Nautiloids: The First Cephalopods



Imagine yourself standing on a bleak windswept Ordovician shore. It is 470 million years ago and you are standing on a rocky coastline staring out to sea. As you turn and pan the landscape behind you, all you can see are barren rocks, with no trees, plants or any form of animal life. You feel the salty wind on your face and the near total silence is interrupted only by the soft sound of the lapping tide at your feet. You feel something tickling your toes, look down, and a trilobite a couple of inches long scuttles across your foot. You pick it up, see its legs pulsate rhythmically and its feeble antennae wave. You place it down in the rock pool where it quickly scurries away under a crevice. You see another shell of a trilobite in the water, but this looks different, it has been torn to shreds with puncture marks and you wonder what creature could have possibly caused this. As you stare out to sea something disturbs the breakers and the tip of a huge horn, metres in length, mottled a dull red and cream and gleaming in the sunlight briefly breaks the surface before sinking from view.

This is the Ordovician period, when gigantic cephalopods ruled the seas. The world span faster on its axis than it does today, a day would have lasted just twenty-one hours, and no fewer than 417 such days such days were crammed into a single Ordovician year. The Moon would have appeared much larger than it does now causing vast tidal ranges, much more extreme than the present day. The air would have been harder to breathe, with 15% oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide. The continents were unrecognisable to our modern eyes and were mostly grouped in the southern latitudes...
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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.


Fossils! Thank-you for this article. I will remember it is here in case it is useful to me some time. We have a marine fossil expert here in New Zealand. His name is Ewan Fordyce and he is interested in cetacean fossils. In 2010, I wrote a fiction story set twenty million years ago about dolphins of that era. (There were three cephalopods in it, one of which was very evil) Ewan showed me cases of fossils of the era of my story and let me put my hands on the skull of a dolphin who might have been my own main character. He and his team of students, gave me all the facts I needed and in return I gave them the fiction, telling them exactly what this fossil of theirs had achieved in her lifetime. I'll try to attach my photo of my hands on the fossil of my character. I guess my main point is, now I'm writing about octopuses as main characters so I'm now interested in fossils like yours. However, right now my characters are modern octopodes. (My antique favourite plural for them)

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