Frequently, insight begins with an unexplained anomaly — a novel phenomenon which upon diligent pursuit leads to a new way of doing or understanding. On the other hand most anomalies are just that — unexplained exceptions of no lasting import. Telling the difference is what science is about. But first these odd things must be acknowledged, and better, documented. This is what the Sourcebook Project does. William Corliss, a maniacal archivist working alone has steadfastly cataloged all reported anomalies in biology, chemistry, geology, archeology, physics, and the atmosphere. He lists everything: ball lightening accounts, out of sequence fossils, ancient glass lenses, geological deposits where they shouldn’t be, weird ruins, musical sands, unexplained radioactivity, out of place historical artifacts, unusual ancient buildings, strange weather formations, and anything odd that has no easy explanation.
An animal resembling a mastodon. Pipe found in Iowa, USA
From “Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts”
Corliss clips primarily from old scientific journals, expedition reports, and society proceedings. The observers have some credibility. The anomalies are presented without interpretation — that is up to you. The work can easily be appropriated by cranks (and has been) but it is equally useful to others searching for new science frontiers.
A few words from William James, reproduced on the title page of Anomalies in Geology:
“Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always proves more easy to ignore than to attend to…. Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena. And when this science is renewed, its new formulas often have more of the voice of the exceptions in them than of what were supposed to be the rules.”
For most of us this remarkable series of volumes will be a constant source of wonder, amazement, and re-thinking. Because each observation is offered without explanation (“just the facts ma’am”) in such volume (thousands and thousands), one quickly realizes the extent of our ignorance. So far Corliss has compiled 34 volumes, all items indexed according to his classification scheme. Confusingly these volumes overlap, and it is not easy to determine which are the latest, but those in his “catalog” series seem to be the most recent.
Corliss adds 1,200 new reports a year, and has only published 40% of the material he has compiled. Obviously this Catalog of Anomalies should be on the web, as an open source project. But for now these amazing tomes are only in paper, self published by Corliss himself, available via Amazon.
You can’t go wrong with the following volumes:
Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts, $11 (used)
The Laos Jars are mostly fashioned out of sandstone, although a few were laboriously carved from much harder red granite. Besides the 250 jars at Ban Ang, there are about 80 more at Lat Sen, 155 more at Ban Soua, 34 at Na Nong, and still more at Ban Hin, the latter group is made from red granite.
The natives in the areas where jars are located know nothing definite of their origin. It is customary to say the jars were made to celebrate a great military victory 1,500 yeas ago. Modern professional opinion is that they are funerary urns probably made more than 1,500 years ago.
From “Ancient Infrastructure: Remarkable Roads, Mines, Walls, Mounds, Stone Circles”
Blundellsands, England. June 5, 1902. “The evening was dull and grey, a strong northwesterly wind was blowing in from the sea and the tide was flowing in. In the distance we first saw smoke with frequent jets of fire bursting forth from the mud of a shallow canal. Drawing near, we perceived a strong sulphurous odour, and saw little flames of fire and heard a hissing sound as though a large quantity of phosphorous was being ignited. It was impossible to detect anything which caused the fire, only the water where the flames appeared had particles of a bluish hue floating on the surface. The area over which the tiny flames kept bursting forth was about 40 yards. A gentleman present stirred up the mud with his walking stick, and immediately large yellow flames nearly 2 feet in length and breadth burst forth. The phenomenon lasted some time, until the tide covered the part and quenched the fire.”
From “Anomalies in Geology: Physical, Chemical, Biological”
August 17, 1876. Ringstead Bay, England. “Between 4 and 5 p.m. two ladies who were out on the cliff, saw surrounding them on all sides, and extending from a few inches above the surface to two or three feet overhead, numerous globes of light, the size of billiard balls, which were moving independently and vertically up and down, sometimes within a few inches of the observers, but always eluding the grasp; now gliding upwards two or three feet, and as slowly falling again, resembling in their movements soap bubbles floating in the air. The balls were all aglow, but not dazzling, with a soft, superb irridescence, rich and warm of hue, and each of variable tints, their charming colours brightening the extreme beauty of the scene. The subdued magnificence of this fascinating spectacle is described as baffling description. Their numbers were continually fluctuating; at times thousands of them enveloped the observers, and a few minutes afterwards the numbers would dwindle to perhaps as few as twenty, but soon they would be swarming again as numerous as ever. Not the slightest noise accompanied the display.
From “Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena: A Catalog of Geophysical Anomalies”