Raining Stones by Mackenzie Thorpe

The Strange and Unexplained Phenomenon of Raining Stones

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By April Holloway  |

Throughout history, there have been numerous recorded instances of strange objects falling from the sky–fish, frogs, candy, jellyfish, beans, nuts, seeds, and all manner of bizarre and unlikely objects. A popular theory explains these events as being caused by strong winds that whisk things up from the ground or water and hurl them towards an unsuspecting town many miles away. But can this theory also explain showers of heavy stones that have been known to damage houses and even kill people and livestock?

A Long History of Raining Objects

One of the first recorded instances of “raining” objects comes from the writings of Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder, who documented storms of frogs and fish in the 1st century A.D. in what is now Italy. In the 3rd century A.D., ancient Greek rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus wrote in his work “The Deipnosophists” (Book VIII): “In Paeonia and Dardania it has, they say, before now rained frogs; and so great has been the number of these frogs that the houses and the roads have been full of them; and at first, for some days, the inhabitants, endeavoring to kill them, and shutting up their houses, endured the pest; but when they did no good, but found that all their vessels were filled with them, and the frogs were found to be boiled up and roasted with everything they ate, and when besides all this, they could not make use of any water, nor put their feet on the ground for the heaps of frogs that were everywhere, and were annoyed also by the smell of those that died, they fled the country.”

1555 engraving of raining fish.

1555 engraving of raining fish. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Since then, numerous other unusual instances have been documented, including a storm in Italy in 1840 that deposited thousands of partially germinated Judas Tree seeds native to Central Africa; a dusting of sugar crystals in 1857 in Lake County, Calif.; a rain of hazelnuts over Dublin, Ireland, in 1867; live pond mussels in Paderborn, Germany, in 1892; and jellyfish in Bath, England, in 1894.

Perhaps one of the most exciting “rains” to occur was the shower of 16th-century coins that fell from the sky on June 16, 1940, in the Russian village of Meschera. Archaeologists hypothesized that a strong wind swept up a buried trove that had been exposed by soil erosion, before dropping it back down.

One of the first scientists to address the strange phenomena of raining objects was E.W. Gudger, an ichthyologist at the American Museum of Natural History. Gudger published a paper in the journal Natural History, titled “Rains of Fishes,” in the early 20th century in which he suggested four possible explanations for showers of marine species.

First, he suggested that certain “out-of-place” animal species may simply be on their migration. Secondly, that fish or other marine species were left stranded on land after overflow from ponds or streams. Third, that estivating fish, awakened by heavy rains, had burrowed to the surface. And fourth, that the fish had been whisked out of the ocean or lake by waterspouts or tornadoes and dumped to the ground many miles away.

Waterspouts have been cited as one of the possible explanations for raining objects

Waterspouts have been cited as one of the possible explanations for raining objects ( Wikipedia)

The latter theory has received the most support. Jerry Dennis writes in his book “It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky,” that theoretical calculations suggest that “golf ball-sized hail requires an updraft of more than 100 miles per hour, which would be more than powerful enough to loft small fish high into a thundercloud.”

However, some occurrences of falling objects cannot as easily be explained by this theory. The phenomena of raining stones, for example, has been known to last for several days or even weeks, and with rocks too large to be carried long distances in the wind.

Raining Stones

Like the phenomena of raining animals, raining stones have been documented throughout history. One of the earliest accounts is from 1557, when Conrad Lycosthenes’s “Chronicles of Prodigies,” described a rain of stones bringing death to people and livestock.  

During the Middle Ages, occurrences of stones falling from the sky were attributed to creatures of supernatural origin or even the devil. In 1690, folklorist Robert Kirk wrote in his book “The Secret Commonwealth” that falling stones were caused by subterranean inhabitants called “invisible wights”—similar to goblins or brownies—which would hurl the stones around, but never with the intention to hurt anyone. In 1698, stones fell from the sky in New Hampshire, which was recorded in a pamphlet titled “Lithobolia, or the Stone-Throwing Devil.”

Comments

"Some experts have argued that raining stones may be caused by a meteorite entering Earth’s atmosphere and fragmenting into thousands of smaller stones. However, such an event is usually accompanied by a sonic boom, which has not been documented in any of the reported cases, and this theory would have a hard time accounting for events that have lasted days or even weeks."

There are such things as meteor storms. The Earth passes through existing and predictable fields of meteoric or comet debris suspended in space until the Earth plows through them on its passage around the sun. Most of these last only for a few days, but imagine the size of the debris field if the moon had plowed into Earth, which apparently happened in the early solar system's construction. It would be huge, and the resultant bombardment would go on for weeks, if not months.

I can also imagine glancing blows off the atmosphere which leave clouds of pulverized debris to circle the Earth until they're finally captured by gravity and rain down on random terrestrial locations.

I also think there's a lot we don't yet understand about tornados, hurricanes, and water spouts and many other meteorological (weather) phenomena.

Interesting article, thank you.

One idea I read regards Astronomer 'Flandern's' theory of a destroyed planet, now the asteroid belt.
Perhaps a planet that was earth-like blew up and when it rains these objects it is debris thrown our way from the explosion. Fish etc are preserved in the cold vacuum, no problem.

I can understand the excitement created by a shower of coins; most definitely!

malisa wright

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