Thursday, 17 September 2015

Fossils and folklore - Shepherd's Crowns, Elf Arrows, and Snakestones

People were finding fossils long before science had investigated them.

Many myths and stories about fossils made their way into folklore.



One legend in Yorkshire involved an invasion of snakes, which were turned to stone by Saint Hilda.

The 'snakestones' are now known to be ammonites.

They were sea creatures distantly related to octopus, which lived in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.


Some ammonite fossils in museums actually do have snake heads!

These were carved in the Middle Ages by people who sold them to visitors.

Another fossil with a myth is this 'shepherd's crown', or 'fairy loaf'.



It is actually a fossil sea urchin.

This particular sea urchin is found in the English Chalk, and is called 'Micraster'.

It dates from the late Cretaceous.

The 'Shepherd's Crown' fossil features in the 'Discworld' book of that name by Sir Terry Pratchett.



Here is an Elf-arrow, or Elf-bolt..... sometimes called a Thunderbolt.

Of course it is actually a fossil.... part of a sea creature called a belemnite.

Perhaps legends of elf-arrows inspired J.R.R.Tolkien to make Elves like Legolas expert archers?

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