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into these parts. But this opinion may be overturned by a host of reasons more triumphant still. And it is much more natural to carry back the origin of these remains, scattered even as far as the banks of the Frozen Sea, to revolutions much more remote, and of far greater importance, even subversive of the whole face of the globe we inhabit.
The opinions of naturalists on the origin of these skeletons of exotic animals are very various. Some, with all possible subtilty and ingenuity, have advanced, that the climates of the earth have successively changed their nature; and, that those which are at present cold, were hot a great number of ages ago. Others attribute it to the deluge. But perhaps there may be no necessity for wandering so far into the darkness of antiquity. In the year 1767, as they were digging a well near the Birutsk, at the depth of a fathom and a half they found a quantity of human bones, without the smallest trace of a coffin, or any thing that might serve as such; and similar bones are often found in the neighbourhood of that stream. Sometimes, it is said, the iron heads of pikes are found among the bones, and parts of other offensive weapons; which indubitably proves, that a battle has formerly been fought in these parts. Now we know that a great many of the Asiatic nations used elephants in war. It has been thought apparent, therefore, that these carcases of exotic animals were buried in the neighbourhood of the Volga several centuries perhaps, but not so many thousand years ago as some suppose. But how are these pretended mahmout-bones often covered with so many layers of earth, and actually found in the cliffs that form the very banks of the river? It is thought not difficult to explain it. We know that the current of the immense rivers that traverse Russia frequently undermine and cut their most solid banks, and that the soil where rivers, both great and small, have formerly flowed, is now quite dry. The Volga, even in our days, has swallowed up whole islands, and formed new ones in other parts. Nay, sometimes it leaves its ancient bed, and forms another. This is proved by all those hillocks of sand, irregularly placed, and containing a very great quantity of fluviatile shells. This once laid down, we may easily conceive how those regular layers have been formed with which these elephant bones are covered. And we see too how it is possible that a certain quantity of these bones may have been detached from a former place by the waters, and carried lower down by the current and then covered afresh with earth. These, however, are far from solving the different appearances of those numberless collections of bones that present themselves in various parts of the globe. I should be very happy if some of your learned naturalists would take this subject into consideration. 1757, May and July.
M. M. M. 1785, July.
XXV. Fossils in the Vicinity of Oxford.
O.xford, March 22, 1757. IN your two last Magazines you have obliged your readers with some entertaining remarks upon fossils
. Of late years greater attention has been given to that branch of natural history than formerly, as is evident from the valuable collections in the cabinets of the curious. Were these collections not made for amusement only, but also for the better investigation of the hidden cause of the dissolution of the earth, when it received these adventitious bodies into its bosom, we might entertain some hopes of coming at the true solution of that difficult problem, than which, perhaps, there is none in all natural history more intricate, though the effects of that dissolution are every where obvious.
It is true that extraneous fossils are found more abundantly in some places than others; but there is not a tract of land in the whole world entirely without them; and they are found at all depths indifferently so far as the miners have hitherto had occasion to follow them.
Hordel-Cliff is very productive of extraneous fossils, and affords great variety of them, as your ingenious correspondent observes: they are also more wonderfully preserved in that stratum of clay, than in any other part of this kingdom, being very little changed from their original state, and appear equally elegant with recent shells of the same tribes, saving the colour and polish, which are somewhat impaired. But I think we can boast of as great variety, (though in a very different state) at a small village called Stonesfield, near Woodstock, in this county. Most of these are intombed in slate stone, have a more striking aspect, and shew apparent tokens of far more remote antiquity, though I believe them to be of the same date with those at Hordel-Cliff.
In splitting this stone, the workmen find great variety of extraneous bodies, such as sharks teeth, which the naturalists call Lamiodontes; there are also found Lycodontes, or wolves teeth; Conichthyodontes, or tusks of sea animals; Icthy
peria, cr palates of fishes; all of which cramp names, with their icons, may be seen in Hill's Nat. Hist. Vol. ). There are also found at the same place, (but in different strata) Echini Ovarii, Cordati, Clypiati, &c. variety of Anomia Chamæ; oysters in abundance, of a crooked form, which has given them the name of the sickle oyster: Belemnites, Nautilites, jaws of fishes with the teeth perfect in them; bones of quadrupeds, ribs, vertebræ, &c. some of birds; the medullary cavities being larger than the others, they are more frequently compressed, I suppose, by the general subsidence of matter at the deluge. American ferns are also found in this slate-stone, with other vegetables. The plant on one side, and the impression on the other, has a pretty effect, and is a sure proof that the matter which formed the stone was once in a fluid state. It would take up more room than
you have to spare, to enumerate all the varieties that are found in this slate-stone, and the strata above it.
