we can try
Bob Poris

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