The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

Extinct Treasures | Ammonite

My very first time in the Stamp & Coin Etc. shop I remember being immediately overtaken by the aroma of old books as I wandered through the remnants of a world I’ve only experienced through old time movies.  Hundreds of varying vintage treasures from different time periods all over the world had found their way right into this historical building on the corner of a quaint Washington town.  The thought was simply magical.

My eyes scanned beautiful turquoise jewelry, ancient arrowheads and stones of all kinds before settling, mesmerized on a brilliant swirling fossil annotated “Ammonite”.

I ran my hands over cool, patterned stone feeling the history of a once-living organism which had somehow found its place in this collectors’ paradise, where lovely old things come to share their pasts like old friends.  Upon further research I found that this particular treasure had about 65 Million years on me: a life preserved in it’s polished fossil shell.

240 Million years ago, the ammonite made its appearance among the dinosaurs as a sort of prehistoric, carnivorous squid.  Part of the cephalopod family, they were predatory deep-sea creatures with sharp jaws hidden beneath air-siphoning tentacles.  Similarly to an old growth tree, ammonites grew outwardly in their shell, occupying the outermost coil.  Sexual dimorphism endowed females a macroconch, encouraging development up to 400% larger than males in order to accommodate egg production.

Variety of Ammonite Forms

Variety of Ammonite Forms

Serpentstones and Saligrams, these precious fossils have attained spiritual acclamation throughout history.  In medieval Europe ammonites, called “snakestones” were believed to provide evidence of the habitation of saints such as Saint Patrick and the mythical Hilda of Whitby in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion.  Supposedly possessing healing powers, ammonites were traded as religious icons, often with a snake head painted or carved into the intricate pattern.  In Nepal, an ammonite is considered to be a “saligram”: a tangible manifestation of Vishnu.  Even the scientific name “ammonite” is derived from religious origins, as the shell resembling coiling ram’s horns alludes to the ram horn adorned Egyptian god Ammon.

Due to the ammonite’s ancient history and prevalence they make excellent index fossils, helping geologists determine rock layers of different geological time periods.  I didn’t expect to find something with such an age-old history that day.  I guess you never know what curious minds find.

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