Micrographia - or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon/Chapter 17

Observ. XVII.Of Petrify’d wood, and other Petrify'd bodies.

OF this sort of substance, I observ’d several pieces of very differing kinds, both for their outward shape, colour, grain, texture, hardness, &c. some being brown and redish; others gray, like a Hone; others black, and Flint-like: some soft, like a Slate or Whetstone, others as hard as a Flint, and as brittle. That which I more particular examin'd, was a piece about the bigness of a mans hand, which seem'd to have been a part of some large tree, that by rottenness had been broken off from it before it began to be petrify'd.

And indeed, all that I have yet seen, seem to have been rotten Wood before the petrifaction was begun; and not long since, examining and viewing a huge great Oak, that seem’d with meer age to be rotten as it stood, I was very much confirm’d in this opinion; for I found, that the grain, colour, and shape of the Wood, was exactly like this petrify'd substance; and with a Microscope, I found, that all those Microscopical pores, which in sappy or firm and sound Wood are fill'd with the natural or innate juices of those Vegetables, in this they were all empty, like those of Vegetables charr'd; but with this difference, that they seem’d much larger then I have seen any in Char-coals;, nay, even then those of Coals made of great blocks of Timber, which are commonly call'd Old-coals.

The reason of which difference may probably be, that the charring of Vegetables, being an operation quickly perform’d, and whilest the Wood is sappy, the more solid parts may more easily shrink together, and contract the pores or interstitia between them, then in the rotten Wood, where that natural juice seems onely to be wash'd away by adventitious or unnatural moisture; and so though the natural juice be wasted from between the firm parts, yet those parts are kept asunder by the adventitious moystures, and so by degrees settled in those postures.

And this I likewise found in the petrify'd Wood, that the pores were somewat bigger then those of Charcoal, each pore being neer upon half as bigg again, but they did not bear that disproportion which is exprest in the tenth Scheme, between the small specks or pores in the first Figure (which representeth the pores of Coal or Wood charr'd) and the black spots of the second Figure (which represent the like Microscopical pores in the petrify'd Wood) for these last were drawn by a Microscope that magnify’d the object above six times more in Diameter then the Microscope by which those pores of Coal were observ'd.

Now, though they were a little bigger, yet did they keep the exact figure and order of the pores of Coals and of rotten Wood, which last also were much of the same cize.

The other Observations on this petrify'd substance, that a while since, by the appointment of the Royal Society, I made, and presented to them an account of, were these that follow, which had the honour done them by the most accomplish'd Mr. Evelin, my highly honoured friend, to be inserted and published among those excellent Observations wherewith his Sylva is replenish'd, and would therefore have been here omitted, had not the Figure of them, as they appear'd through the Microscope been before that engraven.

This Petrify'd substance resembled Wood, in that

First, all the parts of it seem'd not at all dislocated, or alter'd from their natural Position, whil'st they were Wood, but the whole piece retain'd the exact shape of Wood, having many of the conspicuous pores of wood still remaining pores, and shewing a manifest difference visible enough between the grain of the Wood and that of the bark, especially when any side of it was cut smooth and polite; for then it appear'd to have a very lovely grain, like that of some curious close Wood.

Next (it resembled Wood) in that all the smaller and (if I may so call those which are onely visible with a good magnifying Glass) Microscopical pores of it appear (both when the substance is cut and polish'd transversly and parallel to the pores of it) perfectly like the Microscopical pores of several kinds of Wood, especially like and equal to those of several sorts of rotten Wood which I have since observ'd, retaining both the shape, position and magnitude of such pores. It was differing from Wood:

First; in weight, being to common water as 31/4 to 1. whereas there are few of our English Woods, that when very dry are found to be full as heavie as water.

Secondly, in hardness, being very neer as hard as a Flint; and in some places of it also resembling the grain of a Flint: and, like it, it would very readily cut Glass, and would not without difficulty, especially in some parts of it, be scratch'd by a black hard Flint: It would also as readily strike fire against a Steel, or against a Flint, as any common Flint.

Thirdly, in the closeness of it, for though all the Microscopical pores of this petrify'd substance were very conspicuous in one position, yet by altering that position of the polish'd surface to the light, it was also manifest, that those pores appear'd darker then the rest of the body, onely because they were fill'd up with a more duskie substance, and not because they were hollow.

Fourthly, in its incombustibleness, in that it would not burn in the fire; nay, though I kept it a good while red-hot in the flame of a Lamp, made very intense by the blast of a small Pipe, and a large Charcoal, yet it seem'd not at all to have diminish'd its extension; but only I found it to have chang'd its colour, and to appear of a more dark and duskie brown colour; nor could I perceive that those parts which seem'd to have been Wood at first, were any thing wasted, but the parts appear'd as solid and close as before. It was further observable also, that as it did not consume like Wood, so neither did it crack and flie like a Flint, or such like hard Stone, nor was it long before it appear'd red-hot.

