1874 – Fossil

Physical description:
Large sand-coloured ammonite.
Museum classification:
Spells and Charms
Size:
150 x 130 x 40
Information:
This fossil was given to the donor's father, who lived in Somerford Keynes in Gloucestershire, by a local farmer who had found it in his field. Martin Martin, 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695': 'These stones [ammonites] are by the natives called crampstones, because as they say they cure the cramp in cows, by washing the part affected with water in which this stone has been steeped for some hours.' Georg Henning Behrens, 'The Natural History of Hartz-Forest' [Germany] (1730): farmers from Gandersheim used against witchcraft 'a fossil shaped like a ram's horn called Drake (Dragon) stone for when the cows lose their milk, or void blood instead of it, they put these stones into the milk-pail, and by that means expect a due quantity of milk from the cows again'. Pliny refers to ammonites as 'horns of Ammon', after the Egyptian ram God ' hence the modern name ammonite. The Romans believed that pyritised ammonites, placed under the pillow, brought prophetic dreams. W. Johnson, 'Folk Memory' (1908): 'When we hear of the good or bad luck which is assumed to go with St Cuthbert's beads (joints of fossil encrinites), St Peter's fingers and thunderbolts (belemnites), Devil's toe-nails (gryphaeas), and snakestones (ammonites), we might hastily conclude that the picturesque name has originated the belief. But fossils as charms or mascots form an ancient chapter in history.' Local legends often claim that ammonites are snakes turned to stone by a saint ' St Hilda in Whitby, and St Keyne in Keynsham, Somerset. St Keyne also visited Cornwall, and her church here (apparently) has a window depicting her holding an ammonite. The Natural History Museum has a Whitby 'snake stone', which is an ammonite carved with a snake's head ' these were made by 'curiosity dealers' (as the British Museum's website remarks about this object in its section on fossils) to take advantage of the legend. Scarborough Museum has several ammonite charms - three small ammonites with rings so that they can be worn as pendants, which were worn by Folkestone fishermen as charms to ensure a good catch, and were collected in 1915 (originally from Edward Lovett's collection); and a nice small pyritised ammonite carried as a good luck charm, from Whitby, 1921 (information provided by Tabitha Cadbury - see her report 'The Clarke Collection of Charms and Amulets' in the museum library). In Switzerland it was thought that ammonites were snakes turned to stone, and, because of the snake's flickering tongue, that they could give the power to speak the languages of animals. (Information provided by Wicca Meier-Spring of Hexenmuseum Schweiz.)
Resource:
Object
Materials:
Stone
Copyright ownership:
Treetrunk Ltd
This fossil was given to the donor's father, who lived in Somerford Keynes in Gloucestershire, by a local farmer who had found it in his field. Martin Martin, 'A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695': 'These stones [ammonites] are by the natives called crampstones, because as they say they cure the cramp in cows, by washing the part affected with water in which this stone has been steeped for some hours.' Georg Henning Behrens, 'The Natural History of Hartz-Forest' [Germany] (1730): farmers from Gandersheim used against witchcraft 'a fossil shaped like a ram's horn called Drake (Dragon) stone for when the cows lose their milk, or void blood instead of it, they put these stones into the milk-pail, and by that means expect a due quantity of milk from the cows again'. Pliny refers to ammonites as 'horns of Ammon', after the Egyptian ram God ' hence the modern name ammonite. The Romans believed that pyritised ammonites, placed under the pillow, brought prophetic dreams. W. Johnson, 'Folk Memory' (1908): 'When we hear of the good or bad luck which is assumed to go with St Cuthbert's beads (joints of fossil encrinites), St Peter's fingers and thunderbolts (belemnites), Devil's toe-nails (gryphaeas), and snakestones (ammonites), we might hastily conclude that the picturesque name has originated the belief. But fossils as charms or mascots form an ancient chapter in history.' Local legends often claim that ammonites are snakes turned to stone by a saint ' St Hilda in Whitby, and St Keyne in Keynsham, Somerset. St Keyne also visited Cornwall, and her church here (apparently) has a window depicting her holding an ammonite. The Natural History Museum has a Whitby 'snake stone', which is an ammonite carved with a snake's head ' these were made by 'curiosity dealers' (as the British Museum's website remarks about this object in its section on fossils) to take advantage of the legend. Scarborough Museum has several ammonite charms - three small ammonites with rings so that they can be worn as pendants, which were worn by Folkestone fishermen as charms to ensure a good catch, and were collected in 1915 (originally from Edward Lovett's collection); and a nice small pyritised ammonite carried as a good luck charm, from Whitby, 1921 (information provided by Tabitha Cadbury - see her report 'The Clarke Collection of Charms and Amulets' in the museum library). In Switzerland it was thought that ammonites were snakes turned to stone, and, because of the snake's flickering tongue, that they could give the power to speak the languages of animals. (Information provided by Wicca Meier-Spring of Hexenmuseum Schweiz.)