About three months since, there was found in the same stratum, the thigh-bone of soma large animal; it is twentyseven inches long, and by computation, (for it is bedded in stone) about 16 or 18 inches in circumference. One half of the bone is clear, and one end entirely detached from the stone, and perfect; so that it may be looked upon as a capital fossil, and a great rarity. I suppose it to be the thighbone of the Hippopotamus; or sea-horse, though I have but little judgment in osteology,
I formerly met with two pieces of bone, and some vertes bræ of the saine kind, and of a proportionable bulk, at the sarne place, which are now in the collection of a gentleman in London. All the
from the abovementioned village to Oxford, which is ten miles, the different strata abound with plenty of fossils: and this famous seat of learning is surrounded with still greater variety, and, if possible, more curious; so that one would imagine providence had placed it in the midst of these natural rarities, to exercise and divert the minds of the curious, after their close attention to things of greater importance.
This city has on the north side, large beds of gravel, of singular use in making those beautiful walks and gardens in and about it, which are kept in very great order by the University. In this gravel are found Porpites, Fungites, Astroites, and such like coralloid bodies. Pectines, Anomiæ, Ostracites, &c. are also found in it.
Near the east gate of this city, and in St. Clement's adjoining, the gravel beds are lost, and we find a stratum of
blue clay, which produces oysters of a different kind from those found in gravel, being remarkable for the convexity of their shells. Along with these oysters are found Belemnita, Ammonitæ very small, and saturated with pyritical matter, which gives them a kind of shining-like armiture.
On the south side of St. Clement's, the gravel appears again, and abounds with much the same fossils as those on the north side of Oxford. Hard by, in Cowley-Common, are found Gryphitæ, or the crooked-bil oyster, of a very large size, and very thick, broader in the margin than those usually called by that name. They are remarkable for shewing the several laminæ or stages of their growth, being at first no bigger than a vetch, and proceeding to the size of six inches diameter. Either the world was less populous, or the use of oysters less known in the antediluvian times, than now; for we never find any recent shells arrived to that, growth.*
Bullington Green, Headington Heath, Shotover quarries, and the stone-pits at Garsington, all adjacent; are equally replete with great variety of very curious fossils, such as Pectines, great and small, Echini, Belemnitæ, Pholades, Coralloides, Shrimps, claws and other parts of Crabs; Pinnæ Marina, Oysters remarkably large and flat, (found recently in Virginia;) Naufilitæ, Cochlita in abundance; a remarkable small serated Tree-oyster, Auriculares, vertebræ, jaws and teeth of animals, Ammonitæ of various kinds, some Turbins, Strombi, and great plenty of Mycetițes, Astroites, &c.
To close the whole, in our Museum we have the collections of Plot and Lhuyd, which contain great variety both of native and extraneous fossils, which now appear to great advantage, being lately reduced under their proper classes by their present ķeeper, a gentleman in every respect qualified for the work,
I am yours, &c, 1757, March.
* Some Rockoysters are perhaps an exception to this observation.
XXVI. On the Coluber of Virgil.
Qualis ubi in lucem coluber mala gramina pastus,
VIRG. Æn. ii. 471.
MR. URBAN, By Coluber is here meant not the common snake, but the viper, as is evident from the poet's supposing him to be replete with poison, acquired by feeding upon noxious herbs, whereas the snake is entirely destitute of poison. The venom, in his opinion, was gotten by the serpent's living upon deleterious plants, which is a great mistake, for the viper is carnivorous. However, in the Georgic, lib. iii. 425. et seq. he shews, that he was well aware that the chersydros of Calabria, a poisonous species of serpents, lived upon animal food, such as fish and frogs.
It has been thought, till of late, that the viper had a fascinating power, whereby it charmed its prey into its mouth, being neither quick in its motion, nor having any feet to assist it in the management of any animal that could struggle with it for its life. And it is certain, that this opinion receives great countenance from two papers in the Philosophical Transactions, Vol. xxxi. one by Paul Dudley, and the other by Sir Conrad Sprengell. But the truth is now found to be, as appears by a later narrative from North America, and inserted likewise in the Transactions, that the rattle-snake, which is a species of the viper, gets his prey in this manner. He first bites the animal, and at the same instant the poison pressed out of a bag at the roots of his fangs, runs, through an aperture in the fangs, into the wound; after this he keeps his eye upon the creature, and waits for the operation of the instilled poison; and when it has brought on the death of the animal, he then begins to Jick it, and prepare it for deglutition. This is the provision which the all-wise providence has contrived for the subsistence of a serpent, destined to live upon animal food, but incapable otherwise of coutending with a creature of any viyacity or strength. But then I would ask, what is it that the common snake
lives upon, and how does he get his living? He has many of the properties of the adder or viper, but wants his poison; for I presume it is generally agreed, that the snake is harmless. He is slow, he coils himself, he casts his skin, he sleeps in winter, and is as unable to cope with a