Fifthly, in its dissolubleness; for putting some drops of distill'd Vinegar upon the Stone, I found it presently to yield very many Bubbles, just like those which may be observ'd in spirit of Vinegar when it corrodes corals, though perhaps many of those small Bubbles might proceed from some small parcels of Air which were driven out of the pores of this petrify'd substance by the insinuating liquid menstruum.

Sixthly, in its rigidness, and friability, being not at all flexible but brittle like a Flint, insomuch that I could with one knock of a Hammer break off a piece of it, and with a few more, reduce that into a pretty fine powder.

Seventhly, it seem'd also very differing from Wood to the touch, feeling more cold then Wood usually does, and much like other close stones and Minerals.

The Reasons of all which Phænomena seem to be,

That petrify'd Wood having lain in some place where it was well soak'd with petrifying water (that is, such a water as is well impregnated with stony and earthy particles) did by degrees separate, either by straining and filtration, or perhaps, by precipitation, cohesion or coagulation, abundance of stony particles from the permeating water, which stony particles, being by means of the fluid vehicle convey'd, not onely into the Microscopical pores, and so perfectly stoping them up, but also into the pores or interstitia, which may, perhaps, be even in the texture or Schematisme of that part of the Wood, which, through the Microscope, appears most solid, do thereby so augment the weight of the Wood, as to make it above three times heavier then water, and perhaps, six times as heavie as it was when Wood.

Next, they thereby so lock up and fetter the parts of the Wood, that the fire cannot easily make them flie away, but the action of the fire upon them is onely able to Char those parts, as it were, like a piece of Wood, if it be clos'd very fast up in Clay, and kept a good while red-hot in the fire, will by the heat of the fire be charr'd and not consum'd, which may, perhaps, also be somewhat of the cause, why the petrify'd substance appear'd of a dark brown colour after it had been burnt.

By this intrusion of the petrifying particles, this substance also becomes hard and friable; for the smaller pores of the Wood being perfectly wedg'd, and stuft up with those stony particles, the small parts of the Wood have no places or pores into which they may slide upon bending, and consequently little or no flexion or yielding at all can be caus'd in such a substance.

The remaining particles likewise of the Wood among the stony particles, may keep them from cracking and flying when put into the fire, as they are very apt to do in a Flint.

Nor is Wood the onely substance that may by this kind of transmutation be chang'd into stone; for I my self have seen and examin'd very many kinds of substances, and among very credible Authours, we may meet with Histories of such Metamorphoses wrought almost on all kind of substances, both Vegetable and Animal, which Histories, it is not my business at present, either to relate, or epitomise, but only to set down some Observation I lately made on several kind of petrify'd Shels, found about Keinsham, which lies within four or five miles of Bristol, which are commonly call'd Serpentine-stones.

Examining several of these very curiously figur'd bodies (which are commonly thought to be Stones form'd by some extraordinary Plastick virtue latent in the Earth it self) I took notice of these particulars:

First, that these figured bodies, or stones, were of very differing substances, as to hardness: some of Clay, some Marle, some soft Stone, almost of the hardness of those soft stones which Masons call Fire-stone, others as hard as Portland stone, others as hard as Marble, and some as hard as a[errata 1] a Flint or Crystal.

Next, they were of very differing substances as to transparency and colour; some white, some almost black, some brown, some Metalline, or like Marchasites; some transparent like white Marble, others like flaw'd Crystal, some gray, some of divers colours; some radiated like those[errata 2] long petrify'd drops, which are commonly found at the Peak, and in other subterraneous caverns, which have a kind of pith in the middle.

Thirdly, that they were very different as to the manner of their outward figuration; for some of them seem'd to have been the substance that had fill'd the Shell of some kind of Shel-fish; others, to have been the substance that had contain'd or enwrapp'd one of those Shels, on both which, the perfect impression either of the inside or outside of such Shells seem'd to be left, but for the most part, those impressions seem'd to be made by an imperfect or broken Shell, the great end or mouth of the Shell being always wanting, and often times the little end, and sometimes half, and in some there were impressions, just as if there had been holes broken in the figurating, imprinting or moulding Shell; some of them seem'd to be made by such a Shell very much brused or flaw'd, insomuch that one would verily have thought that very figur'd stone had been broken or brused whilst a gelly, as 'twere, and so hardned, but within in the grain of the stone, there appear'd not the least sign of any such bruse or breaking, but onely on the very uttermost superficies.

