In this article, we will discuss toadstone fossils and the beliefs people had about the mystical powers they were thought to possess.
Throughout history, people have always been fascinated by fossils, but very few understood them as we do today. For example, some stones were collected for admiration, others as charms and amulets with magical or supernatural properties. Some were said to ward off evil, while others were said to bring good luck.
The term “stones” was used to describe a variety of materials, including gemstones, slate, metals, and animal or plant-based products like pearls, coral, palatal teeth, and toadstone. In medieval medicine, palatal teeth were often ground up and used as medicine. Palatal teeth come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are long, while others are smaller and circular.
One of the most famous types of palatal teeth came from the species of Lepidotes – and they were called toadstone.
The History Of Toadstone
Toadstones were mythical stones that were believed to have come out of the head of a toad.
The history of toads tone goes all the way back to ancient Rome in the writings of none other than Pliny the Elder. Toads tone is also sometimes referred to as “bufonite,” “bufo” being Latin for “toad.”
References to toadstone began to pop up in Europe around the 1400s when it was believed to possess certain magical properties.
Like snakestone, it was thought to form in the head of older toads and had to be removed under precise circumstances, like just before the toad touched or drank water.
In the 13th century, Vincent of Burgundy said that:
An inscription from a 15th-century lapidary said that the toad had to be at least seven years old to produce a stone. Not really sure how to tell a toad’s age personally.
Since many toads are poisonous on the outside, it was assumed that naturally, the antidote to the poison was on the inside somewhere.
Why not in a stone?
All you had to do was touch a toadstone to a fresh bite from any reptile, and it would heat up a little and show signs that it was working.
Naturally, you’d want to be sure that before being bitten, your toadstone was genuine.
To test for authenticity, you would hold a toad stone gem up in front of a toad, and if the toad hops towards the stone, it’s genuine. If not, well, I don’t actually know. Try another toad.
How To Extract Toad Stone?
One of the methods of extracting the stone was to put a toad in a pot that was riddled with little holes and then set the entire thing on an anthill.
Slowly, the ants would eat the toad, allowing you to remove the stone. So much for not letting the toad die.
A more humane method was to place the toad on a red cloth, wait for it to vomit up the stone on its own, and snatch it before the toad swallowed it back down.
I don’t know who came up with that method, but it was disproven in 1609 through what I can only assume were some pretty straightforward experiments.
The development of the toad stone methodology was a complex and evolving process that took hundreds of years, over which time toadstone became culturally significant.
Magical Properties Of Toadstone
People would use toadstone to detect poisons. Around the 15th century, toadstone rings became popular. In the presence of poison, the stone would either change color, sweat, or heat up and burn the finger. They also thought that toadstone could extract poison from snake, insect, and spider bites, as well as many others. Up until the 18th century, they were still being made into charms to protect against poison.
The association between toads and poison originates from people believing that since toads had poison glands in their skin, they must also have an antidote, which was assumed to be in the form of a magical stone found in its head.
People believed that by swallowing toadstone, IT could cleanse their bowels and reuse the stone if needed. Others would grind up other palatal teeth and take them as medicine to counteract poison and epilepsy.
It was even mentioned by Shakespeare in his play “As You Like It” when Duke Senior says, “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head.”
What Does A Toad Stone Look Like?
As far as the myth goes, toadstones were first recorded by Pliny the Elder in the first century. He recorded the different varieties in color, which also played a part in their name. Some toadstones were documented as having a color similar to a toad’s, others also had veins, and another variety had a mixed red and black color. Jewelers from this time noted that true toadstones were whitish brown to a green-black.
Who Owns Toadstone?
Mary Queen of Scots was said always to carry one in a little silver bottle. Elizabeth the First was subject to multiple poisoning attempts and had one. And a good thing too – folks must have not liked her because they faced being boiled alive if they got caught.
The mother of Scottish author Sir Walter Scott had a toadstone she supposedly loaned to mothers to protect them and their children from fairies.
Toadstone Power Of Belief
Many of the surviving toadstones are set in either silver or gold, and often in open settings to allow the stone to touch the skin at all times so that you would feel the sudden heat from the stone in case there was poison.
Where Are Toadstones Found?
In the 17th century, people really started to question where the toadstones were actually coming from.
Sir Thomas Browne, who was well known for debunking various myths, did a lot of research on the stones and noted that both anatomically and biologically, toadstone probably didn’t exist. He proposed that it was more likely that the stones came from a fish’s mouth.
He even formed a test that involved applying red-hot iron to the toadstone. If they were true stones, they would not burn or have a burning odor – which they would if they were made from animal parts. However, because the toadstones were, in fact, fossils, they wouldn’t have given off the smell of burning to show that they were fake.
Thomas Pennant, a Welsh naturalist, was even closer to identifying the true owner of the toadstones. He only slipped up when trying to identify the exact species of fish they originated from, which we now know was Lepidotes.
What Is A Toadstone?
Okay, so by now, you’re probably wondering what a toad stone actually is.
We now know that toadstones are the fossilized teeth of Lepidotes – an extinct fish that lived around 200 to 100 million years ago in lakes and shallow seas. The reason they’re so round is not because they tumble down a river for a million years, but because the fish that these likely belonged to had rounded teeth.
This is the head of a Lepidotes
Lepidotes are an extinct variety of ray-finned fish that swam the seas of the Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods.
Its teeth are an unusual shape, it had very thick scales and nice round teeth, because it was a carnivore that fed on shelled mollusks. Here you can see the peg-like teeth that would have allowed them to crush the shells of mollusks like aquatic snails.
In fairness, they don’t look like any kind of teeth those early humans would have ever seen, but a well-trained eye can spot the fibrous structure and enamel of a toad stone.
But medieval Europeans were not exactly well-trained.
Toad stone is particularly popular during the medieval and Renaissance periods. Their natural dome shape fit well into bezel settings, so they were often set in rings. Rings were especially conducive to their supposed magical powers because one could wear them in constant contact with the skin throughout the day and monitor them for any changes. With their naturally smooth dome shape, toadstones were highly sought after.
Conclusion On Toadstone
So that’s a little history on just one of the many myths surrounding toadstone fossils from years ago. These ancient fossils, with their smooth dome shapes and intriguing origins, offer us a glimpse into the beliefs and customs of medieval and Renaissance times. They remind us of the human fascination with the natural world and our enduring quest for understanding. Tell me, would you wear a toadstone ring? We hope you’ve enjoyed this article.