[Article]: Cephalopod Fossils: Myths and Legends (by Phil)

tonmo

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#1
Phil Eyden has submitted the following article for your reading (and viewing) enjoyment:

Myths and Legends

Great content -- thanks Phil for your contribution!
 

Clem

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Phil,

Extremely interesting stuff, as usual.

I wonder if powdered ammonite mightn't serve some medicinal function, depending on the mineral composition of the rock. Not in the eyes, though.

"In 1586 William Camden in his Britannia recorded stones that ‘if you break them you will find within stony serpents, wreathed up in circles, but generally without heads’."

Almost sounds like Camden got his hands on a soft-body fossil with a preserved armature, doesn't it?

:heee:

Clem
 

Phil

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#4
Thanks very much Kevin and Clem,

Clem said:
Almost sounds like Camden got his hands on a soft-body fossil with a preserved armature, doesn't it?
It does indeed! Maybe Camden was sitting on a stash of unique ammonite fossils that have been sealed up in a vault somewhere. If we can locate his finds we may be able to solve the secret of ammonite soft-bodied morphology once and for all!

...Er.....maybe not..... :)

Anyway, did you know that many other fossil types have legends associated with them? For example the Utah Pahvant Indians frequently threaded trilobites into necklaces as these fossils were believed to give protection in battle and ward off evil spirits. Such specimens, usually Elrathia, were given the name shugi-pits t'schoy, meaning lizard foot bead things, or timpe khanitza pachavee, meaning little water bug like stone house in. In a similar manner to the adoption of the ammonite in Whitby in Yorkshire into the towns coat-of-arms, Dudley in the West Midlands, UK, has adopted the locally occuring Calymene trilobite onto its heraldic shield.

Some bivalve marine molluscs were known as 'Devils Toenails' due to their curved shape. Crinoid stems were recorded in seventeenth century England as 'Star-stones' due to the shape of the cross section and were believed to be of heavenly origin. Similarly, sea urchins were frequently referred to as 'Shepherd's Crowns' or 'Fairy Pillows'. As 'Fairy Loaves' these echinoderms were once believed to be loaves of bread turned to stone, but to keep one in the pantry was an omen that the owners would never be short of bread....


....one can go on...this would make a fascinating research topic, methinks.

:cthulhu:
 

Architeuthoceras

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#5
I'm sure the Pahvants found goniatites out where they found the trilobites, but possibly just considered them "deer droppings in a rock house" (dont know the translation) and figured they didnt have medicinal or spiritual powers. :wink:

Still checking though! Have to get in touch with some of the local archaeologists I know.

Phil said:
....one can go on...
Please do :!: :)
 

Phil

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Thanks for the links, Kevin.

and check out the links (way to go TONMO and Phil)
That's a great link to see on such a prestigious site!

Kevin, if it wasn't for yourself and all the fantastic contributions from all the members, far too numerous to mention, who have contributed to 'Fossils' over the last couple of years, I'm sure we wouldn't be there.

So many thanks to you and everyone who has contributed, provided help, or just lurked and read!

:notworth: :glass:

(...we are not going away just yet!)
 

tonmo

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#12
8) Nice work, Phil!
 

Phil

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This is extremely interesting and I wish I'd been aware of this when I wrote the 'Myths and Legends' article as I certainly would have included it.

Just over 10,000 years ago, twenty one individuals were buried inside a cave at Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in south-west England. These Mesolithic burials represent the earliest known British cemetary. Interestingly, a set of ammonites were found associated with the burials.

It is, of course, easy to see any seemingly 'out-of-place' object as having ritual significance, but it is tempting to see these ammonites in such a context. Certainly our cave-dwelling ancestors thought they were worth keeping, so could possibly they have seen them in a religious vein?


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3130348.stm
 

tonmo

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That IS interesting.

Those blokes would've loved TONMO.com! :mrgreen: Perhaps we all carry their reincarnated spirits. 8)
 

Emperor

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Phil said:
It is, of course, easy to see any seemingly 'out-of-place' object as having ritual significance, but it is tempting to see these ammonites in such a context. Certainly our cave-dwelling ancestors thought they were worth keeping, so could possibly they have seen them in a religious vein?
This is a tricky issue and (while I'm still searhcing for the specific references) there are claims for Neadnerthal's having an understanding of aethetics due to various fossils and minerals in Middle Palaeolithic assemblages. Although (as far as I'm aware) none of the fossils are actually cephs (largly gastropods and bivalves)

I'm struggling to find the paper I was thinking of but there is a good general review here:

Chase, P.G. & Dibble, H.L. (1987) Middle Paleolithic symbolism: A review of the current evidence and interpretations. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 6 (3). 263 - 96.

