Myths and Legends

This article is in the series Concerning Giants
History has regarded cephalopod fossils in interesting ways...

By Phil Eyden, 2004



Before the mid eighteenth century the origin of fossils was generally regarded in terms of superstition and myth. Many differing accounts across different cultures explained how these fossils came to be and interesting folklore traditions developed regarding these stones. Frequently fossils were ascribed to have magical or medicinal properties. Here is a quick look at some of the better known and some of the more obscure folklore traditions regarding cephalopod fossils.


Probably the most famous story about ammonites is the origin of their name. The distinctive coiling of the shell suggested to the ancient Greeks a resemblance to the coiled horns of the ram, they were regarded with special sacred significance due to the Ram-god Ammon who had been adopted from the earlier Egyptian oracle-god Amun. Specimens were known as Cornu Ammonis, or literally 'Horns of Ammon', eventually passing into scientific terminology as ammonites. In China, coiled cephalopods also tended to be compared with horns and were called Jiao-shih, or horn stones.

Certainly in England ammonites were frequently interpreted as being coiled snakes that had been turned to rock and had somehow lost their heads, and were often known as snakestones. Most of the legends surrounding snakestones centred around Whitby in Yorkshire. In 1586 William Camden in his Britannia...
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About the Author
Phil joined the staff in April 2003. He collects fossils as a hobby, frequently plundering a quarry at Folkestone in the U.K. He has a degree in British archaeology and works for a government department at Dover in England.


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