'Fosils' and allegorical figures, 1767.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Frontispiece engraved by Puschner from the second edition of 'Lithographiae Wirceburgensis' ('Wurzburg Lithography') by Joannes Bartholomaeus Beringer (d 1740) published in Frankfurt in 1767. In 1725 Beringer, a doctor with considerable reputation at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, was fooled by fellow academics who hated his pompous arrogance and wanted to humiliate him; his interest in oryctics, or 'things dug from the earth', became his undoing. He believed stones that had been 'dug up' on a hill near the town to be genuine, and he developed new theories to explain these 'fosils'. It was only after the publication of the first edition of this work in 1726 that he discovered the hoax.