Its probably this (or one of his many other publications):

Marshack, A. (1988b) The Neanderthals and their human capacity for symbolic thought: Cognitive and problem-solving aspects of Mousterian symbol. In Bar-Yosef, O. (ed.) L’Homme Neanderthal. Vol 6. La Pensée. Etudes et Recherches Archéologiques de l’Université Liège 33. ERAUL, Liège. 57 - 92.

but be wary:

Bar-Yosef, O. (1988) Evidence for Middle Palaeolithic symbolic behaviour: A cautionary note. In Bar-Yosef, O. (ed.) L'Homme de Neanderthal. Vol 5. La Pensée. Etudes et Recherches Archéologiques de l’Université Liège 32. ERAUL, Liège. 11 - 16.

I did a quick search and found this:
http://www.asa3.org/archive/evolution/199608/0249.html

and both mineral and fossil collection may have oroginated earlier in the Lower Palaeolithic (with crinoids):

Goren-Inbar, N., Lewy, Z. & Kislev, M.E. (1991) Bead-like fossils from an Acheulian occupation site, Israel. Rock Art Research. 8. 133 - 6.

However, we should be cautious about reading too much into it. I doubt we can infer a religious element to the inclusion of the ammonites but it is certainly intriguing ;)

Phil said:
This is extremely interesting and I wish I'd been aware of this when I wrote the 'Myths and Legends' article as I certainly would have included it.
Well if you want to reprise and expand your article on fossil cephs and mythology then it does sound like something the Fortean Times might be interested in - after all you have already been published on their pages ;)

Emps
 

Phil

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#17
Many thanks for these links, Emperor.

I had no idea about the Neanderthal ‘collections’ and will certainly try to find out more, so thanks for the heads-up.

It’s unfortunate that the BBC report does not indicate how exactly the ammonites were found; whether they were scattered randomly around or associated in groups with specific burials. Some idea of distribution might give a clue to the purpose of the collections. Mind you, I’d imagine that as the humans were just 10,000 years old they would have little different to ourselves physically their mental abilities would have been the same, so there is no reason to suppose that the ammonites might have been gathered purely out of curiosity, as some of us still do!

It appears that D T Donovan (who has written many papers on fossil cephalopods) wrote a paper on the ammonites in 1968 called “The Ammonites and other fossils from Aveline's hole (Burrington Combe, Somerset)” in vol. 11 of the UBSS Proceedings. Doubtless this would be from a palaeontological perspective rather than an archaeological one, but might shed some light on the finds. It’d be great if someone could track the paper down for this site.

By the way Emperor as I know you do a great deal of moderating for the Fortean Times site, do you really think FT would be interested in a version of the Myths article? What sort of length do you think it would need to be? I might be very interested in writing one!

Cheers,

Phil
 

Fujisawas Sake

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#18
Phil :grad:

Great article. I like the fact that cephalopods have always held such great fascination for our species. Beats the hell outta my cephs in anime thread! :notworth:

So, my question is how similar do you think the modern-day nautilus is to the ammonite? The reason I ask is that I'm trying to consider something on ceph neurology again, and a good idea of the internals of the ancestral forms makes for an interesting comparison.

John
 

Phil

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Fujisawas Sake said:
So, my question is how similar do you think the modern-day nautilus is to the ammonite? The reason I ask is that I'm trying to consider something on ceph neurology again, and a good idea of the internals of the ancestral forms makes for an interesting comparison.
Hi John,

I'm going to cop out a little on that answer for now due to lack of time, but if have a look at the 'Nautiloids' article and scroll down to the 'Ammonites' section, I listed quite a few differences there. I thought it would be better to refer you to that bit as opposed to myself typing it out all over again, hope you don't mind.

As far as I know I don't think anyone has tried doing comparative work on the neurology of fossil cephs and I'd imagine it would be almost impossible. As there has not been a single convincing soft bodied ammonite fossil found, I'd imagine reconstructing its internal organisation would be tantamount to educated guesswork.

If I find any interesting ammonite /nautilus comparison websites I'll drop you a line.

Phil
 

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#20
Phil: No worries - glad it helped. The earliest evidence for some kind of aesthetic appreciation goes back to the Australopithecines at Makapansgat who seem to have colleected a pebble with a 'human' ace on it - not very sophisticated but....... Also the fossils I mentioned were unmodified there is a famous nummulite fossil found at Tata which was cracked across the middle and someone (in the Middle Palaeolithic) incised a line at right angles across it. There is an interesting overview here:

www.originsnet.org/mindmp.html

The USBS report? I'd contact English Heritage in the area:

http://accessibility.english-heritage.org.uk/default.asp?WCI=Node&WCE=190

They might be abl to provide you with more information/reports and possibly send them to you.

I'll PM you about the FT matters.

Emps
 

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