0416, March 28: Pillar-Like Stone Falls From Sky in Constantinople

The Legend:

In the Report of the British Association of 1860, in a section chronologically listing meteorite falls from 2 AD to 1860, it is stated that a pillar-like worked stone fell from the sky in Constantinople in 416 AD.

Don't Look Too Deep!

        As it turns out, the legend above is true in so much as it tells us: there was a list of meteorite falls in an 1860 edition of the Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science [to give the full name], compiled by a man named R.P. Greg... but all this article says about the 416 AD event is:

"Stone-fall; according to Arago, a common stone or fallen pillar".

...which was interpreted in John Mitchell & Robert J.M. Rickard's 1977 book Phenomena: A Book of Wonders as meaning that a "pillar-like worked stone" fell from the sky. Because many books have repeated this statement since, and because I like to know where stories come from, I set out to find Greg's source for the story, whom he gives as 'Arago'... and a funny thing happened on the way to the source.

        Greg's source was, specifically, a chronological list of meteorites compiled by Francois Arago and published in 1857. Then I looked up Arago's source -- E.F.F. Chladni's list of meteorites, published 1826. From there I found the earliest reference to the fall I could locate, Sethus Calvisius' list of meteorites, published in 1620... and between the last two sources, something strange happened.

       Calvisius' listing from 1620 describes the event as "the huge stone fell from the sky in the city of Constantinople on 28 March," which is not a claim of a pillar-like worked stone falling. Chladni's listing in 1826 expands quite a bit on the earlier story by telling us that "the stone which it was pretended fell from heaven in 416, at Constantinople, of which Sethus Calvisius makes mention in his Op. Chronolog. was only a stone from Constantine's great column, which, by its fall, injured the pedestal." So not a meteorite at all!

        The first implication is that someone between Calvisius in 1620 and Chladni in 1826 presented information that proved the stone from the sky was just a stone from a pre-existing pillar. I need to find this source, however... the further implication of all this is that the story of a pillar-like worked stone falling from the sky in Constantinople is a modern creation; and I think I know when and why it happened.

        Knowing that the story of the stone from the sky has been accused of being merely a stone fallen off a pillar, the 1860 account of it by Greg -- "stone-fall; according to Arago, a common stone or fallen pillar" -- can now be read as meaning that the reported stone-fall was actually just a common stone or a fallen pillar. BUT, if you didn't know the backstory of the stone falling off the pillar, and were intentionally looking for reports of strange things falling from the sky, Greg's report could be mis-interpreted as "a stone pillar fell from the sky"... which appears to be what happened when Mitchell & Rickard included the account in their book in 1977. Remember; sometimes it pays to double-check!

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