Category Archives: Dubious Discoveries

A Canard for Creationists

The Presse Grayloise relates the following story:– “A discovery of great scientific importance has just been made at Culmont (Haute Marne). Some men employed in cutting a tunnel which is to unite the St. Dizier and Nancy railways, had just thrown an enormous block of stone by means of gunpowder, and were in the act of breaking it in pieces, when from a cavity in it they suddenly saw emerge a living being of monstrous form. This animal, which belongs to the class of animals hitherto considered to be extinct, has a very long neck, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth. It stands on four long legs, which are united together by two membranes, doubtless intended to support the animal in the air, and are armed with four claws terminated by long and crooked talons. Its general form resembles that of a large goose. Its membraneous wings, when spread out, measure from tip to tip 3 metres 22 centimetres (nearly 10 feet 7 inches). Its colour is a livid black; its skin is naked, thick, and oily; its intestines only contained a colourless liquid like clear water. On reaching the light, this monster gave some signs of life, by shaking its wings, but soon after expired uttering a hoarse cry. This strange creature, to which may be given the name of living fossile, has been brought to Gray, where a naturalist, well versed in the study of paleontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus Pterodactylus anas, many fossil remains of which have been found among the strata which geologists have designated by the name of Lias. The rock in which this monster was discovered belongs precisely to that formation, the deposit of which is so old that geologists date it more than a million of years back. The cavity in which the animal was lodged forms an exact hollow mould of its body, which indicates that it was completely enveloped with the sedimentary deposit.” Of whatever genus the above animal may be, the whole story bears a strong indication of belonging to the genus Canard, as indeed is estimated by the Latin name assigned to the animal.

 The Morning Chronicle, Monday 4 February 1856

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Editor’s Note: The kind assistance of Mr Google has revealed to me the existing popularity of this story. Should any intrigued reader care to investigate further, he or she will at once note that the usual source cited is the Illustrated London News, Saturday 9 February 1856, and, furthermore, that the story is regarded in certain circles as EVIDENCE AGAINST EVOLUTION.

The Illustrated London News did indeed reprint the story upon that date, but the said publication used only the text that here falls within the quotation marks. It did not repeat The Morning Chronicle’s astute concluding statement as to the nature of the tale.

This is not to say that the News’s editor intended to report the events as factual. He gave the story the headline “Very Like a Whale,” in a clear reference to the exchange in Hamlet, Act III, scene ii, in which the protagonist describes the shapes of clouds. Hamlet’s companion, Polonius, agrees with whatever he says, mindful that such interpretations are fanciful and indicative of INSANITY.

My own humble opinion on the subject of Pterodactylus anas is that it came from among the strata to which geologists – and indeed everyone else – can easily designate the name of LIARS.

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Filed under Birds and Beasts, Dubious Discoveries, The Editor Gets Drunk and Opines on Things

A rank and gruesome aspect

QUEER INCIDENT

A few days ago a gentleman of our acquaintance removed from one house in the West End to another which he had recently purchased. As the tenement which he had vacated was about to be occupied by an incoming tenant, he gave orders that it should be cleaned out, and everything put in order for the reception of his successor. Passing his old house one day last week, our friend looked in to see that his instructions had been attended to, and perhaps to take a look at the old domicile where he had spent many happy years; and while so visiting he found an Irishman just finishing the job of cleaning out the dunghill or dusthole. Addressing a casual remark to the labourer, the latter replied,—

“There’s been quare work going on hereabout; for we’ve just found a man or woman’s leg in this very hole.”

“Surely you mistake,” said the gentleman, in a laughing tone, “for I never heard that any member of my family had lost such an important member.”

“There’s no lie in it,” said the other “but I suspect it took place a long time ago; for they have cut him up, and reisted him into a mummy, or something of that sort; the flesh, sir, is as hard as mahogany, and as black as my hat, and the feet and toes are all crumpled up.”

This story was corroborated by a number of bystanders who had been attracted to the Mews Lane by the discovery, and of course there could be no longer any doubt of the occurrence.

“And where’s the leg?” said the gentleman.

“Oh, we sent that down to the Police Office in a sack,” said the labourer. Our friend thought it was his best course to wend his way to the same place; but while he did so, bewildered and annoyed at such an occurrence in connection with his old house, an incident came to his recollection that in some degree promised to clear up the mystery. He remembered that some dozen years ago, a foreign correspondent had sent him the present of a bear’s ham; but however valuable it might have really been, the flesh had such a rank and gruesome aspect, that no member of his family would eat it, and it was accordingly ordered to be hung up in the cellar to await the chance of some guest arriving with a Russian stomach to whom the bear’s leg would have been a dainty. It is to be remembered that the foot is left attached to a ham of this sort as a proof of its genuine character. Arrived at the Police Office, the sack was opened; and sure enough here was the ham which had created so much excitement in a West End Mews Lane as the limb of a human being who had not met with fair play in the matter of his exit from this world. To put the thing beyond any doubt, a medical gentleman was called in, who laughed heartily, while he confirmed the statement of our friend as to the actual character of the remains. Rumour, however, says, that the Irishman who made the discovery holds his original opinion, despite the testimony of all the anatomists in Glasgow.

The Glasgow Herald, Monday 1 May 1854


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