Fourthly, they were very different, as to their outward covering, some having the perfect Shell, both in figure, colour, and substance, sticking on upon its surface, and adhering to it, but might very easily be separated from it, and like other common Cockle or Scolop-shels, which some of them most accurately resembled, were very dissoluble in common Vinegar, others of them, especially those Serpentine, or Helical stones were cover'd or retained the shining or Pearl-colour'd substance of the inside of a Shel, which substance, on some parts of them, was exceeding thin, and might very easily be rubbed off; on other parts it was pretty thick, and retained a white coat, or flaky substance on the top, just like the outsides of such Shells; some of them had very large pieces of the Shell very plainly sticking on to them, which were easily to be broken or flaked off by degrees: they likewise, some of them retain'd all along the surface of them very pretty kind of sutures, such as are observ'd in the skulls of several kinds of living creatures, which sutures were most curiously shap'd in the manner of leaves, and every one of them in the same Shell, exactly one like another, which I was able to discover plainly enough with my naked eye, but more perfectly and distinctly with my Microscope; all these sutures, by breaking some of these stones, I found to be the termini, or boundings of certain diaphragms, or partitions, which seem'd to divide the cavity of the Shell into a multitude of very proportionate and regular cells or caverns, these Diaphragms, in many of them, I found very perfect and compleat, of a very distinct substance from that which fill'd the cavities, and exactly of the same kind with that which covered the outside, being for the most part whitish, or mother-of-pearl colour'd.

As for the cavities between those Diaphragms, I found some of them fill'd with Marle, and others with several kinds of stones, others, for the most part hollow, onely the whole cavity was usually covered over with a kind of tartareous petrify'd substance, which stuck about the sides, and was there shot into very curious regular Figures, just as Tartar, or other dissolv'd Salts are observ'd to stick and crystallize about the sides of the containing Vessels; or like those little Diamants which I before observed to have covered the vaulted cavity of a Flint; others had these cavities all lin'd with a kind of metalline or marchasite-like substance, which with a Microscope I could as plainly see most curiously and regularly figured, as I had done those in a Flint.

From all which, and several other particulars which I observ'd, I cannot but think, that all these, and most other kinds of stony bodies which are found thus strangely figured, do owe their formation and figuration, not to any kind of Plastick virtue inherent in the earth, but to the Shells of certain Shel-fishes, which, either by some Deluge, Inundation, Earthquake, or some such other means, came to be thrown to that place, and there to be fill'd with some kind of Mudd or Clay, or petrifying Water, or some other substance, which in tract of time has been settled together and hardned in those shelly moulds into those shaped substances we now find them; that the great and thin end of these Shells by that Earthquake, or what ever other extraordinary cause it was that brought them thither, was broken off; and that many others were otherwise broken, bruised and disfigured; that these Shells which are thus spirallied and separated with Diaphragmes, were some kind of Nautili or Porcelane shells; and that others were shells of Cockles, Muscles, Periwincles, Scolops, &c. of various sorts; that these Shells in many, from the particular nature of the containing or enclos'd Earth, or some other cause, have in tract of time rotted and mouldred away, and onely left their impressions, both on the containing and contained substances; and so left them pretty loose one within another, so that they may be easily separated by a knock or two of a Hammer. That others of these Shells, according to the nature of the substances adjacent to them, have, by a long continuance in that posture, been petrify'd and turn'd into the nature of stone, just as I even now observ'd several sorts of Wood to be. That oftentimes the Shell may be found with one kind of substance within, and quite another without; having, perhaps, been fill'd in one place, and afterwards translated to another, which I have very frequently observ'd in Cockle, Muscle, Periwincle, and other shells, which I have found by the Sea side. Nay, further, that some parts of the same Shell may be fill'd in one place, and some other caverns in another, and others in a third, or a fourth, or a fifth place, for so many differing substances have I found in one of these petrify'd Shells, and perhaps all these differing from the encompassing earth or stone; the means how all which varieties may be caus'd, I think, will not be difficult to conceive, to any one that has taken notice of those Shells, which are commonly found on the Sea shore: And he that shall throughly examine several kinds of such curiously form'd stones, will (I am very apt to think) find reason to suppose their generation or formation to be ascribable to some such accidents as I have mention'd, and not to any Plastick virtue: For it seems to me quite contrary to the infinite prudence of Nature, which is observable in all its works and productions, to design every thing to a determinate end, and for the attaining of that end, makes use of such ways as are (as farr as the knowledge of man has yet been able to reach) altogether consonant, and most agreeable to man's reason, and of no way or means that does contradict, or is contrary to humane Ratiocination; whence it has a long time been a general observation and maxime, that Nature does nothing in vain; It seems, I say, contrary to that great Wisdom of Nature, that these prettily shap'd bodies should have all those curious Figures and contrivances (which many of them are adorn'd and contriv'd with) generated or wrought by a Plastick virtue, for no higher end, then onely to exhibite such a form; which he that shall throughly consider all the circumstances of such kind of Figur'd bodies, will, I think, have great reason to believe, though, I confess, one cannot presently be able to find out what Nature's designs are. It were therefore very desirable, that a good collection of such kind of figur'd stones were collected; and as many particulars, circumstances, and informations collected with them as could be obtained, that from such a History of Observations well rang'd, examin'd and digested, the true original or production of all those kinds of stones might be perfectly and surely known; such as are Thunder-stones, Lapides Stellares, Lapides Judaici, and multitudes of other, whereof mention is made in Aldronandus, Wormius[errata 3], and other Writers of Minerals.




  1. Original: a a was amended to as a: detail
  2. Original: these was amended to those: detail
  3. Original: Aldovandus, Wormius was amended to Aldronandus, Wormius: detail